Travel
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Seoul-o

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.”

Group. Culture.

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.

11 Comments

  1. I haven’t traveled alone, but I like being out by myself. I like having lunch by myself, shopping alone, hanging out in a cafe while there are groups of people around me. I get stares sometimes and questions from my workmates mostly why I like being alone. I was ready to travel Seoul by myself if ever my friends didn’t get approved VISAs, but now I feel relieved that everyone’s going. Maybe some Asian countries really have a group culture of some sort?

    • I don’t know if you watch Korean dramas, but there’s this new one out called Drinking Alone (or something like that). The first scene is totally how I felt with people just staring at me hahaha! I don’t know if they had the same thoughts as the characters, but I literally felt like I was being watched the entire time I’d be sitting alone.

      Don’t get me wrong though, there are plenty of things you can do alone in Seoul and it’s definitely worth a solo trip. However, just from my experience, you’ll find that people tend to stay in groups in Seoul.

  2. I love traveling alone. I like the control of choosing lodgings that I prefer and making a schedule without worrying about someone else. My last few trips I did alone (though I did see some friends), and I had a really good time. I actually feel annoyed when I travel with a lot of people because it can get so inefficient. That sounds pretty bad, but that’s really just me not being used to it. My parents literally shipped me off to the States after I graduated high school at 17, so I’ve been going at it alone for a long time. My husband isn’t the traveling sort, so it works out for us haha.

    I was thinking of doing a solo trip to Korea and Japan someday! I honestly don’t know what to expect. I was just thinking of filling up my schedule with tours to keep me busy.

    • I think tours are the way to do it! I did one tour while I was in Korea, and honestly, I should’ve just booked tours throughout my trip. I had a lot of fun on that one day, and to think it was just to the DMZ hahaha!

  3. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m not one to travel alone because I get anxious easily. The one time I traveled to North Caroline to meet my auntie was not so bad, but I wouldn’t really do it again if I had a choice. I’m a pretty strong and independent person, but I just prefer sharing a piece of traveling moments with someone else (i.e., my husband). Had I not married yet, I’d love to travel with family (more than with friends)…but that’s just me! 🙂

    • I like to travel with my family also, but I don’t know that I would go with them everywhere! Haha! I like traveling back to the Philippines with them, or to Canada, or anywhere else we’ve got relatives. I think for me, if I were to travel with my family I would make sure that we had an organized (and already booked) itinerary — they tend to change their minds A LOT!

      I’ve traveled with friends before, and I’ve also traveled to meet up with friends. Those trips have always been fun!

      • Fortunately, my family are not as difficult to travel with as my in-laws. We’ve never been on a trip where everything went crazy and disorganized. That’s one of the many things I miss about them! 🙁

  4. I wonder if it’s just a Seoul thing, though? When I go to Korea next year, I’ll be spending 8 days in between Busan and Daegu – all by myself – and I’d hate to be forced into needing a travel buddy haha.

    • I think it’s a pretty common attitude in Korea. There are a lot of things that are disadvantageous for solo travelers or people (expats/foreigners) completely alone in Korea. For instance, it’s hard to even eat out alone since a lot of restaurants can only serve groups. It’s not that they want to only serve groups, it’s just that they’re only equipped to serve groups. Korean bars and some venues are the same way, they’ll only give you a booth for 4 or more people. At the same time, I think if people put themselves out there, they’ll find that traveling alone in Korea isn’t all that bad.

  5. You know I travel alone quite a bit. I like it, but I agree that it’s a bit harder in Korea. I think I’m better about it now, but there are still some restaurants I will not go by myself, like a Korean BBQ restaurant! I feel like I can do a lot of solo things in Itaewon, though, because of the many foreigners. I think the concept of solo whatever is slowly being accepted in some parts of Korea, but it’s still not common at all. I can see the benefit of the group mentality, but going solo also has its benefits, too. I’d rather be alone when I go to new places so I can really immerse myself in my surrounding. I’m just used to it.

    At least now you know that when coming to Seoul (or Korea in general), you need to bring someone with you 🙂 Consider this an interesting learning experience XD I’m glad you still had a good time in Seoul, despite those moments of loneliness.

    • Oh, well, when I’m in town again you know you can always go to k-bbq with me!!! Hahaha next time I’ll buy the galbisal! 🙂

      It was definitely a learning experience, and even though it did feel lonely, I’m glad I went through it. I learned something about myself, and in turn it’s also another aspect of the culture I got to learn as well. So, it really wasn’t all that bad in the end!

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