The first time I spent winter in Korea I about-near froze. It’s cold – really cold – and it’s drier than the inside of a bag of flour. Considering the only other winter I have experienced outside of the UK was winter in the south of Spain where lowest temperatures are a balmy 10 degrees Celcius, it’s safe to say that I was not prepared for what Korea threw at me. But now, after three winters here on the peninsula, I feel weathered enough to give advice on how to survive, nay, thrive in the coldest season, and it all starts with your handbag.
It goes without saying that a good winter coat such as this, that I wrote about a couple of years ago, is an absolute must. As are some good thermal under layers, socks, and boots. But to keep you feeling the best you can during the winter, there are a few more things that I advise you carry round with you, to use at a moment’s notice. So here is my list of the top handbag (or backpack, or pouch) essentials for surviving a Korean winter.
1. Moisturising hand cream
Yes, Korean winters are dry. Very dry. The harsh, dry air in the winter coupled with the tall buildings of Seoul that create wind tunnel-like breezes are a recipe for disaster for my hands, and they will be for your hands too. Don’t be that cream-vulture that swoops down on that first person to pull a moisturiser out of their bag: get yourself your own hand cream to use whenever you need. You can find perfectly bag-sized tubes everywhere and for very little money, but I recommend the standard hand creams from Innisfree. They’re kind on your wallet and kind on your skin, and they don’t leave that oily film like some hand creams do.
2. Lip balm
See number 1 for information on how cold and dry Korean winters are. But really, though. I can’t stress it enough! And what the cold and dry will do to your hands it will do to your lips too. This isn’t about making sure you’re still kissable by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around (though that is a bonus to applying lip balm), rather it’s about making sure it doesn’t hurt when you talk or eat. Like hand cream, lip balms can be found everywhere and come in many varieties, but I recommend the simple Nivea sticks. For something a little more heavy duty on those even colder days, I like to use the Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask – pricey, but worth it.
3. Phone-friendly gloves
Call me an addict, but everyone knows that using your phone is essential to life in Seoul. It’s not just for contacting friends and family. I also use it for checking bus arrival times, subway transfers, and making internet shopping payments, so a pair of gloves with touchscreen-friendly fingertips is really important to have for those days when it’s too cold to have your bare hands out for more than a few seconds. If you’re in Korea and you don’t have any, you can get gloves like this in most places nowadays, such as Artbox and Daiso, even the underground shopping centres and subway station accessory stores.
4. Heat packs
“A revolution!” I cry, as I try my first ever heat pack in winter 2017. I don’t know if i was just living under a rock, but open-the-packaging-and-shake disposable heat packs changed my life (not really, but really) during my first winter in Seoul. A few years on and I’m still a huge advocate of heat packs, though disposable is not the way that I prefer to go these days. While you’re in Daiso or Artbox getting yourself some tech-y gloves, make sure to pick up some reusable hot packs – the kind that you can boil in a pan to reset.
5. Hot drinks tumbler
There’s nothing quite like having a hot drink while it’s cold outside. They warm you from the outside while you hold them, and warm you from the inside when you drink them. But no-one wants to hurt the planet for a little bit of inner warmth– just last year Korea took a step forward in tackling the worldwide environmental crisis and banned disposable cups from being given to sit-in customers. However we know we can all go one step further. Both Allie and I have reusable tumblers that we carry with us to cafés, and we recommend it for more than just the good feeling you get from not killing a turtle. Lots of cafés here offer discounts for using your own tumbler, and it also means that you don’t have to go to the counter and wait to get your drink transferred out of your paper cup. Win-win!
6. Moisturising mist
Have I mentioned that Korea’s winter is dry? Yes? Well you need to hear it again. Korean winter is DRY. I’d never really suffered with dry skin on my face before moving here, but during winter even my oily forehead gets flaky because of the cold and dry air. This year, to tackle this problem, I’ve bought myself a moisturising mist to carry around with me, and you should too. Whenever you feel yourself getting a little dry you can spritz a little on and pat it in or just leave it to absorb by itself. They can even be applied over makeup, so you don’t need to sacrifice your lewks for being moisturised. I bought myself this Dr. Jart mist from OliveYoung, but you can find them in different variations from different brands and in all the high street beauty, skincare and drugstores.
Winter in Korea is a difficult season to enjoy because of the freezing temperatures and dry air, but there are ways to make it easier. Just carrying these few things around in your bag is bound to make living through the coldest season a little more comfortable, whether you’re living here or just visiting.