I have never had an issue with traveling alone. I actually prefer to travel alone to a new city where I can have a sense of anonymity. Only after I’ve experienced a city on my own a few times will I ask someone else to return to the city with me. I don’t know why I’m this way, but it’s just personal preference I guess. On this trip to Seoul, however, I learned that I may not be all about going solo after all.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t leave Seoul feeling sour. In fact, despite some quirks I didn’t anticipate, I fell in love with the city even more. I just wasn’t really into being there — somewhat — alone. I had a couple friends who were also visiting South Korea, but they were in different cities and had certain schedules. We only really met up twice, with just a few short hangouts in between. I also spent a day with my aunt and uncle who came in from Incheon. But during most of my time I was in Seoul, I was left to get lost on my own.
I didn’t mind it, since I’d meet up with Tara after she’d get off work. I also had some really good company at the guesthouse for the first few days. But when I was alone, I would sometimes wish I had a travel buddy. I never felt that way anywhere else I’ve traveled alone, but for some reason I had this lingering feeling all throughout this trip.
On my first weekend in Seoul, I met up with a friend in Hongdae. She’d been in Seoul for about a month and was pretty much at the end of her trip. She was looking for new scenery, even looked into going to Busan. We were walking around Hongdae and decided to have some cold drinks at some sort of juicing chain. I forget what it’s called, but we sat there and chatted for about an hour. She told me, “Seoul is really nice, but it’s also really lonely…people are cool, but group culture can be annoying. Everyone looks at me because I’m alone.”
That was it. I very rarely saw anyone alone. Staying at a guesthouse, I saw people come in and out. Some of them lived in Seoul and just needed a place to crash after a night out, others were traveling in from other parts of the country, none of them were alone. I went into a coffee house in Gangnam, and I was the only one by myself, sipping my coffee and reading the news on my phone. I very rarely saw other people who were alone. Someone was almost always with someone else or was waiting for someone else.
One girl I met at the guesthouse asked me about my trip, and she said, “You’re in Korea by yourself?” Yes. I am. She didn’t seem to understand why someone would travel alone.
Still, traveling on my own is something really important to me. It lets me reset. It’s not necessarily an escape, but a way for me to get back to the core of who I am, apart from who I am for everyone else. And, on this trip, I learned that I might value this kind of “me time,” but I also really, really, really need to be around people and interact. Constantly.
I might enjoy people watching, but I’m not a freaking wallflower. It kills me to just watch. I have to do something. Although, I know that I could’ve just struck up a conversation with someone if I wanted to, it was hard for me to muster that kind of confidence in Seoul. I’d never had that feeling before. Usually, especially when I’d travel in Seattle, I’d break the ice and ask someone to take my picture or ask them if they knew of a nice coffee house or a place I should go see around the area. I have no idea what came over me in Seoul. Maybe I was intimidated by seeing groups together, who’d already been immersed with one another. I didn’t want to break anything up or disturb anyone.
Despite all this, I still had a really good time discovering Seoul, getting lost in translation, and caught up in such a beautiful city. The people, once I had enough guts to talk to someone, are super nice, helpful, and so willing to help. It’s just, when I visit Seoul again, I’ll definitely bring someone along.
Do you like to travel alone?
P.S.: This was my personal experience. A solo trip to Seoul can definitely be a fun experience! It was just too lonely for me.