South Korea Packing Tips by Jessica Smith

Before you board your plane to the Land of the Morning calm, I urge you to recheck your suitcase. There were so many things I wish I didn’t bring to Seoul and even more things I wish I did. So here’s my list of things you should leave at home and items you need to make space for.

1. Towels– Not only are Korean towels expensive, they are small and will cover nothing. I over confidently thought I could leave my towels at home saving me some much-needed space for more clothes (which I never wear). But oh how I miss a towel that can wrap around my entire body, without having to decide which half to cover. Usually people use a towel roughly the size of a hand or hair towel and get dressed in the bathroom or just bare it all.

2. American Medicine– Korea has really cheap medicine and it is really convenient to find at pharmacies that are all over Seoul, if you can speak enough korean to get your ailments across. (Only very basic medicine can be sold at convenience stores). If you tend to catch the flu or a cold easily and depend on a specific brand of medicine, bring it. I can’t tell you how many times I craved Nyquil, while I layed in bed wishing to pass out.

3. Hair dryers and flat irons– Honestly I would leave them at home. These beauty tools are easily found in Korea or on Gmarket and you won’t have to worry about if your own beauty tools can handle the voltage (220v in Korea which is twice that of America). Save yourself the weight and leave them at home.

4. Hair products– South Korea is a homogeneous society of Korean people with Asian hair. So obviously products are geared towards them. Other than the basic shampoo and conditioner don’t count on finding products here that you use at home. Especially if you are a woman of color (read: black) make sure to bring all your products with you, including your own styling brushes, combs, coconut oil, anything that you use on the daily basis. I regret not having a soft brush for my edges and having to rely on my leave-in conditioner for an entire year. If you absolutely don’t have the space for all your beauty products I suggest, they have some beauty products commonly used back in the states for what I consider to be a decent price for South Korea.

5. Makeup– If you are a darker skinned complexion-by that I mean if you are darker than a very light tan-bring your foundation with you. They do not have a lot variety of options for skin tones and you’ll be very disappointed if you think you can grab a BB cream in your color. This also holds true for the reverse, if you are very very pale, closer to a porcelain skin tone you will also have some issues finding a match for your shade. Other than that Seoul is great place to shop for makeup, but quality varies from brand to brand and many things are not highly pigmented.

6. Shoes– If you have a size 8 or higher in America, bring more than a couple pairs of shoes. I’m a size 8 or roughly a 245/250 in Korea. It is difficult to find shoes that fit me. The 245 size is common enough but they are made for women with narrower feet (mine are not considered wide in the U.S.) and it’s usually the highest size in the spectrum. Unless the shop owner says they have “big size”, meaning they go up to a 250 and maybe just maybe they have a wide option, take at least 5 pairs of shoes. Also I’m not sure about men’s sizes but from what I heard they go up to a size 12, but I could be wrong.

7. Spices and seasonings– Korea does have some foreign spices and snacks, but they come at a steep price. It’s not so much spices you need as seasonings. If you like tacos bring a ziploc baggy full of taco seasoning because the only Mexican food you can get around here is either koreanized or comes in tiny portions for large amounts of won. Also easy mac, you’ll thank me for that later.

8. Razors– They are mega expensive here, buy them in bulk and bring them with you.

9. Body wash– I don’t know what it is about the body washes here, but you can barely smell a scent if it leaves one at all. It bugs me, a lot.  I suggest grabbing about 3 mini body washes from Bath and Bodyworks and take them in your carry on.

10. VPN– A virtual private network can be your greatest ally. Even though Korea has the fastest internet in the world, it still uses programs from the early 2000’s. Case in point, internet explorer is the most prevalent browser used by my university. It’s not even compatible with my gmail! Also the government blocks a lot of things you would never think of, like online banking from foreign companies. At times it even restricts access to KU’s websites. Other than the practical uses, a good VPN gives you access to Netflix, enough said. Invest in a VPN or use an app that allows you to access American websites that are usually blocked.


Jessica Smith