There are a lot of reasons why South Korea’s winter season is a tourist’s dream come true. It’s a sight to behold with everything covered in a thick blanket of white snow (just like in K-dramas!)—it will certainly draw you in. Who wouldn’t fall in love with snowflakes swirling in the wind, especially when you’re used to Manila's tropical weather? Aside from that, you will not run out with things to do, with a slew of winter activities waiting to be discovered. And did we mention the food being amazing, too?
We know that the cold won’t bother you anyway, but be warned: The low temperature in South Korea can get a bit harsh. So to help you prepare, here’s a list of what you should remember before going on a trip to winter wonderland:
1. Prepare an itinerary.
The age-old quote is true: Planning is everything. No matter how spontaneous you are, it’s always best to have a schedule. This will help you manage your time once you’re in the Land of the Morning Calm. It will assure that you won’t miss out on anything. List down the places you want to visit, and the food you want to eat—South Korea offers a plethora of experiences during the winter season that you must take part in. A view of the entire city in the morning? N Seoul Tower awaits you!
2. Book your tickets and tours ahead.
If you’re planning to go on a tour (like Everland and the Korean Demilitarized Zone) or travel by train (using the Korea Rail Pass), reserve your tickets and admissions at least a week before. You will not only get to your target location without getting lost (most tours include transportation) but also avoid the hassle of waiting in line.
Additional tip: If you’re staying in a hotel, Airbnb, or cabin, make sure your accommodation has a heating system (called ondol in Korean).
3. Double-check all your documents.
A well-prepared traveler is one who enjoys the most, we say. Make sure your documents are already settled before your trip (visa, passport, travel insurance) and sealed in a water-resistant envelope. Don’t forget to have a photocopy of your papers and IDs and take digital shots of it so you can enjoy your trip to the fullest!
4. Do your research about the Korean culture and language.
Knowing how to say “annyeong haseyo!” or “saranghae!” is great, but learning a few more words for your Korea trip will come in handy. There are various tutorials on the internet where you can learn how to speak and understand the Korean language. You don’t have to memorize the entire thing but remembering how to say a few courtesy phrases in Korean like thank you, welcome, sorry, and please, and how to address someone (not every boy is called an oppa!) will get you far. While you’re at it, read on what to do and what not to do to prevent yourself from being embarrassed (ex. no loud talking on public transportations) and caught off guard.
5. Download apps to help you wherever you go.
Google Maps may work here, but it’s a whole new world in South Korea when it comes to application software. Do yourself a favor by installing apps on your phone that can assist you in terms of transportation and communication. Download Kakao Map or Naver Map for navigation. You should also have Kakao T (for taxi) and Kakao Bus installed, which are similar to the ride-hailing apps you are used to here. In terms of communicating and translating, Kakao Talk, Line, Naver Korean Dictionary and Papago are your go-tos.
6. Pack light, but pile on those winter clothes.
This is the right time for you to wear those thick coats you’ve been wanting to flaunt forever! Don’t underestimate how cold South Korea can be and make sure to bring insular jackets, hand gloves, and scarves. Also, remember to look good on the outside but feel warm on the inside by having thermal underwear and wool socks on. Curate your OOTD per day to avoid paying for extra baggage and for you to have more space for your shopping haul in Myeongdong.
7. Bring shoes with a good grip.
There’s a right place to ice skate, and that’s not where you’re planning to shop. Avoid slipping in the icy pavements and go for comfortable yet appropriate footwear, like sneakers with waterproof soles and winter boots that are stylish yet give ample protection.
8. Be generous with the moisturizer and lip balm.
We all know what the cold season brings: dry skin and cracked lips. For protection, opt for cold weather moisturizers to keep your skin soft and hydrated. Lip tints will look good on you, but make sure they look and feel the best by applying a lip balm first! Don’t bring a lot, though—South Korea is a makeup and skincare heaven that you’ll probably end up bringing home bags of goodies before you know it.
9. Carry additional batteries and portable power banks.
To immortalize your trip and make it a Seoul-id one, taking photos and videos will surely help you remember how you enjoyed it. Have extra batteries for your cameras so you can take photos of yourself in landmarks or record performances during winter festivals. Also, don't forget to keep a portable power bank with you always so you can upload multiple stories on Instagram!
10. Have extra cash with you and have it exchanged to South Korean Won.
Even if you planned your entire trip on a budget, having an extra amount of money will help you be worry-free, especially if you want to do a lot of shopping, eating, and café hopping. Retail stores, food stalls, and themed coffee shops are everywhere, and not all accept credit cards so put some converted moolah in your wallet. The winter season offers various street food selections too to keep you warm and full, and is the best time to literally see chestnuts roasting on an open fire and eat it, too!