Sep 17, 2010

Pack with Me: a guide for the Korea-bound

I'm saddling up for another year abroad, and oh boy, it's packing time. 

Packing combines some of my favourite trivialities; list-making, zipper operation, and hearing people say "gee, you pack light!" (with me, luggage-flattery gets you everywhere). 

I'm in a good position, having already been to Korea before. I have a better sense of what to bring, and I'd love to share that info with the blogworld. 

Below, my Dos and Don't for a Year in Korea.


Do: deodorant
Don't: body lotion, soap, shampoo, conditioner
Well, they do sell deodorant in Korea, but it's the delicate stuff. This Canadian needs industrial-strength to get through the humid, smoggy summers of urban Korea. 

Really, though, it's the only toiletry you need to pack. Korean beauty products are potent and cheap. Just look around at Korean women. Aren't they always lovely? Have you ever once suspected them of using inferior moisurizers? Thought not. Travel with trial-sized essentials, and once you're in Korea, go to a Skin Food shop - the products are all labelled in English, and they're all great. You just saved yourself about three litres of space in your luggage.


Do: bras, underwear, pants
Don't: shoes, socks
If you're an average-sized North American, odds are that you won't fit into Korean clothing, especially (ladies) on the bottom half of your body. Foot sizes, however, vary less than clothing sizes. If you have an average-sized foot in North America, you'll be able to find ample footwear in Korea. Shoes tend to be cheaper too, so don't put four pairs of boots in your luggage. 


Do: winter coat
Don't: hats, mittens, gloves
You may find that Korean winter coats are tight on your lovely broad shoulders. Scarves and mittens will fit anyone, though. You can also easily wear Korean hats unless you have an exceptionally big head. I knew a Scotsman who had to order a helmet off the Internet because nothing in Korea would fit him. But that's another category...

Do: foundation, powder
Don't: eyeshadow, lipstick, nail polish
Korean women (and boy band singers) are a well made-up lot. My makeup bag is still stuffed with Korean brands, and I haven't been there in two years. Their makeup is high-quality, and brands like Banila, Face Shop, and Skin Food are cheap. You may want to bring your own foundation and concealer, though, if your complexion is quite un-Korean. As far as makeup goes, their skin tone options don't vary much.


Do: obscure new releases, Canadian lit, graphic novels, poetry...
Don't: your Jane Austen anthology

University bookstores are a good source of classic literature, in English. Most big cities have a Kyobo bookstore, which stocks a small English-language selection. The books here tend to be broad, though; think Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, not this year's Giller Prize shortlisters. If you like niche genres, bring a few titles in your luggage. 


Do: some favourite teas or spices
Don't: a crate of Kraft Dinner, three packages or Oreos, jars of your favourite salsa

Food plays a big role in homesickness, I know, but there's no need to fill your luggage with bulky, breakable things. My food packing list includes English Breakfast tea, cinnamon, maybe one bag of peanut butter cups. Portable, hardly breakable, small. Home Plus has Alpen and Cadbury and other western goodies; so do foreigner grocery stores in big cities. You can also sweet-talk someone from a US military base, and get access to the base grocery store. Those Pop-Tarts may come at a price though. 


Do: a few choics photographs
Don't: a milion framed photos, hand-written notes, a clay paperweight your nephew made.

A ton of mementos are just unnecessary bulk. To personalize your apartment, bring photos and buy cheap frames in Korea. Use a pashmina as a table runner, or bring some fridge magnets to personalize your kitchen. If you just want to decorate, ask around to see if any teachers are leaving Korea; you may be able to adopt some choice secondhand stuff.


Do: a duffel bag or backpack
Don't: a suitcase with a frame

If you're in a bachelor apartment or one bedroom in a shared place, you'll resent that framed bugger for taking up precious, limited space. Collapsible luggage stores easily.


  1. This is excellent, Anne. Fwiw, I wear size 11 American and didn't have a problem finding shoes. Technomart!

  2. Just had my kids bring Motrin, Ranch dressing, a set of sheets and more deodorant. I have either forgotten about everything else or found acceptable substitutes. Looking forward to seeing you!

  3. The Lady in Red seconds the bras. Being a size somewhat rare among the locals means they're a bit harder to find. Gentlemen - pack plenty of boxers. What Koreans call 'boxers' are not stretchy and not particularly comfortable.

    Before leaving, have a good friend or parent serve as shipping person - which means keeping them up to date with your school's address and any requests from your home country. They should have access to your bank account, or Paypal them the funds to purchase your requests.

  4. Great idea for a post! I like how you laid it out in do's and don'ts. I had trouble finding good deodorant in Pakistan as well, although I think that's cause most of it was fake!

  5. Ha, I love hearing Canadians say Kraft Dinner. I've had a hard time finding shoes my size in Korea, though.