Seoul is a city that never stops. Or sleeps.
Or shuts up.
A cacophony of bright neon lights blitz attacks your eyes, the sound of a thousand speakers blaring the latest K-Pop hits assaults you on the street, and public space here, is private space.
It’s enough to make any introvert crawl under the covers with a tub of ice cream and never leave the house.
Seoul is so EXTRA, I’d bet even the hardiest of extroverts needs to escape the constant noise, activity and bustle of the city sometimes too.
In this guide
Seoul the Extrovert
Raise your hand if you’ve experienced any or all of the following while living in Seoul.
1. Sitting down on a totally empty subway car, which is already a miracle in and of itself, and then having someone come in, and sit in the seat RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. C’mon people, haven’t you ever heard of personal space?
2. Being unable to hear the person you’re with, because the people across the room are talking SO LOUDLY that they’ve filled every nook and cranny of the space with their super loud and annoying voices. GAHHH!!
3. Listening to BOTH sides of a cellphone conversation on a bus for over 30 minutes. FYI: covering your mouth with your hand doesn’t diminish your voices if the phone is on full-volume and you’re yelling. 🙁
Here’s how to (barely) survive when you actually live in the country and have to fight the mighty throngs, noise pollution and neon lights on a daily basis.
How to Survive Seoul as an Introvert
The truth is the only way to truly survive Seoul as an introvert is to never leave the house. But since that isn’t really an option, here’s my tried and true introvert survival tips.
Buy a pair of noise-cancelling headphones
The first time I heard about noise-cancelling headphones, I might’ve drooled a little bit.
They’re certainly not cheap, but invest in a pair and they’ll save you from chattering ajummas, giggling girl gangs, drunk ajosshis, blaring speakers and the general din of 10 million people living their daily lives.
That I don’t own a pair yet might be the biggest tragedy in the whole history of humanity.
Become a morning person
Korea might be one of the few countries on earth where coffee shops are busier at night than in the morning. In fact, a lot of cafes aren’t even open until 10 or 10:30. And this seems to be true for all activity in the city at large.
Head out the door anytime before 11AM (aside from rush hour), and you’ll find blissfully empty streets, malls, parks and subways.
TIP | Ascend to the top of Korea’s tallest building, have a ton of fun at Lotte World, and see over 55,000 sea creatures at the massive Lotte World Aquarium with the all-in-one Songpa L Pass. The price can’t be beat at 65,000 won for all three attractions (vs 112,000 on site). Score a mega discounted Songpa L Pass here.
Choose your cafes wisely
There’s a lot done in cafes in Seoul. Blind dates, business, studying, meetings – the coffee shop is the place for it all – which leads to a lot of people yelling over each other to be heard.
It’s not impossible to find a reasonably quiet cafe in Korea, but the coffee chains are pretty much the noisiest places in the country. Music is played at a really high volume for some reason unbeknownst to me, and there are hundreds of people coming and going at all times of the day and night.
You’ll have much more luck for solitude and quiet if you find a little indie cafe on a back street (as long as it hasn’t become Instagram famous). 😉
And don’t go to Starbucks. Ever.
Hide in the darkness of a movie theatre
A dark movie theatre, where no one can see you, and people can’t talk on their phones or to each other is already nothing short of nirvana for your average introvert, but Megabox in Starfield COEX Mall has upped the ante by installing 5 columns of single seats in 6 of their theatres.
Silence AND zero possibility of accidental bodily contact with a stranger? Surely, this must be heaven.
TIP | Getting a Korean facial sounds like my idea of introvert heaven. Fortunately, Seoul is full of silent spas to relax in, and Whoo Spa in Nonhyeon is one of the best. Treat yo’self to a soothing facial here.
Get all the delivery numbers
Korea’s delivery culture is a nightmare on the sidewalks (helloooo dangerous scooter), but a dream for introverts. It’s possible to pretty much NEVER leave the house for food, groceries, or general life errands by hiring a virtual concierge service. Apps like yogiyo and 배달의민죽 even make it possible to order meals without speaking to an actual human being.
And yes, even McDonald’s delivers! 🙂
Of course, you can’t avoid contact with the delivery driver, but still…
And finally… take a trip to Japan
When I get really and truly desperate, a short trip to Japan is the perfect solution to soothe my introverted feathers.
There are some very real cultural differences between the 2 countries, and while most of my Japanese friends love visiting Korea because of the free-for all feeling and constant noise, all I dream about is visiting Japan, so that I can bask in its order and blissful silence.
Fortunately, it’s a short hop, skip and a jump away from Korea, and it’s easy to find discount flights on airlines like Peach Air pretty much anytime of the year.
In fact, I should start looking for one now. 😉
Do you call yourself an introvert? Do you have any tips for surviving the noise, chaos, and crowds of Seoul? Share your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!