DXing FM radio while on vacation

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Credit: stock.xchng

Many people seemingly want to forget their day-to-day lives while on vacation.

While Americans will be trading a cubicle and daily commute for beach chairs and scuba diving gear during the upcoming vacation season, some DXers may be looking at the same trips as a way to propel their interest in the DXing hobby.

Quite often, a short trip to another area is all that is needed to provide a completely different RF environment conducive to some serious DXing.

I’ve been on several vacations in the past 14 years where I’ve actively DXed.  In 2002 and 2003 I was in the Tampa, FL area visiting relatives and took advantage of 400+ mile gulf tropo.  A trip to Richmond, VA (77 miles S of my home) in 2012 provided the strange phenomenon of logging most of my home Washington, DC stations as strong, pesky tropo-enhanced signals–the opposite of how Richmond signals are often received at home.  Perhaps the best vacation DX I’ve experienced was 500+ mile tropo into Florida while in Myrtle Beach, SC in 2012.

When planning a trip as a DXer, a few things need to be put into consideration.  If you are going on a trip with family members or children, then DXing will obviously not be a high priority on the list.  Often, trips to the oceanside restaurant, swanky city hangout spot or ski lodge, depending on location, will dictate the majority of vacation activities and everyone will complain (read: riot) when you turn on a radio and listen to static in hopes of pulling in an exotic signal.  Even with a jam-packed vacation itinerary, I figure that a DXer could pencil in at least 15-30 minutes a day in front of a radio.

Tips for optimal vacation DX

Of course, first off the location of your vacation is the most important factor in what you could possibly get on the radio.  Mountainous and valley areas often suffer from signal attenuation and may not have good tropo.  Beach resorts can provide excellent DX, especially if it is right on the water.

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Credit: stock.xchng

Another factor in getting the most out of DX while on vacation is the type of dwelling you will be staying in.  High-rise hotels, from my experience, seem to be the best all-around places to be for DX, especially since many have skinny floorplans that don’t attenuate signals from all directions as much as a real home would.  Always ask hotel staff upon arrival if you can stay in a room on the highest floor possible to ensure maximum reception conditions.  If you are renting a vacation home, you may be lucky and find it has a roof antenna already installed, too.

The time of year when you travel is important, too.  Pay attention to the Hepburn Tropo Forecast for your preferred vacation area and see when the best times of year for DX is.  And, be realistic.  A trip to the U.S. northeast in December will likely not produce any DX outside of local signals.  Also, remember that an area that is prone to good DX, such as the U.S. gulf region, may only experience deadband conditions while you are visiting (think Murphy’s Law), but have 500+ mile tropo when you come back home.  Regardless, I’d not let anything deter you from choosing a vacation destination in relation to potential DXing.  Unless the trip is chosen for DXing purposes alone, don’t feel bad if the bands are a dud while you are there.

A sizable concern of a DXer while traveling relates to the location chosen.  Outside of terrain and geographical limitations already discussed in potential DX vacation spots, a DXer also needs to decide if they would like to DX in multiple locations throughout their ‘DXing career’ or if they would like to return to the same area year-after-year.  The latter would be great if you and your family found a favorite hotel or relative who lives near a tourist attraction and you return yearly to DX.  In cases like this, your travel DX log could, over time, develop to the point of it almost rivaling your home DX logs.  However, DXers who choose to visit the same area yearly will not benefit from the unexpectedness of DXing an entirely different FM band that others would have if they decide to vacation in new cities every year.  Obviously, the decision to choose a ‘permanent’ vacation town or to travel somewhere new every year rests with the DXer and their family.  Both options provide their own pros and cons and there’s not a right answer as to which is best.

What to bring

A huge determinant of your success as a DXer while on vacation is what you plan on bringing with you.  In a perfect world, a DXer could snap their fingers and their shack (with external antenna, if equipped), will appear ready to use in their hotel room.  Of course, life isn’t that easy.

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Credit: stock.xchng

If you plan on being busy during a trip with your family or friends, but will have a rental car, I suggest to use the car’s radio as your best bet for getting good DX.  As mentioned before, unless your traveling partners are DX-friendly, expect a large campaign on their end to prevent you from DXing in the car.  But, don’t resist!  When the kids are watching movies in the evening, take the rental car out for a short spin and DX that way.

Or, if you expect to tan on the beach, bring a handheld radio (preferably with a whip antenna) and earphones and DX at that time.

If you expect to have some alone time on the trip, another thing you could bring is a boombox or walkman radio.  For the latter, I highly suggest the Insignia NS-HD01, which has an excellent all-around tuner with HD Radio capabilities.

Be practical when traveling.  I know from experience how nice it is to use a DXing powerhouse radio (i.e the Sony XDR-F1HD) on trips, as I used to bring it with me everywhere.  Ignoring the dangers of bringing regular shack-based radios with you on trips (i.e. damage, theft), including such a radio in your luggage will likely have the TSA perform extra screenings and could delay your traveling.  A small radio like the NS-HD01 would fit in a shirt pocket and make things easier.

Enjoy an unfamiliar FM band

Of course, the main goal of DXing while on vacation in a different area is to develop a DX log with a different set of locals than your own.  It is also fun to pick up signals you’d otherwise never log at your home shack (i.e. Florida by tropo while I was in South Carolina).  The best thing is that DXing while on vacation will give a DXer a chance to ‘change things up’ and hit the dials where their local stations are (likely) nowhere to be found.

Vacation DX logs

Browse my DX logs made while either on vacation or at relatives’ homes by clicking here.  Applicable logs will have ‘Travel log’ noted in the Type column.