Updated April 14, 2017 — Filipinos love to do things in groups: eat, study, stroll, and most importantly, travel. When we see seat sales, we drag our family and friends along and hope our bosses would allow us to take a leave on the same date for the same excuse.
But what happens when suddenly none of your supposed travel companions could come? Anything could happen: too much work, denied visa, or no cash to spend.
It’s what happened to me recently when I embarked on a trip to Busan, the second biggest city of South Korea. I’ve traveled solo before in the Philippines, but I’ve hesitated to consider an outbound travel on my own.
Luckily, Busan is a very safe city. Its level of crime is “Very Low” in almost the same level as Seoul, according to Numbeo, which aggregates user-generated data on cities and countries. Unlike Seoul, though, the city has a mix of laid-back and metropolitan culture that you can liken to how Cebu is in the Philippines.
It’s definitely worth a shot for solo travelers especialy women. And here are a few things to know on how you can further enjoy your stay in the city:
1. Busan’s convenient transport system
Just like Seoul, Busan implements a prepaid card that you can use for train, bus, and taxi and to purchase items in convenience stores. I used Cash Bee throughout my stay in Busan.
2. When lost, ask the next kid you see on the street
I’ve noticed that English-speaking locals are hard to come by in Busan. You’d notice a language barrier, although there are some general signages and voiceovers in English. When you ever need information from locals especially when you get lost, ask among the younger locals, who are more attuned to English. That would avoid you getting lost in translation.
Aside from the ever-reliable Google Map (best to search for your train and bus itineraries), bringing a hard copy of a map can still be essential and convenient. You may find a free one in tourist information centers. A map also makes for a lovely souvenir, reminding you that you’ve survived solo travel in Busan.
3. Busan has a mega fish market
Local markets provide a glimpse of Busan’s daily trade. One of the most popular, the Jagalchi Fish Market, is similar to our dampa and Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. I like Jagalchi more Noryangjin Market in Seoul.
Fish served here are the freshest, and it should rightly be:the market distributes somewhere between 30% and 50% of South Korea’s fish requirements, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.
4. When eating alone, you could order half
When eating alone and the menu mostly gives you for-sharing items, ask if you could order half.
5. Beating the loneliness by meeting fellow solo travelers
One of the things that removes the loneliness in solo travel is the opportunity to meet fellow travelers like you at the hotel. I stayed at a backpacker’s hostel in Nampo District, near Jagalchi Fish Market, where I made friends with fellow solo travelers from China, South Korea, and Switzerland. Try to hang out with your newfound friends over Korean draft beers or Magkeolli, if you want something other than Soju.
6. Busan’s coast is perfect for sunset viewing
Haeundae Beach in Busan is perhaps South Korea’s most popular beach destination, with most visitors coming between June and August during summer. Stretching 1.5 kilometers long, it is the perfect place to hang around on a lazy afternoon after your day tour before heading for dinner or the hotel.
Like Taiwan and Japan, Koreans have their own public baths called jjimjilbang where you can stay for as long as 12 hours for a very affordable price. Plenty abound in Busan that you can try, including this one.
8. You should visit nearby cities outside Busan
Travelers often underestimate the power of planning out one’s itinerary. A principle I often follow is to visit the farthest destinations first, which gives me enough flexibility in my last days that I can use for shopping or last-minute attractions to see. Outside Busan, you may want to explore first the nearby cities of Daegu, South Korea’s third largest city; or Gyeongju, host to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites; or even Seoul, which you can reach via train or bus.
9. Busan is very near Japan
Did you know there are regular ferries between Busan and Fukuoka, Japan? The 3-hour travel time across the Tsushima Strait is not cheap, though, so it’s best to assess whether this is a practical option over taking the plane.
10. There are no zombies in Busan – definitely SAFE. 😝