Picture this:  You finally pull your van-home into BFE.  The trees are perfect.  The rivers are clean.  The nearest Starbucks is 400 miles south, over at least one 14,000 foot snow-covered precipice.  Then, some important widget falls off something somewhere, and you’re stuck.  Sure, you should have planned ahead and brought the widget-fixing tool, but you didn’t.

Option #1:  Start walking.

Option #2:  Phone-a-friend.

I choose option #2.  I just added a General Class Amateur Radio license, call sign KD0QXJ, to my “bag of communication tricks,” so I can phone-a-friend from anywhere, anytime, as many times as I want.

I intend to travel to destinations well off the beaten path, and I’m carrying several methods of communication for both staying in touch and emergencies.

  • I have a cell phone with an amplifier.  My rule-of-thumb, however, is that I’m too close to the beaten path if I have reliable cell coverage, so a cell phone alone isn’t sufficient.
  • Citizen’s Band (CB) radio works well for short-range communication.  It’s ideal for chatting in populated areas, along major roads, and within groups of vehicles.  I don’t plan on carrying a CB radio because the next option is better.
  • Amateur radio (also known as ham radio) provides much greater flexibility and range, including world-wide communication.  I already have a VHF/UHF antenna on the hood, and I’ve pre-wired for an HF antenna.  Thanks for Alan Applegate, K0BG, for talking with me about mobile antennas.
  • A portable satellite dish, carefully aimed at the sky, provides Internet access almost anywhere.  I don’t have such a satellite dish yet, but I’ve pre-wired my van for the dish.
  • A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) provides a world-wide method for sending one-way alerts to search-and-rescue indicating a life-or-death emergency.  Although a PLB is a single-purpose device, I’ll probably get one because it’s a reliable “hotline” to emergency help.
  • Two-way satellite communicators, like the SPOT device, allow two-way “text message” communication via satellites.  It’s interesting technology, and I’m undecided if I’ll carry one.

The idea here is “defense in depth.”  I’ll have multiple methods of communication, and I can choose the best for each situation.  If one method fails, I have others.

Why I Should Live in a Van: Reason #357

I’ve been an orienteer for several years, first learning the sport with the Greater Phoenix Orienteering Club.  Sadly, the fine state of Oklahoma has no orienteering, so my compass has sat unloved for years.  Orienteering is the sport and art of navigating with a map and compass.  You don’t use a GPS, just your map, compass, feet, and brain.  Orienteering is a thinking-intensive sport and fun for its own sake.

If you spend any amount of time outdoors and off-trail, the navigation and map-reading skills are critical.  A GPS receiver might tell you where you are, assuming you remember batteries, don’t have too many trees overhead, and don’t drop your receiver too far.  But, a GPS does not tell you how to get where you want to go.  It doesn’t tell you how to navigate around the mountain and across the canyon to end up exactly where you want to be.  A GPS is an awesome tool best used with map and compass skills.

I had the privilege of attending the San Diego Orienteering Club’s meet at Anza Borrego.  In short, the club is awesome, and they held an awesome meet.  I should’ve gone years ago.

Reason #357:  Orienteering is awesome, and living in a van will allow me to orienteer more.

Bonus Reason #358:  Without a van, doing anything outdoors requires too much effort.  A few days of orienteering required hours of shopping, packing, planning, and driving.  Even then, my dinner was less than appetizing.

Camp dinner, before the van

If my house is a van, I’m always packed and mobile, with a hot dinner ready to go.


Here’s our rough goals for the first few months of the journey:

  • Ski more:  Initial destinations include Telluride, Taos, Denver, Tahoe, and Salt Lake City. We’ll be posting ski reviews and tips for travelers.  We welcome recommendations regarding places to overnight park the van near these ski resorts.
  • Work:  We’ll continue our professions on the road and will refine the craft of a mobile workspace.
  • Get smarter:  Attend a naturopathic oncology conference in Phoenix. Seek out hacker spaces, Maker groupsinventor clubs, and conferences.
  • Reconnect:  Visit with family and friends in California, Arizona, and Colorado. Connect with colleagues as we travel.
  • Serve:  Katherine pursues clinical private practice, medical mission work, technical writing, and outreach on behalf of the naturopathic profession.  Peter contributes to the Apple II vintage computer community through Juiced GS and Kansas Fest.