My Misadventures in Seoul, South Korea

I used to be the kind of traveler who has everything planned prior to departure. But over time, things changed.

I transitioned from a careful to almost careless traveler, who just decides to wing it and see what happens along the way.

And that’s just what happened during my recent trip to Seoul, South Korea.

I managed to book a return flight from Manila to Seoul and back to Manila in just under $100. I booked the flight last June and my flight was due in November. With 5 months in between, that should have given me enough time to plan everything but obviously, I failed to use that time wisely.

Though, I did read several blogs to help me plan my trip and how to apply for a Korean visa, [a requirement for a Philippine passport holder] but still, I wasn’t able to have anything planned at all.

Heck, I only got my visa a day before my flight leaves. And because of that, I could not book a hostel in advance because I wasn’t sure if my visa application will be approved or denied. So I had to wait until the last minute, literally the last minute, before I can plan for anything.

As soon as I got my visa, I checked for possible hostels to stay at. When choosing a hostel, I look at reviews because that would tell me if the hostel is good or shitty in terms of location, amenities, wifi access, cleanliness, etc.

It didn’t take me long to choose. After reading a few reviews, I was convinced that the Backpackers Inside hostel is a good choice. And indeed, it was.

Once I had that sorted out, I started packing — clothes, documents, gadgets and chargers needed. Since I still have work to do the night before my flight and several orders to complete for my online business, I really didn’t have much time to prepare.

I even planned on getting money exchange but guess what? I didn’t have time for that either.

Another mistake I did, on the day of my flight, was I underestimated the [Manila] traffic going to the airport. Because of the traffic, I arrived at the airport an hour before my flight leaves. WHO DOES THAT???

In my defense, I don’t like to hang around the airport for long hours but an hour was just cutting it too close. And I am ashamed for what I did just to make the flight — I cut lines and rush through everything. After that, I promised myself never to be in the same situation ever again.

As I was waiting to board the plane, I still didn’t have money in USD, or even in PHP. Money left in my wallet was Php 500 ($10). I’m not even sure if international withdrawal is activated with my bank card. For whatever reason, I didn’t stress much about it and just thought to myself that I will figure it out once I arrived in Seoul.

When I arrived in Incheon airport, I immediately looked for an ATM. I was praying hard to whoever is out there that my card works, otherwise, I don’t know how I will ever get to the hostel because the transportation alone already costs $10.

I tried the first ATM I saw, and it didn’t work. Went to second one, it worked!

Whew! One less worry to think about.

Now on to my next [mis]adventure, my flight landed at 10pm local time and the last trip of the Airport bus leaves at 11pm. After that, I only have 2 options — either take the subway or a taxi. Taking the Airport bus is ideal because it stops just a few minutes from the hostel.

That means I only had an hour to catch the last bus, and with immigration and looking for ATMs, I may not have enough time.

By the time I got money out of an ATM, it was already 10:55pm and the ticketing kiosk was already closed. But I didn’t let that stop me. I went outside and saw the bus [bus #6011] still waiting for passengers. I took the chance and boarded the bus even without a ticket. Thankfully, they accept cash!

So far so good. Luck was on my side apparently.

I review the hostel reservation and read the “how to get there instructions” again. I showed the bus driver in Korean language the bus stop that I needed to get off and he said, “OK no problem”.

The bus ride took an hour and cost 10,000 KRW. From the bus stop, it was just a 5-minute walk to the hostel. It wasn’t hard to find and the only difficulty I had was the cold weather.

November is autumn in Seoul, and already transitioning to winter. The temperature can drop to as low as -3 degrees Celsius especially at night. And coming from a tropical island, THAT is cold.

When I arrived at the hostel, the reception was still open and 2 Filipino guys were hanging at the reception. Right there and then, I knew I made a good choice staying at the Backpackers Inside hostel.

We got to talk for a few minutes and since I still have to work, I bid them good night and logged in for work. Good thing the wifi connection was good even inside the rooms.

I have 9 days in Seoul and I don’t have a clue what to do in those days. I will just have to figure it out one day at a time.

It’s funny how things worked out. My visa could have been denied, or I could have missed my flight, or my bank card couldn’t have worked and I will be roaming around Seoul like a penniless traveler. But everything worked out just fine. So, I guess this trip was really meant to happen.

From this post, there are a few things I learned (all of which were a no-brainer):

  • planning ahead seemed such a good idea now — had I read more about how to get to the hostel using the subway, I would have saved half the amount of what I paid for the airport bus; or if I just had money (either in USD or PHP), and had it exchanged at the airport, that would have saved me the financial charges that came from international withdrawal
  • to never put myself again in a high-stress situation — like arriving an hour before my flight leaves and potentially missing my flight in the process
  • always check the weather prior to departure
  • never wait until the last minute to apply for a visa

During my next post, I will write how I spent those 9 days in Seoul. Stop by again to read more about my travel misadventures. My promise? It’s going to be entertaining at the very least.

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