Getting organized to study abroad

Son getting ready to leave for study abroad in Japan

I just finished getting my 20-year-old son ready for his junior year semester study abroad program in Osaka, Japan. There is usually a LOT of prep needed to start any new school year, but adding in international travel and a four-month stay in a very far-off land adds in a whole new level of complications and planning.

In order to improve his Japanese as well as to immerse himself more fully in the culture, my son will be studying at a Japanese university and living with a host Japanese family. In case there are others out there who are planning a similar trip, I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the steps we needed to take to get him ready for this once in a lifetime experience.

• STEP 1: Get a student visa

While not all countries require a visa, Japan is one that does, and we needed to make sure this was done well in advance of his travel. Fortunately, the Japanese Embassy is a short drive from our home and we were able to drop off the paperwork in person and get the visa two days later.

• STEP 2: Book a flight

We opted to go for ANA, which has non-stop flights to Tokyo from the DC area, and we purchased the tickets 2 months before his flight. We also decided to splurge a bit and pay a few hundred dollars more for Premium Economy, which for a 15-hour flight is well worth it! Premium Economy also allows you to check two pieces of luggage, rather than just one, which is crucial if you are packing 4 months’ worth of clothing and personal items.

• STEP 3: Get permission to bring medicine into the country

Japan is very strict about allowing any medication at all into the country, even if it is over the counter. Stimulants of any kind, such as Actifed, Sudafed, or Ritalin and any of its derivatives, are completely prohibited, even with a doctor’s prescription.

In order to bring more than one month’s worth of any kind of medicine or medical device into Japan, you need to apply for a Yakkan Shomei, a kind of import certificate. It’s a lot of paperwork, and you need a written prescription from your doctor if you are bringing in prescription meds. We didn’t realize how much work was involved, and didn’t get around to applying for this until less than a week before my son’s flight. To our surprise and delight, the certificate was emailed to us two days later. The Japanese might be strict, but they are extremely efficient!

• STEP 4: Get a phone plan

We wanted to make sure that our son could stay in contact with us. While there are some great apps for calling and texting via wi-fi (Whatsapp and Viber), we decided to purchase a monthly international calling plan through Verizon (our regular carrier) for $40 a month. Once he is in Japan, he can look into buying or renting a data-only SIM card, which he can use in his iPhone 6, since the Verizon plan we bought only allows for a meager 100 MB of data.

• STEP 5: Bring gifts for your host family

The Japanese are big gift givers, and since my son will be living with a family, it is customary to bring some small items of thanks, usually from your home town – or something else that is not easily purchased in Japan. This was a bit tricky, since we have no idea whom he will be living with (they don’t tell the students who their host family is until they get to Japan, during orientation week). After much debate, we settled on some t-shirts from Rockport, MA (where our family has spent summers every year since our kids were born) and Washington DC where we live the rest of the year, and a box of Jelly Bellies.

Gifts to take to a Japanese host family

• STEP 6: Pack wisely

My son had to pack everything he might need for the next four months, including school supplies and personal items, into just two suitcases. We ended up using these great Travel Space Bags by Ziplock, which compress the air out of your clothing and effectively double the amount of stuff you can take.

Using Ziploc Space Bags to pack smart


He packed a good supply of personal items like body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, etc., since we weren’t sure he could find in Japan what he normally uses here in the U.S.  And he was careful to remember to pack him a laundry bag as well!


Personal items to pack for study abroad

Laundry bag to pack for study abroad

• STEP 7: Use Dropbox to share important documents

We made copies of our son’s passport (after making sure that it won’t expire in the next year), scanned them, and saved them into a Dropbox folder that we share with him. We also put into the folder any other files that he might need, including all of his application materials, the Yakkan Shomei (for his medication), and certificates of insurance coverage that he needs to show to the program administrators.

It was a lot of work and a bit stressful at times, but he got on his flight this afternoon and is winging his way to Japan as I write this. I will know soon if all our preparations worked out the way we hoped!

Tools to launch college graduates into adulthood

Tools to Launch College Graduates

You may be one of the fortunate people that has a recent college graduate. If so, congratulations to both of you – this is a great achievement! However, going from dorm living with all of your meals provided and most of your schedule worked out for you, to navigating the expectations and demands of the real world can be a daunting transition. Your new graduate now needs to think about bills, leases, insurance, grocery shopping and all the other “grownup” things that you (or more recently, their college) had taken care of for them. And they might find that they’re not prepared for it.

I decided to consult my 23 year-old son who graduated from college in 2015 and now lives and works in New York City, to find out what he uses and recommends in terms of apps and tech tools that have helped make his transition from college to full blown adulthood easier. Here’s what he recommends:


Hands down, the best app for managing your budget and finances all in one easy location is Mint. Intuit, the company that makes Quicken and TurboTax, now owns Mint, and you know that money management is their thing. My son uses Mint to aggregate all his bank, credit card and investment records in one place so that he knows his financial situation at a glance, and can see, for example, whether he can afford that weekend getaway in the Catskills.

Mint lets you set up budgets to track where you spend your money and at the end of each week, sends you a transaction analysis by email. In case you’re worried about security, Mint stores “read only” information on its site. This means they don’t store any passwords or usernames, just the information that is transmitted from the financial institutions. The IOS and Android apps are easy to use – and best of all, it’s free!

Digital Organization

Like me, my son uses a combination of Evernote and Dropbox to store all of his digital files, documents and notes. Keeping your financial documents, bank statements and bills on Dropbox can be a real life saver if you need to pull them all together quickly for, say, an on-the-spot rental application (which happens a lot in New York and other big cities where the competition for apartments is fierce). My son keeps all of his notes, recipes, and other bits of information that he needs at his fingertips in Evernote. The basic versions of both Dropbox and Evernote are free.

Auto Pay

My son suggests putting everything on auto pay, such as utilities, rent, and credit card bills, especially in the beginning of your post college life when you are trying to build your credit rating. Racking up credit card debt so you can buy the next cool device that comes out simply is not worth it – just remember that late payments, interest charges and other fees do not look good on your credit report! Better to use Mint to make sure you have enough money in your bank account to pay the bills each month, so you can live within your means when you’re just starting out.

Task management

Again, just as I do, my son uses Wunderlist to stay on top of tasks, shopping lists, and other projects. Wunderlist, which is cloud-based, can be used with both IOS and Android devices, and has a desktop and web version as well. You can create as many lists as you wish, add subtasks, set due dates and receive reminders for upcoming tasks and events. The pro version allows you to collaborate with others and attach files as well.

These apps and techniques have greatly helped my son navigate his first year out in the real world. If you have a recent college graduate, I’d love to know what tech tools they have found useful in this area!

Introducing a new way to scan with ScanSnap Cloud

ScanSnap Cloud

My regular readers know how enthusiastic I am about using Fujitsu’s amazing ScanSnap series of scanners. I have pretty much used every scanner they make, and I often take my iX100 mobile scanner with me when I have tech organizing appointments. Naturally I was very excited to hear that I would get a chance to test drive Fujitsu’s latest offering, ScanSnap Cloud. This great new app enables you to scan documents, receipts, business cards and photos using one of Fujitsu’s two wireless scanners, the iX100 or the iX500, without the scanner being connected to  (or anywhere near!)  a computer. Here’s how it works:

After downloading the ScanSnap Cloud software to your computer – I put it on both my MacBook Air and my (ancient) iMac – you can go to the app’s Preferences tab, choose Settings and indicate where you want each type of output file to be saved “automagically.” You can use ScanSnap’s own cloud-based service to store your files, or you can send them to another cloud-based account that you already have. ScanSnap has teamed up with several major cloud-based storage apps including Dropbox, Evernote, Google Photos, Google Drive, Expensify  and One Drive, so you’ll have plenty of options. If you use one of the other storage services, you’ll need to give the ScanSnap app permission to access your account. But you’ll only have to do that once; after it’s been set up, ScanSnap will be able to store files using your other accounts without any further action on your part.

Scanned files are classified into four categories: documents, receipts, business cards and photos. You can choose where images should be saved depending upon their category. For example, I decided I wanted my business cards in Evernote, my documents (MS Word and PDF files) in Dropbox and my photos in Google Photos.

You’ll know when ScanSnap Cloud is working since the normally blue light on the scanner will turn a lovely purplish color. All you have to do is press the purple button, and the scanning starts and finishes on its own. You can easily go back and forth between scanning to the cloud and scanning directly to your computer using your existing ScanSnap Manager settings. On my computer, documents go directly into a Dropbox folder called ScanSnap, so that I can manipulate them later.

The other cool feature that ScanSnap Cloud provides is the ability to automatically name each output file, using whatever information it can find in the image or document and adding a date. This can be very helpful, but you’ll need to check to make sure the app is selecting the right information for naming the file. For instance, when I scanned a credit card statement, rather than pulling the name of the credit card, the app selected the words with the largest font, in this case “Less Waste” – i.e., the vendor’s recommendation that I go paperless. However, even if the software gets the name wrong, it’s very easy to rename files from within the ScanSnap Cloud app and then put them exactly where you want them to go.

There are a lot of useful applications for ScanSnap Cloud. For example, I have many clients with enormous amounts of paper who just want to scan it all quickly, but don’t have time for making immediate decisions about how the output should be filed. With ScanSnap Cloud, they can scan a whole pile of mixed documents and then go back into the app later (when they have the time) to rename the files and put them in the right folders. Also, if you need to scan when you are away from your home or office and don’t have your computer nearby, you can use the extremely portable iX100 scanner to send your output files to the cloud, knowing that they’ll go right where you want them to be.

Overall, I find that the new ScanSnap Cloud has the ability to make scanning even easier and more accessible to people who want to make going paperless a part of their lives.

Visit  to download ScanSnap Cloud.



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  • Did You Know…

    Getting rid of excess clutter would eliminate 40% of the housework in an average home? (National Soap and Detergent Association)

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  • 80% of what we file is never looked at again. (The Leader-Post)

  • Employees spend 3.5 hours a week searching for information they cannot find. (ARMA International)
  • Americans waste 9 million hours a day looking for misplaced items.
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  • The self storage industry has been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the United States commercial real estate industry over the period of the last 40 years.
  • As of year-end 2014, of the approximately 58,000 self storage facilities worldwide, 48,500 of them are in the United States.
  • Almost 9% of all American households currently rent a self storage unit (10.85 million of the 113.3 million US HHs in 2013).

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