What does yŏhaeng (yeohaeng) mean in Korean? Yŏhaeng is one of my favorite things: Travel!
For anyone not well versed in McCune-Reischauer romanization, it’s pronounced kind of like “yuh-hang.”
Yŏhaeng is a Sino-Korean word, from the classical Chinese 旅行: 旅 (yŏ 여) travel +行 (haeng 행) to do, to go.
The first character, yŏ/旅, is used in a lot of other travel-related words: yŏkwŏn (여권), or passport; yŏkwan (여관), or inn; and yŏkaek (여객), or traveler, are a few.
Types of travel
There are as many ways to travel as there are travelers, but here are a few important types in Korea.
sinhon yŏhaeng 신혼 여행 – Honeymoon (literally, new marriage travel). We’re (belatedly) heading to Puerto Rico for ours next week, which is why I decided to write about yŏhaeng now.
paenang yŏhaeng 배낭 여행 – Backpacking travel.
ch’ŏt yŏhaeng 첫 여행 – First travel. When used with a boyfriend or girlfriend, this is sometimes code for, erm, another relationship first, an update on the “oops we missed the last ferry” trope that I’ve heard was a thing in more staid decades.
kich’a yŏhaeng 기차 여행 – Train travel. In the drama Discovery of Romance (연애의 발견), above, we learn that two of the main characters met on a train trip to the southern part of the country.
haeoe yŏhaeng 해외 여행 – Overseas travel. This is superconfusing when romanized, so to make it clearler, haeoe is pronounced sort of like “hey way” (at least if you have a Southern accent).
There are at least four verbs you can use with yŏhaeng, and I suppose they each have a different shade of meaning, although I have to admit that the subtleties mostly escape me.
yŏhaeng hata 여행(을) 하다 lit. to do travel, to travel. Hata is pretty much how you turn almost any non-native Korean noun–Sino-Korean, English, whatever–into a verb.
yŏhaeng kata 여행(을) 가다 to go traveling.
yŏhaeng tanida 여행(을) 다니다 to go and return from travel
yŏhaeng ttŏnida 여행(을) 떠니다 to leave on a trip. This is the title of a now-rather-classic summer song by Cho Yong Pil (조용필),”Let’s Go on a Trip” (“여행을 떠나요,” above). You can hear Lee Seung-gi’s (이승기) remake from a few years ago in this video, which also includes an English translation of the lyrics.
Travel in Korean culture
South Korea is famous for its stressful culture, especially regarding work. While national labor laws generally entitle workers to 10 days of vacation per year, few take it all, and when they do, rarely more than a few days at a time (이승형 2012). A telecom executive I taught suggested that his one day of vacation, for a long weekend break to Jeju Island with his family, was indulgent; my mother-in-law took off only five or six days (plus a weekend) for our wedding in the States, with travel time taking up two days of that.
At the same time, until the late 1980s, overseas travel was limited for South Koreans (Lim 2004). It was hard to get a passport unless your overseas activity was seen as good for the nation, and the Korean government limited how much money citizens could spend overseas. Also, Korean currency wasn’t particularly strong or plentiful in any case, making overseas travel out of reach for many.
These conditions have all contributed, I think, to the romantic, almost mythical image of travel in South Korea. Of course, travel enjoys this image in most places–daydreams of quitting an office job and hitting the road, ads with long-limbed women drinking cold beer on white beaches–but from my personal observation, it’s stronger in South Korea than in the US or UK, where I’ve also lived.
Fortunately, though, while the stressful work culture remains, access to passports and money for traveling means more and more Koreans are traveling overseas, especially college students and honeymooners.
As in many places, travel shows are very popular in Korea. They’re often lower-budget than those in the States but in my opinion better for it–there’s a lot less scripted dialogue, for example, than some of the newer Travel Channel shows I’ve tried watching. This show, about travel in Latin America, is our current favorite:
Another interesting thing: If you’ve ever flown out of Korea, you might have noticed that many Korean travelers bring food, often ramyeon, with them overseas. Usually I see people just checking a whole case of it, but this guy gives some pretty intense tips on how to pack ramyeon more efficiently:
On a personal note, yŏhaeng is what brought me to Korea in the first place: I moved there fresh out of college to earn money to travel (which I did a lot). So basically, yŏhaeng changed my life.
Lim, Christine (2004). “The major determinants of Korean outbound travel to Australia.” Mathematics and Computers in Simulation 64, pp. 477-485.