Tuesday Tip: Cockroaches Travel in Packs!

Cockroaches, Frogs, and Lizards, Oh my!

Yesterday was a bad day.  A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Why?  I was ambushed.  By cockroaches.  An “intrusion” of cockroaches.  You know how a group of crows is very aptly called a “murder”?  A group of cockroaches is called an “intrusion”.  Trust me, I looked it up.  And intrude on me they did.

This intruder appeared in the bathroom of our 5th floor apartment.  How did he get up there?!

This intruder appeared in the bathroom of our 5th floor apartment. How did he get up there?!

We were at our new favorite spot, Doi Coffee, working hard on our latest projects when I felt something tickling the top of my foot.  In Thailand, land of many mosquitos, gnats, and flies, I’ve developed “phantom fly syndrome”, which is something I just made up.  Essentially it means you just think you feel tickles and itches, even if there’s nothing there.  And usually there isn’t anything there, so scratching every itch or slapping at every tickle makes you look like a crazy person.  Trust me, Kevin told me so.  In an effort to look as sane as possible, I indefatigably ignored the tickle until it was clear it was not in my head.

Finally, I relented and looked down at my foot, and was utterly horrified at what I saw!  Not one, but two (TWO!) cockroaches were trying to climb up my leg!  The horror!  I screamed, I jumped, I hollered, I nearly knocked over my bar stool. Shockingly, I don’t know the word for cockroach in Thai, so I couldn’t convey what had happened to the ladies in the cafe.  They just stared at me with these “check out this foreign nutcase” looks on their faces.  (I’ve grown used to that look, you know, being somewhat of a klutz.)

I decided that this intrusion of cockroaches was a sign that it was time to head out, so Kevin and I packed up our things, paid, and went on our merry little way.  On the way out the coffee shop doors, another cockroach made its debut!  This one seemed to be running towards me with a mission on its mind (“ATTAAAACK THE FOREIGNER!” perhaps?), and I deftly hopped over it and escaped into the great outdoors.  Once we were outside, yet another cockroach scurried across our path, completing the superfecta (a trifecta, but with four) of cockroaches.

We’re still not sure what was behind this intrusion into our daily life.  Could the cockroaches know something we don’t?  Is another earthquake headed our way?  Do they sense a drop in barometric pressure and an impending thunderstorm?  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, we’re doing our best to live with all of these creepy crawlers in peace since they’re part of daily life here.  Just a couple weeks ago, we were having dinner outside at Magical Garden Cafe and a frog landed on Kevin’s arm!  Several days ago, a lizard fell from a coffee shop overhang and landed in Kevin’s hair!  And after we first moved into our apartment, Kevin was pinched by a cicada he tried to kill.  It has been a wild ride.  We’ll keep you posted as the wild ride continues.  Safe travels, friends!

We want to hear from you!

What is the strangest creepy crawler encounter you’ve had on your travels?

Maximizing Productivity with the Pomodoro Method

One major problem Digital Nomads face is how to be productive on the road when your “office” setting is constantly changing.  We try out new cafes every day.  Some have blaring Miley Cyrus music (one can only hear “Wrecking Ball” so many times before wanting to take a wrecking ball to the people around you).  Some have painfully slow internet.  Some cafes are full of obnoxious young entrepreneurs who are oblivious enough to play their music from their laptops without headphones.  (Public service announcement: this is never acceptable in any culture when anyone is within earshot.  If you do this, I hate you.  “I forgot my headphones” is no excuse.)

So how do we maintain our focus and keep up productivity on the road?

Utilize the Pomodoro Method

Kevin got me hooked on the Pomodoro Technique.  I’ve been drinking that koolaid for a month now and will never go back.  When utilizing this method, you structure your work-time into 25-minute work blocks called pomodoros.  Before each 25-minute block, make a clear list of tasks you’ll work on.  After each 25-minute pomodoro, take a 5-minute break to stand up and stretch a little and check email or Facebook.  After four consecutive pomorodos, take a longer break of up to a half hour.

I love this method for several reasons.  First, it helps me work on tasks I’m not super excited about.  When there’s a light at the end of the 25-minute tunnel, I’m more likely to keep my nose to the grindstone and less likely to blow work off in favor of stalking family and friends on Facebook (that’s right, I’m watching you).  Second, it helps break an unmanageable to-do list down into doable chunks.  Focusing on just one topic per pomodoro helps me focus on the task at hand.  Lastly, because Kevin and I are both using this method, we are less likely to interrupt and distract each other.  Fellow koolaid drinkers know that you have to respect the pomodoro; knowingly interrupting someone’s pomodoro is not ok.

Subscribe to focus@will (and use good headphones!)

I cannot recommend focus@will highly enough.  The free version is so-so, but the paid version (which regularly is available at discounted prices… just wait and they’ll try to entice you via email with a discount once you subscribe to the free version!) is phenomenal.  They offer ten different “neuroscience based” music channels designed to help you focus on work, with everything from Baroque Piano to Alpha Chill.  With the paid version, you can use their nifty timer to help time your pomodoros, and you can even rate your productivity of your last “focus session” then use that information to learn which type of music best promotes your top-notch productivity.

Kevin with his Sony Headphones

Kevin with his Sony Headphones

It’s also important to have a good pair of headphones to block out sound around you.  Simple earbuds aren’t quite enough in most of the cafes we frequent where the “Let it Go” song from Frozen blares from the speakers at least twice a day.  We highly recommend these Sony Headphones – they’re probably the best bang for your buck out there.  If you like feeling like a total baller, go ahead and order the velour ear cushions, they really do make a big difference.

Become your own project manager

We have weekly planning sessions every Sunday to lay out our work tasks for the week.  Our preferred planning tool at the moment is Trello, a free, online task tracker.  It only works when you’re online unless you pay for the premium version, but that hasn’t been too bad.  Trello allows you to track and assign due dates to tasks for everything from bathroom remodel projects to work projects, dividing them into “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” lists and setting due dates.

Get a phone data plan with tethering

I don’t think this is a real option in the United States, where the damn cell phone companies seem to be so vehemently opposed to opening themselves up to data tethering.  However, in most other countries this is a great option.  For folks not familiar what tethering is, it allows you to create your own personal wifi hot spot using your smart phone, and hook up to that hotspot on your computer.  Essentially, you can create your own wifi network wherever you go using your phone data plan.

We have cell phone service in Thailand through DTAC, one of the two major local service providers.  They allow tethering, which we’ve used at cafes with abysmal internet speed.  It has also been handy during power outages, because we still have cell phone service even if nearby wifi routers are down.  (Power outages in Thailand happen fairly often and are no longer surprising to us.)

Glasses are my work hat

I’ve been running a psychological experiment on myself, similar to the Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiment where he was able to train a dog to salivate just by ringing a bell.  That sounds kind of bad – I’m definitely not comparing myself to a dog, but I have had some success training myself to get into work mode when I wear my reading glasses.  I have these glasses that I specifically use only when I’m working on my computer.  Putting these glasses on is like putting on my work hat and getting down to business.  I don’t wear them reading, I never wear them just walking around, and I remove them during Pomodoro breaks when I might be surfing Facebook or Reddit.

This is kind of a quirky habit, but I’m convinced it helps my brain know when to focus.  You should try it and let me know how it goes!  It doesn’t have to be glasses – maybe you go into work mode when you wear your headphones, oooh maybe you literally wear a work hat!  Perhaps you remove your watch when you’re getting down for some serious work time, or maybe you even do something crazy like removing your shoes.  Heck, your trigger could even be that you always eat chocolate when working, just don’t blame me for the weight gain.

We want to hear from you!

Do you work in obscure places?  Where’s the strangest place you’ve worked?  Safe travels, friends!

Minimizing Your Losses When Obtaining Thai Currency

That's Some Legit Thai Currency $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht, depending on current exchange rates

Thai Currency
Today, $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht

Did you know that a typical ATM withdrawal fee in Thailand is 180 Baht (about $6 US)? Did you know that many credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee? Or how about that many establishments charge an extra fee for you to pay with plastic?  Aside from hotels and nicer restaurants that we don’t tend to frequent very often (such is the life of the unemployed), Thailand has mostly a cash-based economy, and you may get laughed at if you try to offer up a credit card when it comes time to pay.

So how can you minimize your losses when obtaining Thai Currency? Here are a few tips.

For Short Term Travelers:

  • Get a little Thai currency before you leave home, if possible.  Check with your local bank to see if they offer a reasonable exchange rate for Thai Baht. If they do, we recommend changing about $30 USD for Thai Baht. This should get you through your airport connection, and pay for any early transportation costs in Thailand. (This is especially true if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai – Taxi fares in Chiang Mai from the airport to any hotel in the city are currently pegged at a cost of 120 Baht, or about $4. So cheap!)
  • Identify at least 2 credit cards and 2 ATM cards you can use abroad, and call those banks to:
    1. Ask what fees apply to card usage / ATM withdrawals in foreign countries.
    2. Ask the bank to place a travel notice on your cards. Banks may suspect your cards were stolen and freeze them if you use them in a foreign country without notifying them of your travel plans! We all know they do this for our own good, but in a foreign country where calls to the US are expensive and confusing to make, this can be a nightmare!
  • Typically, the best exchange rates are obtained at an ATM.  The fee most foreign ATMs charge tends to be a flat rate regardless of the amount you withdraw, so you should take out as much as you can per transaction.  Many Thai ATMs can distribute a maximum of 20 bills at a time, which means a maximum of 20,000 THB (about $600 US).  This will last you a LONG time in Thailand.
  • In addition to figuring out how which ATM card is best to use in Thailand, it always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to travel with a little extra U.S. cash.  Withdraw some crisp, new $100 bills from your local bank to bring over from the U.S. to exchange. There are places to exchange currency nearly everywhere you turn in Thailand, and they almost always offer a better rate for $100 bills than for $50s; some will even refuse old tattered bills.  The best currency exchange rates can be found if you go into a bank, rather than the kiosks on the street.

For Long Term Travelers and Frequent International Travelers:

  • Get an ATM card at a bank that refunds foreign ATM fees!  This is the single most important thing you should do if you spend extended amounts of time abroad.  We have a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account.  In order to open one of these accounts, you also have to open a a Schwab One Brokerage Account and link the two accounts.  With these accounts opened and linked, neither will have any fees or minimum balance requirements.  ATM fees are refunded automagically at the end of each month.  Some helpful tips:
    • Start the application process for these accounts two months before leaving home so you can receive your new cards in the mail with plenty of time to spare.
    • Before leaving home, link the Schwab checking account to one of your other bank accounts so you can transfer money easily.  This requires mailing in a paper form. (I know, what is this, the 80’s?!  Is it time to bust out my stirrup pants and t-shirt rings?!)  Allow ample time for this step!  We sent in the wrong form the first time, of course.
    • As a rule of thumb, we aim to keep a zero balance in the Schwab account most of the time in case our ATM card gets skimmed/stolen.  When we need money, we schedule a transfer (which usually takes 4-5 days to complete) and withdraw the money as soon as its in the Schwab account.
    • Be sure you understand your daily ATM withdrawal limits and what happens if you try to overdraft.  This is important to know, especially if you need to take out large amounts of money each month to pay for apartment rent.  We specifically ensured that transactions would be rejected if the account balance was zero.
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!  We use the Chase United Plus card, which comes with perks like bonus miles, free checked bags, priority boarding, and 2 United Club passes per year.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year, but Kevin has been successful 2 years in a row at getting this fee waived by calling and threatening to cancel the card.

Safety Tips

Here I am, acting suspicious at the ATMs.
If anyone sees this, I’m now in a Thai Jail. Please send money. (KIDDING)

  • Because ATM card skimming can happen anywhere in the world, you should follow a few precautions when withdrawing money.  Pick a non-sketchy-looking ATM, however you choose to define that.  We like to find newer ATMs that adjoin a bank, or look for ATMs the locals seem to favor using.  We avoid dark alleyways and ATMs near packs of young hooligans.  Always give the card reader a little tug before inserting your card, to make sure nothing extra has been attached to it to steal your card info.  And always, always, always cover your hand when entering your pin number at the ATM!
  • If you bring over lots of cash, protect it!  At hotels, we like to use a cable and luggage lock to lock up our bags up and secure them to something in the room.  This sure beats carrying a thousand bucks in your purse when you’re walking around unfamiliar places.


Future Posts

We want to post about things that interest you!  I know I’ve talked a lot lately about chapped asses and bathroom escapades, but blogging about those topics alone is not sustainable.  It also makes me feel like a huge weirdo.  In the future, we’re hoping to blog about what we do in a typical day, going to the dentist in Thailand, what we packed, and preparations we made before leaving Seattle.  If you have suggestions for future blog post topics, please leave us a comment to let us know!

Tuesday Tip: Never go anywhere in Southeast Asia without a packet of tissues!

Carry these lifesavers everywhere you go!

Carry these lifesavers everywhere you go!

During our travels in Vietnam and Thailand, we’ve learned that you can never, ever count on a public restroom to be stocked with toilet paper, soap, or paper towels.  There’s no feeling quite like the one you get when you sit down to go to the bathroom, then have that “OMG-THERES-NOT-A-SHRED-OF-TOILET-PAPER-ANYWHERE-NEAR-ME” moment.  Talk about a huge mistake.

I’d estimate something like 20% of bathrooms in Vietnam had toilet paper.  That number is definitely higher in Thailand, but it’s still never, ever a guarantee!

Save yourself some trouble, and be sure to purchase some travel tissue packs and hand sanitizer before leaving home.  Or, if you arrive unprepared, that sort of thing is pretty darn cheap at any 7-11.  Hopefully this post will help to keep you from making a huge mistake!

Is there any item you never travel without?  If so, leave us a comment, we’d love to hear it!


Tuesday Tip: Always Carry a Poncho in Thailand

Kevin Soaked

This week’s tip: Unexpected storms in Thailand will really rain on your parade, so carry a poncho!  We are trying out a new type of blogpost – Tuesday Tips.  Every Tuesday, we plan to post a small blurb with a tip for surviving successfully in Southeast Asia.

Everyone in Southeast Asia seems to carry around a cheap plastic poncho to throw on when a thunderstorm sneaks up on you.  We were out and about with our laptops when a thunderstorm rolled in and it started downpouring.  We had to run back to our Hotel so our laptops wouldn’t get wet!  After the storm, we picked up cheap plastic ponchos at the 7-11 (there is a 7-11 on nearly every corner in Chiang Mai) for less than $1.  We’ll never leave home without them again.