Packing for Korea: A Retrospective

Packing for a year’s stay in a country you’ve never visited is a daunting task, particularly when so many websites/blogs/forums suggest taking a year’s supply of many things because “you won’t be able to find it in Korea.” Packing becomes even more difficult when you’ve got 4 pounds of toothpaste in your bag. So what should you do?

Now that I’ve been here 5 months, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what’s important. I’m going to provide lists of things I’m glad I brought with me, things I wish I’d brought with me, things I should’ve left at home and things I’m glad I left at home. These are mere suggestions to help guide you. If you are going to be living in a more metropolitan area or a rural area, your needs could be a bit different.

Things I’m Glad I Brought With Me

  1. A year’s supply of deodorant.  Yes, they sell deodorant in Korea, but it doesn’t come on the shelves until it’s starting to get warmer out, and it also costs anywhere between $8-$10. There is also a very, very limited selection.
  2. A Kindle or other eReader. I was against eReaders for so long but I knew that finding English books in Korea would be a bit difficult and when traveling, I didn’t want to weigh myself down with multiple ones.
  3. A universal power strip. Kevin gets credit for this one. He brought a power strip in which you can plug-in devices with any sort of pins. The strip came with multiple plug adapters for the wall. Basically, it’s plugged into the wall with the Korean-type pins, but plugged into the power strip are our dual-voltage American chargers or any Korean chargers. Both fit; it’s grand.
  4. Toothpaste. I am glad I brought the toothpaste, but this is a really personal preference. You can get Korean toothpaste with fluoride in it (not all, but some do have it). I use Korean toothpaste when I travel but it’s not my favorite and doesn’t make me feel minty fresh. Could just be a bad one but I really like my Crest and Colgate.
  5. A Costco Membership. Actually, it’s cheaper to get one here, but if you already have one, bring the card with you! We’ve only been a couple times but it’s a treat! As I write this I’m snacking on American veggie chips I bought at Costco. Yum.
  6. Plenty of pants/bottoms. Try to buy Korean pants. I dare you. It’s a really hard and frustrating experience. Save yourself the hassle and your self-esteem and bring an assortment of bottoms to last you through the year. Just make sure you don’t eat too much rice and kimchi so you still fit into them after 3 months.
  7. Game console. This isn’t for me; this is on behalf of my boyfriend. He brought his PS4 and doesn’t regret it at all. It’s provided good stress relief when dealing with shady hagwon business. 😛
  8. Bed sheets. Even though they don’t fit the mattress completely properly, they fit it well enough. It was cheaper to buy cotton sheets at Target in America than pay for them through The Arrival Store, or have to worry about finding cotton sheets, or sheets in general, upon arrival (they are a fan of polyester here). We knew we would get in late at night, and you know what? We wouldn’t have had sheets had we not brought any with us. Worth the space in the bag, especially when you are moving into what is potentially a gross apartment that has not been professionally cleaned in years. Ask your school the size of your bed before you leave.
  9. A framed photo and a wall decoration. Seeing things from home make you feel closer to home.
  10. A portable charger. You will sit on buses or trains for extended periods of time. You will have long days out or overnights. You will use your phone and the battery will die; that is, unless you bring with you a portable charger! Best last-minute purchase ever. Also helpful when you are sharing a pension with 6 other people – you can let everyone else scramble to get to the wall plugs, while you simply don’t have to worry about it.
  11. Protein bars. For when you first arrive and don’t have time to go to the store to buy anything for breakfast.
  12. Business clothing. You never know when you will need to wear a suit or look nice for something at school. Pack some nice clothes and go to your first day dressed to impressed.
  13. External hard drive. Back-up your pictures frequently. You don’t want to lose these!
  14. Cold meds. It’s just comforting to know that when you are sick and it’s hard to move, you have trusted meds in your home. I used a lot of my stock in my first 2 months.

Things I Wish I’d Brought With Me

  1. My point & shoot camera (to accompany my dSLR): I tried really hard to not pack excessively and decided to bring my dSLR but not my point & shoot. But the reality is, sometimes it’s not easy to bring the chunky dSLR and a point & shoot is what you really need.

Things I Should Have Left at Home

  1. A ~year’s supply of feminine hygiene products. They sell their own brands here but the variety isn’t as great as it is at home. If there’s something specific and unique you really like, perhaps bring that.
  2. Vitamins. I prefer taking gummy vitamins. They are really heavy so I didn’t bring a full year’s supply, but over 6 months’ worth. I haven’t seen gummy multi-vitamins for sale here, but they do sell them on iHerb, a popular site that sells all sorts of vitamins, supplements, bath & beauty products, and even grocery items. If you aren’t too particular, Korea is huge on vitamins and you won’t be hard-pressed to find any.
  3. International Driver’s License. Unless you are planning on driving in other countries, or are extremely brave and not afraid to die, save yourself the $15 and time it takes to get one. The driving here is maniacal and there’s no way I’d ever go behind the wheel. You should see me in the backseat of cabs. Ugh.
  4. Bath towel. Standard Korean-sized bath towels are American-sized hand towels. When you stay in a hostel that comes with towels, you will get small towels like that. As it turns out, Home Plus and the other big box stores do sell some “normal”-sized towels as well, so we could have just bought them here. If you buy one here, just make sure to dry it in a proper laundromat dryer a couple times so it’s not too linty.
  5. Selfie-stick. You can buy them here. They are sold nearly everywhere.
  6. Airborne and cough drops. They have their own brand here of Airborne and I really didn’t need to weigh myself down with it (every ounce counts here). They also sell Halls.
  7. That leftover Brita water filter refill. We never ended up getting a Brita filter. Why? Multiple reasons. First, our fridge is a quarter the size of a normal fridge so we are lacking in space. Second, it costs about $50 and we can buy 12L of bottled water for $3, which lasts awhile. Lastly, we use the water filter at school.

Things I’m Glad I Left at Home

  1. My hair straightener and blow dryer. Lucky for me, the previous teacher left those items for me in the apartment, but even if she didn’t, I wouldn’t want to risk blowing out my American ones. Korea is very into beauty products and you can very easily buy these items here. In fact, I’m going to keep the hair straightener so when I travel in the future, I can just bring that one and not have to worry about a converter.
  2. All but 1 pair of high heels. I wore my heels on day 1 and day 2 of school – not like it mattered since we change into slippers. Unless you are clubbing in Gangnam, I would advise against heels. Besides the fact it’s pretty casual and you will be walking A LOT in general, Korea sells such cute shoes everywhere!! I kind of want to buy them all, even the heels. *(Important to note that if you wear a larger shoe size (men & women), it is very hard to find shoes and you shouldn’t rely on buying them here, you should bring them with you)*
  3. Excess make-up/nail polish (remover)/bath supplies: Make-up is huge here and you can find it at all the specialty make-up shops. Nail polish and remover are prevalent. Check Daiso for some unique kinds. Even things like cotton swabs, nail cutters, tweezers, etc. are all readily available (plus other unique things, like the V-line creator and double eyelid strip). I didn’t even pack full-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner or body wash because that’s all really easy to get here.
  4. Socks. I didn’t leave all my socks at home; I just didn’t bring quite as many as I would need because I knew that there would be an abundance of cute, adorable socks to purchase here. And that is what I’ve done.
  5. Forks. They sell them here, too. Go to Daiso. You’ll find everything you need.

Have you taught or are you teaching in Korea? What are some things you’d add to these lists?

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