Buying a Starlink was a bit of an impulse purchase. It wasn't something Val and I planned to buy. But when Startlink RV was announced in May 2022 (an official way to use Starlink without a fixed address) I clicked the buy button. As a lifelong learner and technologist, I am always curious to try out what's next to develop an opinion for myself. At the same time, Val and I had just found an opportunity to travel together for the entirety of the summer. We didn't plan to always need connectivity, but we've also experienced the lack of coverage in many places when traveling. For a long-duration trip that we would mostly be improvising along the way, we also thought it might be helpful to have a Starlink with us to download maps, upload photos, and perhaps refresh our supply of books.
Part of acquiring a new piece of gear is figuring out when and how to use it. And that’s been true of our Starlink as well. We quickly figured out how to store and transport it, making a DIY storage case. We figured out how to set it up, where to point it, and what obstructions impacted connectivity. We even made a compact DIY tripod adapter that easily fits in the storage case without wasting space. But one thing that surprised us was grappling with when to use Starlink and when to turn it off. Not turning it off to save power. Rather turn it off to enjoy the presence of being here and now without the distraction of the internet whispering “Come be distracted by this and check that”. One of my favorite things about camping in remote places is being disconnected. Disconnected from the complexity, responsibility, and routine of daily life.
Being disconnected from the internet can be a key ingredient for the disconnection that's the magic of overlanding and nature. I often relish having no cell phone signal. I relish carrying an inReach but knowing it’s only enough connectivity to say “We’re safe for the night” or “We need help”. I've seen the difference between camping with friends at a camp with connectivity vs without. I often look around camp and see people lost in their phones. With the addition of Starlink Val and I had to wrestle with when to turn it on or turn it off. And we've learned that one of our favorite features is our ability to turn it off.
A few years ago I was volunteering on a Historicorps trip to repair the dilapidated Alamosa Guard Station. After long days restoring and repairing years of damage to the historic structure, our crew sat around the evening campfire enjoying dinner and each other's company. We’d talk about this and that but often someone would say “I’ll have to Google that when we’re back on the grid”. This happened so often that some of us actually started making lists. In the years since then, I have found myself making lists of things to check out the next time I have connectivity. And I often find myself taking a few minutes at a gas station or brewery with WiFi to catch up on those things. Checking the weather. Downloading new maps. Researching a hike. Sharing a few photos. Saying hi to a friend.
Val and I found ourselves making similar lists during our summer 2022 trip. When we got to camp with a good location for Starlink, I'd ask myself and Val "do we need internet?". And if so, I'd set up Starlink, set a 60-minute timer, and say "The internet hour has begun".
Internet hour is when we intentionally use our Starlink. Val and I research this or that. We upload a few photos. We check our email. To other people, we probably look like zombies lost in our screens. And then after about an hour, I check in with myself and Val. When the timer goes off, I ask “Do you need more time?”. And if we're done, I flip the switch off. When internet hour is over, it’s time to be here. Here with this place. Here with each other. Here with the people we're traveling with or the people around us. Having a Starlink doesn’t mean always on connectivity at least not for us. Having Starlink is a tool for connectivity. And tools aren't inherently good or bad, it depends on how we use them.
See you out there,