Traveling to some of the world’s remotest locations is perhaps the best part of being a documentary filmmaker or photographer. The downside is staying in contact with loved ones and also staying in contact with social media networks that many of us rely on. Secretly I have to admit being off the grid is something I enjoy, but it is easy to be the one traveling to somewhere exotic while leaving family and friends at home. On some well funded shoots we started to carry an early satellite phone, but even they can be frustrating as they were bulky and often lost connection. Still, it was an improvement from the old days of HF radio. My wife still cringes when we think back to me calling her via a radio from remote corners of the Arctic. With nothing else for entertainment, everyone else across the Svalbard and perhaps most of Europe could listen in to our conversations. You either made the choice not to care what people overheard or tempered the exchange and kept it business like…. There was simply no privacy and sometimes the conversation made being homesick even worse thanks to all the things that were unsaid.
Fortunately satellite technology has moved on. I have become a big fan of the SPOT Messenger system. We initially started using it when I was shooting a story on black bears in northern Minnesota. I would spend all day walking with habituated animals and never knew where I would end up. The SPOT would send out a position every ten minutes to a Google map and enable my wife to monitor my progress anywhere she had internet or 3G service. Quite incredible and soon the researchers working with the bears realized that my walking with the animals all day gave them an incredibly accurate plot of everywhere the bears moved. Much better information than was being transmitted but much more sophisticated tracking collars.
I shouldn’t ignore perhaps the most important feature of the SPOT messenger, the HELP and SOS/EMERGENCY buttons. Walking in the remote woods of Minnesota, anything could have gone wrong and the help button would first allow me to send a call for help to predetermined people giving my exact position, the message arriving as a text or email, and then if something really bad happened, the SOS/EMERGENCY button would alert the appropriate rescue squad (police, fire, game wardens etc). A great insurance policy when you are alone in the woods or away from cell phone coverage. In fact over and over again these devices have proved to be life savers across the world whether someone has crashed a vehicle in a remote place or been hurt on an expedition. The testimonials on their website speak for themselves.
Soon after this SPOT brought out their next generation of beacons, the Connect, that enabled the user to send a brief text message, tweet or Facebook unpdate. This is all done by the unit connecting to a mobile phone from which you type in your message via an app. Combine this with the tracking service and a map that you can share, suddenly the world can follow your adventures. For limited time the Connect is available with a $50 rebate
But today arks another milestone as SPOT have launched the affordable SPOT Global Phone, a satellite communication device we can all use. With low per minute cost it provides an excel;lent way to stay in touch from the remotest of locations. So happy travels and now their is no excuse for not calling your mother!