Seoul has a special place in my heart. It was the last place I went to before I got pregnant with Keane. I hoped for a son at Jeju Island (I’m not sure if it’s effective but oh well, I did get pregnant three months later). Also, I had to cancel a Seoul trip because I was pregnant with Travis and I couldn’t take a plane on doc’s orders.
By some strange coincidence, my Krisflyer miles were expiring. We figured it’s a sign that it’s time to bring the kids out to experience winter. Besides, Keane kept bugging us that it’s not Christmas without snow.
This is the first time that we are going away as a family of four. Planning took about six months because we wanted to make it as easy and fuss free as possible. Itinerary, scheduling, car transfers etc. Thankfully, we had a friend who’s living in South Korea to help us out with the language. She was our translator on WhatsApp! Read my post about the Seoul travel flash cards that I made with her help.
By our standards, we had an amazingly great time in South Korea. We didn’t cover a lot of places but it was perfect in its slow, chill manner. My cousin, who opted for a tour package, was so surprised that I could do a 10 day Free and easy trip in Seoul. She has two kids in primary and secondary school.
Now if I can do it with two kids under 5 years old, anyone can do it. To make sure you could enjoy such happiness too, these are my notes I’ll like to share with you.
Hubby only has time for a long holiday over Christmas which means incredibly expensive air tickets. Therefore, we usually claim miles or book at least half a year in advance. Note that if you claim miles, there are limited seats reserved for redemption. This is the case for SingaporeAir. I usually fly with SingaporeAir not because I’m a diehard fan but because so far they offer better service when I travel with kids. They don’t charge me for choosing seats as a family. Cathay Airways charged me for seat selection even though I’m with kids.
T-Money For Transportation
If you’re thinking of bringing your family to Seoul on a free and easy tour, make sure there’s plenty of money in your T-Money. It’s so useful to tap for payment when you take the taxi. We took the taxi a lot because it was more convenient. I give up on taking trains because it can get very crowded in the station. Remember our aim is to enjoy the trip and I am willing to make these small investments for a great experience. Our hotels are steps away from train stations, but we decided to just take the taxi for convenience. They are inexpensive as compared to Singapore.
You can use T-Money at the convenience stores too.
I’ll list out the places we would like to visit. If the place is kids friendly, then great. If it’s not like an outlet mall, we would try to make that visit short or make a trip to somewhere exciting before or after the location. And if all else fails, we bribe the kid with a small token toy, or a yummy treat.
When we travel, I’ll usually skip indoor playgrounds or kids cafe. I don’t want them to feel that the trip is planned around their whims and fancy. A trip means everyone has to accommodate to each other’s interests.
I insist on a nap time everyday. Even if they nap only for an hour, it’s fine. I think this hour of rest is essential to recharge.
Make many lists
Be prepared for changes in the itinerary. So keep a list of places that open late, kid friendly meals, etc
Make phrase cards
This is especially useful in countries where they don’t speak your language. It should list places you want to visit and the addresses. Especially if you’re going to be taking lots of taxis, prepare the address in the local language. Double check with the hotel reception before heading out.
We don’t do AirBnB. We prefer hotels because we would like someone to clean daily. I’m a SAHM, I clean daily! (Give me a break please)
Read plenty of reviews and check out the location. Look for supermarkets, convenience stores. Book decent hotels that has a king bed and a rollaway bed for the kids. In dire situations, make do with two twins. Need bathtub so the boys can play bubbles. This can be a highlight especially if the hubby has to go off to work. A separate living area is preferred. Hubby and I want to chill and eat supper after the kids go to bed. Breakfast is ideal but not a necessity. Although having breakfast in hotel is good if you’ve planned a long day tour somewhere, and food options aren’t open this early.
Opt for hotels with a proper driveway (and with staff) if you need help with directions in a country where you don’t speak the language. It’s insane to be negotiating with cabbies, with two kids in the freezing cold. Or, you could get the reception to write the address in Hangeul for you.
We didn’t have enough clothes when we went to Hong Kong. The kids fell ill on the day we arrived and were puking for the rest of the trip. For Seoul, I went on fanatic mommy mode and packed more than I needed. On hindsight, maybe I should have used the laundry service. My fear that the clothes would not dry in time were unfounded. I washed some tees in the bathroom and it was dry the next day! Another tip is to put it on the heated floor if your room has this facility.
While I brought along plenty of clothes, I didn’t set a brand new outfit each day. I survived on 4 sweat shirts and 5 pants for each kid during the 10 day trip. I kept some clean clothes on standby. I made a wardrobe list indicating what the kids would wear each day. Printed it and brought along tape to paste it on the wall. This way, hubby would know what to dress the kids in if I’m busy.
After the first day, I set aside a big paper bag and got the kids to put in all their gloves, scarfs and hats. Told them that when we are going out, they are to pick out their accessories from the bag.
Personally, I like to travel with as little luggage as possible when I board the plane. Usually, we have a trunki filled with toys and books that the kids picked out, his sling bag and my handbag. But for winter countries, I set aside a duffel bag to check in winter jackets. To make sure the kids are comfortable on the flight, they will be in sandals and shorts/ tights as they board the plane. When we are reaching, I would change them to long sleeve tees, pants and shoes. Similarly, when we are coming home, I would change the boys out of their winter clothes at the airport. Yes I’ve had stares when the boys were in shorts and sandals at Incheon airport. Who cares! The kids were the happiest since they were no longer bogged down by their heavy garb. Most importantly, I didn’t have to lug around heavy winter jackets on the plane. I checked them in using the same duffel bag.
We packed disposable spoons and collapsible bowls in our luggage. Each time we leave the hotel, we’ll also pack spoons and scissors in our bag just in case the kids need them.
We trained the kids to eat a wide variety of food in Singapore. So the trip to South Korea was pretty fuss free since they could just have rice and soup as a meal. We had Andong Chicken once. Although we ordered the non-spicy one, they used a little pepper which Travis hated. So in the end, both boys had cheese with rice.
I had a big bag of medicine for the boys. For fever, flu, allergies, stomach pain, wheezing coughs, phlegm.
“Boil bottled water if you need warm water to make milk” as told by my friend. She just had a baby so I’ll take her words. Korean tap water has small quantities of sediments which is fine for adult consumption. For children, let’s just take bottled water to be on the safe side of things.
Now for milk. On top of 8 feeds of powdered milk, I carted 36 small packets of UHT milk to Seoul. I thought long and hard about this. It sounds incredibly neurotic but I want to reduce the chances of tummy upset. I’ve read some online forums that milk in Seoul tastes a little different from Australian milk. Don’t take my words. I just want to ensure that they don’t suffer from tummy upsets because of the diet.
I’ll be updating this list as we continue with our travels. Even if it’s not to Seoul specifically, I think our trip planning is going to include many tips here!