Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Travel nerd alert

Peoples. If you know me in real life, you know that international travel is one of my favorite things. There are few places in the world I wouldn't jump at the chance to explore, and I've been fortunate to travel for both work and pleasure. Over the years I've honed my packing strategy to travel light under pretty much any circumstances. Once, I went from three days at a conference in Arizona (where I was presenting) to one month in Mongolia--in November. That was probably my most challenging itinerary in terms of differences in temperature/purpose of each destination.

For this trip we've learned that the temperatures will be in the high 80's low 90's during our visit. Higher than expected, but overall not a problem for a family of Texans on the go. We have been advised to pack "dressy" clothing, especially for our official meetings and to not show shoulders/cleavage/back.

Now, I know a lot of people who have come back from traveling to Seoul and said that the above advice was off-base--that in fact you would be fine in your yoga pants and sneakers. And while I am sure that this is factual feedback, I'm still going to pack along the "official" guidelines. My travels around the globe have taught me that nobody, and I mean nobody, does "casual" like Americans do casual. I would wager that the average person in most global big cities dresses in a more "put together" manner than the average American tourist. I can say this because I live in Austin--people here wear flip-flops EVERYWHERE and it makes my eyeballs hurt to look at them.

In my professional life I have had many an argument with a study abroad student who is miffed about a suggested packing list. Said student will invariably complain about the "stuffy" nature of the list, and then come back and tell me how people *totally* wore shorts in Barcelona. Fine, student, fine. I grant you that *some* people wore shorts in Barcelona--but chances are, if you dress in white sneakers/shorts/flip-flops/yoga pants/tank tops and the majority of people around you are dressed more conservatively, you are not adhering to the cultural norms of your host culture. This carries the risk of offending the host culture--but it also makes you an easy target for the petty thieves that thrive in every big city.

For me, appearing to dress in accordance with my host culture's expectations of a woman of my age/social status makes me feel more comfortable when I travel. I learned this quickly when I studied abroad in Madagascar as an undergrad. I packed cargo pants, hiking boots, button-down shirts with mesh inserts--all manner of trekking attire. And I looked the fool, because in fact I studied in the capitol city, Antananarivo, not the rain forest. And my many shades of khaki and my clunky footwear looked absurd next to the smartly pressed skirts and dresses of my Malagasy peers.

So yeah--I'm making my whole family dress fancy. Not uncomfortable mind you--just with a bit more care than we might exercise on a typical Saturday morning stroll to get breakfast tacos.

For myself I've put together a capsule wardrobe built around the colors black, royal blue and gray. I'm taking black ponte skinny pants, a black ponte knee-length skirt, a blue/black/white print dress, a gray jersey cardigan, a gray t-shirt, a royal blue waterfall cardigan, three short-sleeve blouses, 2 scarves, bronze flats and black flats. And a bight coral trench.

Our travel itinerary has us landing in Korea on Friday afternoon. We did use a travel agent to book the tickets, mostly because our travel party is so large. Feel free to email me if you want to know who we used.

 Once we clear customs we will board a bus that takes us to Seoul. We decided to stay at Fraser Place Central--a residence hotel that offers 1-, 2-, 3- bedroom apartment/suites. The hotel also has an indoor pool (the kids demanded this amenity) and an indoor playscape. This will come in handy when Sean and I are at our Korean placing agency (ESWS)--Nana can hang at the hotel with the kids if she doesn't feel up to taking them out. We used a booking agent to secure the rooms--for traveling families I highly recommend checking in with Phil Yeo at khrc.com about availabilities/discounted room rates.

We have a list of fun, non-adoption related activities that we hope to do while we're there:

Night-bus tour of Seoul
Baseball game (Go Doosan Bears!)
Lantern parade and festival
Food Tour
Going to a "cat cafe"

Not to mention visiting the aquarium in the Coex Mall, Lotte World, wandering through Insadong, visiting a palace....

And oh yeah, meeting our son.

8 days is definitely not enough time.

We leave in the evening on Friday May 25. We'll be leaving as a family of five. I have very low expectations for how the flights home will go. Luckily my eldest child was kind enough to make it so that we will never again be embarassed by a child's behavior on a flight--when she was 7 months old she screamed for the entire 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. Not an exaggeration: the.entire.flight.

We survived that experience, so I think we can survive anything.

We will be arriving in our home city at 11:30pm Friday. We have decided against having a big airport "welcome" party. None of us will be at our best after a long day of travel and we want to minimize the amount of outside stimulation for our YH. We'll head home and try to get everyone to get some rest, and then wake up and start the rest of our lives. Together.

I do intend to blog while we're gone, so stay tuned.


  1. Being Korean American and having lived in Korea before, I would say that native Koreans are pretty darn fashionable and well dressed!! You'll see what I mean when you get there. Me - dressed in sweats and flip flops. Women in Korea - wearing dresses, skirts, blouses and high heels.... so many high heels everywhere. Enjoy Korea!! I love that country.

  2. Oh yes, also def looking fwd to seeing your blog posts!!!

  3. I am going to need directions to that cat cafe when you come home! I definitely want to go there. We are third batch and will need your tips :-) I think that food tour looks good too! I agree about dressing up a bit, I am a well travelled person and generally take cargos and shorts and dress down so we can travel light. But seeing everyone's comments about the well dressed Korea I want them to know that we take the effort to be well presented. I am going to take a few nice summer dresses for our meetings at Eastern which should be good for the warm humid weather.

  4. I will definitely update everyone on how the different activities go! I'm thinking we'll do the city bus tour on our first night in Seoul--keep the kids up to a reasonable bed time. April--I think I' going to throw a pair of heels into my bag just in case I cave to societal pressure.