Lessons Learned – Korea & Japan

Traveling through South Korea and Japan wasn’t all sunshine and kittens, although there was plenty of both.  I learned some things the hard way, and I’m sharing them with you so you don’t have to.

Don’t bother with your hair

It was August when I got there and holy hell, was it hot. Not just hot, but humid.  I made the stupid mistake of having my hair straightened in New York before I left, and my hair and it started reverting the day I got to Seoul.  If you’re going to Asia in the summer, either wear your hair natural or rock a protective style like braids.  I would opt for the first option because washing your hair when it’s icky outside can be so refreshing, and you can put it up to keep it from sticking to your neck.  Whichever you choose, save your money and leave the flat iron at home.

Keep your luggage light

Since we would be returning with 2 months worth of clothes for Stinkbrain, I wanted to keep my luggage down to a carry on.  In doing so, I didn’t have to worry about being separated from my belongings, and I didn’t have to wait for it once I landed.

I tried to pack pieces that I could mix and match, which was mostly successful.  We had laundry machines for the first two weeks so I could wash what I needed.  One thing I wish I had done was pack more cotton and linen.  The modal shirts I had were ok, but didn’t breathe as well as I would have liked.  That said, they were much better than the Express Portofino top that did not breathe at all, and stuck to my body the entire day – not the greatest feeling.  My dresses were also black and did nothing for me, so they were also pretty hot unless I got a nice breeze (I didn’t).  So be sure to pack cotton and linen, light colors and light weight.

No interwebs in Japan

There’s plenty of wifi in Japan, they’re just not easy to access. This did not make for easy Pokemon Go-ing.  With the exception of the subway, almost all hot-spots require you to sign up and some require you to call for an access code – which only works if you can make calls.  SIM cards are apparently available, but hard to find.  Be sure to screenshot or download whatever you may need when you have wifi, because it may be a while before you get online.

This is not the case in Seoul, where there is plenty of free wifi everywhere.  I don’t recall having an issue getting online while being in the city.

Bathing in Japan

Japanese Bathroom

Getting clean in Japan was not as straightforward as I though, but nice once I figured it out.

The first night we got to Kyoto, I encountered the bathroom above.  I tried to shower in the tub because I am American and that’s what we do.  There is no shower curtain, and the sprayer was not high enough for me to stand.  That night ended with me awkwardly squatting in the tub trying to rinse my hair in the faucet.  Freaking out because I got water all over the floor.

The next night, I decided to look up “how to” videos on YouTube because I knew I did it wrong before.  So here are the steps for how to bathe in the Japanese way.

  1. Strip – leave your clothes and towels outside the bathroom so they don’t get wet.
  2. Run your bath water, but don’t get in the tub
  3. Sit on the stool and clean yourself like you would in a regular shower.  The bowl is for rinsing off.
  4. Once you’re all clean, get into the tub and relax!

I actually enjoyed the process once I figured it all out.  I’m glad I got the chance to practice on my own before we switched hotels.  The last hotel we stayed at had a public bath.  While there was a private bath in our room, I wanted the experience of the public bath, and the concierge said it was a salt spa and that sounded really nice after walking around all day.

The process for a public bath is much the same.  Be sure to take your slippers off before going into the changing room, and rinse off your feet before getting into the bath.  There were multiple sinks and vanities set up with travel size toiletries to use.  I didn’t think to bring these items down to the spa with me so I did it once I returned to my room.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t as embarrassed to hang out in a bath with a bunch of naked, Japanese strangers.  Next time, we’ll incorporate a trip to an onsen.

Excess luggage

Normally, SB and I would try to keep our luggage down to one carry-on a piece, but that wasn’t an option for this trip.  Since we didn’t want to lugg his giant bag around that was filled with suits and other things we wouldn’t need.  It was ok while we were in Tokyo because there was space in our friend’s apartment, but the reviews of our Kyoto hotel said the rooms were small, and we didn’t want to travel with 5 bags on the train.

We were happy to discover that there are companies in Japan that will transport your luggage to the airport and store them for up to a week.  You can have your items picked up at your hotel, or if you’re in a residential area, you can drop them off at a 7/11.  You can also have them delivered to your hotel when you land.  Since we spoke no Japanese and the people at 7/11 spoke no English, we were able to call the transport company, Yamato, who was able to translate for us.  We waved goodbye to our extra bags and went to Kyoto with 1 small bag and a book bag.

We left Kyoto the same day as our flight back to Jersey.  We took the high speed rail back to Tokyo, and another train to Narita Airport.  Once we got there, we picked up our luggage from the Yamato desk just a short walk from the check-in counter.  However, we didn’t notice that our bag was damaged until later, but it was easily returned at Costco.  I never knew companies like this existed but I’m glad we found it when we did.

I hope some of these tips will help if you ever get to visit South Korea or Japan.  What lessons did you learn while traveling abroad?

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