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One of the best ways to be self-sufficient on your homestead is to use solar panels. If you’re on the energy grid, they’re a great way to save money in the long term; if you’re off-grid, they ensure survival!

Solar panels can feel a little overwhelming to a newcomer, but once you know what you need, it’s a breeze! Use this quick start guide to produce your own energy in no time.

Solar panel basics

Before you plan your off-grid solar system, it’s important to remember that this the system will supply all of your energy needs. It’s best to overestimate energy usage so you build a system that can last decades. Although DIY is a popular option, it’s usually safest to have a professional to install your solar system for safety and efficiency.

When looking at a solar system, you’ll need:

Solar panels
This is the fun part! Choose a middle-road, reasonable solar panel in the 24 to 48 volt range. Know what voltage you want before you buy. If you’re providing power to your entire property with solar, you’ll want 24 volts or higher.

Combiner box
The wiring for your solar panels needs to connect in one place: that’s what the combiner box is for. The solar panels terminate into the combiner box, which then runs to your controller.

Controller
Make sure you buy a charge controller with the correct voltage for your system setup. The charge controller regulates the voltage and current in the solar system. This keeps the batteries from overcharging, ensuring the system runs smoothly.

Battery
The battery is the brains of the solar operation, converting sunlight energy into stored electricity. Go for quality when setting up your battery system: this is what will supply power to your home on overcast days!

DC to AC inverter
The electricity in a battery can’t always be used in a home. For that reason, you’ll need a DC to AC inverter, which changes direct current to alternating current.

Solar panels can be complex to set up at first, but they’re a phenomenal way to be self-reliant when you’re roughing it in the wilderness. When in doubt, partner up with a reliable solar energy company to get your system set up.

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Ten ‘Never Leave Them Out’ Traveler’s Checklist Items

There is nothing worse than finding yourself overseas on that “dream vacation” and suddenly realize that the dream is now a nightmare. Plan carefully because it will not do to run off to Africa on safari at a moment’s notice, trusting in a lucky rabbit’s foot keychain for protection. Sure, grabbing a passport and mosquito repellent will get you there, but you can’t imagine the inconveniences that arise without the items below. The following will tip the scales in your favor.

1. A visa is required to enter a country, and specifies on what terms the visitor is there (tourist, business, work), and how many days the visitor may stay. Sometimes the visa can be obtained at the customs desk of the destination country, but often the visa must be requested and obtained from the country’s embassy before the visitor leaves home. This process takes time, and some embassies are notoriously slow in approving visas, or even reluctant to do so at all.

2. If you plan on renting a car in the destination country, you must find out what is required in order to do so. Will your passport or current license do the trick, or should you apply for an international driver’s license? How much will insurance cost?

3. Photocopies! Make photocopies of your driver’s license, passport, credit cards, social security card, and any other important documents you’ll be carrying with you. One extra set should go with the traveler in a separate place in the luggage from the originals, and a second set should stay with a trusted relative or friend. If, for some reason, you lose the paperwork, you can call home to get the necessary numbers, or a friend can fax them to the officials.

4. Traveler’s insurance is always a good idea. Always. Even if it is never used – which, by the way, would be a good thing, it’s inexpensive and worth it.

5. Prescription medication should be packed, along with the actual written prescription from the doctor. An extra set of eyeglasses or contacts is also a good idea. The medication should always be packaged in original correctly-labeled bottles. An obscure, unmarked bottle or bag of drug in the luggage will tie things up considerably in the airport customs department.

6. A credit card company will become suspicious if an account based in, say, Iowa begins making charges in Madagascar. Always contact the credit card companies to alert them that you’ll be making charges in specific locations, preventing their alarm and temporary suspension of the account.

7. Mentally prepare yourself for an exhausting trip to and from the destination. Be ready for it, overseas travel is grueling, even if all goes well.

8. Take a record of important contact numbers, including close family, the doctor, the dentist, the lawyer, the bank, credit card companies, and the numbers for U.S. Embassies in the destination locations. Relatives should have an itinerary, and an option of emergency contact numbers.

9. Will your cell phone work in the destination country? Probably not. You should investigate his options, but in most cases, it is worth the extra expense and effort to have a cell phone available for use overseas.

10. Search online for forums run by Americans (or natives of the traveler’s country) who live in the destination country as expatriates. They will have experience and wisdom that other tourists may never discover about life in that country. A simple thing like knowing that certain vegetables or street vendor foods are prone to causing stomach upset can make all the difference in enjoying a vacation spot.

Preparation for an overseas vacation is key to getting the most enjoyment from it. In this case, it helps to think like a pessimist, “Something is bound to go wrong,” and be ready. Of course once you reach the destination, it is important to have fun!


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