Online window shopping this year I saw you could get a Baofeng Radio US BF-F9 V2+ 8-Watt Hi-Power (USA Warranty) Dual-Band 136-174/400-489.99 MHz Hand Held Ham Radio Two-Way Transceiver for less the 50 bucks. For that price it was a nice way to checkout HAM Radio and see what it was all about.
I also picked up a BTECH PC03 FTDI Genuine USB Programming Cable for BTECH, BaoFeng, Kenwood, and AnyTone Radio to make it easer to program using CHIRP. CHIRP allows you to pull from various frequency databases and add them to your HAM radio transceiver very easily. CHIRP supports a lot of HAM radios. The last item I decided to pick up was a better antenna for the handheld radio. I went with the MFJ Enterprises Original MFJ-1717S 144/440 MHz Handheld Antenna - SMA-Male and also had to get Valley Enterprises® SMA Male to BNC Female RF Adapter for the BaoFeng. The reception is much better the stock rubber ducky that comes with the radio.
Normal use of a 2-Meter (144-148 Mhz) and 70cm (420-450 Mhz) bands only work for a few miles with line of sight. HAM clubs setup repeaters that extend that range. With CHIRP you can quickly program those repeaters into your device.
You cannot transmit until you have a HAM radio license but you can listen all you want. I decided to get my Technician Class License so I could transmit on these bands. Easiest way I found is to use Ham Study. Ham Study is an online flash card study course and you could easily pass the Technicians License test in about 2 weeks. Tests are administered by your local HAM clubs and they typically hold a testing session once a month. I highly recommend you apply for a Federal Registration Number prior to taking the test. That way you can use the FRN number when taking the test rather then use your SSN. Once you pass your test you just need to wait for your new callsign to show up in the FCC database which takes about 10-14 days after you pass the test.
Technician Class license is the lowest license class and still has restrictions on which bands you are allowed to use. ARRL is a great organization to join and they have nice chart HAM Radio Bands that will show you the allocations and which license is allowed to use those bands. To transmit on the bands that work globally I recommend getting your General Class License. No longer required to know Morse code to pass the tests.
As I explore the world of HAM radio there are so many things to do and try I know I have found a hobby with a lifetime of learning. Beyond talking there are digital modes that allow communication on weaker signals, satellite reception including downloading weather maps and even communication with International Space Station as it whizzes overhead.