Tips for Enjoying Your Expo 2012 Visit

by Urso Chappell

 Having been to eight expos so far (Expo 2012 will make it nine!), I often get asked for advice on how to best enjoy your trip to a world’s fair. If you’ve been to a busy theme park or sporting event, it can sometimes be a challenge to enjoy your visit with so many other folks in a rush to do the same. Expo 2012 expects eight million visitors and you can take some solace in the fact that not all of them will be there when you are. It might not feel that way at times, though.


Every expo is different and handles ticketing differently, but it’s usually a good idea to get your tickets before you arrive. It gives you one less thing to think about when you get to the gate. Fortunately, Expo 2012 sells tickets online in English as well as in Korean.

Passports, Maps, and Guides

In my previous article about passports, I talked about how they can be a popular way to experience the expo and bring home a souvenir unique to your own visit. If you decide to get a passport to have stamped as you visit various pavilions, you might want to consider doing so before you enter the gates or as your first stop on site. Otherwise, you’ll miss your opportunity to get your passport stamped at your first pavilion or so.

Maps and guides are often useful, but (depending on your personality) not always necessary right as you enter the gate if you plan on visiting for more than one day. Part of the fun of an expo, for me at least, is exploring the site at first and then making a plan based on that. If you plan on being there for just one day, you might want to take a more strategic approach.

A Backpack

If you plan on buying souvenirs or, if you’re like me, feel compelled to accept brochures at every pavilion, it might be a good idea to bring a backpack. By the end of the day, you might have quite a bundle. This has changed in recent years, however, since many pavilions now rely more on their web sites than on printed materials.


As with any day out, you want to stay hydrated. This might seem obvious, but you might find yourself walking more than you think you are when you add in all the queues and exhibits. I’ve also learned, the hard way, to wear the most comfortable shoes possible for that very reason.

Foreign Cuisine in Foreign Time Zones

While you’re eating foods from around the world, considering eating in their time zones, as well. By eating at a non-standard hour, you beat the rush.

Long Lines

It probably goes without saying, but patience is a virtue. Lines can sometimes be long for the most popular pavilions, but some of my best interactions at world’s fairs have been in lines.

If you know Korean, there will naturally be plenty of folks to talk to in line. If you don’t know Korean, listen out for speakers of your own tongue. If you’re reading this, then presumably English is at least one language you speak and it’s not unusual for that to be someone’s second language, especially if they frequently travel abroad.

It’s always fun to find other foreigners and find out what brought them to the site and share travel advice. I’ve also discovered that students of English are often eager to practice and are usually thrilled to meet a native speaker. Being an American, I find it rewarding to be able to give someone a more nuanced and perhaps less stereotypical view of what an American is like.

The expo atmosphere outside the pavilion can be just as rewarding as inside.

Busy Pavilions

Inevitably, some pavilions will be busier than others. Sometimes, it’s because they’re more popular than others, but sometimes it’s simply because they don’t have the capacity to handle crowds as well as other pavilions. Just because there’s a long line, that doesn’t mean the pavilion is necessarily better. One bottleneck in the exhibit’s design can result in a line of people running out the front door that gets longer as the day gets older.

One easy solution to pavilions such as this is timing. If you know there’s a popular pavilion that you must see, go there first as soon as the gates open at 9 a.m.

Quieter Pavilions

It’s been my experience that it isn’t always the busiest pavilions that are the most rewarding. Some pavilions are less hectic because fewer people know about those other countries before they go and some just seem quieter because their visitor flow is more efficient.

Another benefit of less crowded pavilions is the increased access you usually get with the pavilion staff. A less harried staff is more talkative and I’ve gotten to know more about some smaller countries this way. How often do you get to meet people from countries like Palau, Monaco, or Gabon?

Parades and Other Spectacles

World’s fairs have parades and other spectacles that typically run adjacent to the pavilions. They’re certainly part of the expo experience, but if you’re visiting for more than a day or two, you may choose to skip a spectacle you’ve already seen and instead duck into an adjacent pavilion. You might find the lines are shorter than usual with everyone watching the performers.

Have Fun, Be Inspired

Most of all, drink in the experience. Expos are about having fun and feeling inspired. They can be particularly inspiring for younger people.

I find that my favorite days at a world’s fair sites are the ones I share with others. It’s always great to travel the world with family and friends and see it through their eyes, as well.