Now, I planned my trip to Korea in a very short about of time and barely did any research when it came to getting around. I am fortunate enough to have grown up pretty well traveled with my mom and this type of travel was often off the beaten path.
It was probably a combination of factors, but for the first time, I found myself to be slightly overwhelmed.
Most individuals I met in Gangneung, on the east coast, didn’t speak much English unless they were a volunteer for the Olympics. After a day or two of trying to get my bearings and feeling flustered about not being able to ask for help or directions, not understanding the signs (obviously Korean is a symbol based language) and not even being able to explain to the cab driver where I needed to go because my broken English couldn’t say the name in Korean and my phone no longer had wifi, I grew increasingly frustrated with my abilities to get around.
In fact, I was so exhausted, hungry and discouraged on my first night that I got instant noodles from a nearby convenience store and ate them in my hotel room. Don’t judge.
In my defence, I felt uncomfortable wandering an unknown area at night by myself as a woman wandering for food…. And I couldn’t say no to the heated floors of my hotel room.
The long and short of it is, eventually I learned and I wanted to write this article when it came to the things I recommend always having on your phone when traveling to a foreign country, especially in Asia or any other “symbol” based country (i.e. if you can’t read a sign).
Bless technology for the modern traveller.
Apps to Download:
- MAPS.me – this *offline map* is ESSENTIAL. You download the map on wifi then you have a map of the full country available to you offline. This is particularly best in countries where it is a symbol-based language. If you need directions to a certain place, you will have no idea how to read the name and taxis may just get frustrated with you. It makes life a lot easier for everyone if you showed the destination you want to go to in Korean rather than a half English way of saying it out loud. MAPS.me allows you to search for the names of restaurants / destinations in English and it will at least have the address in Korean available.
- Rome2Rio – Discovered on this trip and to say I’m obsessed is an understatement. Gives all available paid transportation options (Subway, Taxi, Train, Uber) and associated costs. Not to mention to user interface of the website is incredibly ‘user friendly’.
- Translator App (Google Translate, Papago, GenieTalk) – The choice is yours. I used Papago but I heard the Google technology is comparable now. Both allow you to take photos and it translates the text for you as well as the voice translation. Save yourself the effort and don’t try full paragraphs with the voice app. Both tend to have some problems when it comes to “phrases” that don’t work well when directly translated. GenieTalk is something I found online and supposedly takes this into considerations.
- XE Currency – Not really to do with ‘getting around’, but essential for any travel. I mean math is fun, but this just takes the hassle and guesswork out of it… especially if you are going to exchange more $$$
- Take a screenshot of your hotel name in Korean. Heck, make it your background if you need to. Print it off or write it down in case your phone dies too.
- Download the local language keyboard on your phone if you want local recommendations. If you are getting recommendations (which I always do when traveling), if you have the keyboard available, they can search the name for you in MAPS.me and just save the destination for later.
- Save all desired destinations using your map app. Google maps and MAPS.me both do it, but as you go about doing your research and talking to people, when you find it in the map itself, you can hit a button that can either “save as a favourite” or even add it to a particular list. This is a must do in cities, because often I find myself going to a particular part of town for one reason (let’s get real it was for food), then looking at my map to see that four other recommendations for shopping, museums, views, karaoke or anything else was nearby.
- If you can’t find the recommendations via conversation, use the map. You’ll figure it out.
- Screenshots of key sentences. Try to learn some of the language, of course, but screenshot a few key sentences of what questions you may want to ask people (i.e. recommendations, etc.)
Do you have any other travel hacks or essentials that you use on your phone? Would love to hear them in the comments below!