MY FIRST SOLO OVERSEAS TRAVEL!
I remember when I was in high school and then college, I was very attached to my best friends whom I met in high school. I went everywhere with them and didn’t go anywhere without them. There was even this period when I would wake up early, take a shower, and head straight to my guy best friend to wake him up and spend time with me, and we would spend the whole day together, do crazy things, and split up only when it was very, very late at night.
Most of my childhood I was alone and on my own because I am an only child and it was just me and my mother at home (my father works in a faraway town). I am used to being alone and enjoying the privilege of total privacy without siblings or nosy parents sticking out their heads into my business. I am not being depressive when I say alone, I enjoyed this kind of life.
However, I guess it gets a bit tiring too, to spend most days by myself, so when I found a great, fun company in my high school friends, it was totally new to me. And you know how you sometimes develop a bit of obsession with new things or a new toy?—I guess that’s what happened to me. I got obsessed with this new kind of friendship I never had even in my elementary days. I got obsessed with going out and spending time with my best friends.
From when I had my first job as an undergraduate until my final years in college, I rarely spent time by myself and was always out drinking and having fun with friends. But I guess the world eventually pulls you back into your true nature—I started craving again for my solitary life, time alone in my room, and exploring things on my own. This is the real me. The real me needs alone time to recharge the mind, replenish the soul, and nurture the self.
I started to explore nearby places again on my own, have coffee alone, and enjoy other activities by myself. Occasionally, I would go out of town or spend a night or two at a hotel. And then, last year, I took it to the next level. I went on my first—and definitely not the last—overseas solo trip!
Prepping for Seoul
I booked my trip way in advance, so the wait was a mix of excitement, nervousness, and anxiety. Although I have been to other countries before, it was my first solo overseas trip and it was a trip that required a visa. My preparation took several months and consisted of saving up enough to impress the bank and the embassy.
Long story short, all the anxiety was not quite necessary because I got my South Korea visa easily, with the help of a mandatory travel agency. I got the service of First United Travel (contact: 02-818-7181/02-819-3919) primarily because the location was the most convenient for me. They’re based at Corinthian Plaza, near Greenbelt 1, in Makati, which is near my workplace.
*The complete list of accredited travel agencies are posted on the website of the Korean embassy.
*The complete list of requirements for employed individuals, which I referred to, are also posted on their website. There are separate lists of requirements for businessmen, Korean relatives, students, housewives, etc.
The ATM ate my money!
My flight was not extremely early but early in the morning, so I decided not to sleep in fear of oversleeping and missing my dear flight.
I decided to withdraw cash at the airport instead of getting cash ahead of time. And that’s when the misadventures began. The teller machines at the airport are quite old and provided by banks who are, to me, infamous for unreliable and faulty ATMs so I never used them. Let me drop a name: PHILIPPINE NATIONAL BANK (PNB).
I was very hesitant to use PNB’s teller machine at the airport, but I had no choice. It was the only ATM with a blinking green light. And, lo and behold, my biggest fear came true. It did not dispense my cash yet it deducted the amount from my account!
Thank heavens for the prompt action of my trusted bank, EastWest, even though I bickered with their apathetic agent over the phone (even though she seemed unsympathetic, she still helped me!), I got my money back in my account in no time. I later on realized that I did not even need to withdraw cash because most restaurants and stores, even coin lockers, in Seoul accept Visa and MasterCard.
The restaurant fed me too much!
This second misadventure is funnier than stressful. There’s this Korean variety show that I was addicted to, called Running Man, and two of the members own a Korean BBQ restaurant in Myeongdong, so I decided to visit it for dinner on my first night. The name is 401 Restaurant, owned by Haha (Ha Dong-Hoon) and Kim Jong Kook.
Of course I went alone. I entered cautiously, unsure if the restaurant required a reservation or a certain number of diners. The guy at the counter, clearly not knowing how to speak English, was waving two fingers at me. He did not seem to be waving me away, so I assumed he was trying to tell me that the BBQ items were good for two people, which I did not mind at all, so I said OK! I felt challenged, thinking this guy was underestimating my appetite. So, I ate all of the meat with pride! And, man, it sure was a lot of meat.
It was not until I was paying my bill that I finally, certainly, understood what he was trying to say: There was a required minimum order of two! That means I was served and paid for two BBQ sets. No wonder my nape ached a bit, LOL!
The claustrophobic subway station
On my second day, I was transferring from Myeongdong to a guesthouse in Jongno-gu, so I had to take the train going to Anguk Station, with one transfer somewhere in the middle. The metro system is totally efficient, and there’s an app that helps you find the best train route and tells you the transfers.
I am generally a smart girl, but I do tend to have these episodes where I get clumsy, unlucky, or dumb. Somewhere between Myeongdong and Anguk, I had to transfer to another train line at a station whose name I can’t recall anymore. I walked around the station trying to find the next line, following direction signs, but I kept reaching a dead end. I spent about two hours underground, going back and forth in the subway, feeling frustrated and claustrophobic, before I found a poster that says the train line that I was trying to find was undergoing a renovation. That’s why I couldn’t find it!
And then, later on, I found out that Anguk is actually walkable from Myeongdong.
Certainly, it was not a perfectly smooth trip around Seoul, but I would not have had it any other way or regret that I went by myself. The misadventures served as spice to my trip that made it more exciting and memorable.
When the world was cooking and rotating and God was about to sprinkle coffee, Seoul was right at his face. Seoul is peppered with so many coffee shops!
When I go to a coffee shop, as much as possible I try to find one with less people, so I can spend a peaceful time doodling or nursing dreamy thoughts. Since there are just so many coffee shops, it was not difficult for me to find a cafe in Seoul where I could be cozy and happy. There are big commercial coffee shop chains like Starbucks, but small local coffee shops are also thriving, and I was profoundly happy to see this.
There were small coffee shops with few seats and coffee stands that offer no seats at all—all they had to offer were delicious coffee that dripped down from the heavens. Thou shall not underestimate the smallest coffee shop. Even a run-down coffee stand in the middle of a local market has amazing coffee!
I’m a coffee lover, so my trip mainly revolved around finding nice local cafes in Seoul. And Seoul certainly DID NOT DISAPPOINT (I’m shouting this in my head because I’m over the moon about this).
I will write more about the cafes (and coffee stands!) in my next entry.