Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Ants Go Marching

3 Things I Love the Most:

1. Coming home after a weekend away to find my place crawling with ants.
2. The ants are red ants.
3. The ants are too tiny to squish.

So.. just to test me after reading "The Happiness Project", the universe decided to bless me with these little gifts. I suppose I have never really experienced an aggressive ant issue until now and I have to say, it's quite hard on the soul and whatever dreams come from. Really, there's a limited number of ways you can deal with such problems on the 3rd floor of an apartment complex. After trying numerous attempts to sweep the ants far away, I decided that I was going to have to sweep them up and flush them. It's been a fairly successful means of getting rid of 50 microscopic ants at a time, but they just. keep. coming. I don't even have any trash in my room!! Today, I found the hole they keep going back to and taped it up... but they just keep coming. I'd tried honey before to no avail but thought I'd give it another shot. This time, I set up big, globby honey traps next to where the hole used to be and around the corner from my door. Bingo! Ready for the gross result? Hopefully this will free up some time so I'm not playing any more ant baseball with my broom:

Update: The next morning.. they were all gone. Time to find some spray.

Not only has it been a test to my patience, happiness, and sanity, but it's been awfully hard to jive with the Buddhist and nature-friendliness of the country in such times. They won't kill rats, yet there are rats chewing up all of the cords in our music therapy office. I asked my apartment to help me with the ants, yet they couldn't muster up the ability. Speaking of which, I actually KNEW how to say "red ant" in Thai when I went to ask because that's my Thai friend's nickname. Unfortunately, most people don't expect me to know even 1 Thai word, so they didn't even let me try before they're shoving a translator at me. Booooooo.

Anyway, I'm not letting it get me down. Just a minor annoyance. Otherwise, nature hasn't made appearances in the apartment and I'm super glad.

* * * * 

This weekend I had a good time with my tour guide/friend from 2011, Hui. She picked me up on a random street in Bangkok and we drove off who-knows-where to a random Street Art thing where we attended a watercolor workshop. Pretty fun! I thought I would always be horrible at watercolor but I saw some potential for growth in that medium for me. Flowers are semi-fun to paint but not very fun to look at afterward (in my opinion).

Much more fun to look at REAL, 3D flowers blooming around campus!!

Back to the art thing... My favorite part was dinner, which had nothing to do with the the street art. We went to a tiny little street food place-- Hui, 9 other artists in a street art club, and I-- and got some traditional Thai food to eat family-style. While we were eating, 2 of the artists were still so inspired by what they had learned and done at the festival that they chose to paint us eating rather than actually eat! It's so cool to see another field in which people are so passionate about what they do that they will do it for free--even giving up a fundamental need, food, to pursue the passion and the happiness that followed when the paintings were done and everyone was "ooh"ing and "ahh"ing over the artwork. 

Can you find me-- the "farang"-- in the paintings? 

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I recently purchased The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin after seeing the small and intriguing book in the English section of a Japanese bookstore in Thailand (lol). I was pretty sure that I had read something on Facebook by a friend who had read the book and started a project of her own... and this was a girl that outwardly seemed happy all the time. Is it possible to be happier if one already feels generally happy?

The day I bought the book, I was really in the market for an exercise ball for my current p90x infatuation. Such things aren't exactly on every street corner in Bangkok! I found my ball and was pretty proud of my purchase, despite how much of a money crunch I'm in... as a "super senior" in college with a back-to-back-unpaid student teaching and internship experience. The back of the book says, "She found that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that outer order contributes to inner calm; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference." The first statement resonated with me as I had just spent precious money on something that would help me exercise better so I would be fitter so I would be happier. The second statement directly applies to my situation in Thailand; having everything "normal" stripped away and having to start over at "ground zero" and find out who I am, what I really need to exist happily, how I integrate into society, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. Are you starting to see the book's fit to my situation?

Tony Horton is out of his mind if he thinks we can do this.
At least I bought the ball. 

I bought the book and read it the next day. There are many profound statements, quotes, well-researched conclusions, and fun anecdotes on each page of this "memoir" of sorts. Gretchen Rubin presents her 1 year project in hopes to inspire others to start their own. I've always been fascinated by the human desire to study someone else's life so intimately (reality TV, celebrity autobiographies, even religious books, etc.). Like we're living vicariously through that person because there's something unsatisfying about our own. Hopefully, we then transfer to our own day-to-day experiences (sometimes we learn what NOT to do in this way). This lady seems to have helped countless people with her own story! Here was my realization after reading a few chapters:

I'm already knee-deep in my own "Happiness Project"!

You may think of that as a "duh" statement ('how could one not be happy in an exotic, tropical country?'), but for me it was a pretty profound thought. I knew that Thailand would be good for me and I realized that I was striving for some positive changes, but it took the 275 page read to help me realize what it all means.

I may not have thought the scope of what's happening for me in Thailand as a "project", but it pretty much is. Why not call it that? I love projects, lists, order, and creative names to make something sound more fun (see previous blog). Maybe thinking of this as a project will allow me to continue the good habits that are forming once I get back home and make some clear goals and objectives for myself. But here's what I'm already doing that would probably fit under Rubin's "Happiness Project" umbrella:

  • I've completely committed to completing a 90-120 day, hardcore exercise program-- complete with nutrition guide for slimming down
  • I'm writing down everything that I spend to hold myself accountable 
  • I've created a daily Internship Itinerary to help focus my studies
  • I am reading books and blogs to start a good habit of lifelong learning
  • I'm watching American TV that makes me happy in regular (healthy) intervals
  • I am successfully, though slowly, learning a new language (which mayyy be out of necessity :))
  • I've made a list of the "ideal me", physically, and have made great progress
  • I got a nice camera and have started a great habit of taking pictures more often
  • I'm writing a blog, which is something I have always wanted to do
  • I exercise adventure by going somewhere new every weekend, taking my bike to new places to eat all the time, and trying new foods
  • And-- closest to what Rubin prescribes in her book-- I made a check-list of things I should probably be doing every day and fill it out ritualistically every night (it's uncanny how well this fit's into the book's  mold)
There are plenty of OTHER things that I would love to be a project but maybe they'll just be part of the second half. Maybe I'll think of it as "phases". Anything to do with relationship, my actual career (which I don't have yet), my future living space, and friends will have to wait until my return. 

Perhaps more on that later. 

2 important things that I'm realizing more and more during my stay: 
  1. "Quality of Life" is simply technical jargon we use for "happiness". When I first heard my Thai colleague use "happiness" to describe the ultimate goal of music therapy, I thought it sounded awfully "fluffy" ... many Americans shy away from this term because it's hard to measure, it's different for everyone, and it sounds a bit "non-medical", if I can use such a phrase.  But "happiness" may truly be the word to describe what we're really trying to achieve--for ourselves and others, in our work and at home, and across a lifetime.
  2. It's alright to focus on yourself and your own happiness, even if your life goal involves others, because happiness is the prerequisite to giving happiness. 
I suggest this book. If you don't read the book, I suggest that you think about --and exercise-- what makes you happy. Every day! Thailand has honestly re-framed how I see happiness and I'm on the road to a happier me (even though I wasn't unhappy to begin with!). 

My happy place.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Que Pasa


Mis amoras es muy lejos de mi. I miss them! But, chiwit dii mak ni Thailand.

There's 3 languages for ya! Never thought I'd be able to learn any of any language but things are really starting to come together. I didn't realize how much I knew until I started making flash-cards for myself in categories such as fruits, transportation, "session Thai" (words I use in music therapy), etc. I haven't actively studied Thai at all (reading a book out-loud and quizzing myself with flashcards, etc.) but I seem to have picked up nearly a triple-digit-worth of words! Music therapy sessions have been extremely helpful because our clients are learning the basic words that I need to learn as well. Repetition, repetition, repetition! And listening to people talk. My strategy: actively listen to conversation and ask my friends about words that trigger a "red flag". Yesterday, I learned how to say "and then" in a conversation using that strategy... pretty useful stuff :)

Another thing about language... Thailand has definitely rekindled my desire to learn Spanish! Or at least try to remember all of what I once knew. After being here for a while and constantly throwing in some accidental Spanish, thinking that Thai will come to my brain if I think "foreign language--go!", I have come to realize that Americans really do get a large dose of Spanish in everday life. My poor Thai friends don't understand-- they're working hard enough to translate English-- that I'm not trying to confuse them with Spanish.. it's just seeping into my conversation. Speaking of Spanish/Mexico, I miss Mexican food terribly. Here is the closest thing I found (for way too much money and which probably made me sick):

 Also speaking of Spanish.. there's some American dude sitting near me in the coffee shop that just ended his Skype conversation with "Adios". How fitting!

This is where I'm writing this blog-- coffee shop down the street.
 My power went out tonight which was extremely frighting (big explosion).
College trained me well for such occasions.  

Life Updates

I started p90x again! I couldn't be happier about it, even though it's super hard to keep on schedule and make myself go down to the gym when I know how much I'm going to sweat. Luckily, the first few weeks aren't too bad, in terms of video difficulty, and I've been able to successfully walk, sit down, reach for stuff, and bend over since I started. When I say they aren't as difficult.. I don't mean that I'm completing even nearly every move. Just like the first run-though, I opt out once Tony starts doing 1 push-ups that involve 0 limbs touching the floor (not kidding-- that exists). My body wasn't really built for push-ups and I don't really have the equipment for pull-ups or a lot of the balance moves, so I certainly am not giving it my 100% effort on each move. But I try to make up for things that I can't do with things that I can so I'm not laying on the floor feeling sorry for myself.

You know what I've noticed? On some days that I exercise, I want to do ANOTHER video later in the day!! That's crazy!! But if hard work can give me that kind of drive to do more hard work... then I'm sticking to it. I've also noticed that my clothes fit better and my legs finally reflect the biking. Yesterday, I ate fried food for lunch and dinner and felt miserable and guilty beyond belief afterward, which hopefully means that p90x is also making a positive change in my diet. While Thailand does not have much bread, pizza, popcorn, burgers, etc., they do have an unlimited supply of cheap food that is often fried. On the other hand, I'm trying my first green tea as I type this, which means that they have the good stuff too and proves that I'm making changes. Hopefully this year's beach pics will be worth sharing!

Here's where I work out and the pool at night-- creepy, yet awesome. 

In other news, completely unrelated to health, a new place to eat just opened right below my room to my great excitement. My apartment building is growing up! We're also getting a coffee shop next week. I'm spoiled by all of the amazing commodities within walking distance, there's no doubt about it.

Internship Updates

I feel good about what's happening in the clinic. My coworkers are absolutely terrific! My hours are nice and my schedule fairly flexible so there is plenty of room for talking about philosophy, cultural issues and ethics, what it's like to be part of a developing program, and other fun stuff like that. I've been working with the team to create an online paperwork system, which is right up my alley (super nerdy) and, therefore, super fun. I hope it will be helpful for the program here but I can definitely say that it's been helpful for me-- it's basically what I would be doing if I had to start from scratch as a freelance music therapist in the U.S.

To give you a pretty good idea about what we're working with: there is no standard of practice, code of ethics, intro book, Thai music therapy journal, etc..... and there's only a handful of trained music therapists, as of yet, that have studied in all areas of the world (which all have their own philosophies of music therapy). You might think "Well, that already exists in the U.S. so why don't we just translate everything and go from there?" I did.. and then realized that's not fair way to think at all. For one thing, the ethical standards in the U.S. wouldn't jive with the Thai culture. Medical procedures look different, caregivers are a much larger part of the treatment process, the hierarchy of society is very important and difficult to navigate, and some intervention types aren't even possible (i.e. Thai language doesn't allow for songwriting I'm accustomed to-- the melody is designed around the tones of each word rather than the other way around). In short, it's not easy to start something new in a new country.

One more internship thing.... I was feeling super enthused and productive the other day and decided that I should set some goals for my internship and also divide up these goals into attainable increments so I had a hope of accomplishing them--rather than coming home every night and freaking out that sleep had to come so soon, consequently failing at everything (or so it feels). Here's the result of my productive frenzy:

The Internship Itinerary: A ridiculous, alliterated, color-coded calendar:

  • Mapping Monday: Session planning and to-do lists for the week
  • Tunes and Thai Tuesday: Practicing my Thai and Western songbooks as well as Thai
  • Writing Wednesday: Creative output
  • Thorough Theory Thursday: Study for the MT-BC exam
  • Find-a-fact Friday: Find a blog, article, etc. to read-- like one of the ones I've had bookmarked for years!
  • Self Saturday: Go on a "me" date, get my nails painted, go somewhere fun... be happy. 
  • Seek-a-job Sunday: Self-explanatory. Check job sites and apply. 

I'll let you know how it goes, though you may be able to tell. Hopefully, Writing Wednesday will result in more regular posts such as this one and Find-a-Fact Friday just may lead to a shocking 2 posts per week! And before you make fun of me and my dorky alliterations, just know that it won't affect me because I know that......well..... "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and Doggonit people like me" :)

That was a weird quote and a weirder ending. I've been watching too much TV. SNL, Modern Family, The Office, Parks and Recreation, and--most recently-- Community.

Thanks for reading :)


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Technology Corner #3: Traveling in Style

Intro: "Thanks" are in order!

I have some truly awesome people in my life who have worked hard to help me have one of the greatest experiences of my life here in Thailand (and upon past and future travels). They have done so in many ways but especially by opening my eyes to new and useful technology. Without them, this post wouldn't happen and I would certainly be worse off on this--and future-- quests. On a related note, those techno-savvy people I know may be the only ones that end up reading this :) The following post serves 2 purposes: I wish to thank the aforementioned awesome individuals while showing them that I do, in fact, use these things, and to provide a fairly extensive list of travel-friendly technology for fellow travelers to consider for their next quest.

Yeah, I'm going to nerd-out for the entirety of this extra long post.

Technology for Day Trips: 

  • External Battery Charger (for Android/Apple phones and tablets alike): This guy will charge up my phone and my tablet in one go! It's about the same size and weight as my phone and fits easily in my purse alongside my phone. I wasn't sure how much I would use this after the initial plane flight but I've ended up using it on almost every Bangkok excursion after a day of navigating, chatting with people back home, looking up bus routes, and taking photospheres. Bringing along a wall charger is great in a pinch, but you don't want to be tethered to a wall in most cases.
Specifically, I use the Newtrent triple-port 700 mAh battery pack.

  • A Great Camera (with a solid strap, fast shutter speed, and enough pizzaz to capture those special once-in-a-lifetime moments in the perfect way): Pictured here is my Lumix LX7 point-and-shoot, which I love :) It has a ton of power for how compact it is--which is perfect for the amount of walking I do and needing to stash my camera whilst walking in more dangerous areas of the city. The holster and strap allow me to strap the camera around my body for protection of the camera and ease of use. I definitely find that a camera strapped to my torso is more likely to get used tha one that I have to delicately pull out of a bag for each use. I've been so pleased with my pictures! Especially since most of were taken during high-speed walking, driving, etc.  It's so nice to look through my shots after a fun day and not have to delete the blurry half of the album. 
This picture was taken by my phone instead, on non-HDR mode in bad lighting.

  • A Good, Reliable (Waterproof) Watch: Don't worry about how it looks-- just have a watch! You don't want to be digging out your phone every time you want to know the time because some areas are likely unsafe for flashing (smart)phones. I wonder if it's just America that seems to depend on their phones for the time--or perhaps my generation-- but it's not a good habit while abroad. A note on time: be familiar with 24-hour time if you're not, but even places that go by this system (or even a different date system) will be accustomed to and may even use the 12-hour system as well. If you're travelling to Bangkok, don't expect everyone to run exactly by the watch-- it just won't happen. Worrying about time is very American. But still a good habit to maintain while abroad-- don't make others wait on YOU, even if it's a cultural phenomenon. 
  • See the "Just Awesome" section below for a couple other day travel must-haves.

Safe Travels

It would be a great idea to pick one or two of the three water purifiers below that suits you best--depending on where you will be travelling. You can't go wrong with 3 though!
  • A Water Boiler: I use this every single day! Not only do I boil water and often use the UV wand as well, but I can also make hot coffee and tea, boil water for soup, and have hot bath water (just kidding, that would have been nice last trip but I've upgraded to hot shower water). 
  • A UV Water Purifier: This seems to work great in a pinch and is super fun to use. Not to mention that it's far more portable than a water boiler. This is a bridge between the versatility of the water boiler and Lifestraw (below) because it can go anywhere with you but also requires batteries (Lithium Ion) to function correctly. Pretty hip in the camping world! If you aren't aware of how this product works, the UV rays kill any living bacteria in the water that might be harmful to the body. While UV exposure is unsafe, the rays from this device are contained within the water/container and are, thus, safe. Bacteria is now dead but anything ELSE in the water still remains there. If you're going to be dealing with water that contains  floating debris, unwanted minerals, etc. you'll want to try the Lifestraw option.
  • A Lifestraw Water Purifier: This is going to seem too good to be true... but really, this thing won "Best Invention of the Year" in 2005 and will work in super hardcore situations. I don't know the science to prove it to you but there are some awesome pictures online. Check out pictures and specs at: This thing can even filter lake water and remove 99.99999% of whatever is in the water. I'm not so sure about how it would taste!! But beggars can't be choosers. The Lifestraw only weighs 2oz but is a bit bulky and weird looking for every-day use. No batteries required-- you simply suck through the opening with the other end in the water. For those interested, the company also donates to countries in need/crisis without adequate or clean water supplies (1 donated per 10 bought). It could also be crucial in crisis situations, such as the flood that covered Thailand this past year (local water supplies can be easily contaminated during a flood).
  • Other tech-related safety items: See the "Just awesome"/smartphone section.

The Travelling Music Therapist/MT Intern

  • Super Portable Travel Speakers (that sound good!!!): A little anecdote to begin.... This summer, I had a job as a Music Program Instructor at a camp for children with special needs. I saw hundreds of campers per week in my music building for an hour and a half at a time and we did a large variety of music activities (not music therapy but looked similar)-- such as music listening or movement and music that required me to use recorded music with a speaker so I could have free hands. The camp provided wonderful equipment but NO SOUND SYSTEM! Since I flew in for the job, I wasn't able to bring along my own equipment for the job. But I DID bring a personal, portable speaker set that ended up lasting me the whole summer and saved my program. What you see attached to my computer, below, is a sound bar that transmits stereo sound out both ends, projects at a pretty amazing volume for the size, and is powered via USB on my computer--therefore being truly portable, as long as I have my computer. The limitation to computer was only difficult when I wanted to travel with iPod instead, but I needed my computer for my job anyway. My mom picked this out and I had no IDEA how useful it would be! I don't suggest the speakers for sessions in a big room and with many clients, but the sound quality and volume is good enough in a pinch (can you believe it even has good bass??). 

  • iPod (or similar)--charged and equipped with the right playlists: An iPod is great for personal music listening in all places and spaces, ignoring unfortunate seat neighbors on a plane, doing non-music related things if you have an iPod touch (much like a smart phone--which is SUPER useful if you want apps but don't have the ability to get data in the host country), studying the native language and music of your host country on the go, and using recorded music for music therapy sessions. The playlists were important to mention here because you may need some recordings in a pinch. I suggest a variety of playlists such as: personal feel-good music, music for movement/dancing, traditional American hits, karaoke to hits in the host country (i.e. "Gagnum Style" here), music for relaxation, and traditional music of the host country to study. I'm thankful I did and you will be too! 

Remember the Apple product later.. I'm not 100% Google, see? 

  • Jump Drive, aka Thumb Drive--with carefully chosen files: A good-sized jump drive is handy to have on one's person at any time-- host or native country. Last time I was in Thailand, I used this constantly because I had to rely on the university's or my friend's computers for posting pictures or doing homework since my computer was down for the count. A jump drive with carefully chosen files is even better. I have many of the files that I have on Dropbox on mine-- old homework files for reference, scanned textbooks for reference (which I own the real copies of, at home), a scanned copy of my songbook (I HIGHLY suggest this!!), and important documents for travel. Important Note: If you have personal docs like this on your jump drive, it's probably a GREAT idea to encrypt or secure the files somehow so they can't be accessed if you accidentally leave your jump drive in a public computer (we've all done it). Question-- why not Dropbox??? Yes, Dropbox IS great for the same purpose, but sometimes internet just isn't available and it's the quickest way to transfer files from one place to another. Bonus: With a jump drive, you can view files on a device such as a Nexus 7 tablet--therefore allowing you to watch movies on the plane if you hate the in-flight choices!  

Apartment Technology

  • A Few NFC Tags (with a phone that can read such technology): These things are so sweet. I feel like a spy every time I walk in and out of my room! Basically, I hold my phone up to this tag (and one on my desk) and my phone beeps and brings up a messages that either says "Welcome Home" or "Going on Adventures". In the meantime, my phone is working behind-the-scenes to turn my wifi on or off at the same time it is turning my data on or off. This conserves data and saves me the time and trouble of going to my settings and fumbling with the switches. I'm sure that it saves a measurable amount of seconds over time! You can assign the tags to just about any function on your phone or tablet, including such things as an SMS to your husband/wife saying "I'm home!" Sidenote: Apple users, you're out of luck for the moment; Apple thought they were above this cool technology when they came out with the iPhone 5. NFC technology could really be something-- allowing users to pay with a tap of their phone to a machine, transmit data from any phone to any phone (ex: contact info or you baby's pictures), etc. But enough griping about Apple for now. This technology is super cool!

  • A Travel Router: I don't know how my mom managed to find this thing just before I left for Thailand, but I do know that she is awesome at what she does. I found out about a week before I left that my apartment would have LAN line internet access only--yikes! That wasn't going to work out with my awesome new phone, tablet, computer, iPod, roommate's computer, phone, etc. It's the 21st century after all! I began looking for a router but realized quickly that fitting one of those dinosaurs into my suitcase wasn't going to work out. Luckily, there's such a thing as a travel router which works REALLY WELL in small spaces like a single-room apartment or hotel room and is smaller than my palm (see the comparison to a remote, below). I set up the router before I left the U.S.--giving it my own name and password--so all I had to do was plug in the LAN line to the router and BAM. I've tried up to 5 devices at once and didn't notice any lag or trouble. Occasionally I've had to restart the router or plug the LAN line into my actual computer for a bit but I'm not sure if that's because of the router or because of my apartment's internet provider/system. Find one for yourself on Amazon:

  • External HD: At home, I have a chunky 1TB-sized external hard drive that must be plugged into a wall and the computer that I constanty back up my computer with and have a great collection of movies,  pictures, songs, homework files, etc. For travel, however, I have a 500G external hard drive that only requires a computer USB for power and is ultra-light for carry-on luggage and daily carry, if necessary. I'm so glad I have it all the time! What's ON the hard drive is also crucial. On mine, I primarily travel with a fairly extensive American movie collection (ripped) for my sanity. I truly think that it's one of the best ways to prevent yourself from becoming homesick. In a country where you don't speak the language, sometimes you just crave some English!! You may also need a place to store travel pics and videos.

Last but Definitely Not Least

Just...... Awesome Tech

I saved this section for last because these pieces of technology are truly all-in-one devices that make many other things unnecessary--though definitely not all. I use all of the items above just about as much as I use the next two or--even better--in conjunction with. Notice that I didn't even mention a computer in my list above. That's because of the amazing computing power the modern smartphone has in a tiny little package (with the extra ability to make calls and send texts anywhere). These are things that I love in Thailand and I will continue to love upon my arrival back home: 
  • A Killer Phone (that is internationally compatible): There are any number of great phones on the market right now and there will continue to be new ones every week that trump last week's. I personally own the LG Nexus 4 because that's what my tech-savvy significant other owns and he really does know best. I don't want to preach Google BUT I can definitely say that it hasn't disappointed. The nice thing about this phone, among many, is that it is internationally compatible. The phone came from the Google Playstore, rather than some local service provider, and works on AT&T in the U.S. and just about any service internationally--it comes unlocked for the price of a less nice, locked phone in most local stores. Adding service was as easy as buying a SIM card in Thailand and selecting whatever data plan I wanted. Even if I can't internationally call/text at a good rate, I can get a data plan that allows me to send Google+ or Facebook messages instantly-- just like a text. I can upload photospheres (another novel feature of this phone) and videos to the internet while I'm at the temple, on the beach, seeing a live show, etc. Other things I love to do with my phone while I'm traveling: 
    • Navigate with Google Maps of Bangkok rather than blindly trusting my taxi driver (who speaks another language)
    • Use maps to find restaurants, theaters, and malls that I can walk to from my location
    • Take pics/videos in a pinch when my camera isn't available or I want to upload immediately 
    • Use conversion tables and the phone's calculator for Baht to U.S. Dollars
    • Wikipedia all sorts of new foods, animals, etc.
    • Study Thai with various apps, audio recordings, and PDFs
    • Hangout/Skype/Chat with my loved ones any time
    • Save paper weight with Dropbox, CamScanner, etc. -- all my textbooks, docs, to-do lists--you name it-- are at my fingertip
    • Check flight schedules and seats on TripIt or through the airline's own app
    • Keep up with U.S. news
    • Music-wise: use a tuner or metronome, look up chords and lyrics instantly, access all my music on Google Music, use Shazam to identify new music, play a virtual piano/guitar..
    • Need I name more? 

  • A Killer Tablet (matching not required, but awesome) with a Bluetooth Keyboard: If you're brave enough, you could probably leave your heavy and bulky computer behind and use a good tablet for all of your social and work needs. Many of the things my tablet can do are redundant with the list of phone capabilities above--especially since my tablet is also a Nexus device by Google; a Nexus 7. Don't let the word "redundant", however, be a red flag to you that you shouldn't get a tablet if you have a good phone because there are definitely benefits to having both! The user interface and app store for my two devices are essentially the same but I use them for different purposes. I use my tablet any time I want to watch a video, read an ebook, type a paper, take notes in class.... basically anything where a small screen would be less convenient. I could but wouldn't use a bluetooth keyboard with my phone. It would look silly and strain my eyes. I love having one for my tablet! It sat on my tiny, lecture-hall-sized desks at KU so perfectly and fit in my purse. On the plane flight to Thailand, I was able to plug my jump drive full of movies into my Nexus 7 with a USB port to Micro-USB adapter and watch movies I actually wanted to watch on the flight. When the battery finally died, I could use my external battery charger to charge it up and watch another movie. 
As another little Google plug, these devices are also awesome because they are the first to receive android updates that come out and cost a fraction of what competing devices cost. For example, the Nexus 7 costs at least 1/2 of what an iPad costs, is more personal and customizable, fits better in bags than the full-size iPad, and is perfectly adequate for any of your on-the-go computing needs. 

I really couldn't be happier or more fortunate :)

Not my tablet... but is my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard. 

Two Important Side Notes

  1. Be extra, extra, extra cautious if you're going to bring this kind of technology on a trip across the world. You NEVER know what's going to happen and all you can do is take precautions for a variety of situations. For example: All of my technology was stored between my feet for the whole plane flight-- I didn't leave any in my suitcase to get lost in transit or in an overhead area to get picked up accidentally, etc. I also ALWAYS hug my bag tightly when I'm walking and keep it in my lap when I'm eating, sitting on the subway, etc. I even use a carabiner to strap my bag onto my bike while I'm riding. My apartment has various security types implemented so I don't have to go out with more than the essentials, but I'd be wary of leaving anything in a hotel room. Always ALWAYS password protect, lock, encode, sign out, back up, etc. (hopefully I'm preaching to the choir). 
  2. Most importantly-- don't forget to stow the tech sometimes and just LIVE. Have you ever counted how many people sitting around you are just passing time on their cell phones or walking while staring at their screen? That will likely be perceived by others as a variety of things ranging from rude to ignorant to culturally inappropriate to just downright dangerous. I like to keep plenty of technology on my person when I'm "Going on Adventures", as my phone says, but keep it in the bag as much as possible and just soak in the sights and sounds of my surroundings. Sometimes I wish that I didn't feel compelled to take pictures for later or for the people back home so I could put that away more, too.