Updated: Apr 30, 2020
Recommended time to visit: spring, early summer, and fall
My first time in South Korea was a solo trip a few years ago.
Mind you this was my first solo trip ever, so maybe some of these suggestions are no-brainers to veteran solo travelers. If you're like me, a Midwestern girl where our biggest city can look like a ghost town on a Friday night, maybe this will help your first venture in solo traveling South Korea.
If it's your first time traveling in general, it might actually be a good thing to go on one of these big international planes. I always feel they're less bumpy than plane travel from state to state. Looking at you Chicago O'Hare.
Personally, I'm a big fan of Delta, but they can have a hefty price tag. You can find pretty good deals, however, if your patient and do your research on best times to buy. I like flying with Delta because of its large library of movies to watch. When it's a 14 hour direct flight, entertainment is needed.
I highly suggest getting a pocket wifi lined up online. Unless your phone is unlocked, then you would have a choice between a Korean sim card or a pocket wifi.
Some places to find great deals for pocket wifi are Klook or Kkday. You can also try just doing a simple Google search before you leave as well and find something that works for you. I think looking for pocket wifi at least a month in advance would be the best time to secure one to pick up at the airport when you arrive.
South Korea has some of the best transportation in the world. One key detail that makes it easy-to-use is the T-money card. T-money is a refillable card that you can use for buses, subways, and taxis. Actually, you can also use it to buy things anywhere there is a T-money logo.
You can buy a T-money card at the Incheon Airport right before you go down the escalator to the subway, OR you can buy one in any convenience store once you get to the place you're staying.
How to Use....
So, you got here and you've never been on a subway before, no stress. Using the subway is pretty straightforward, Seoul made it pretty easy to transfer stations. For each subway car and door, there is a number. So if your navigation tells you that a quick transfer or exit is "3-1," it's saying go to car 3 door 1. How do you know which one is which? Look for the triangles on the ground, they'll tell you.
It took me awhile to figure out what the triangles meant. Seems like a no-brainer, but I never saw these in LA or New York when I traveled there. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, however.
The stations will be announced in Korean and English for sure, but main tourist spots will also be announced in Japanese and Chinese. I really love that. I can't imagine the U.S. ever using our neighbors languages on planes or anywhere. Just a tidbit.
Buses are pretty straightforward. When looking for navigation, Google Maps really likes to show buses more than it will show you the subway routes. I recommend downloading Naver Maps or Kakao Maps before you get here if you want to easily use the subway. I like using Kakao because I can type in either English or Korean without the app freaking out.
You just need to find the bus number, the right bus stop, and off you go! The bus stops are announced in Korean and English, just like the subway.
Here's where you'll need some Korean to get places. Taxis can seem intimidating, especially when an Ajeossi doesn't want to deal with you, but they make it a straight shot to the place you're going, which can be nice. They're relatively cheap too.
When telling the taxi driver where you want to go, simply say your destination and then add 가 주세요 (ka ju-sae-yo). "___________ go, please."
If they're putting up a fuss you can show them the map on your phone and have them put in the address. It usually doesn't happen, but it can.
If the main reason you're coming is for Korean food, I feel it. This can be a scary situation to the anxiety-filled, however. I think I lost almost 10 lbs (~5 kg) when I traveled here because I was too afraid to order. I'm not one to be too nervous in those types of situations, but I just wanted to avoid confusion. Here's how to help with that:
Learn Hangul- It will take you far
English Friendly Places
Fast Food Ah, yes, you traveled thousands of miles to go to McDonald's. I know, but fast food places usually have kiosks where there's English. Also try a bulgogi burger, can't find that back in the U.S.!
Itaewon Itaewon is known to be the foreigner area around Seoul. Even though I can speak Korean pretty well nowadays, people usually speak to me in English in this area because, well, look at me. Some of my favorite places in Itaewon are Naked Wings, Vatos Tacos, and Ben's Cookies. There's a ton of food here, though, so just look around until something pops out at you.
김밥천국/김밥나라 (Gimbap Paradise/Gimbap Country) While this menu is usually in Korean, I found a blog that translated the entire menu. Where was this when I first came here!? Personal favorite is 소고기김밥(Beef Gimbap.)
Kyochon Chicken If you like Korean fried chicken, may I say that this is some of the best. While most people get this as a delivery/take-out order, there are restaurants where you can sit down and order. You will have left-overs more than likely, so keep that in mind.
Google Search Unlike when I first came here, Google is working here lately. At the very least, you can find a menu, and if worse comes to worse, you can point at the pictures on the screen when you order at the restaurant. Ha!
No Destination? No Problem!
More interested in meeting people than just being alone the entire time? I recommend downloading the MeetUp app. One place that I used to frequent was GSM Terrace Language Exchange Cafe and Pub. While it says it's a language exchange, I think most Korean people coming there want to focus on their English. So somehow the conversations usually end up in English. It's a fun time though, I recommend looking it up if you want to fill up a few hours at night time.
There's also a lot of hostels that are really good in Seoul. I think I found a few on Airbnb. South Korea is super safe, so I would recommend staying at a hostel to save money and possibly meet a few other travelers.
I hope these help out a few people thinking about coming here! I hope to keep posting more specific destinations individually. Some places are better than others for people who are alone. Happy traveling!