It’s been awhile since I’ve written travel advice, but after this summer, I felt that it was necessary. This summer we had two sets of visitors from Canada; one was a positive experience and one was a terrible experience. In my experience, this mainly depends on the person. Although we think we know our friends and family, you truly don’t know a person until you travel with them. Being together for days in a foreign country or even just hanging around Seoul can be a tiresome and stressful experience. After living abroad for six years and having various friends and family visit, I’ve compiled a small list of rules that I think the host must ask themselves before picking them up at the airport. If you have having trouble answering some of these questions, it might be time to schedule that vacation and get the hell out of dodge.
Rule 1: Is Your Guest Independent?
Seoul can be intimidating. As residents, we often forget how large Seoul actually is, which can be daunting for some visitors. My parents for instance, come from a small town that has no subway and limited public transit. You can imagine their shock when they first read the Seoul subway map with 9 different lines and hundreds of stations. However, my parents have an amazing sense of adventure and are fiercely independent. That independence is key, especially when traveling to a country where English is not the common language. You need to take that risk. We had a visitor this summer, who was like a little puppy dog, nipping at our heels, unable to even go to the store by herself. For the first few days, I completely understand (I’ve been there myself many times) But after two weeks, she was still unsure about how to use the subway and wouldn’t leave the house without either Jill or myself, you need to start asking yourself if traveling abroad is right for you.
Rule 2: Are They Going to Bring Enough Money to Have a Good Time?
Jill and I always plan a budget when we are going on vacation, even if it just a mental note of expenditures each day. However, over the course of our travel, we discovered that whatever our budget is, we normally add at least 500 dollars extra per week. Why? Simply put, you never know what can happen on vacation. Odds are good that you will find things along the way that are interesting that will eat into your budget. Moreover, you might find that you’ve underestimated the costs of your hotel’s restaurants, room service, local attractions, etc. A few years ago, some friends visited us and only brought 300 dollars CAD for the entire week in Seoul. They didn’t take into account transportation, going out to eat, alcohol, souvenirs, etc. Needless to say they were out of cash by Wednesday and started to nitpick every place we tried to take them. As hosts, we want to show off our city and country to make sure you have a memorable experience. The best way to avoid this problem is to make sure everyone has enough money by planning a budget. Encourage your guest(s) write down an itinerary or at least some attractions they want to see to try to get a rough estimate of the cost. Ask questions such as: How often do you want to eat out? Do you want to eat Western food or try local cuisine? When they have some answers and a basic outline of the trip, add about 200 – 400 USD on the estimate.
Rule 3: What Are Your Guests Going to do While They Are Visiting?
This rule ties in with number two. I had a few friends “surprise” me for my 30th birthday a few years back. Although the surprise was nice, the initial high wore off quickly and they basically asked us to plan their trip for them when they arrived. For starters, it can be difficult to know what travel interests your friends want. I had a basic idea, but at the same time, I didn’t know the specifics because I’ve never traveled with them for any length of time. Anyway, it was a total disaster and one of the most stressful weeks of my life. A couple years later, one of my best friends came to visit and I made a note to ask him what attractions he wanted to see, and encouraged him to buy a guidebook. It turns out he wanted to see a baseball game, go to Itaewon and try various Korean delicacies. Great! I can plan that no problem. We ended up having a blast for those few days! The difference being one guest had done their research, while the other one dumped it into their host’s lap. Don’t be that guest. If you’re the host, try to suggest to your guest to buy a Lonely Planet or other guidebook and have them write down a list of places they want to visit. Encourage your guests to write their interests according to priority. This can at least give you an idea what they are interested in and you can use that as a foundation. There is nothing worse than looking into those blank, doe eyes with that enthusiastic grin that says, “Okay! I’m here! What do we do!?”.
Rule 4: Try to Make Sure Your Guest Has Their Own Space
This final rule could arguably be the most important. Two weeks doesn’t sound like much until your space is occupied. Your daily routine is interrupted and your personal space is clogged. There are a couple of ways to go about this. First, is make sure that you have a spare room or two so that your guest can establish their own living quarters while they are visiting. This will make them feel as home, as well as provide some independence. If this is not possible, I would highly, highly suggest trying to find them a hotel or hostel to give you a break for a couple of days. This is especially key if you have one of those small, OfficeTel bachelor pads. If your guest is unsure or nervous, imply that staying at a hostel or hotel will be fun and that they will get a chance to meet other travelers. If they say they just want to hang out with you, please review rule number 1.
Final Thoughts: We love having people visit, but like all things, it has its pros and cons. Normally, we love showing off our city, but at the same time, guests can often forget that this is our life over here and not a vacation like it is for them. Planning day trips, hanging out is great, but it does require time and money. It’s a common misconception that one can just sit back and relax when someone comes to visit, however this is rarely the case. There is always conflict when one person is in “vacation mode” while the other is in “daily life mode”. One way to remind your guests is that your country might be a vacation for you, but this is where you live. We have to interact and see these people in our neighborhood every day, so please refrain from breaking soju bottles in the local norebang. The best way to have a good time is to know your friend and know yourself. Safe travels!