Embarking on a trip to Korea? One of the biggest blanks in any travel plan is deciding what to pack for Korea. Unlike in destinations elsewhere in Asia, visiting Korea means confronting a four-season climate that’ll require a different approach at different times of the year.
Not sure where to start? Let this ultimate Korea packing list guide you along the way with suggestions on what to wear in Korea and travel gear essentials that every traveller shouldn’t leave home without.
What to pack for Korea
As soon as I’ve purchased my flights, my next thought immediately goes to travel insurance. Although I’ve never needed to draw upon a travel insurance policy personally, I’ve heard enough horror stories from fellow travellers—from expensive medical emergencies to baggage lost and theft—to know that travelling uninsured isn’t something I want to risk.
When you’re shopping for travel insurance for Korea, it’s a good idea to purchase a policy that, at the minimum, covers medical care, trip cancellation, lost or damaged luggage, and theft.
Buying a policy with good medical coverage is particularly important in Korea. Although the Korean health care system is modern and widely-accessible, the cost of treatment for foreigners can be quite high. In cases where long-term hospitalization is required due to sickness or injury, medical expenses can really add up.
Looking for coverage at an affordable price? Travel insurance from World Nomads is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities. They’ll even allow you to purchase a policy when you’re already travelling!
Guidebooks & Phrasebooks
- Guidebooks: As much as technology is slowly winning me over, I still love keeping a paper guidebook by my site for some relaxing reading and backup. As always, I found Lonely Planet Korea to be quite handy. For trips sticking in and around the capital, Lonely Planet Seoul is another great choice.
- Phrasebooks: There’s no doubt that while travelling in Korea, you’ll encounter some (major) language barriers. Learning Korean is hardly a walk in the park, but the Lonely Planet Korean Phrasebook will be a saviour in a pinch.
- Language Learning Books: Although you might not want to bring these along, you should consider adding some Korean language learning resources to your pre-planning Korea travel checklist. A great course for beginners is Teach Yourself Complete Korean.
Luggage & Accessories
- Backpack: Whether you’ve got 10 days in Korea or three weeks, there’s no easier way to travel around than with a backpack. My personal favourite is the Osprey Porter 46, an awesome front-loading backpack that helps travellers stay organized. For other choices, check out our guides to the best men’s backpacks for travel and best women’s backpacks for travel.
- Daypack: For those days when you’re out and about in the city or in the countryside, it’s a good idea to have a daypack handy. Minimalist travellers will love the Tortuga Setout Daypack, a lightweight & budget-friendly option that packs down to the size of a bag of chips. For something a little more robust, check out the Osprey Daylite Plus. Need more ideas? Take a look at this guide to the best backpacks for day trips.
- Packing Cubes: To keep your luggage better organized and more compact, invest in a set of basic packing cubes. (You’ll thank me later!)
- Universal Power Adapter: With the advent of USB charging, there’s far less need for those bulky voltage adapters of the past. Most travellers will do just fine in Korea with a universal power adapter. It’ll work worldwide and provides room to charge up to 5 devices at a time via four USB ports and one universal socket.
- Portable Charger: Not keen on missing out on those perfect Instagrammable moments in Korea? Bring along a portable charger that’ll let you charge your devices on the fly. The Anker Powercore 10000 is a good choice. Lightweight & compact, this charger delivers 10000mAh to charge your electronics via USB wherever you may be.
- Pocket WiFi: Stay connected throughout Korea with a 4G Pocket WiFi Router. If you’d rather not carry around extra electronics and have an unlocked device, pick up a 4G Sim Card for Korea instead.
- Headphones: For long plane rides, there’s no more satisfying way to tune out the world than with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. It’s hard to beat the serenity and sound quality you’ll get from a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) Wireless Headphones.
- Kindle: As much as I wear my penchant for printed books on my sleeve, to lighten the load when I’m travelling I actually prefer an e-reader. My personal fav is the Kindle Paperwhite, an e-reader that’s lightweight & easy-to-read with superb battery life.
Virtual Private Network
Although you won’t find restrictions on Internet usage in Korea like in China, whenever you’re connected—whether with your own 4G WiFi Router or on public WiFi—your data could be vulnerable.
To combat the possibility of security breaches while travelling abroad, I always recommend connecting through a virtual private network (VPN) like NordVPN.
NordVPN has over 5,800 servers distributed worldwide. You can even connect through servers in your home country to access localized content like your home country’s Netflix.
More importantly, NordVPN gives you peace of mind that your connection is safe, using double encryption technology to protect your data. Thanks to their Panama-based headquarters, NordVPN also isn’t required to keep server logs, letting your browsing stay private.
For a limited time, get 75% off of a three-year NordVPN plan by clicking here.
- Rain Jacket: Even if you’ve done your research, there’s a very good chance you’ll run into some rain. (Check out the Treksplorer Korea weather guide for proof!) For summer in Korea, the ultra-lightweight Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II or Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II fits the bill well thanks to its better-than-average breathability. In spring & fall, opt for a slightly heavier rain jacket like the Helly Hansen Men’s Seven J or Helly Hansen Women’s Seven J. For more choices, check out these guides to the best men’s rain jackets for travel and the best women’s rain jackets for travel.
- Fleece or Softshell Jacket: If you’re planning to visit Korea in the spring or fall, layering up with a warm fleece or softshell jacket to tackle the cooler temperatures is a good idea. Boasting a soft Polartec 200 fleece, the Columbia Men’s Fuller Ridge and Columbia Women’s Fuller Ridge are excellent choices. To handle the rainy days of spring & fall, The North Face Men’s Apex Bionic 2 and The North Face Women’s Apex Bionic 2 softshell jackets will perform better. (Get more ideas with our guides to the top men’s softshell jackets, the top women’s softshell jackets and the top fleece jackets for men and top fleece jackets for women.)
- Hardshell Jacket: During Korea’s colder winters, you’ll want something a little bit heavier to carry you through. Among the best hardshells for travellers are the Outdoor Research Men’s Interstellar and Outdoor Research Women’s Interstellar. They’re designed to be lightweight, breathable and packable while providing superb defence from the elements.
- Scarf: The stylish Patagonia Synchilla Fleece Scarf is a perfect choice for both men & women looking to bundle up in the chilly Korean winter, especially if you’re planning to undertake outdoor activities like skiing.
- Winter Hat: Unless you’re one of those crazy Canadians who sweats in sub-zero temperatures, be sure to pack a winter hat for the cooler months in Korea. An interesting choice is the Sherpa Adventure Gear Renzing Hat, a lambswool toque handcrafted in Nepal and lined with Polarfleece for softer feel and to wick away sweat.
- Gloves: Don’t forget to keep your hands warm in winter! For Korea a comfortable pair of winter gloves like the Outdoor Research Men’s Flurry Sensor Gloves or Outdoor Research Women’s Flurry Sensor Gloves should keep your hands toasty enough without impeding your Instagramming thanks to its touch-screen-compatible tips.
- Hats: When the sun’s a-blazin’ in Korea, you’re going to want to protect your head from heat exhaustion or, even worse, sunstroke with a hat. Grab the UV-guarded, lightweight, breathable, and water-resistant Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap for some casual protection.
- Walking Shoes: If you’re planning to eat at traditional Korean restaurants often, I’d recommend packing a comfortable pair of slip-on walking shoes like Sketchers Men’s Go Walk 3 Walking Shoes or Sketchers Women’s Go Walk 3 Walking Shoes for convenience.
- Hiking Shoes: Travellers planning to tackle some of Korea’s best hiking trails will need slightly more robust footwear than your average tourist. A good all-around choice are the Merrell Men’s Moab Edge and Merrell Women’s Moab Edge. For more choices, check out these guides to the best men’s hiking shoes and the best women’s hiking shoes.
- Sandals: For summer hiking in Korea, you might want to consider the KEEN Men’s Newport H2 or the KEEN Women’s Newport H2. Both offer excellent traction and support thanks to a well-built EVA footbed and outsole lined with lugs. For summer urban treks, the casual & fashionable Merrell Men’s Downtown Backstrap or Merrell Women’s Around Town Backstrap are great alternatives.
- Socks: A great overall choice for travellers in Korea (or anywhere else) are the Wanderlust Air Travel Compression Socks. They’re designed to prevent DVT blood clots while travelling by plane while providing extra comfort during sustained periods of walking.
- Travel Pants: The benefits of replacing your regular pants with special travel pants are only slowly coming to light. Not only will they save space and weight in your backpack, a good pair of travel pants dries faster and breathes better than your average pant—and in a humid country like Korea that’s a big deal. Pick up a pair (or two) of Patagonia Quandary Travel Pants for a good all-around lightweight travel pant. For more options, skim through this guide to the best men’s travel pants.
- Travel Shirts: Like a pair of travel pants, you’ll love the lightweight & breathable possibilities of specialized travel shirts in the dead heat of an Asian summer. The KUHL Stealth Shirt or the more casual REI Co-op Sahara T-Shirt are perfect for Korea. In winter, wear the lightweight, moisture-wicking REI Co-op Men’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top as a base layer to up the warmth factor.
- Sweaters: For the cooler nights of spring & fall in Korea, bring along a sweater like The North Face Men’s Canyonlands as a midlayer or light outerlayer. In the colder months of winter, the Patagonia Men’s Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece makes for a brilliantly toasty midlayer.
- Travel Shorts: Like in much of East Asia, short European-cut shorts aren’t the norm. You’ll want to go with something a little longer to avoid awkward stares. In the dead heat of a Korean summer, you’ll love the quick-drying and moisture-wicking capabilities of the prAna Men’s Stretch Zion Shorts.
- Swimsuit: Once again, remember you aren’t in Europe—the Speedo look isn’t going to fly in more conservative Korea. Stick to a pair of knee-length board shorts like the O’Neill Men’s Santa Cruz Brisbane Board Shorts to err on the safe side.
- Travel Pants: Lighten your load by swapping out your regular jeans with a pair of lightweight, packable & breathable travel pants like the prAna Halle Travel Pants. For a little more style, the Anatomie Skyler Travel Pants will do just fine. For more options, skim through this guide to the best women’s travel pants.
- Travel Shirts: During summer in Korea, you’ll want to go as light as possible with your shirt choices. Specialty-made travel shirts like the Columbia PFG Tamami II Short-Sleeve Shirt or the REI Co-op Sahara Heather T-Shirt work best to keep you cool. In winter, consider a warm but lightweight & moisture-wicking base layer like the REI Co-op Women’s Midweight Base Layer Crew Top.
- Travel Shorts: Like in nearby Japan, you’ll want to err on the side of modesty in Korea when it comes to shorts. A great pair of travel shorts for Korea are the modest, stylish & comfortable Royal Robbins Discovery Bermuda Shorts.
- Travel Skirts/Dresses: Just as with shorts, you’ll want to tone back your skirt choices in Korea. A travel skirt like the Royal Robbins Discovery Travel Skirt is designed to be stylish yet functional with extra features for travellers like a side-zip security pocket and a lightweight breathable fabric.
- Swimsuit: Although bikinis aren’t uncommon on the beaches of Korea, the most worn styles are far more modest than those found on North American, Australian or European beaches. If you really want to err on the side of caution, a one-piece swimsuit like the prAna Moorea is your safest choice.
- Hanging Toiletry Bag: One of the quickest ways to stay organized in moving from place to place is to pack your essentials in a convenient ProCase Hanging Toiletry Bag. In smaller hotel rooms of Korea, it can save a ton of counter space and let you access your toiletries quickly & easily.
- Travel Towel: Even with most mid-range & luxury hotels doling out towels for their guests, I like to keep a packable quick-dry towel like the REI Co-op Multi Towel Deluxe handy for the beach or for relaxing in city parks.
- Travel Umbrella: It’s almost inevitable that you’ll get struck down with rain at least once on your trip to Korea. Carry along a Repel Windproof Travel Umbrella in your daypack for a lightweight, packable solution.
- RFID Wallet: With RFID scams out-and-about, I’m no longer keen on travelling anywhere—even in my own city—without an RFID-blocking wallet. For travellers, the Travelambo RFID-Blocking Minimalist Wallet is perfect for the task.
- RFID Passport Protector: With new biometric e-passports, it’s ever more important to keep your most important travel documents safe from would-be scammers. The Zoppen RFID Travel Wallet & Organizer protects your information from theft with RFID-blocking technology. It’s perfect for travellers both flying solo & with family as there’s extra room for kids’ passports and other travel documents like boarding passes.
- Travel Pillow: I’ve cursed myself many times for forgetting to pack my travel neck pillow. For long-haul flights to Asia from Europe or North America, it’s absolutely key. Even better than your run-of-the-mill travel pillow is the innovative BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow that also supports the chin for a more restful in-flight sleep.
- Sleep Mask: Although less important than a travel pillow, some travellers simply can’t sleep without a sleep mask. The ALASKA BEAR Natural Silk Sleep Mask is a fantastic choice offering complete darkness on planes or sleeper trains to let your get the rest you need to hit the ground running at your ultimate destination.
- Ear Plugs: Along with the two accessories above, a good pair of ear plugs will help you sleep in loud environments. Instead of opting for cheap drugstore foam plugs, pick up some Luiswell Travel Ear Plugs which are specifically designed to adjust to the pressure associated with altitude changes.
- Travel Water Bottle: Planning to do some backwoods hiking in Korea? Stay hydrated with the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle, an innovative bottle with a UV filter that kills bacteria, viruses, and eliminates heavy metals from any drinking source. For around the city, the Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle will suit the bill just fine.
- Hair Dryer & Straightener: If you’re staying in a mid-range or luxury hotel in Korea, chances are that your bathroom with include a hair dryer. Otherwise, pick up a dual-voltage hair dryer like the Jinri 1875-Watt Travel Hair Dryer that’ll take you through all of your jaunts abroad and at home. Pair it with a dual-voltage straightener like the Jinri Professional Travel Flat Iron to keep the frizz to a minimum in the humid Korea weather.
- Oral Care: You won’t have much trouble finding suitable oral care products in most Korean cities. Bring along your favourite toothbrush, mouthwash, toothpaste, and floss just in case.
- Body Soap/Shampoo/Conditioner: Although most decent hotels in Korea will provide toiletries, you might want to pack up your favourite products as they may not be easily available in Korea.
- Hair Styling Products: Watch a K-drama or see a K-pop video and you’ll quickly conclude that finding hair care products in Korea can’t be so difficult. The selections, however, may be a little different than your used to. Bring your favourite gel/wax/mousse along just to be sure.
- Anti-Perspirant/Deodorant: It’s not so difficult to find major deodorant brands in Korea although their formulas might not be quite the same as back home. Pack some extras just in case.
- Lip Balm: Whatever time of year you’re visiting Korea, it’s a good idea to pack a lip balm like Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Moisturizing Lip Balm. For summer, a UV-protected lip balm like Sun Bum SPF30 Lip Balm works wonders while the dry winter months might necessitate something stronger like the Blistex Lip Medex.
- Sunscreen: It should hardly be a surprise to you that sunscreen in Korea isn’t super cheap. Avoid inflated prices by picking up a good sunscreen like Sun Bum Original Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion before leaving for Korea.
- Hand Sanitizer: If there’s one thing that’s always in my bag, especially while travelling in the world’s biggest cities, it’s Purell Advanced Hand Sanitizer.
- First-Aid Kit: Despite being a world-class klutz, I’m not one to go crazy with my travel first-aid kits. At the minimum, I include bandages, antiseptic ointment, tweezers, and hydrocortizone cream along with anti-diarrheal, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory/fever reduction, and allergy medications. If you require prescription medication, be sure to bring it in the original bottle.
- Grooming Kit: Along with your first-aid kit, pack a travel-sized grooming kit including nail clippers, tweezers and scissors. The compact & budget-friendly 12-piece Tseoa Professional Grooming Kit plus a razor and shaving cream is more than enough for most travellers.