Dos and Don’ts Visiting South Korea

Picturesque view in South Korea

Travel tips for first time family travellers to South Korea

A huge appeal of arriving in a country you have never been to before, one that may not resemble your own, is the experience of living something entirely fresh. Those moments can be made all the more fabulous and memorable by having your family by your side.

However, weaving yourselves into the fabric of a bustling, complex society, even when you have the best of intentions as responsible travellers, can sometimes be tricky. That is one of the reasons why it is best to familiarize yourselves with your destination and at least some of the local customs before arriving.

Even though South Korea is nearly universally lauded for its safety for foreigners, you will still want to learn a bit about the country before booking a trip. The best way to travel, especially with a family, is always going to involve being prepared.

That is why the biggest ‘Do’ for South Korea (aside from visiting this wonderful country) is to start your trip by utilizing the new online South Korean electronic visa waiver system (K-ETA), ensuring an experience that doesn’t involve needless trips to an embassy or consulate and long wait times.

Once you have your Korean ETA in hand, here are a few more Dos and Don’ts about travelling in South Korea.

Seoul at sunset // Image credit Readbirdna via Getty images/Canva

Don’t Try to See All of South Korea at Once

It can be incredibly difficult to attempt to pick just one destination to travel to. The same holds true once you arrive at your chosen destination and are hit with a fresh wave of excitement at the possibilities that lie ahead.

One of the most common mistakes that travellers make is overpacking for their upcoming trip.

A similar error is to try to squeeze too much into their itinerary. That is especially true if you are trying to corral young kids the entire time.

A key to the success of any family vacation is to remember that parents have to plan their days while keeping their kids’ energy levels in mind. Kids can be unpredictable and go from bouncing off the walls to burning out in a matter of minutes. That’s okay, planning ahead and managing expectations can help offset those peaks and valleys.

South Korea has a population of over 50 million people in a landmass roughly the size of Portugal (population:10 million). Residing within the capital city of Seoul alone are nearly as many people as all of Portugal.

All of that hustle and bustle can be overwhelming, so pick one or two South Korean cities to visit and truly get a feel for the country. Some of the most famous options include Busan, which is a gorgeous coastal city, and Gyeongju, revered for its remarkable architecture and historical sites.

Busan South Korea
Gwangan Bridge, Busan in southern South Korea // Image Credit Reabirdna via Getty Images/Canva

Dos in South Korea: Eat Everything

The health and safety of your family must always be your top priority when travelling with children. While South Korea is no more inherently dangerous than other nations, the unfamiliarity of a place makes it unpredictable, so taking extra precautions is always recommended. 

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Still, it would be a shame to miss out on life-changing experiences because you are overly cautious, and one of the most amazing ways to experience newness is through food.

Korea, situated between Japan and China, is world-famous for its amazing array of diverse foods and drinks. From soju to the pungent and spicy fermented vegetables of kimchi, Korean cuisine explodes with unique flavors

While the alcoholic soju isn’t for kids, introducing your little ones to the joys (and, let’s be honest, sometimes dislikes) of the markets of South Korea is an absolute must.

The Best South Korean Foods to try
South Korean traditional steamed beef // Image credit studiojh via Getty images/Canva

Sometimes the absolute best family photos are candidly taken right after a child bites into something they have never tried before. The smile that spreads across their face, or even the shock of something spicy, sour, or funky, can form the basis of the memories that last the longest.

Just make sure to try everything you give them beforehand to be certain that it isn’t too hot to handle as South Korean food is often spicy.

Understanding South Korean Customs

Cultural misunderstandings are inevitable. There is no surefire way to avoid these little communication lapses, so the best thing to do is to try to mitigate them.

South Korean culture prioritizes the group over the individual self, so when in doubt, whether invited into someone’s home for tea or catching the metro or bus, consider the people next to you just as you do your own family.

Women wearing traditional Hambok in Seoul
Women in Traditional Hanbok // Image Credit Anek S Getty Images/Canva

For Westerners, some customs may seem unconventional, but be respectful and understand you are the outsider and these nuances can go from strange to charming. For example, do not pour your own drinks when dining, always pour for your fellow diners.

Another thing to keep in mind is whether shaking hands or receiving an offering, always do so with both hands.

Inspiration for your next trip to South Korea

A traditional street in Seoul South Korea - text overlay Dos and Don'ts of visiting South Korea

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