Our last day in Seoul was a free for all so I had made a list of a few places I wanted to see and kinda sorta challenged meself to get it all done in about 12 hours!

I convinced myself at the airport that I didn’t need a local sim, which in all honesty I really didn’t, BUT it would’ve come in handy here and there just because. During breakfast the morning of, I sat with my ickle pencil and notebook, googled station stops and directions, any hints from the online world really lol and off we went!

If you’re from Toronto, you already know how slightly lame our miskeen metro system is. It’s nothing compared to the likes of London or New York, and now Seoul lol a whole lot of colors and interchanges and English words on top of Korean symbols and super overwhelming to look at when you’re already a tad confused! On top of that no one appeared to be at the information booth underground and besides a map, 3 ticket machines and an entrance barrier, there wasn’t much third party assistance.

The machines themselves are helpful if you know where you want to go. They easily translate into English and sort your fare accordingly. I was hoping to grab a tourist pass or a day pass of some sort but obvs couldn’t ask anyone so not sure if one exists, but from my understanding you purchase one-way tickets to your stop or via your route which I’m aware is completely ridiculous for people who live there and there must be a system in place, but just in my experience I’ve got no clue! Your girl did the one-way one-way thing and it was fine; fares are also super cheap so #winwin ! Did mess up one time and barriers wouldn’t let me exit, but some nice elderly Korean men helped me jump over (their idea promise) and that was that!

First stop: Bukchon Hanok Village

  • Anguk Station (Subway line 3; dark orange line)

-take exit 2 and walk North (this is dumb I know but it might help; I hate when people use north/south/east/west because who blady uses that anymore) toward Bukchon-ro Street. Walk for about 10-20 minutes and you’ll begin to see traditional houses and tourist shops which also rent out traditional dresses for all your Instagram needs! (*rumor has it that if you dress up, you’re granted free entry into the palace..!)

The village itself isn’t really a ‘tourist’ attraction; it’s simply a residential area which houses hundreds of traditional houses called ‘hanoks’ that apparently date back to the Joseon Dynasty. The traditional essence and structure of the houses has been preserved whilst still current with signs of ‘the modern world’ lol and its quite interesting to see the contrast between the two; ie. a benzo pulling out of a hanok house or security cameras overlooking traditional doors etc. but it’s a beautiful area nonetheless! Also if someone is selling strawberries while you’re around, buy some lol the sweetest strawberries ever!

Next make your way to  Bukchon-ro 5-gil street; go back the way you entered and make a right onto Bukchon5 and walk straight on for a bit. Depending on the season, Jeongdok Public Library on your right is (was) a beautiful spot to catch the cherry blossoms if they’re in season. We were apparently in the last week of the season so a lot of them had already bloomed and fallen but it was still super beautiful to see and walk through.

Continue on Bukchon 5 after that; the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is on your left if that tickles your fancy – I just admired it from the outside lol

Cross over at the lights and you’ve got both the National Folk Museum of Korea in front of you and the back entrance to Gyeoungbokgung Palace. The museum grounds are free to walk through (obvs your girl chose that option), which was lovely, and then I’d definitely recommend leaving and continuing [south] on Gallery Street until you come to the main gates of Gyeoungbokgung Palace. Again, the massive entrance grounds are free to tour and walk around [didn’t go in because we were on a time constraint], but the architecture of the palace and seeing people dressed in traditional wear is definitely something to experience!

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Palace over, head to the closest metro which would be Gyeoungbokgung station (Subway line 3; dark orange line) either towards Common Ground or Seoul Tower, whichever you fancy. I did Common Ground next only because we were staying closer to the tower so I figured I’d do that then head back to the hotel, but both are easily accessible once you’re on the metro!

Space: Common ground

  • Konkuk University Station [dark green line; line 2 or 7]

-take exit 6 and walk straight for 5-10 minutes and you’ll see it on your left

Common ground is one of Seoul’s first pop-up stores and has been built with about 200 vibrant blue shipping containers stacked and welded together to create the space. Definitely exudes a more hipster and urban vibe to the city and just a wicked spot to check out. Restaurants are on the 3rd floor with a terrace overlooking the grounds, café’s on the first, and food truck grub in the open area on the grounds; stores are lined up indoors and are def more urban/street brands.  Apparently there’s also a weekend market which takes place alongside various street performances and such.

Next up was Seoul Tower also known as Namsan Tower

  • Myeongdong Station (subway line 4; light blue line)

-Make your way to the opposite side of the street [exit 2-4] and wait for the number 5 bus at the bus stop; the stop is literally as it shows in the photo below

Seoul Tower is a communication and observation tower located on Namsan Mountain in Seoul. Presumably its become a tourist attraction because of the view it provides overlooking the city. I had planned to take the cable car up top to get a view and take some photos but time wasn’t on my side so hung about near the foot of the tower and enjoyed the blossoms and whatever view I could manage from there which was still quite lovely!

Because Myeongdong was en route to the hotel, took the bus back from the tower [same route], got off at Myeongdong Station and walked through the street itself to get home. Myeongdong is synonymous with Seoul itself and is definitely a must if you’re ever in the city. Shopping galore and just this exciting bustle which I haven’t experienced elsewhere. There seemed to be a daily evening street food market we caught a couple times which had vendors selling a variety of items if you’re into trying new foods!

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Skin care is another one that kind of took over the street lol its quite overwhelming the first time around, especially if you’re like me and super fascinated by the skincare/cosmetic world lol so I’d recommend doing a bit of research online about certain brands and specific products you might want to try to eliminate a) wasting time looking at everything & b) spending money on things you probably don’t need! The street is also a great place to pick up any souvenirs or novelty Korean items for your peeps back home! ie. Hello Kitty socks, dancing PSY dolls, keychains etc.

And that was that my loves! Made me way back afterwards and headed to the airport to experience the most wonderful week of uncomfortable jetlag possible haha FYI, Incheon Airport isn’t the greatest; we all struggled finding a place to sit let alone something to munch, and the only place open at 11pm was Starbucks which wasn’t quite able to fill the hunger void lol

Anyways! Hope that’s provided somewhat of an itinerary for those who might have Seoul as an upcoming destination, and/or shown how realistic it is to maximize a short period of time wherever you might be! Keep an eye out for a Korean vlog also coming your way soon which will hopefully provide more of a visual to some of the aforementioned! xxx

Everyone’s got different needs in general day-to-day life, and whilst travelling those needs tend to be magnified to a million and one [for some]. The need for a fluffy pillow, a shower in only the most pristine of conditions, carpeted flooring, a closet with hangers, and whatever other comforts of home aren’t necessarily going to be givens once you leave (def available if that’s what you’re after so by all means you do you, but this post isn’t about that!).

Depending on where and why you’re jetting off, you’ve almost always got somewhat of an idea of what you’d like to spend a chunk of your budget on. Tours, all-inclusive resorts to just chill and never leave the premises, food, a concert or event you’ve flown in for, shopping, sightseeing etc. etc. you get the point lol

I personally enjoy spending my travel budget on doing stuff as opposed to where I lay my head at night, again, depending on where in the world I’ve headed. As long as I’ve got a bed to sleep in and a bathroom in decent condition (okay hot water too lol) I tend to be alright! Don’t get me wrong though, I have and do stay at hotels and can def be about that fluffy pillow life at times lol but there are alternatives out there which are just as good at a fraction of the price.

I was in London a couple weeks ago, stayed in a hostel (@astorhostels), and asked you guys on instagram if you had any questions/concerns about the hostel life because I’m aware it isn’t always the preferred type of accommodation for some; especially if you’re a solo female [Muslim] traveler. Last time I was in town I stayed a lovely hotel which I was tempted to return to, but thought we’d go a different route this time around.

Before we get into some of those questions,, some of you might be thinking “what is a hostel?” Prior to my experience, I was always under the impression of them being this dingy establishment of cramped bunkbeds situated either in the heart of a busy city or the outskirts of town, filled with backpackers who couldn’t afford to stay anyplace else, no food, maybe a dirty bathroom *insert idunno emoji here*

BUT a few years ago my lovely younger sister changed my entire perception after we stayed in a hostel in Kyoto, Japan. She had been staying in them for a while at this point whilst touring around the country and I always scoffed at the thought lol but was slightly jealous of how she could afford to stay at a different place every couple nights. I remember first entering the building and thinking ‘Saira are you dumb? This is so freaking cool! Why haven’t you done this before?!’ (she said I had better credit here so there’s that)

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credit: @abbasspace

SO! What is a hostel exactly?

A hostel is essentially a budget-friendlier version of a hotel; envision a smaller hotel with dorm-like vibes. They aim to provide more of a social and shared travel experience via an alternative accommodation space, again, at a fraction of the price of a hotel. Because they’re catered to travelers and tourists alike, their locations are blady wicked! Almost always in close proximity to main transport systems, tourist sites and attractions, local munch spots etc., they allow for the best and easiest accessibility to anything and everything you’d want to explore whilst in town.

sidetone: yes you can roll up with luggage and not just a backpack lol some have lifts which help, some don’t, but you’ll survive!

Do you usually travel alone?

Yes and I love it! Either alone or with a friend or two, but mostly solo! Travelling on your own allows you to get to know yourself, the good and bad, and truly adds perspective to life in terms of how miniscule certain things, and even you, are in this world, reiterating the idea of living your best life and being true to yourself.

Your first solo trip is always going to be daunting and scary and you being super self-conscious of the world and everyone ‘watching’ you, but it’s just you in your own head lol the world can either be a beautiful place full of love and hope or a big bad scary monster out to get you; you ultimately decide which one it is. Every place, every country and experience is truly what you make of it; I’d always recommend going in with an open mind and open heart and being conscious of the fact that whilst this may not be your ‘normal’ or reality, it is for many others and to be mindful and respectful of that. (side note: would you be interested in a separate post on solo travel itself? tips etc?! let me know in the comments!)

Do you feel safe in hostels with belongings there?

Yes. I’ve got mini locks for my case(s) which I use sometimes, and many hostels also have a safe which they can lock away any valuables for you. You’ve often got to put down a refundable deposit ($5 or something small) but it gives you peace of mind if you’re worried about someone taking something. Depending on the room you’re in, everyone’s got their designated ‘space’ to keep their things and only those people assigned to that room have access via a key card (just like a hotel) so you don’t have to worry about someone from another room or floor snooping.

 Are hostels mixed? Are there female only dorms?

Yes, and yes! The hostel itself is mixed, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a female-only hostel, but the room you choose to stay in is up to you. Rooms are either all-female, all-male, mixed, or some also have the option for private rooms which is an entire room to yourself! Depending on the hostel, some rooms have bathrooms (with showers) in the rooms, some have them outside in the hallway which are communal (could be mixed). Rooms themselves could consist of 4-beds or more; in Japan my sister and I were in a private room with a shared bathroom, and after she left I switched to a 4-bed. In London I stayed in a 10-bed with a bathroom inside, Athens was a 4-bed with bathroom inside, so it all just depends on the place itself!

 

Cleanliness? How clean are the facilities especially if they are communal?

In my experience the hostels themselves have been pretty clean; just like in a hotel there’s ‘room service’ mostly to tidy up the bathroom. The one thing no ones really got control of though is the cleanliness of fellow travelers which might be kinda gross sometimes lol cleaning the sink and countertop once you’re done with it, or not leaving smelly socks/shoes out in the open are common courtesies you’d presume to be normalcies… but nah lol clean up after yourself because that’s how your mamas raised you, and hope the person before you has also done the same! If you’re quite anal about germs etc. you can always pack disinfecting wipes or something of the sort (my mama loves Lysol wipes haha) but they’ll get the job done.

What is your experience staying in a hostel as a female/Muslim/hijabi? (I always imagine myself sleeping in a room full of intoxicated people.!)

 My experience has been great so far! I’ve personally never allowed those ‘labels’ to define nor restrict me from doing certain things and so I don’t think you should either, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from x

As a female, sorted, you’ve got the option to choose an all-female dorm if that makes you more comfortable. As a Muslim, same thing lol stay in whatever dorm you feel more comfortable , pray in your room or the commons area, or you can always ask reception if they’ve got a private room you could use for 5 mins which I’m sure wouldn’t be an issue. As a hijabi, if you don’t want to say hi or smile or engage in conversation with me because you’ve already made presumptions of what I’m like based on what’s on my head, that’s on you and I’m not too bothered lol but like anything else if you make the first move ie. introduce yourself to your roommates or start chatting to people asking where they’re coming from, plans for the city etc. you’ll naturally find something to bond over regardless because you’re all technically at the hostel for a similar reason (travelling, stop over, touristing, taking a month off life etc.)

Regardless of the communication stuff haha er well as a ‘hijabi‘ if you don’t want to go to pub night at the hostel, don’t go; this is that whole making life choices thing again init and I get that wearing and/or being in hijab presumes this restriction upon what you can and can’t do, but everyone’s got different values and deems more importance upon some things than others, so just like you get by in everyday life in terms of what you consider ‘permissible’ in accordance to your beliefs, you’d just do the same I suppose!

Can you sleep without hijab, is it safe?

Yes you can; again whatever makes you feel comfortable. I tend to stay in female dorms so it comes off once I enter the premises and of course when I sleep lol and then walking around the hostel or in commons doing work etc. I either throw on a hoodie or hijab it and it’s all good!

Do you have to share a room with strangers?

If you’re travelling alone, yes, unless you opt for one of the private rooms. If you travel with a group of friends etc. you can always just choose the same room so you’ll at least end up together in a room with strangers lol

 

Where can I find hostels?

I’ve only ever used hostelworld, hostels.com, and hostelbookers ; they’re legitimate, reliable, and have a massive range of places to choose from. Just like when you go to book a hotel, you’ve got ratings to look at, comments/feedback, photos etc. to help make your decision easier. I tend to look at the ratings and location; how close they are to public transport and town centers. Being close to transport helps in terms of going to/from the airport as well because you can often make your own way instead of getting jipped by airport taxis!

*Amenities etc.

 Most hostels offer laundry services either on or off the premises, and if you’re in desperate need of an iron you can always ask. In Athens I was taken to the basement to use the iron in the laundry room which obviously isn’t room service, but it got the job done and I wasn’t fussed in the slightest! Breakfast is also available at times; either there’s a café or shop of some sort, or recently in London Astor Hyde Park had a cool initiative where breakfast was only 1pound and all funds were donated to charity. If you follow me you know food isn’t a massive priority during my travels so I tend to skip out on brekky wherever I’m staying and grab-n-go whilst I’m out exploring!

Wifi and outlets are also a standard. If you’re in need of a travel adapter you can grab one from reception (often at the cost of a refundable deposit which is cool). Same with towels (I’d suggest bring your own though just because..!)

Hostels almost always have events going on at the space itself which is wicked and a great way to meet people as well. Movie nights, free walking tours etc. and there’s always a plethora of posters posted on the walls about things to do (just like at uni!) If you’re interested in booking tours etc. as well, your hostel can also assist with that sometimes or even have a discounted rate as you’re staying with them; some might also have affiliations with local restaurants which grants you a percentage off your meal which #nocomplaints !

I stayed at the Astor Hyde Park during my time in London and I loved it! So close to Hyde Park and literally the most perfect location in the ‘Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington’, an area I had never explored before whilst in London which I loved. 10 minute walk to the Natural History Museum, and a 12-15 minute walk to 2 underground stations (South Kensington and Gloucester) which was a blessing. Walked meself to Nottinghill and Portobello Road Market (25-30 min) which was through town and a highstreet; also easily walked into and through Knightsbridge and Trafalgar Square which was lovely (thankfully I was blessed with fabulous weather which is often a rarity in Londontown!) Also had no idea it was the same weekend as the BAFTA’s but they were literally taking place the next street down to us which was pretty cool!

Astor have got a chain of 4 hostels in and around London: Astor Hyde Park, Astor Victoria, Astor Queensway, and Astor Museum, and they’ve kindly gifted us a promo code to use on your next stay with Astor; use: ASTORLUV for 10% off your booking via their site here [max 14 nights] xo.

I feel like this post is long enough already, but I hope it’s helpful and inspires even one of you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a go even if it’s just for a night! If you’re interested in somewhat of a recap of me trip, check out my ‘Londontown’ highlight on instagram (@shazaira) for some walkings&talkings! Feel free to get in touch if you’ve got more questions/concerns etc. as I’d love to help out and be sure to let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed this read! xx

Special thanks to Astor Hyde Park for hosting me during my stay in London. All opinions and views expressed are my own.

 

Bit of a recap of a recent trip to Greece as some of you have been asking via snapchat and instagram! We had a long weekend-ish because of Kuwait’s National Liberation Day and I figured why not go someplace. I absolutely loved Kyoto, specifically being able to walk around the city in awe whilst losing a bit of my soul (in a good way!) and taking public transit, which I’ve come to see as a luxury after living in Kuwait lol and the entire experience had me yearning for something similar but Europeanish, and essentially just a random adventure to brave on me own! Thought about Prague and Copenhagen and then Athens randomly popped up one night and that was that. I’ve been to Greece before (Kos), which was so so beautiful, so if you’re looking for a low-key beachy trip, I’d definitely recommend that!

Totally surprised at how close flying into Athens was from Kuwait; 5 hours including a stop in Doha and I was in Europe which I was pretty excited about! I had stayed in a hostel with my sister in Kyoto which was my first ever hostel experience and because it was such a good one, I decided to try it out again on my own which, if you know me, is super daunting for meself! Saira likes comfort and space and feels really awkward with people she doesn’t know and is shy and all that stuff so I challenged myself this time around and chose to stay in a 4-person dorm..eep! I chose to stay at the City Circus hostel which I totally recommend to anyone planning to visit Athens. Everything about it was awesome in terms of location, cleanliness, friendliness of staff, and overall presentation. They even had a rooftop terrace with a magical view of the Acropolis which was beautiful. Because this was kinda sorta a ‘challenge yourself/break out of your comfort zone’ type trip, I took the metro from the airport into the city and walked my way to the hostel and felt like a true backpacker lol (as cheesy as it sounds, it’s quite a big deal for me) and I was uber proud of myself! Hostels are a great way to save money whilst travelling and you’ll be surprised at the quality of accommodation some of them provide; I think everyone should experience bunking in one at some point. Some sites to use are www.hostelworld.com or www.hostels.com or even a quick google search will suffice. You usually have the option to stay with other people (all girls, all boys, or mixed) or a private dorm and bathrooms and showers and typically shared. Have to say it was pretty errr brushing my teeth and having a random boy walk in wearing his boxers ready to take a shower (lawl…) but once you get over all that it’s not too bad!

Anyways! City Circus was located really close to Monastiraki Square which is this lively hipster hub in the middle of everything, with an old Turkish mosque situated up the road from Hadrian’s library and perfectly nestled under the Acropolis with Ermos St. (shopping street) to the left and the flea market to the right and it was basically the most perfect location ever. The entire time I was there I didn’t have to take any public transport or taxis (besides the metro to and from the airport) because everything was within walking distance which was oh so wonderful!

Day 1 was spent having dinner with Vicky, a girl I randomly met on the metro and then again whilst walking around (go Saira for making friends!), prior to which I had a bit of a panic attack about being on my own but a quick cry ing call to shama helped calm the nerves which was okay!

Food wise, I know some of you were inquiring about halal food etc.; I wasn’t too fussed about scouring for halal options only because it was only a few days and I’m totally okay with vegetarian options and salads and sandwiches. I had googled for a bit and found a ‘Muslim area’ with some Afghani kebab joints and halal options but never made my way, but from the looks of it there are definitely places you can go to! On my second day, after introducing myself to another random person and asking if she wanted to have dinner with me (quite literally), we were handed a menu for an Indian restaurant which was halal so dinner consisted of a butter chicken which I’ve been craving for ages so that was nice.

Day 2 was spent visiting the sites (*a majority of the archaeological sites are only open from 8-3 during the winter schedule) *there’s also a 12 euro ticket which allows entry into six of the main sites which include: Ancient Agora, South slope of the Acropolis (Theater of Dionysos), North slope of the Acropolis, Roman Agora, Kerameikos, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Hadrian’s Library all of which I was easily able to do on foot in the one day whilst taking my time at each place. Met a girl from Malaysia who I had dinner with and we walked the town into the evening which was beautiful and cityish and busy and just everything I wanted out of this trip and I was grateful for having someone to share it with.

The hostel had advertised a day trip to different islands around Athens which I decided to do, so Day 3 was spent on the water stopping at Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. So so beautiful and just being on the water and taking it all in was such a surreal experience. Made another friend at the bus stop and we ended up spending the entire day of the cruise together and taking photos so yay! Hydra was beautiful and is known for the fact that the only transport around the island is on donkey! so naturally we had to take a donkey ride around the island lol which was super cute! Poros was the second island, known for its clock tower which we trekked up to and were pleasantly surprised by a gorgeous breath taking view of the water and its surroundings. The final island Aegina is well known for its pistachio production so pistachio products everywhere lol there was another organized tour at Aegina to another site which we figured we could just walk to, but 1/4 of the way there we were told it was waay too far to walk to so we tried to find something else to do. Headed towards another site only to be told it was closed, so we walked around and Robert decided to climb the wall and jump the fence because why not. So Saira figured she wouldn’t be left behind and also climbed the wall and jumped the fence into this Ancient Greek site of rubble and ruin and it was one of the most exhilarating and exciting moments I’ll always remember! Another proud moment for meself 🙂 !

Day 4 was a shop till you drop kinda day on Ermos Street, and one of the most beautifulest H&M’s I have ever seen lol and then that evening I was back to Kuwait!

This is essentially just a summarized version of my trip excluding all the feel good fuzzy moments felt in my heart and soul and the moments in which I felt invincible and oh so independent ready to take on the world and truly believing Kendrick that “we gon’ be alright” lol but I was proud of myself for doing a whole lot of things outside of my comfort zone and proving to myself that I can do it on me own!

Hope this has kinda sorta helped those of you who were wondering where to go etc. or has maybe inspired you to visit Greece! It really is a beautiful place and there’s lots to do and explore whether you’re on your own or not (because sometimes even your bestests [aka sham, shama, niggs, @mr_alom83] will snake you and leave you hanging!)(but then they also FaceTime you to secretly check if you’re okay and because they miss you so it balances out! x). If there’s anything more you’d like to know feel free to comment below or send me a message and I’ll get back to you inshallah! xoxo


  
  


  

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