My second to last post and I’ve decided it should be about traveling outside Japan. Now as a very much broke college student I decided that I would splurge on only one big trip. I was originally going to go to Kyoto but then I decided let me just be really out there and do a solo trip outside of Japan! I ended up booking a ticket to South Korea. The timing worked out so that my trip would occur during finals week which is why I’m doing the post on trips now. Some tips to help you out:
Booking a flight.
Comparing prices takes a while. Prepare to give yourself a week to shop around. Also, try to purchase a ticket at least a month in advance. I recommend using Kayak or Expedia. These websites filters are a blessing. Otherwise I would have ended up booking a flight during one of my finals.
Booking a place to stay.
Since it was only a few days I ended up booking a bed at a hostel, which is a cheap way to go. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable. If a hotel would make you comfortable, go for it. If you shop around I’m sure you would be able to find an affordable room to stay in for a couple of nights. Airbnb is another option you can use. Just as a side note for the women out there. If you feel uncomfortable sharing a room with a guy, just be sure to pay attention to what kind of room you’re booking at a hostel. Some rooms are co-ed and some are female only.
Foreign currency exchange.
Look up beforehand what the best method for currency exchange is at the country you are visiting. Every country is a bit different. For the first day, you might as well exchange some money at the airport since everything is unfamiliar and all you want to do is get to your room. The easiest way, especially if you’re only staying for a few days, might be just to withdraw straight from an ATM as soon as you’ve gotten settled. Just remember to find a global ATM.
Call your bank!
This is so important if you plan on withdrawing money while abroad. I almost forgot but thankfully I read a post online that reminded me. I would also look into your phone plan. I was lucky enough to have an international plan that included South Korea.
Planning on what to do.
I did some research before I went to Korea. I did not want to waste too much time looking up place to go. Using Trip Advisor and my friend’s recommendations, I compiled a list of places I wanted to visit. I ordered the list from “must-goes” to “would like to go if I can.” Then, I planned about two to three activities everyday that I absolutely had to do and added one of the “would like to go if I can” at the end. Remember not to make your list too long. There’s no way you can go everywhere and that’s fine. Go to a few places and really absorb the country. An additional note: look up if your preferred navigation app works in the country you’re visiting. I used Google Maps in Japan and it works just fine. However, not so much in South Korea. The transit directions work just fine, but the walking directions were non-existent. Apple Maps worked about 50-50. I would recommend getting used to reading actual street maps. Nothing like going analog.
The language barrier.
Since you’re visiting the country for only a short time and probably only visiting the more tourist-y places, there’s no reason to go in with a semester’s worth of language knowledge. You should at least know how to say, “hello,” “thank you,” “sorry,” “excuse me,” and at least numbers 1-10 (chances are, you won’t need to use the last one but you never know).
Prepare for plans to fall through, for your timing to get messed up, to get lost. Nothing will go exactly as you expect and that is what makes traveling so fun. Don’t pressure yourself into completing everything on your list because you probably will not.
After reading through the whole, maybe traveling on your own seems scary. And it was. I went to a foreign country all by myself, with no help and barely knowing any Korean. Is it for everyone? I don’t think so. I think everyone, while in Japan, should leave the Tokyo area at least once. Don’t feel pressured by friends and family to travel to another country if you don’t feel up to it. Recognize that just going abroad is a huge accomplishment and will change you in ways that you will carry with you forever.