Back in 2016, when Joel and I were on our European honeymoon (roundtrip to Paris paid for with CC miles. Read more in the travel archives), we had the following conversation:
Joel: “in about three years, we’ll have earned enough credit card miles to go on another big trip, where should we go?”
Sometime between then and our trip, I also discovered that there are Raccoon themed cafes in Seoul, South Korea which bumped Seoul up to the top of my “dream destination” list. When it was finally time to start planning our first trip to Asia, we had the following conversation:
Joel: “Okay, so, we’ll have enough credit card miles to either fly First Class to Japan OR we can fly coach to South Korea and then go to Japan from there.”
Sarah: “OBVIOUSLY I WANT TO GO TO SOUTH KOREA BECAUSE THEY HAVE RACCOON CAFES.”
Joel: “But we’re not going to go to South Korea just for raccoon cafes, right?”
Joel: *questions wife’s sanity and wonders just how deep this raccoon obsession goes*
Now, about two months post trip, I can say that we did it: we successfully went to Asia! I’m reminded of our trip on a daily basis by the 1,000+ iPhone photos waiting to be edited and by Joel’s 7/11 cheese cracker snacks that are sitting on the chair in our room that I walk by multiple times a day.
I have so much to say about our trip, but thought it’d be a good idea to answer some of the frequently asked questions I got via Instagram to kick off what will be my Great Asian Blog Saga. Let’s begin!
- WHY JAPAN? WHY SOUTH KOREA? Since neither of us had ever been to Asia, Japan always seemed like a great jumping off point. My army brat friend in 3rd grade had been stationed in Tokyo with his family and had so many stories about living in Japan that always stuck with me, securing its place as one of my top 5 places to visit for about 20 years. That and the fact that everyone we know who has already been to Japan ranks the country as their number one favorite place they’ve ever traveled to! As far as South Korea goes, I already mentioned the raccoon cafes that initially got my attention. We’re also the kind of people who like to hop around as much as possible while we travel, so we figured we’d visit Seoul while we were “in the neighborhood” that is the continent of Asia. The best part was, Seoul ended up being both mine and Joel’s favorite part of the whole trip!
- HOW LONG WERE YOUR FLIGHTS AND HOW DID YOU GET AROUND [IN EVERY CITY]? We flew from Pittsburgh to Dallas (around 3 hours), then from Dallas to Seoul was 14 hours (the longest flight either of us had ever been on). We upgraded our seats to extended leg room (highly recommend) and got the whole row to ourselves so we could really spread out, then watched a bunch of movies and I took some naps. It really wasn’t that bad. The flight home from Tokyo was 11 hours, but it was on smaller plane and it was bumpy AF… I definitely kissed the ground when we landed. As far as getting around goes, we are huge fans of public transportation. The subway systems in both South Korea and Japan are immaculate and really easy to navigate. Google Maps works relatively well in both countries, too.
- HOW WAS YOUR JET LAG? We were both exhausted when we got to Seoul and ended up going to bed at 7:30 p.m. and waking up before 5 a.m. which was fine because we were the first ones at our hotel’s continental breakfast. On the way back, I didn’t sleep on the bumpy plane and stayed awake until my normal, local bedtime thus eradicating jet lag altogether.
- DID YOU FEEL SAFE? Before we left, I kept getting calls and texts from well meaning family members warning us to “be careful over there because there are a lot of protests going on”. The protests that they were speaking of were (and are) taking place in Hong Kong where we were going nowhere near. “Wrong country” I kept telling my mom after the 3rd news article she sent my way. I, honestly, cannot preach this enough: I have never felt SO SAFE while traveling as I did on this entire trip. Every time we visit NYC or Paris, there is always a point where we’re walking around at night or in a questionable neighborhood, where I feel like I might get stabbed… I never got that feeling on this trip, which is really impressive considering we visited some of the most populated cities on the planet!
- DID YOU LEARN ANY OF THE LANGUAGES/WAS IT DIFFICULT TO COMMUNICATE? One of our top rules for international travel is to learn a little bit of the native language. Knowing how to say Hello/Goodbye, Please/Thank You, as well as a few other phrases in the native tongue is essential for us as it’s a sign of respect to the locals. I made flash cards with greetings and phrases in both Korean and Japanese and practiced before we went. It wasn’t difficult to communicate because if people didn’t speak English, we’d gesture and use Google Translate (another must have app when traveling abroad).
- WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART OF THE WHOLE TRIP? Joel: how hot as balls it was that first day in Osaka. Sarah: how hot as balls it was that last day in Tokyo. We both run hot and get really sweaty really quickly.
- WHAT’S THE BEST THING YOU ATE? Joel: the fatty tuna at the Tsukiji Outer Market in Tokyo (we went twice, it was SO GOOD). Sarah: The last bowl of ramen in Ginza or the deep fried cheese thingy in Harajuku. The only “bad food” we had was the airplane food on the flight from Seoul to Osaka. Everything else was freaking delicious and I’m drooling just thinking about it!!!
- HOW DID YOU BUDGET? I feel like this could be its own blog post, and it might very well end up being one, but long story short: We anticipated spending about $150 per day total, including food, transportation, shopping etc; but ended up spending WAY LESS than that day to day. Even though we did some damage when each got a new pair of Japanese sneakers, we still came in significantly under budget by the end of the trip. Okay this is going to be its own post because we have much more to say on the subject….
That pretty much covers the basic questions about the trip overall, but I’ll get more specific in the posts for each city we visited. I feel like I did a good job updating Instagram stories along the way and my favorite thing people said to me was that our trip inspired them to visit these places too! If you have the chance in your life to visit South Korea or Japan, GOOOOOOOO!!!!