Welcome back to another episode of Unfiltered: Unraveling Truths About Traveling. A segment where I ask bloggers, vloggers, and the like questions about traveling in order to share with you their perspectives and opinions.
For this week, let me introduce you to:
Mina Oh is a Korean American YouTuber born and raised in California. She publishes weekly videos about Food & Travel on two YouTube channels: SweetAndTastyTV and Miss Mina. SweetAndTastyTV is focused on Korea and Miss Mina is all about exploring the world outside of Korea.
When Mina first began YouTube in 2008, she made Korean language lessons. After closing the chapter on her architecture career, she planned to attend film school. With the help of online tutorials, she taught herself how to create videos from scratch and thought of YouTube as the perfect platform to get feedback from viewers and build a portfolio for film school. 11 years after her first video, she is now a full-time YouTuber. She travels the world and films with her mother, popularly known as Mommy Oh. They are currently based in Washington.
1. What advice would you give to a first time traveler?
Have an open mind about people and their lifestyle, no matter how strong your own beliefs are. You never know what kind of relationships and insights you’ll forge along the way.
Keep expensive items at home and anything that draws too much attention, especially desirable jewelry. Blending in helps you from becoming a target for theft.
Exercise good judgement. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, stand up for yourself. That may mean quietly leaving the area or respectfully declining an invitation. You don’t have to say yes to everyone you encounter.
What is acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another. For example, the way men treat women around the world will differ. As a solo female traveler, you’ll need to be extra mindful about what type of situations you are getting yourself into. Male travelers too should keep safety in mind. One of my male friends once got mugged in a taxi late at night.
Don’t talk about politics, unless you are certain of your safety. For example, in Thailand, it is illegal to say anything bad about the king. Be curious and listen as you travel, but think twice about what you say. Not just about politics, but also revealing to strangers which hotel/accommodation you’re staying at. If you’re traveling alone, often it’s a good idea to say you’re traveling with a family, friend or significant other. Say your travel partner is resting at the hotel room. It always depends on who you meet and the situation, so once again, exercise your best judgement.
It’s okay to take photos, but don’t let that become all that you do (unless you are a photographer or content creator and documentation is your mission). Soak in each experience using your five senses to the fullest. Be present. Savor fully.
Friends and family, especially those who’ve never traveled before, might feed you terrifying thoughts. To the point one might question: will I make it through my trip alive? Their perspective of the world may be formed by the news, which sways on the negative. From political unrest to natural disasters, shocking and emotional news tends to be shared more than neutral happenings. Truth is, I would never walk alone late at night in Los Angeles despite California being my home state. However I feel safe walking alone in Singapore at 3am. While there are countries you probably should not visit due to questionable circumstance, there are also countries that are much safer than where you are from (unless you’re from the safest country in the world).
2. What has traveling taught you?
Culturally and politically our nations may have striking differences, but as human beings, we are more alike than meets the eye. We all try to make money, be healthy, spend time with family and friends, and want to be happy.
Everything is relative. Money, food, history, and even morals. The meaning of wealth varies upon each country. If you have a million dollars in Bangkok, that’s a lot of money. But in San Francisco, that money disappears fast. Compare the price of an average home in both cities. Bangkok’s average residential property price is said to be $106,000. San Francisco’s median house price as of 2019 is $1.7 million.
History is relative in the sense that is it not taught the same across the world. Some history is intentionally removed from textbooks by the command of the government. Even terminology differs. In the United States, what we refer to as the “Vietnam War” is called the “American War” in Vietnam.
And as for relativity in morals: while something is generally considered very wrong in one country or city, it is legal or widely accepted in another (ie: marijuana, prostitution).
[A]s human beings, we are more alike than meets the eye.
We tend to accept our perspective as reality and truth. There are multiple perspectives around the world. Even within 1 square mile of a megacity, there must be at least a hundred perspectives. At the end of the day, it is not our job to change others to fit our views. For us to peacefully coexist, we need to listen with an open heart. It’s not always an easy task, but shutting your heart leads to division. Communication, respect, sharing thoughts and ideas… For the human collective to evolve and live harmoniously, it is important to stay connected.
3. What has been the most surreal place you have visited? What made it so magical?
While every country is magical in its own way, Hanoi really struck a chord with me in my late 20s. I even thought about moving there. During college, Los Angeles was my magical place. These days though, I’ve become less of a city girl and more inclined to be with nature. When I visited Iceland this summer, I was astounded by its wealth of landscapes. From gushing waterfalls to black sand beaches to stark terrain… All sorts of jaw-dropping and surreal scenery melted my heart. Over and over again. It was also charming to see sheep along the road while driving. There’s no fence, so they roam wild and take over the 2-lane highway if they wish.
4. Is traveling safe? Should I go on a solo trip?
Yes and no.
It depends where you go and how mindful you are. If you travel alone during hurricane season, you are asking for trouble. As long as you use common sense and do some research, solo traveling can be very safe. Maybe even safer than your own country!
5. Do you prefer to plan out your travels or be spontaneous? Is there a reason why?
When I go on trips dedicated to filming videos, I make an itinerary and figure out what day to do what. For example, a 5-day market in South Korea might only be open on days that have 4 and 9 in it. Thus open on the 4th, 9th, 14th, 19th, 24th and 29th of every month. Another 5-day market may be open only on days that contain a 5 and 0, thus the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, and 30th of every month. No matter how spontaneous you wish to be, if you want to see specific places and events, then you will need to plan for them.
For vacation—meaning not traveling for the purpose of filming—I prefer to be spontaneous and keep a simple, flexible itinerary. It’s wonderful to be in the moment and witness how one thing leads to another. You meet all sorts of people and get in a flow that otherwise may not happen when you are focused on filming. There is a lot pausing and break of flow when you stop to film. Some people shy away from cameras while others are drawn to them. The presence of a camera changes how you experience a place and how you create human connections.
6. Do you ever feel burnt out when you travel? How do you deal with it?
Burnout can certainly happen while traveling, especially from long, eventful trips. I think taking care of yourself is key to preventing any burnout whether it’s related to travel, work, life, etc. A good night’s sleep goes a long way. Helps you stay aware of your surroundings and maintain your immune system. My travel burnouts typically begin when I sleep somewhere noisy or the bed is too bouncy. Or when I get sick, but have to board a plane. Instead of resting, you are constantly on the move. I think it’s good to add extra days if you can, to provide cushion time for any trip. That’s what I do when I plan to film street food videos. Just in case I get food poisoning. And I have gotten food poisoning in Southeast Asia before.
7. Tips for traveling to Korea
- I recommend visiting in autumn or spring, when the weather is most pleasant. Closer to the peak of winter, you will need to pack more layers and bring a coat. I personally avoid visiting Korea in the winter as it doubles or triples the weight of what I have to pack. Summers get hot and humid, though if you’re from Southeast Asia, it likely will be tolerable.
- The best way to get around Seoul is by subway, bus and taxi. Forget renting a car. Driving in the city can get intense (though easier than driving in Delhi I imagine). Taxis in South Korea are even more affordable than Uber & Lyft in USA. Go for the grey, orange and white taxis. The black taxis are more expensive.
- Most businesses in South Korea accept credit cards, but still bring some cash to buy traditional street food. Food trucks at Bamdokkaebi Market do accept credit cards (they are modernized versions of street food). Cash also allows you to haggle. In some cases, using a credit card means an extra charge will be added onto your purchase.
- If you are staying somewhere like an Airbnb, be sure to confirm what floor your place is and if there are elevators. A couple years ago, I packed a ton of clothes for me and my characters. When my friend and I arrived to our Airbnb, we found out our room was on the 5th floor and there was no elevator. It was backbreaking to carry up that suitcase. Bringing it back down was no easy task either. So yeah, confirm if there’s an elevator.
- Be a responsible traveler and be sure to throw your trash in the right bin. As sustainability is a huge issue worldwide, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about: South Korea’s waste management system has the most detailed categories of garbage I’ve ever seen. In the US, we typically have 2-3 trash bins for each household: blue bin for recycling, black bin for trash, and green bin for yard waste. In South Korea, the categories for each container is extensive: general waste, food waste, glass, cans, paper, plastic, vinyl, etc. When you stay at an Airbnb, you most likely will need to divide out your trash. There is a garbage disposal area typically on street level or garage parking. You see many containers, each labeled for each type of waste. If you cannot read Korean, try Google Translate app’s new feature for on-the-spot photo translations. When in doubt, take a peep into each box and see which is for your instant noodle cups, snack packages, and such.
Thank you dear Mina for sharing with us your thoughts on traveling! It was such a pleasure to have you on this blog segment!
You can follow Mina on more of her adventures over on her two YouTube Channels:
Don’t know where to start? How about checking out these ones first!
Interested in following her journey through pictures? Check out her Instagram here!
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What’s something you are thankful for today? ❤️ While life can be filled with challenges and suffering, there is always something to be grateful for. Simply being alive is a miracle. Life is an opportunity. As humans, we make standards and judge based on numbers (ie: salary, exam results, etc). It can be a competitive world. As a content creator, so much is based on view count and watch time. When I don’t feel like I’m doing enough or feel behind compared to other YouTubers, this quote gives me warmth and peace: “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Zen Shin You are enough and your journey will not be the exact same as another. Some plants thrive in spring, others in winter. We also bloom at different times in our life. Be you and savor the journey. Btw I am thankful for Mother Nature and her inspiring wonders. Her flowers, trees, mountains, lakes, fresh air… All healing for us humans. Hope we can take better care of her as she has taken care of us ❤️ Photo by: @nikolaichik_photo Hashtag party: #flowerstagram #floral #naturelovers #mothernaturerocks #lupineseason #june #icelandtravel #roadtrip #icelandscape
For more thoughts on traveling, check out segments from previous guests on Unfiltered!