I tell you, the best experiences are the hardest ones to write about. It has been almost one year since my trip to Seoul. To this day, I'm still not sure about how I should document this amazing experience.
You'd find a lot of articles on why you must travel on your own at least once in your life. These articles tell you how amazing it is to travel on your own terms, your own pace; how you could 'eat-pray-love' and finally find yourself. You know, that great chance of introspection, and to experience the glory of Me, Myself and I. (NOTE: Some articles forget to talk about the serious struggle of stressful self timers and unflattering selfies along the way. No hipster photos for you, babe.) Kidding aside, of course, I somehow expected that my first ever 'Solo Trip' would take that same direction, but to my surprise it just detoured towards more... In case you're wondering how traveling alone looks like... It's nothing but awesome, and I promise, it's actually something that you must try as well.
You'd find yourself in the beauty of careful planning to come-what-may (eventually) and every crazy thing in between.
I spent hours, days and weeks of searching Airbnb, contacting hosts, figuring out modes of transportation, searching for every must-see, must-do & and must-try to writing down 'Kahamsahanida' in Hanggul! It could be both fun and really frustrating, but careful planning makes it all worth it in the end.
You'd get that Resfeber at its finest: the restless beating of a traveler's heart before a journey, in mixture of excitement, anticipation and anxiety (like serious anxiety)
In English, Resfeber sounds like: OMG, this is it! It's gonna be awesome! But what if I get kidnapped? What if I get lost? What if something crazy happens?What bus number should I take again? Which station? ...
You'd be very proud of your strategies, that sense of strength and independence and yet you'd cringe and laugh at every epic fail, what was I thinking moment and "bloopers" along the way.
I remember how I freaked out after I was jokingly told that one of my room mates in the hostel was a Chinese Mafia. I dreaded not wearing some sort of thermal wear and endured the cold all night long. You sure would need a list of "firsts" and you'd be able to fill it, effortlessly...
You'd find fulfilment in reaching each destination successfully, in easily figuring out subway routes, in trusting your discernment and intuition for every twist and turn, and of course for being able to stick (and not stick) to your own plan.
There's nothing like realizing you are seated in the right bus, and riding the right MRT line... I never, not even once, got lost when I was there. I found every destination set on my itinerary, ticked them one by one.. and really, it's one of the best feelings in the world...
You'd find yourself in the kindness of strangers, in the company of new friends, in the warmth of hosts and have that priceless feeling of Home in a completely unknown place with completely unknown people.
The very moment I entered my hostel, a group of Chinese travelers asked me if I already had my dinner and whether I wanted to have a bowl of noodles so they could cook for me. That was even before they asked my name. They were not able to speak English well and yet I had my very much needed bowl of soup... I must say kindness is in fact more universal.
On my second day, I had the amazing Seoul Mate to take me around Bukchon Hanok Village. They were a group of Korean students who welcome tourists and travelers in their city during their free time -- with no charge!! Ahh, they were really nice, friendly and were too patient with 'slow travelers' like me.
You'd be amazed by how you risk and entrust your life & safety to complete strangers -- then later realize and feel that utter gratitude for how much they've made your trip very meaningful. Connecting with people and making friends, despite the language and cultural barrier, isn't as hard as you think.
I remember I 'asked out' a fellow solo traveler if he could come with me to a lantern festival. Late at night, I risked crossing dark alleys with a 'new friend', trusting completely. I enjoyed listening to him as he talked about his culture, his experiences from traveling alone, and even about his girlfriend. On our way home, I was limping in pain after walking all day, and I was really amazed with his patience and genuine concern, offering to take me to a clinic and waiting until I get to walk properly.
Friends from SeoulMates and with the Volunteer Group
You'd be surprised by how you can instantly 'belong and blend', interact with locals in a deeper way, and can actually make a difference. :) I signed up for a volunteer program where you can teach kids in certain communities (some are North Korean refugees). That was really my favorite part!!!! The kids were very nice, friendly and were very eager to learn. There, I also met fellow volunteers who were international students and expats and they'd help you find your way around the city.
You'd encounter God in different ways, in different instances... That is the beauty of being outside your comfort zone: you'd pray your way out of your fears and doubts. And for each prayer, I tell you, you will find answers.
I prayed every step of the way -- for wisdom, protection and provision. Also, since it was my very first time to experience and see the fall foliage -- at the sight of the beautiful colors, I couldn't help but worship and be in awe!!! I also made time for my devotional and books in cozy and cute cafes -- Seoul has it all.
You'd be affirmed of that security, joy and wholeness despite being alone. You'd appreciate the season more - not grumbling in loneliness (worse, in bitterness) but in a dreamy kind of excitement that someday one day you will tell your (future) husband and children about every adventure! (Haha, yuck, cheese balls!)
Seoul looks exactly like those you see on Koreanovelas - filled of extra cheesy-clingy-touchy-feely lovers! They were everywhere -- parks, malls, train. Heart-check!!! Indeed, I didn't mind, they were actually cute rather than annoying... I loved and enjoyed looking at them! Haha!!
Finally, you would realise that you are not alone, and it's not just 'about you' after all.
Traveling solo may offer you that Major Me Time. As for my experience, traveling on my own was an ultimate chance for "extrospection". It's where you don't search and look within, but even look beyond you. I found myself in and out of streets and seas of people completely unknown to me; and there, I felt small, positively & awe-inspiringly, realising how I am just one soul out of billions-- yet more than just strolling solo in the midst of it all, I am fully connecting, experiencing, receiving and giving what I could in that little corner of the world...
I encourage you too to go!! For such wonderful experience of freedom is a very rare chance, only found when you are far from the comfort and distraction of people known to you, when you cannot rely on anyone, when no one else is looking, when you are on your own...