About a year and a half ago, my company offered an expatriate assignment for a period of between two and three years. For those who don’t know, an expatriate assignment is where an employee and his or her family is relocated to another country (from now on referred to as the “assignment country”). In large corporations, this generally includes certain benefits to make the transition easier and “worth it” to the employee. For our family, this news came at a great time from a career point of view and for the age or our kids and what an international move would mean to them. It was really bad timing from the point of view of our preps. We had just signed a contract on a homestead property, and we were looking forward to building out some infrastructure and starting plans for a house.
I began writing this soon after we moved, one year ago. I thought I had something to say then. After a year, the good intentions have been tempered by some reality and a little experience. On the other hand, the lessons learned have been important in a more profound way. I want to present here the six basic principles we used as we planned the move, thought about our preps, and how those principles impacted and were formed by what we have done while on the expat assignment. I think these will be useful to many of you, especially those of you living in an urban or suburban home with an expectation of bugging out to a retreat. So, when you see “assignment country”, you may benefit more by substituting “suburban/urban home”.
First of all, I am a mid-forties, mid-to-high-level executive in the company for which I work. I have a family with homeschooled kids, ages ranging from pre-teen to mid-teen. We have been prepping actively since 2011 but had been involved in prepping activities for longer than that. Our preps have been focused on a homestead based approach, mostly thinking in terms of economic collapse as a trigger for the end times and preparation for the second coming of the Lord. Based on our understanding of Biblical prophecy, we expect violence, natural disaster, pandemic, and other trials as part of the tribulation building up to the coming of our Savior.
First Principle: Right or Wrong, Commit!
When we decided to accept the expat assignment, we had to go through the preparations we were making to see how we would adapt to the new situation. We considered what the scenarios would be in terms of what would happen if things started to unwind while we were in the assignment country. We considered the timing of possible events in the context of the short timeframe of our assignment. In order of likelihood we ranked them as follows:
- We are moved back to the U.S. in an orderly way, and our things arrive as expected.
- We are evacuated from the assignment country and arrive in the U.S. with only what we are carrying.
- We are stuck in country with no conventional way to return to the U.S.
Obviously, when the balloon goes up, any of the above or a combination thereof could happen, and such discrete scenarios are unlikely if for no other reason than the discreteness of them. For each scenario, one could think of 1,000 possible permutations. These many possible eventualities can become a distraction. In order to optimally commit resources, one must focus. I had a basketball coach who said, “Right or wrong, commit.” Some of us may use our best judgement and end up making a less than optimal decision. This will be better than no decision. No decision will mean we are collecting gear with no clarity about why. This seems to be a common issue for those just starting out: overwhelmed by the possibilities, they fail to focus on building and executing a plan.
Of course, in our situation, I am limiting my conversation to scenarios related to how we get home. In the larger context of preparing, there are many more scenarios to take into account. For example, if you are preparing primarily for EMP, your priorities would dictate that you accumulate the skills and stuff that will support that scenario first. You probably have not left out having a stash of basic stuff and skills that would be needed in a pandemic; you have focused first on your faraday cage or tools that don’t require electricity. You also recognize that many scenarios could be chain reactions where, after an EMP, a pandemic breaks out. Prepping is like peeling an onion; the more you do, the more you realize you need to do. In my view and experience, failing to prioritize leads to a shotgun approach that is doomed to serious flaws. You may eventually get there, but you will spend more, and it will take longer.
That said, prioritizing does not mean that less likely scenarios are excluded. Our preparations are still focused on the homestead in the U.S. However, even though we believe that we will be able to return to the U.S. with our belongings, we have some preps in place for the other two scenarios. We decided that the expense of fully preparing for the least probable scenario did not warrant special focus because those resources would be better used elsewhere. When we consider these, we cannot ignore any of the possible situations we could find ourselves in; we have to prioritize or commit to something. As I go through the rest of the principles, I will show how each action supports preparation for one of the three scenarios.
Second Principle: Two is One, One is None
This common saying among preppers has special meaning when you have two locations to think about, especially when one is thousands of miles away from the other.
First of all, based on our scenario analysis, we wanted to have preps set aside for the homestead location and continue to invest in that. Looking at this in the long-term view meant that any investment we made would most likely end up back at the homestead after our assignment ended. Taken to an extreme, we could assume that leaving preps in the U.S. was not necessary, since we would most likely be back with our things. However, this would have left us with nothing at the homestead should scenario two play out. We decided to approach this move as an opportunity to double up some key preps, leaving one set near the homestead and taking one set with us. When we began planning the move, one of the main considerations was making sure we had one of the basics for each location. Our view is that when we move back to the U.S., assuming that happens, we will have two of the basics. Some examples:
- Berkey water filter
- Pressure canner and supplies for canning (the movers weren’t happy about those glass jars!)
- Sewing machine
- Grain grinder
- Tents and camping gear
- First aid supplies
- Kitchen basics, like knives, et cetera
- Tools (basic home tool set, some woodworking tools, and very basic mechanics tools)
- Survival library (Here, we did not double up on titles but on subject matter, having now two or more books on each major topic.)
For scenario one, we have two of almost all key preps. For scenario two, we have at least one of every key prep pre-positioned near our retreat. This also assured that we would have the basics in the assignment country in case of a scenario like scenario three.
While this investment will hopefully allow us to develop redundancy in these key preps when we are living on our retreat property, in the meantime we have redundancy in most categories in both locations by having multiple ways to accomplish the same thing. For example, we have several different water filters. We also have a fairly deep supply of consumables in both locations, first aid being the most relevant example in this case.
Third Principle: Only What You Can Carry
The above needed to be balanced by the possibility of scenario two. If we were to receive a call from the embassy telling us to pack quickly and meet for evacuation, what would we be able to carry with us? It is imperative to be able to carry the bulk of the preps with us in the assignment country back to the U.S. in all but the most extreme scenarios. My thinking was that the items that are included in the general household goods shipment (shipped by sea and takes about two or three months to arrive) cannot be considered essential preps for the homestead location.
Especially important was the possibility that we would be affected by the lack of those things that we might have to leave behind in a rushed exit. So, even though we believe scenario one is most likely, we did not want to cavalierly take everything with us to the assignment country and then not have key preps in the U.S., especially considering that the homestead property would be more likely to require certain preps that we really could not use adequately in the assignment country.
The criteria we followed went something like this:
The item went with us if:
- It was essential to have in the assignment country (scenario two or three), regardless of the impact to the preps in the U.S. and regardless of the ability to carry it back.
- It could be used in the assignment country but would not impact preps in the U.S.
- It could be used in the assignment country and could be carried back.
The item stayed near the homestead if:
- It was illegal or prohibited either for travel or in the assignment country.
- It could not be used fully in the assignment country.
- It would seriously impact preps in the U.S. and was not able to return with us under scenario two.
Some examples of things we left stored near the homestead:
- Firearms and ammunition
- Farming and gardening tools, equipment
- Storage food
- Bench or floor-mounted power tools (non-hand tools)
- Mechanics tools for automotive repair
When we think through this, our baggage in an evacuation scenario would be similar to a bug-out bag with essential camping gear, some freeze-dried food, et cetera. If additional baggage were permitted, we would work down the list included in the “Two is one, one is none” section until our baggage limitation was reached. Of course, some duplicates from above, might end up being sacrificed in certain scenarios. The alternate backups for each task are still in place meaning there is no loss in duplication of function, just loss of duplication of the items.