Traveling to South Korea from the United States is far more than “just a 13 hour flight”.   I’ve traveled enough (both domestically and abroad) over the last few years to know you should always give yourself extra time between each leg of your journey.  However, the longer you travel, the more these unexpectedly add up.  I got up at 6:45AM on Tuesday, July 29th and was prepped for the following itinerary:

  • Leave home in Cedarburg, Wisconsin at 7:45AM CST to make it to Mitchell Airport (35min)
  • Catch flight from Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 10:30AM CST to Chicago, Illinois. (2h 45m)
  • Sit at the O’Hare Airport for ~2 hours. (5h, and we haven’t even left the US yet…)
  • Catch the 12h 40m flight from Chicago, Illinois to Tokyo, Japan (17h 40m)
  • Sit at the Narita Airport for ~1h 30m (19h)
  • Catch the 3h flight from Tokyo, Japan to Seoul, South Korea (22h)
  • Catch a bus from Incheon Airport to Daejeon, where I would connect with CJ. (24h)
So hypothetically this should only take me around 24 hours of traveling, right?  Wrong.  So very, very wrong.  Catching all of my connecting flights went over very smoothly.  However, I am neither graceful, fast-moving, nor collected when I am juggling a purse, a computer bag, a 65L backpack, a suitcase, and a second 75L hiking backpack zipped in a carrying case.

Packed and ready to go!

Did you know that United Airlines now counts a women’s purse as a “personal item”?  Did you know they “have cameras” and won’t let you pass through the bridge to the plane unless you somehow condense your bags down to two?  Even if this includes carrying on the same amount of stuff? While I had no problem taking my smaller backpack, purse, and laptop bag on as carry-ons from Milwaukee to Chicago, when I went to board my international flight I ended up having to shuffle my three bags into two.  In the end, I carried on my laptop bag, backpack, and pillow because for some reason that doesn’t count as a personal item.

Oh, and did you know that United Airlines doesn’t allow children under the age of 8 to sit in business class, no matter how well-behaved?  Did you know that they don’t post this anywhere online when you are purchasing your tickets and entering the names and birth dates of all the passengers?  For those families who don’t have the time to read the fine print of every airline every time they fly (read: all of us), then you may find yourself separated from your 6 year old child while she is forced to sit between two complete strangers for the entire duration of a 13 hour flight.  Fortunately the little girl seated between the other woman and I was incredibly well-behaved, quiet, and mostly just slept.  We looked out for her, but couldn’t help but feel bad as her mother and aunt checked on her worriedly throughout the entire flight.

Mildly depressing flight aside, I arrived in Tokyo on time and was able to pick up a few bottles of whiskey for the friends who were hosting me.  The last flight to Seoul seemed like nothing compared to my haul across the Pacific, and before I knew it was officially in South Korea!

Some tips for those traveling in Incheon Airport:

  • There is free WiFi immediately when you de-board your plane.  No passwords, no terms and conditions, no hassle.  Download KakaoTalk before you come and you can text and even call your family back home!
  • You are only allowed 1L of alcohol per person. when going through customs…If you don’t have a travel buddy to carry your extras for you, no one will arrest you for forgetting a liter in your bag…
  • FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, USE THE LUGGAGE CARTS.  Those suckers are free.  And I am an idiot.
  • You can book bus tickets right outside the baggage claim, and you don’t need KRW (cash) to do it!  As long as you’ve given your credit card company the heads up on your travels abroad, you shouldn’t have any issues using your card.  You should still always have some KRW on you for emergencies, though!
Flying over Japan…almost there!
Since I wasted time stumbling around with all of my bags for an hour, I didn’t catch a bus to Daejeon until around 10:30PM.  I got dumped off in the dark on a main, but semi-unlit street somewhere downtown around midnight…My phone didn’t work without WiFi.  Fortunately a taxi saw me get dropped off, and he was kind enough to let me use his cellphone to call my friend CJ.

Long story short, I was found.  I convinced my friend to go to get food with me at 3am instead of meeting our other friends out at the bars–not looking (or smelling) my best after 33 hours of constant traveling.  But I made it here!  Now someone please, please get me a shower…

It’s official: I live in Korea!