I would recommend a 2 meter Yaesu or a dual band 2m/440 radio if you can afford it of at least 5 watts. Buy a spare battery and replace the stock antenna with a higher gain omni directional and I'd also have a mobile antenna ready as well.
I used to talk to other states with a handheld with very low wattage and a high gain mobile antenna on top of Mt. San Jacinto
I've been registered since I've been 16 and I'm 27 now. A few times people have gotten smart and asked if I went to college for RF engineering when I had to correct them about something RF related... they always shut up when I can pull up my "Technician" license in the FCC database.
One thing HAM knowledge has really helped me better understand is wireless networking. You should totally get your license. A Technician license isn't hard to obtain.