A Teen’s Guide to Surviving in Seoul

By Sanho Kim.

Travelling is full of opportunities and delights, no matter what period of life you are in. Youth travel may be restrained by the limited capacity of a minor, but it has nonetheless become a considerable element in tourism.

Seoul, the hottest city in South Korea, is one of the modern cities open to such young travellers. However, even today, it is still hard and daunting for teenagers to freely explore Seoul without facing any problems or questions.

Even myself, as a native Korean—yet not a Seoul resident—found being young and alone at Seoul quite alarming at times. After all, we are still minors used to being under some kind of adult supervision, and it doesn’t help that we are at this wonderful, yet foreign and fast-paced city. That is why, based on my own experience, I present to you a realistic, honest teen’s guide to surviving in Seoul.

  1. Basics First

So you’ve arrived—the first concern on your mind should be about getting water and access to a restroom. Both won’t be that hard to find in any part of Seoul. There won’t be a spot in the city without any kind of building—and those buildings usually have restrooms that are open to the public.

Getting water can be tricky in that water fountains are quite rare, but it gets much easier to stay hydrated when one notices that all Korean restaurants/cafes give out free water.

Another factor that you must consider is, of course, the weather. It is easy to assume that Korean weather won’t be a problem, since the country isn’t known for its climate, but in reality, it might be a visitor’s worst nightmare.

While it is no extreme, Korean weather tends to handpick worst-case scenarios. It is painfully hot and humid in the summer, while the winters are dangerously freezing.

Thankfully, Seoul is not difficult for even us non-drivers to explore without experiencing much discomfort—the comprehensive subway network, the underground ways (which are lined with shops, and are quite safe), and the excessive amount of malls and stores are either well-heated or air-conditioned. Hence, it is easy to plan a route with minimal exposure to any unpleasant weather.

  1. Food: Eat Well and Stay Within the Budget

A visitor’s #1 wish would be to eat like a native. Korean teens, like most teens around the world, look for cheap, homely, and substantial food—5-star restaurants and bars are well beyond our range, for obvious reasons.

The type of food that seems to best fit such a crowd seems to be the “bunsik”—a broad genre that can only be characterized as “affordable”, “common”, and “easy”. Think of it as a counterpart for dishes such as mac n cheese, sandwiches, and apple pie. There are so many reasons why bunsik is preferred by Korean teens: 1) It’s cheap. 2) It can be found practically anywhere, from high-end shopping malls to 24-hour convenience stores. 3) It fits almost all taste buds, no matter how much of a picky eater one may be. 4) Despite all that, it’s not something you’d feel bad about eating all day.

Translation: Bunsik for a rainy day~

Some popular bunsik dishes include gimbap (similar to sushi rolls), tteokbokki (rice cake cooked in a spicy red sauce), and various noodle soups.

  1. Moving Efficiently

Fortunately, Seoul is not a difficult place to move around in if one adequately takes advantage of its public transportation system. The two obvious methods are the subway system and public buses.

Seoul’s subway network is quite comprehensive and fit for visitors in that it covers most of the city’s important, must-visit spots, including the airport, the train station, shopping districts, historical sites, and tourist destinations. From my own experience, I can confidently tell you that it’ll take you almost anywhere you want to go as a foreigner. It’s also cheap, with its standard one-way ticket at about 1.20 US dollars.

The buses can be a bit tricky, in that there are so many of them and there are no big, helpful stations with an information desk and a full map of all routes. However, they do tend to be more extensive and detailed than the subway. Luckily, both the subway and the bus network are extremely well represented on the Internet and smartphone apps (such as the Naver Map), and if you are a teenager familiar with searching online, you won’t have a problem finding your way across Seoul.

Travelling as a teen can be, of course, daunting and will leave many not knowing what to do or where to start. There are the obvious difficulties, such as safety concerns, low budget problems, and the limited range of what us teens can do. However, the rewards usually surpass such drawbacks; you not only experience a complete new kind of freedom, but also learn a lot about being responsible, making plans, and taking care of yourself.

Seoul, while it may sound faraway and foreign to many, is actually a safe place to start. Considering how actively and confidently the native youth explore and move around the city, it is easy to conclude that Seoul is a fit destination for teenage visitors. Just keep in mind some tips for surviving in the city, and hopefully you won’t have a problem doing more than that, and start enjoying your adventure.

Image source:

Featured Image: This image was originally posted on Flickr by travel oriented.  This image has been licensed for fair use by the creator under the Creative Commons license –Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) .  No changes have been made.

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