5 Tips For Fun Mother (Teenage) Daughter Vacation in Korea

One of the passion I have in my life is to create lasting memories with my daughter. While I am a working woman with reasonably high load of work, I make sure this doesn’t stop me from creating memories with her. I learn this from my late father who put me ahead of himself in many ways that I become who I am and we shared so many bittersweet moments that we can rehash in many ways which to me and to him great way to connect until we are equally old. That is something I want to have with my daughter. 

As she now grow up to be teenage girl, time and passion she has started to be different than mine and we have challenges to create something that we both share. In the past it is easy to create what we both call ‘mother daughter day’, nowadays it is a struggle. As she is now 15, I started to get worry the time indeed is running out. That is when I decided to do a long mother daughter vacation to Korea while experiencing what it is like to live in Seoul particularly since she is considering to study in Korea

It was a 10 days holiday that turns to be interesting experience to both of us and this article will share some of our experiences. Writing travel articles is main domain of Silfanny who is truly an avid traveller but I take a risk to write one to make sure you learn from my experience and will experience even more joy in creating precious memories with your beloved children. I am sharing some of the tips for your consideration and as well lesson learned. Spring and summer is around the corner, many of you are probably start to plan holiday in coming school break, I hope these tips will help you make the vacation more insightful for your children as much as it is about fun for you too.

Everything always of course start with developing itinerary, ideally you develop ‘killer’ itinerary.

Killer itinerary for vacation with your children has to be more of what will delight them, but you yourself can have fun in the process. To start with, selecting where you want to go then is critical. Vida, my daughter, wants to study in Korea, likes many things Korea and I am too, so there is similarity to start with. I like to vacation more in China or Japan but it is not (now) serious interest of Vida, I also like some things Korean and thus, holidaying all girls trip to Korea is an exciting prospect for both of us. 

Then the next step is to develop itinerary that capture both of your interests, and remember it will be more of them vs you as eventually it will balance out, at least to me. Seeing Vida’s light in her eyes on experiencing itinerary, sometime shrieking with joy, sometime taking unseriously things around her, that to me a great joy in itself. Therefore for this Korea vacation, we include many of her interest such as cosmetics (we took cosmetic making class), university visits (we visited major universities such as Yonsei, Korea University and Sungkyungkwan University among others) of course Kpop related visit (we visited Hybe Museum visit – read my review here, YG shops and Kwangya / SM store). Given this holiday is also a bit of learning holiday, I include experience itinerary include in your itinerary experience, other than just classical sightseeing (especially Vida is not exactly visual person, so she will need to experience the joy of vacation with her sensory perception). In our case we enrolled cosmetic making class under ‘Vic’s Lab’ in Trazy. For Korea experience, Trazy is a solid resource and platform you can look at. There are many experience register depending on what you and your children like, it will make your vacation stand out for sure in the memories of both of you given there will be a lot more interaction when you experience together than just sightseeing (especially if your kids are teenagers, they just be polite to endure – respect to their loves to you, in which you should return in kind, right).

Having said that, we still include classic Seoul itineraries such as Namsan Tower, Gyeongbukgung Palace (complete with Hanbok picture), Bukchon Hanok Village, Insadong and Lantern festival as well DMZ tour. I love cultural holiday to go into museums, galleries and experience local culture, we don’t have enough time to specifically do that despite there are many museums and galleries, but I get lucky as we have time to visit National Palace Museum. This mixed itenerary help her to learn the art of compromise and negotiation, which we keep learning along the vacation. 

Important to get advise for your vacation planning including itinerary planning, especially those who have been there. In my case, Silfanny who is truly an avid traveller and has visited Korea, (as always) helped us with vacation planning, especially as I am inexperience in Korea and not especially creative and skilled in vacation planning. While you do not have to take all the advise, but getting advise from an avid traveller help tremendously as you save time in researching and you can learn from their experience. You still make some mistakes (I did) but it will be less. It also allow you to spend more time planning above and beyond the typical logistic and put more focus on planning how to ensure the vacation can be a learning vacation for your children.

Pay attention on planning the logistics, selecting the right hotel and transportation is critical. We were thankfully chosen the right hotel that is strategically placed in Myeongdong area where many shopping destinations are located and right in front of subway station. We designed the travel to mostly able to experience public transportation and not having to resort on taxi all the time, which in itself make the vacation memorable. Additionally, vacation without your spouse, only with your children is a challenge of itself, keep that in mind as you plan. In my case, the vacation is just us girls, so carrying handful of stuff (suitcases, shopping bags) is also something that is a challenge (although any challenge is an opportunity for learning and creating memories with your children, this particular challenge become something of memories for both of us)

Experience delight together – big and small.

During vacation itself, remember to experience joy with your children. See things in their perspective and work around it. In my case, we took the vacation at the depth of cold in Seoul where we experience >-10 degrees Celcius regularly so my motherly instincts is to wrap her tightly with multiple layers of clothes to keep her warm. Yet, on first day when we came out to our first destination, we saw many girls are not as tightly wrapped as my teenage daughter and she was unhappy. Rather than forcing her to follow my thoughts on this, we compromised that she can put on skirt but stockings need to be on and she need to carry other warm clothes articles just in case it gets even colder. In fact, one thing that I was not aware of and she prepared was to source heat pack that apparently popular in Korea (and they have cute packaging), she told me less wrapped but then equipped with heat pack is actually better, and she is absolutely right. You can buy the heat pack everywhere from convenience stores to dime store like Daiso. 

Allow some room for improvement and random choices during your vacation to allow you and your children learning decision making and have fun in the process for example we do not organize meal itinerary and eat as we found something interesting. Lunch post visit to Cosmetic Master Class is a great example in which we stopped by on local apparently well known restaurant for Octopus in which Vida never taste Octopus before, it was delicious for me and new experience for her. She proudly told the story to her father that she broaden her palate to eat something that is not everyone can eat (Vida has very selective palate so it is something we all trying to help her get to to enjoy broader choices). We experience a lot of adventure when it comes food in Seoul, there are very wide variety of restaurants. We ate in N Grill in Namsan Tower with its awesome views and lovely food. Made in Chicago Pizza near Deoksugung, its pizza is quite nice during the depth of winter. We ate and have coffee in some study café in Seoul such as A Twosome Place as well as Starbuck near Ewha University, which food and drink is nice but Vida get to observe study environment in Korea up close and personal. There are many others equally delightful but our best meal experience is meals in convenience stores, from 7-11, e-mart and CU, we experience a lot of interaction with kind local Korean who help us (this also happen with us during the transportation by the way both subway and taxi) and there are enough choices for us to have decent and very affordable meals, we also get to observe livelihood of Korean who leave really early in the morning across ages. Given one objective is to let Vida experience live for students in Korea, eating local food is also part of the experience so we make sure we chose local food where possible, including some of the delicacies.

Initially cosmetic lesson is only for her but somehow I get included in the class despite make up and skin care is never my interest in any shape or form. I decided to participate anyway despite I am not at all sensitive with color differences (my presentation always need help to make it more aesthetically pleasing) nor skin senses for skin care. I do not at all regret. As parents, we do not have a lot of privilege to observe your children interact in learning environments let alone learning together, this cosmetic class is. We enroll Vic’s Lab to make lipstick and skin care, it was a small class and Vic is really informative and allow us to not just learn cosmetic and skincare but also K-beauty in general. It was great experience for her as much as for me, I get to know a lot more about them now. We brought home our customized skin care as well as lipstick in very beautiful case. You and your children may have different shared interest, whatever it is you can probably find in Trazy in Korea and perhaps other platform for other countries.

Shopping experience tested our compromise as teenage girl and ‘ahjumma’ (middle age women) preference markedly difference. I like more of Shinsegae, Lotte and Hyundai Department Stores (being ‘ahjumma’) and Vida likes the like of Olive Young and Daiso among others. We have a lot of discussion and I am thankful Vida understood compromise and in fact she took joy on shopping for me (perhaps so I do not embarrass her too much with my fashion choices which principle is YOLO ‘you only live once’ once you reach 50 and thus I can wear whatever I want). Some compromise we can reach because these large department store has young section for example in Myeongdong there is Lotte Young Plaza which Vida likes a lot. Additionally what is on trend in Seoul is shopping in underground malls, we found one in Myeongdong and another one in Gangnam – they also have excellent choices.

What to shop ?

This is important experience especially if you have teenage girl, but also fun experience to do together. If you are into cosmetics, typical Korean cosmetic brand quality is not to far behind some of great quality even those in Olive Young so do not hesitate if you not already to spend time shopping in Olive Young. They have great choice, similar to Sephora (it has been called the Sephora of Korea after all). You can always buy Sulwhasoo in Indonesia, so try local brands. Clothes is another thing that is pretty interesting to consider, K-fashion has clean modern line and tend to be on slim side, it is also now setting the standard for many teenage girls, so this is another area you want to consider. We go mad with K-food so we brought home (home as to Indonesia) some of these, including ginseng. Lastly, Kpop is the thing, so we spend time in Hybe, YG and SM stores, in fact this is good business as you all probably can see in your IG timeline. We want to go for more but time does not permit us to do so (neither our full suitcases). I do not understand still why we have to have photocards, lightsticks and lightstick holder, just to name some, nor pillows, but it is what it is and I can respect that, given I am a lego and puzzle collector myself.

Preparation and Execution excellence is Key.

Travel mother daughter especially long term rarely go without fights, especially teenage daughter. It simply is because (at least partially) because generational difference. I have to keep reminding myself I was once teenage girl who views radically different than previous generation. First and foremost, have discussion on planning the trip early on with your children to divide the role and also put some ground rule, this will help address some differences you may have in the process. Accommodate their views, habits and wishes, the mantra you need to repeat, if you love your children enough they come before you. In my case, Vida has routine and regiment regarding her skincare that takes forever to complete. I admire her discipline on this and I can see the result despite her sensitive skin, I develop the itinerary around her habit so where possible nothing too early in the morning (with exception for example DMZ tour). Her social battery also different (perhaps pandemic has something to do with it) so we try to put more fun itinerary in the afternoon and with few exception (Namsan Tower and Lantern Festival) we typically return to our hotel room early evening. We organize ourselves early during the trip, Vida can read Hangul characters (Blessed her drive to learn characters I cannot understand until now) and I can understand a bit more Korean (I study both Japanese and Mandarin and these three languages have similarities even same words and to top that, I watch quite a bit Kdrama and listen to K-music) so in combination, we both get around well with strong collaboration speaking to locals and understanding local written communication. We also organize well in term of carrying loads and dealing with people (I sometime get panic in holidays, my daughter is calmer especially dealing with typical operation glitch). 

Lantern Festival

If you make mistakes, admit them and apologize no matter how hard this is, it is part of learning. Avoid as much as possible saying ‘I am your parent, I know better’. One itinerary somehow so elusive and me being not wanting to give up, keep trying to find it and have wasted few hours in several days on it until Vida tell me to stop and she is right, so I apologize to her that we waste precious time simply because I do not know when to step back. In early days we have challenges in public transportation subway, taxi and bus, Vida step up to deal with all of these situations bravely, it is part of me trouble dealing with public situations but at the same time it allows independence to be part of learning during the vacation. She is also much better at reading map that she helps tremendously when we are lost for our specific destination. As of in anything in life, there will always be chores, such as putting all of those shopping bags into suitcase and as well ensuring the room are decently organise despite all of those food and shopping result we want to experience, packing and organizing is no fun. If it is no fun for us, imagine for the children so during chores we talk about fun things we experience for the day, the handsome boys we saw on subway, great clothes in the girls we saw, Vida experience in nearly being scouted. 

Preparation is truly critical as you will have no partner to manage the children. You will not only need to ensure you bring what you need to bring, but given you are only with your children, do it effectively. Which bags to carry is important, I brought large backpack for both of us but given us girls also need to look nice strolling across town not carrying bulking backpack, we also brought with us small-ish tote for us to get around. We brought backpack and cabin size suitcase each of us as well big suitcase, it was winter after all. As one of the reason for this vacation is for Vida personal project (about learning Korean), she brought with her several Korean learning material and laptop, so our luggage to begin with is not light. We brought with us layers of clothes needed for sub zero fun so it really is quite heavy. We brought with us medicine and vitamin, for me Tolak Angin also important (don’t ask) so the load just add up. Korean subway have a lot of stairs despite there are elevators and escalators, so if you have problem with your knees, then you need to make sure you bring something to help ease as one need to walk a lot. Download relevant applications to help nowadays is a standard step, there are many in Korea but to us this is Naver Map (very useful for planning and also to show the direction), Papago (took the picture of all those Hangul notification, Papago will translate it for you) and Kakao T (ordering taxi is the easiest for me on this apps). Lastly as with any countries, to understand dos and donts of course important. In Subway one has to observe seats for senior citizens and pregnant ladies, also keep our voice down is key as the subway is truly quiet – these are some of the example of culture and protocol you need to observe. Saying thank you ‘kamsahamnida’ for anything and then if you get help the thank you escalate in term of politeness into ‘gomapseumnida’. Coming into the store, starting conversations with ‘anyeonghaseyo’. Korean language is like Javanese with multilevel of politeness, unless you understand or you are already old so you will not ‘talk down’ mistakenly, be careful on speaking Korean purely from your k-drama without knowing the level of politeness. My daughter likes the ‘YA’ typically present in the k-drama so I need to remind her she cant just use indiscriminately. 

Learning should not be missed – but light touch.

My mission in life, which probably also mission for many if not all parents, is to educate  children to be better person with (hopefully much) better success than one are – happily and healthily. Success in their generation definition, not ours, and balance that help them thrive in their generation, not ours.Vacation to me is another opportunity for education without sacrificing fun. Therefore to begin with all of us need to understand stage of our children study and her ambitions and incorporate into the vacation but incorporate your thoughts and vision of their education. For example after a lot of conversation (and shifts), reflection and searching about career now Vida consider beauty industry is something she is interested to explore among others, so we have detailed conversation which element and area. We then incorporate into selection of universities we want to explore and then experience we want try on in Korea. Vida also take time to explore companies and businesses for cosmetics industry in Korea. We also observe how teenagers live and study in Seoul to get a sense of competition. While vacation is fun, I quietly on daily basis try to infuse conversation with more serious topics but in such a way not to make the vacation too heavy and mostly asking questions that hopefully help Vida reflect. My focus of education for Vida it is not about absolute performance (scores for subjects) but about her ‘learning how to learn based on her learning style and career planning’, her ability to reflect and strategize in her life, ability to endure and even seek hardship as long as it is beneficial to her and lastly her character building. I firmly believe this is what will make her succeed in her life not her academic achievement, academic achievement is just indicator for her, some kind of leading indicator that can tell her how to take her next step. Accordingly, our vacation is shaped to experience all of these. From her taking the role of managing direction for many of directions, engaging and negotiating with Korean speaking cashiers in convenience store and drivers, decision making which itinenary to drop and add, solo shopping in some destinations where I stay back in restaurants or hotel, even helping with packing, scheduling for her school projects everyday, daily planning sessions, and many others, are all designed to make her take more control of the vacation as part of the learning that help her learn and grow. 

Learning can be from destinations, observations and  chores during vacations, I make sure it does not get heavy nor get ‘preachy’. I am a serious person so this is one of my biggest weakness in my interaction with my daughter so I am making serious effort to check in with her and give her license to stop me if it does get too preachy. I put a lot of preparation to make sure the conversation to get light hearted by trying to understand her ‘teenage girl interest’ and use my understanding as building block to conversation. I have always respected her choice of career even when they are shifting and seems too light hearted for someone as serious as me, fashion and beauty. We discussed the industry structure, technology involved, elements of science and knowledge, what to explore and observe. I ask a lot of questions, after all the holiday is precious time for 24 hours time listening sessions with your children, whereby usually you don’t get even an hour with them especially teenage children. For us, this conversation include smattering conversations on boys of course, too make the conversation light hearted. 

Another opportunity for learning comes not always on great things, if you make mistakes or have some fear / phobia, vacations is great way to show how you can handle and they can benefit to learn from failure (or not giving up on failure if the cause is worthy). Vida is learning how I rely on someone else to help me and us succeed (when I encounter issue with my ticket on the bus and she stepped up to help me) as well as when one of our destination after several days of trying to find apparently already shut down, we had discussion should we continue to look for other store or we move on with replacing this itenerary. 

Take a lot of pictures

If your children like mine, either they have preference (which we may not understand) or they don’t like to be taken pictures. Do not get angry, share logically and appeal their emotions in a language they understand. Try to make it as painless as possible and even delegate this to them. It may not be perfect but having some pictures taken by them, in itself is precious memories. Just remember that taking pictures are all about compromise and creating memories, not how great the picture like in your IG. It is about their and your memories, it is about their IG or Tiktok as much as yours. 

All these tips are designed as much as learning but also have lovely memories, so my last tip is you just need to make sure it is about what work for you and your children, and that’s it. Indicator how successful the trip is how much laughter you share and the light in their eyes, as much as how much they learn. Involve them early to gauge their excitement and allow them to give you inputs so it is indeed about them. Finally, while this is an article about mother daughter vacation, you can easily adapt it to be a father and son vacation. 

Happy holiday !

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