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How to Stay in Touch Off the Grid

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So many of us look forward to vacations as a time to relax and cut the proverbial cord. We want to take a break, recharge, and just generally avoid dealing with spam emails and social media drama for a few days!

However, sometimes our vacations take us far off the beaten path and we want at least some way to keep in touch with the outside world, particularly in the event of an emergency.

Because where we stay in West Virginia is currently decidedly off the grid – no land line or internet and not a cell signal in sight (also no currently no reliable electricity or running water) – I put a lot of time last year into thinking about how to stay in touch off the grid.

Going into our second year of a month of off-grid living, I thought it was high time I shared some tips! These techniques can be used whether you’re backpacking, camping, staying at a summer ‘camp,’ or even day hiking.

How to stay in touch off the grid

Get a GPS messenger. Last year we purchased a Delorme InReach two-way GPS messenger. There are a variety of GPS messengers and trackers available from the basic, less expensive models that allow you to send a distress beacon or “all’s well” message to full-feature models with all sorts of bells and whistles. We chose the InReach because it allows for two-way messaging in the form of a short message you can send to an email or phone number. You can pick a variety of service plans with the Delorme units, including a very basic one that provides you with 10 messages a month, and you can cancel any time. Thankfully, we’ve never had a true emergency that necessitated using the InReach, but we have used it to tell family members we’ve arrived safely and to receive updates about when my sister was arriving last summer. Whether you’re alone or with a group, I highly, highly recommend investing in a GPS messenger unit when you go somewhere off-grid. Because cell signal is line of sight, it’s very easy to loose reception any time you’re in a mountainous area. We’ve even thought about carrying the InReach on hikes in Hawaii because there are loads of cell phone dead zones here! {{Just as a note – please also consider carrying paper maps if you’re hiking and using a GPS with navigation.}}

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Garmin inReach SE+, Handheld Satellite Communicator with GPS Navigation
  • 100% global Iridium satellite coverage enables two-way text messaging from anywhere (satellite subscription required)
  • Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center
  • Track and share your location with family and friends. Display type : Transflective color TFT

PS – That’s the InReach pictured below – it’s basically the size of a large, old cell phone. It isn’t tiny, but it isn’t cumbersome, either.

Look in to “general delivery” mail. Post Offices are sometimes reluctant to accept mail for general delivery if you haven’t phoned ahead, so just give the local post office a call before you start sending mail. General delivery isn’t always a great choice for packages (unless the package is being sent through the USPS), but it’s nice for letters, cards, etc. We were in West Virginia for my birthday one year and family members sent me cards and a couple presents via general delivery (thanks!). We have also used it for Amazon delivery, but small, rural post offices tend to have limited hours and aren’t always open by the time UPS or FedEx arrives (ask me how I know!). A letter is unlikely to be super helpful in the event of an emergency, but adding written correspondence to your off-grid vacation can really help with that slow living feeling you’re trying to achieve! For more on the joy of snail mail, please see this post. šŸ™‚

waterproof pens for decorated envelopes

Check to see if any local businesses accept UPS or FedEx deliveries. Sometimes you forget an essential or can’t bring it with you to your vacation site. If you need to receive a non-USPS package, check to see if any local businesses accept deliveries. You can always pay to have a package delivered to the UPS store, but I’ve learned that smaller communities sometimes have a hardware store or other local business that accepts packages. Last summer I had a barbell shipped to a hardware store!

staying in touch during an off the grid vacation

Find a McDonald’s. In my experience, McDonald’s is the most reliable, ubiquitous place to find free wi-fi so you can check those emails if you’re having communications withdrawal. I know, I know – Starbucks is nicer. However, there are a lot more McDonald’s in rural areas than Starbucks! Even the locations in gas stations have free wi-fi. If you’re not a big McDonald’s fan, I can empathize, but I’m sure you can find something to order (side salad?) and eat really slowly while you enjoy the wi-fi.

 Consider stopping by a library. Sometimes libraries have wi-fi, but not always. Most libraries now have computers with internet access, but you almost always need to have a library card to use them. Some libraries do allow visitors to sign up for a card, usually for a small fee. I feel like I’d be remiss not to mention the possibility of using a library for internet, but it’s not a strategy I like to rely on. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn’t.

Except in specific cases, like maybe if you’re driving across the Outback for a year and need to work on the go, I don’t suggest wasting your time by looking into satellite phones or satellite internet options. At this time, they’re still extraordinarily expensive and impractical for vacation use. If you travel constantly or are planning a very long trip, it might be worth it for you. If you’re only traveling for days or weeks, it probably won’t be.

how to stay in touch off the grid

I realize this post about staying in touch when you’re off grid isn’t my usual crafting post, but it ties in with my general desire to live a more naturally-inspired life. I believe that time in nature, especially unplugged time in nature, is absolutely vital, but as a blogger and online business owner I also understand that having a digital “life line” can be important. If you’re in the wilderness, a GPS messenger can provide a literal lifeline!

If you’re wondering why anyone would want to spend time “getting away from it all,” then I recommend you check out my post of books to spark your desire to live more naturally. Spending time in natural environments, or even just being able to see trees out of your window, has a variety of proven benefits for humans. From reducing stress to improving creativity and immune system function, there are multiple scientifically proven ways spending time in nature can benefit you. I really hope my tips on how to stay in touch off the grid help convince you that you can stay safe and within reach if necessary while getting some much-needed unplugged time in nature!

Do you have any particular ways of staying in touch while you’re on vacation? Or do you prefer to completely unplug and totally ignore the outside world?

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Duni June 4, 2017, 22:31

    In Indonesia I once went deep into the jungle, completely off the grid. It didn’t matter though, because there weren’t any cell phones around at the time anyway. Plus I didn’t feel the need to contact anyone – I was too involved admiring the fauna / flora and diverse creatures šŸ™‚
    If I were to ever go there again I would probably take a tracker as you suggest!

    • Natashalh June 5, 2017, 09:46

      That sounds like such a neat experience! Whenever I feel jumpy about not having my cell phone, I remind myself that cell phones really weren’t a thing until recently! We managed without them, though.

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