What the heck is a SPOT?

The Power of Asking Questions When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

As I contemplate our next Boots and Coffee post about gear, I have stalled because I am not sure how to describe the unbelievable amount of research that seems necessary to decide on the proper gear for our journey. Choice of gear involves many decisions and a lot of exhausting thinking:  it’s not just what gear do I need because decision-making involves consideration of how MUCH gear can be taken and how costly will that gear be if we opt for it.  So, what to do first?  Make a “wish list’ of desirable gear and then research the best choices within these items, followed by an accounting of the cost?  Or do we decide on “essential” gear, figure what that will cost (if we need to add purchases to our supply), and then figure out if we have the space?  It often feels like it is a sort of a chicken-and-egg thing – and I’m sometimes immobilized by how to approach these questions.

There are many bloggers on the road who have considered these questions and I would be remiss if I didn’t, once again, acknowledge the hefty assistance of resources such as Life Remotely, which blog contains a gear section with 3 subsections: choosing gear, packing advice and packing lists.  Similar lists exist on many other blogs and Overland websites.  They are wonderful starting points but one soon realizes, as one reads through these sites, that there is clearly no “one size fits all.”  First, space is a real limitation for us since we are not traveling in a RV with oodles of storage.  Obviously, finances are another real limitation.  And you can fill in the blanks about the other criteria that you might consider if you were in our boots.

One of the more formidable tasks for us is in knowing the right questions to ask about gear.  Here’s an example:  Roque and I have traveled outside the country on a number of occasions and struggled with the issue of cell phone and data connectivity.  There are scores of words written on this subject and, sadly, every country seems to present it’s own challenges.  When in Canada this summer, having done a hefty amount of research before we crossed the border, we spent a couple of hours on our first full day in Nova Scotia, hunting down prepaid sim cards to insert in our (then) unlocked iPhones.  (I won’t bore you with the details of why this took hours rather than minutes).  Sim card in hand and iPhones with data in our lap, we navigated beautifully to the spots where we wanted to go. It all worked swimmingly until 2 days later when we found ourselves in the middle of Prince Edward Island with no data connection and no cell service to help us navigate through the problem solving.  We sought out a place with WiFi and made a series of calls only to find out that 1) we had already blown through $100 worth of data and 2) we could have added a Canadian plan to our Sprint plan at a very inexpensive rate that would have been tons easier than our sim card purchase and time spent in cell phone stores and in trouble shooting through the data dilemma.

Clearly, my research was not thorough enough.

I must confess to being more than a little insecure, as a result of this experience, which is definitely affecting me when making wish lists of gear. After all, my heretofore research has served me/us in good stead but how could I blow it on something so simple?  As a result, the larger part of me wants to stop with the research, get on the road, and figure it out along the way.  This, however, does seems a little imprudent so, alas, back to the books I go.

Books, blogs, websites and more are very helpful.  Even with these resources, though, decisions must be tailored to our specific needs and desires.  We will, for example, NOT sleep on sleeping pads while camping.  I’m just too old to sleep a mere 2 inches off the ground – sheesh, it’s hard enough getting up from a bona fide air mattress let alone a sleeping pad!  Suffice it to say that we are mature adults of a certain age and the decisions that others are making may not be compatible with our travel style.  Just as with decisions about routes and budget, hotels and restaurants, age, budget and many other considerations affect decisions about gear.

Sometimes, Stumbling is a Good Thing

Remarkably, even with ALL of these resources, we sometimes literally stumble onto things and I later wonder why we hadn’t thought about it/come across it/ considered it before and honestly, while I will take all the luck that I can get, there is something a little scary about relying upon sheer serendipity to get you through . . . An illustration of this occurred just yesterday as Roque and I were going over ideas in the car when we started to discuss whether we needed to invest in a satellite phone for the time when we might be in fairly remote locations in northern Canada or Alaska.  Roque questioned whether a CB radio might be another option and sent me off to the trusted iPad for research.  Shortly after I was able to assure him that some folks still do rely upon CBs, I found myself on an adventure travel website where one forum featured folks discussing the merits of cell phone versus satellite phone, etc and I read about something called SPOT.  Neither Roque nor I had any idea of what SPOT was (or was it A SPOT, or THE SPOT – in fact, we didn’t know whether it was an acronym, name brand or something else).

What followed, of course, was using Google to find out what “SPOT” was.  The search results were not helpful – again, another illustration of asking the right question.  I was not interested in dictionary definitions or medical descriptions of spots so to “SPOT” I added the search term “communication” and voila, found myself on a website of a manufacturer of a satellite based emergency messenger device called SPOT.  This was quite a eureka moment for me but this turned out not to be the end but another beginning.  Having stumbled upon ONE satellite-based messenger device, were there others?  By now, of course you have figured out that indeed, there are others.  And service plans. And devices with certain features and others with even more features and so on.

Several days earlier, I had mustered the courage to post my first question to members of a Facebook group called “PanAmerican Travelers Association,” one of several similar FB groups of which I am a member — a question posed about 12v refrigerators and a particular type of inverter-generator.  The group had been  enormously helpful as to this question and so I again reached out for answers. In short order, the responses started to fly in and less than 24 hours after posing the question about satellite messenger devices, the helpful folks at PanAmerican Travelers Association have sent me no fewer than 25 replies.

Is there consensus?  Not really.  But, there is a saying among lawyers that if you ask 3 attorneys a question, be prepared  to get 4 answers and so, between my legal training and my family upbringing (where there was never just ONE right answer), I’m comfortable with that lack of consensus.  After all, Roque and I know that we may not be the average PanAmerican traveler and even if we are, we have our own needs and wants to take into consideration.

What’s the take-away?  Read. Digest. Research. Reach out. Ask questions. Keep digging. Find resources that resonate with you in some way. Be flexible.

Oh, and start blog pages and post to Facebook so that others can feel free to give you their 2 cents. That may be all it’s worth, but it’s 2 cents more than you had a moment ago.

Feel free to leave your 2 cents behind – on this or any other topic.

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