What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

When moving to Korea to teach English, it can be hard to know what exactly you need to bring. Although Korea is modernizing quite a bit, not that much has changed since many of the posts already online were written. Still, I wanted to write my updated list for 2014 of things you should consider packing if you move abroad to teach English.

Resources:

Notes:

  • This list is based on my experience living and teaching in Busan, the second-largest city in Korea and home to Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world.
  • In Seoul, these are still the less common products, but I can say that they are easier to find in Seoul than elsewhere in Korea, because it is a more diverse city with lots of international grocery stores and big brand chains.
  • Just like in any country, these kinds of imported products become scarcer as you get into more rural towns.
  • For food and beauty products, iHerb is your best friend. You can use my coupon code LWW752 to get 10% off.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

Fitted sheet:

I have friends that went their entire year in Korea without using a fitted sheet, instead opting to place a duvet on top of their bed or use a flat sheet, but for me having a fitted sheet has made all the difference. Be aware that the beds here are of slightly different proportions so the sheet may not fit exactly, but in my opinion it’s infinitely better to have a sheet you can tuck in easily and not have to adjust every morning.

Full-sized bath towel:

I brought one from home, and I have never seen a large one, though I’ve read they’re sold at Costco. The typical towels sold in Korea tend to be just slightly larger than a hand towel size.

Your favourite toiletries:

The majority of products sold here are, of course, Korean. I have had good experience with many of the local brands and have adopted many of them to use in my beauty routines. You can find imported brands like Clean and Clear, Nivea, Tresemme, Crest, and Neutrogena, but these tend to be more expensive and they may not have the exact product you use back home. They definitely do carry higher-end products, for example Estée Lauder and even Clinique at the big department stores, but again these will be much more expensive. So if there’s anything you feel you (or your skin) couldn’t live without, make sure to bring a year’s supply.

Sunscreen: 

It’s not hard to find, but it’s very expensive here.

Toothpaste:

I would recommend bringing enough tubes of your favourite toothpaste to last you for the year. I haven’t used Korean toothpaste, but I’ve heard that it tends to be a bit weaker than we’re used to in North America and has a funny taste. I personally can’t brush with anything other than Sensodyne otherwise I get bad tooth pain and I haven’t been able to find that brand here.

Deodorant:

Don’t ask me why, but deodorant is not a common product here. I can find tiny, expensive imported deodorants (usually Nivea liquid roll-on) at a local store but stick deodorants aren’t common. I’m told that the cosmetics section at places like Costco and EMart have it, but since I make my own deodorant (yes, even in Korea) this hasn’t been too much of a problem for me.

Shoes:

If you have feet larger than a size 8 1/2, as I do, I would recommend bringing shoes for every season to Korea with you. My feet are just slightly too large for most of the Korean sizes, which usually go up to about 250mm in women’s sizes, which means I can only usually wear unisex shoes like off-brand Toms or Converse styles that they sell for men’s and women’s sizes. You can often find larger sizes at stores like H&M, but they are much harder to find than regular shoes. If your feet are smaller than mine you shouldn’t really have a problem as long as you live in a city center or will visit one during your time in Korea.

Jeans:

It’s not impossible to find jeans in your size if you live near major shopping center, which has stores like H&M, the Gap or Uniqlo. However you should know that jeans here are expensive. If you can bring enough pairs to last you for the year, you’ll save some money.

Bras:

Same as for jeans. I’m sure you can find them some places but most stores don’t carry my size.

Books or a Kindle:

English books aren’t common here, even at larger bookstores. But you can use the awesome website What The Book which stocks a lot of books and offers free shipping throughout Korea.

Plug adaptors:

I’d recommend bringing enough to charge every device you have. I only brought two, and I need to invest in a couple more so I can charge things from home. Don’t bring a hairdryer or straightener from home: they’ll be the wrong voltage and they’re inexpensive here. By the way, most electronics you bring from home won’t need a voltage converter, read here for more details.

Favourite food products:

I was sure when I first came that I wouldn’t be able to get things like peanut butter, ranch dressing, or Earl Grey tea. But Korea has come a long way since Simon and Martina made that initial video. I can now find Caesar salad dressing, tortillas, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and Alfredo sauce in almost every grocery store. While these products do tend to be a bit more expensive than you’ll be used to paying back home, they’re not impossible to find. Still, if there’s a particular brand of hot sauce or tea you love, bring it with you.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

For everything else, don’t worry too much. Korea is becoming more developed all the time, especially if you’re in a city, and increasingly you can get almost anything you need. If I was packing for Korea now I would pack: a few more bras, a few more pairs of shoes and comfortable pants, more of my clothes, and a few more of my favourite cosmetics. But in general I have been able to find just about everything I want (even avocados!). Except for maybe cheese – there’s still not much cheese here.

Just bring yourself, a good attitude, and enough clothes to last you for the year. You’ll do great. Also, congratulations on making this huge decision! For me it’s been such a rewarding experience in so many different ways and I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming adventure.

If you’ve ever moved to a foreign country, what was on your packing list for your big move? Fellow expats in Korea, what would you add to this list?

6 Free Helpful Apps for Travelers

Six Apps to Make Your Travel Life Easier >> Life In Limbo

Travel goes hand-in-hand with uncertainty. Every day you’re traveling, you’re bound to encounter problems you didn’t foresee, which will require creative ideas to solve. There’s no way around the fact that traveling is fraught with changes of plan and a lot of unknowns. But there are ways to make this process easier on yourself when the inevitable issues do arise, and one way is to embrace the magic of technology. We all know how much power and utility are now packed into a device that fits into the palm of our hand. The key is to harness this power in a way that serves you the best. There are countless free apps on the market now which can help make your travel process a whole lot smoother and easier to deal with. Here are my top six recommendations for apps that will make a huge difference while you’re traveling.

Ulmon Guides: City Maps 2 Go

These are far and away my favourite apps for travel. They are comprehensive off-line city maps for most major cities worldwide. The compass function allows you to navigate the city in real time without an Internet connection, a tool that has saved me so much of both time and money. The app often also has the city’s metro system embedded within its map, as well as the descriptions and locations of all major tourist attractions in the area. In fact, there’s not much you can’t search within these apps. They are a very valuable resource for any traveler.

Six Apps to Make Your Travel Life Easier >> Life In Limbo

ICOON Picture Dictionary

Truthfully, I didn’t use this app very much on my trip to Europe, But that could have been because I was mostly traveling through cities that get a lot of tourism and thus have a fairly good grasp of English. However, as I start to plan my travels in Southeast Asia, I can see this app coming in handy a lot more often. It is in essence a digital version of a Point-It dictionary with pictures of lots of things you might find the need to ask for such as bathrooms, a telephone, or where you can get the best massage in the city. If you’re going somewhere with a language barrier, this could be a lifesaver.

Oanda Currency Converter

This is the app I use to check exchange rates wherever I am. If you don’t have an Internet connection it will tell you that you need one, but in my experience you are able to search off-line, if not with the most real time exchange rate available. There are some currencies I have found difficult to calculate in my head (some coming to mind are the Croatian Kuna, the Japanese Yen, and even the British pound) which makes an app like this tremendously helpful.

Kayak or Momondo

When I was traveling through Europe last year I didn’t know about Momondo so I was using Kayak exclusively to search for cheap flights. I’ve recently fallen in love with the former though, and will probably be using it more often in the future. Both apps scour the Internet to find you the cheapest flight deals to where you want to go. Momondo has a great feature where it will also show you an overall quality score for each flight which combines both price and length of flight.

Six Apps to Make Your Travel Life Easier >> Life In Limbo

Hostelworld

For most of my trip last year, I didn’t know there was a Hostelworld app, and so made all of my bookings online through their website. Hostelworld has always been my site of choice for booking hostels because I find it the easiest to use and that it has the best reviews from other travelers. Their app is easy to use and very straightforward to check reviews and book.

Google Apps

Okay this is more than just one app but these products are so good they’re worth a mention just in case for some reason you don’t have them installed already. When I have an Internet connection I like to use Google Maps, as it tends to know the locations of most of the things I am trying to find even if they’re small businesses or restaurants. If I know I won’t have Internet when I’m navigating the city the next day I’ll usually take a screenshot of the location and then try to compare it to my current location shown on one of my Ulmon maps or in a pre-loaded Google map. I keep all my important travel documents as well as my massive trip spreadsheet stored in the cloud on Google Drive, and can access and edit them from the Docs or Sheets apps. And Google Translate is my service of choice for asking questions in another language, although you do need the Internet to use it.

Honorable Mention:

Rick Steves Audio Europe: Guided audio tours of many interesting historical tourist spots in Europe, including museums. I listened to a lot for Italy, including the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica, and the Roman Forum. The guides are really interesting and totally free.

***

These apps have really smoothed out some of the inevitable kinks I’ve encountered while travelling. They’ve kept me from getting lost in Tokyo and spending too much money in London. They’ve helped me keep track of restaurant recommendations in Amsterdam from fellow travellers and book good, cheap accommodation on the spot.

What’s a great travel app that you would recommend? What was a time that technology has saved you some time or money on your travels?

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

Top 5 Most Useful Things I Pack When Travelling

Top 5 Most Useful Things I Pack When Travelling

If you’re anything like me, you do a lot of researching and reading of packing list posts on the internet before you actually pack your bags and go anywhere. But I find that sometimes it can be hard to tell what items on the list will actually be helpful once you’re on your trip and which things you’ll wish you left at home.

So far my only long-term trip has been a 3-month one through Europe, and there are some things I packed with me on that trip last year that I’d wished I left at home and others that I was so happy that I had with me the whole time. Here are the top five most useful things that I packed with me on my backpacking trip (& some honorable mentions!).

1. Packing Cubes

Top 5 Most Useful Things I Pack When Travelling >> Life In Limbo
I always thought that packing cubes were bit of a gimmick, a way for companies to squeeze a little bit more money out of you while adding no real benefit: I was wrong. Packing cubes were the single best addition to my backpack on my trip last year and on every trip since. They’re such an easy and effective way to keep your backpack organized when you’re on the road. You don’t need many, I’d recommend one large, and one medium-sized. Most of the time I use the big one for all my shirts and the smaller one for socks and underwear, but you can of course customize their use depending on what you prefer. I have two of these Eaglecreek packing cubes that are incredibly lightweight and take up literally no space when they’re not being used, but they have totally changed the way I pack to travel.

2. Headlamp

It might seem a bit extreme for a backpacking trip, but if you’re staying in hostels, a headlamp can be your best friend. Most of the time your schedule won’t match up with that of the people sharing your hostel room, so sometimes by the time you get home, an early bird may have already turned off the lights for the night. While some of the more modern hostels now have individual bed lights, many do not. Take it from me: rummaging around in your bag in the dark trying to find your toothbrush while not making any noise is a nightmare, and you should never be that person who turns on the overhead light after everyone else is already asleep. The flashlight function on your phone will work in a pinch, but I tend to prefer having my hands free.

3. Smart Phone

Top 5 Most Useful Things I Pack When Travelling >> Life In Limbo
Having a device that can connect to Wi-Fi makes any travel experience that much smoother. While I was travelling in Europe I used my iPad mini for almost everything: finding directions, reading books, booking hostels, sending e-mail, blogging, FaceTiming, storing photos and navigating new cities. Of course it doesn’t have to be an iPhone or an iPad, but something that can connect to the internet and has helpful apps available for download is a tremendous help while you’re traveling.

4. Quick-drying towel

These might seem more suited for a camping trip and are not the most fashionable items on the market, but they are worth their (not very significant) weight in gold. There is nothing worse than carrying a damp towel around in your backpack, especially if it’s also big and bulky. Look for a towel that is close to full-sized, folds up small and doesn’t weigh much. This is the one that I used on my backpacking trip. You can hang these out on the end of any hostel bunk bed and they’ll be dry by morning. Bringing your own lightweight towel is also wise economic decision because although you can rent towels from almost any hostel, the cost of renting them quickly adds up.

5. Combination lock and/or suitcase lock

I very nearly left my lock at home, thinking that any hostel with a locker would also have locks. I’m so glad I brought it though, because while many hostels have lockers, they don’t always have locks, or they charge you to rent them, which again can add up. I carried both a classic combination lock and a smaller suitcase lock with a key, and was glad I had both. If you only have room for one, I’d probably recommend Samsonite Luggage 3 Dial Travel Sentry Combo Lock, Black, One Size“>a good combination suitcase lock as some of the lockers in European hostels are very small and some can’t even accommodate a classic lock.

Top 5 Most Useful Things I Pack When Travelling >> Life In Limbo

Honorable Mentions:

  • Collapsible water bottle: This was such a lifesaver on my trip. It saved me a lot of money by not buying bottles of water, and collapsed down as it emptied so it could fit in my purse most of the time.
  • Ziploc bags: I bring several. Smaller ones to hold things like memory cards and pens, larger ones to protect books or journals from possible water damage, and even bigger ones for damp bathing suits or dirty laundry. I adore Ziploc bags.
  • Earplugs
  • Diva Cup (for ladies): once you get the hang of using one, there’s no going back. Easy, clean, lightweight – perfect for travellers.

What do you make sure to never leave home without? Is there anything that you’ve packed on your travels that have made your backpacking life easier?

Resources for Planning Your Backpacking Trip Through Europe

Resources1It’s been almost a year since I set off on my 3 month trip through Europe. Since then I’ve learned a lot about booking hostels, navigating new cities, making friends, and packing. I’m happy to say that I’m a much better traveller than I was one year ago today. My travel knowledge has come from a lot of trial and error, a lot of great information from fellow travellers and friends, and most of all, a lot of awesome resources. I’m very Type A and a planner by nature, and I love nothing more than falling down rabbit holes on the internet while researching various things. My Google Docs spreadsheet for Europe had no less than eleven different sheets!

I wanted to share some of my favourite websites and articles to inspire you and help you plan an adventure of your own.

Inspiration For Your Trip

DSC_0036_7Almost Fearless:

Adventurous Kate:

General Travel Tips

Legal Nomads: World Travel Resources – an incredibly helpful, very comprehensive guide to world travel.

Rick Steves: His travel tips section is full of great, very useful information.

Yes and Yes: There are tons of awesome posts in her travel category including 18 super-helpful travel tips.

The Savvy Backpacker: Lots of great articles and resources for planning a budget backpacking trip.

Nomadic Matt: How to Legally Stay in Europe for More Than 90 Days (a very helpful article about visas and permitted lengths of stay).

Packing for Europe & Travelling Light

DSC_0149One Bag: The absolute ultimate light packing guide. It has tips on why packing light is a smart choice, a universal light packing list with detailed, and in-depth explanations of why each item on the list is helpful or important. I lost hours to this website.

One Bag One World: Forums and tips on travelling light. I love the old website, but the new one is good too. You can find the new one here.

Her Packing List: Awesome packing lists, backpack and product reviews and resources.

PB Fingers: What To Pack To Europe (aimed at women, for summer travel)

Rick Steves: A light packing list and tips on packing smart and travelling light.

Never Ending Voyage: How to travel long-term with carry-on luggage, and their complete, updated packing list.

Favourites

Ulmon Apps: The ultimate travel app for most major cities. It lets you navigate in real time even without an internet connection, lists all major attractions within the app and sometimes even has integration with the local subway system so you can see which metro stop to get off at for wherever you’re going. I absolutely adore these apps and they are my #1 recommended travel tip. Plus, somehow they’re free.

Hostel World: I love this website and never used anything else to read reviews of hostels and book my accomodations.

Blogsy: A blogging app for iPad, perfect for blogging while travelling.

Oanda Currency: An awesome currency converter app that you can use even when you have no internet connection.

Solo Travel

DSC_0164_2Twenty-Something Travel: The Introvert’s Guide to Travel, and a good reason to travel solo.

Refinery 29: I Travel to Feel Lonely…On Purpose – a really great, fresh perspective on solo travel.

Legal Nomads: The Solo Female Travel Experience, and the same topic, revisited with helpful tips.

Fluent in 3 Months: Is Long-Term Solo Travel Lonely?

A Little Adrift: Yes, Sometimes Travel Is Lonely.

The Ramble: Awesome advice if you’re worried about getting lonely while travelling.

European Destinations

Italy:

Paris:

Croatia: 15 Things To Do in Dubrovnik

***

Taking myself on a trip through Europe is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I was able to see some of the most beautiful places in the world, meet some awesome people, and most of all gain lots of confidence for both travelling and living the life I want to live. I’d recommend it to anyone. You don’t need a travel partner, you don’t need to be ready, everything is figureoutable, you can do this. It’s almost a year later but the experiences I had on my trip are still giving back to me in ways I never could have predicted.

This is a very incomplete list of resources, of course. I’ll try to add more as I remember them or as questions come up. If you have any specific questions about my trip, check out my FAQs, my posts on tips for travelling through Europe and for doing it solo, or send me an email at stephanie @ lifeinlimbo.org.

Thanks for reading. Good luck and have fun on your trip!