You Can Do a DXpedition!
by Cal White - WF5W
Have you ever dreamed about going on a DXpedition and operating from an exotic or foreign place? I know most of you have, but hang on a while and see what this is all about.
Paul Frantz, W5PF, and I have been on many such trips and have come up with several tips that will help you make your dream a reality. A DXpedition can be as elaborate and complex as youíd like it to be. For the first few times, however, I suggest you keep it simple and low budget. If you have a spouse, take her (or him) into consideration. You are more likely to get her stamp of approval if you include her. Presenting the idea as a vacation will promote a lot more support than you would receive if you just announce you and your ham friends are going to a tropical island while your spouse stays home and holds down the fort......
DXpeditions - What has worked for us:
You and a partner (your spouse?) pick a place you want to go and the type of DXpedition you want it to be. The criteria can be whatever you want: exotic, warm, cold, high on the most needed list, easy to get to, hard to get to. What ever you and your partner chooses. If your spouse isnít a ham, you may want to consider having another ham along to operate, but I suggest you keep your group small, keep it simple and donít select a location where you need a lot of help. If the DXpedition warrants other team members, give a lot of thought to selecting them. Decide who will lead the trip and let him/her keep the original plans intact.
Assign particular duties to each team member so no one person has a big load. Have one of the members who is good with a camera/videocam be responsible for the photos. Think about: Can the prospective members afford the trip? Do they have good health? Consider their compatibility in all aspects, professional and personal. This is very important stuff, like a shipmate, two weeks can be a long long time in confined spaces if things donít work.... Just remember, a bigger group makes decisions like the government - too many options, sometimes too lengthy, too discombobulated and wanders off the original course...
Step One: Contacts
Ten or so months before you go and AFTER you decide your
destination, send e mails to the town, country, tourist office, embassy or
consulate - get in contact with the closest person to that country you can.
After you start the e-mail correspondence, continue dialogue until you arrive.
Those folks will be helpful with a B&B, hotel info, license info and probably
local Ham info. Send e mails to several of the accommodation/rental places so
by the time you get to Step 2 or 3, you will know which one you want to stay
with and continue to update them as time goes on. Do the same thing with the
hams you are put in contact with. Ask if there is anything special you can bring
along that they may want.
The tourist office will probably put you in touch with the local travel agent - that can be a very valuable asset as well. They can sometimes do better for you than one in the U.S. They can also advise and help with visa requirements, currency transfer, meeting you at the plane and a variety of other things that will make your trip easier.
License info may take you to the local government of the country that owns the place.
The ARRL can help on the licensing issue if it becomes a problem.
Donít take un-official information to heart regarding licensing, power limitations, etc. Get it straight from the officials who will be awarding you the license.
Step Two: Tickets
Get your tickets to the destination at least three or four
months in advance of your trip.
You might get a discount and you never know what some unknown reason will fill up the plane and be booked up. It CAN happen. (This happened when we were going to the Falklands. The local (US) people told us the flight was booked full. Our Falklands Travel agent obtained seats for us on the same flight that was allegedly all booked up.
Step Three: Gear and Inventory
Now that you're set up with an agenda; team members, tickets, potential accommodation, etc. (maybe not all in that order) it is time to think about gear and put your plan in motion. Decide if it will be a CW DXpedition, a contest or just a fun Ham/vacation time. Lay out your objectives. Get the proper gear lined up.
If you need special black boxes, then get them and learn how to use them BEFORE you go. Delegate to the new members those items needed to flush out your gear.
Contact some of the vendors. You might score a loan on an antenna or other things depending on how exotic and needed your intended location will be. (Paul and I had Discounts from Mosley and loans of antennas from SteppIR). Other stuff will depend on you and the location. Never hurts to ask. They can only say no. (Yes, I know we now have in house Antennas and stuff) but it may be in use at the time you want to go...so ask anyway.
Once you have all the gear identified and in hand, it is time to get your whole team (if you have decided to have one) involved. Set it all up, including the antennas. Use the setup on the air, take it down and then set it up again. Make sure you have all the connectors with spares, in--country electric plugs, spare fuses, spare bolts, nuts and washers, antenna element clamps, tape (3M only), solder, couple of rolls of waxed twine (400 pound rating) and at least an extra 100 feet of coax. Donít forget the instruction books for setting up everything, including lengths on the antennas. Every one needs to make an inventory of what they plan to take and compare the lists with each other for any possible missing links or duplications.
Step Four: Packing
You have a bunch of gear, you also have clothes (unless your going to a tropical isle where you only need one t shirt and pair of shorts) Various sports cases are ideal for hams. A ski board case and a golf bag case are reasonable and hold a bunch of gear. Both can hold 4 foot pipe/element lengths - the ski case can hold the longer pieces, such as the SteppIR boom. The point is that ALL airlines are familiar with these types of bags. Put your QSL card on the outside of the case so EVERYONE knows youíre a HAM. Use straps to keep the things from falling apart. Donít lock the case, they may break the lock in security and you might then have a problem.
Expect to go to the back of the airlinesí counter to open your big bag for the security folks when checking in. Sometimes you have to, but it has never been a problem for us. Airline personnel all know about hams.. (We have even had Pilots page us on a flight, to meet them on arrival, to talk about ham radio!)
You must get the info from the travel agent regarding how much weight you are allowed per bag. Different airlines have different limits. Plan to carry your computer and sensitive radio gear onboard with you. A reasonably small back pack, a carry on bag and a small handbag usually will be allowed. Just in case, pack a toothbrush, a pair of undies and t shirt with the radio....
Hint about baggage in the airports along the way: Unless you are used to being a baggage porter, use baggage that has wheels and that you can personally handle for long walks in intermediate/international terminals. Miami for instance, has signs on walls showing how many minutes the walk is to other terminals. We had to walk for over twenty minutes with all our gear there. Thatís with antennas, personal stuff and carry on bags.. Thatís where the pre-packing pays off. You will know that some of the team will not have a full load. So if necessary, you can distribute the load when moving through terminals.
Step Five: Health issues and Insurance
Some venues require that you have private insurance that will pay for your untimely departure should you have major health problem on the trip. That can be expensive. You must either contact your health insurance provider to see if they cover you and if not, you need to purchase trip insurance. This is NOT A CHOICE. You need to do it.....$50,000 for an air ambulance is a lot more expensive than a few dollars for a two week policy. (That was the cost of air evacuation from the Falklands)
You and your team members should also have a medical check up and get any medication or special food supplements you need during the last weeks before the trip. Buy support hose to wear on the plane. You sure donít want to have blood pooling in your lower legs. Long flights have a habit of really giving your legs fits. You can keep that from happening by including a pair of Support hose in your carry on (about $ 20 bucks from your local supply), loose shoes, as feet swell, you will be glad you have room to wiggle your toes...and be able to walk. If you wear glasses, pack a spare pair in your hold baggage. If you're diabetic and have needles with you, have your medical information available for the security folks. You may be able to carry them or may have to have them in hold baggage, best to check before you go through.
Step Six: Spouses
What do they have to do with the DXpedition???? Plenty. IF they aren't happy, believe me, - you wonít be happy and GOOD LUCK on trying to get off on one of these trips next time. We have made sure that doesnít happen to us...
On the Orkney Trip (single op) my wife went along and toured while I operated. She had a fantastic time.
On the J3 Granada trip (two ops, two wives) Paul took his wife along and they hammed and toured on and off the whole week.
On the V63 Yap trip (two ops), our wives (Paulís and mine) went to Hawaii a week before we got back from Yap. When we arrived back in Hawaii, they knew the island, where to go and what we should do. Great time for all.
The VP8 Falkland Islands (four ops) was a full two weeks. Our wives (Paulís and mine) went to Santiago, Chile for ten days prior to our getting there after the DXpedition. Again, they knew the territory. We toured Santiago, then rented a new van, went to the coast, rented a villa and had a great week. Expensive? YES. Worth it? ABSOLUTELY. Can we go again??? Just ask the wives. They will only say, ďWhen and where shall we go to meet you??Ē
Step Seven: Protocol
On these trips you are the HAM AMBASSADORS. ACT like one. Do not do anything you would not do at home. Respect the local habits. On the air, remember YOU are in charge. IF you operate in a sloppy manner, the airwaves will be filled with sloppy responses. YOU are the DX, everyone else needs to be in YOUR log. Be professional and show your skill on the air. It will make things go smoother and generate a lot more Qís. When you leave, clean up your mess. Donít leave trash behind, be it wire, tape, junk where the antennas were put up.
Be sure to save enough local currency to get you to the airport.
Step Eight: When you get home
Get the logs finished up ASAP. Get the QSL cards ordered and sent out. We like the nice three-color cards. They cost a little more, but first class is first class. It makes a nice finish to what have been memorable trips. Be prepared to talk to local groups about your trip. Lots of hams are homebound and are very interested in what you have done and the things you discovered about that far-off land. Schools (science classes in particular) are also interested in these talks, you never know what kid you will influence to become one of us just by telling your story.
By the time you have actually worked thorough all the things mentioned and come home, you will certainly become hooked on DXpeditions.
Prepare early on for the ďnext tripĒ, Hopefully, Iíll See you there..
Good DX !!
Cal White WF5W
You can do a DXpedition - Part 2
You can do a DXpedition - Part 3
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