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. 


  1. I agree with you.

    Everything you said.

    I'm glad you've been properly prepared and have been able to take on the craziness of living in a different country for half a year.

    Technology is a great thing.


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  3. So glad everything is working out so well for you! Technology is amazing! I'm good at researching it but never seem to find time to truly embrace it enough to utilize it all as i would like to. It's fun to see my research and purchases of a few things for you really was worth the time and effort spent on it. Also great that aaron is so tec savvy and generously helped make sure you had all you needed. If i were traveling abroad i would find your post very helpful. Also people need to be sure they have the necessary power adapters to charge these gadgets in the countries they will be traveling to.

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