Planning Your Escape – Part 1, by JMD

In a previous article in SurvivalBlog I wrote about things you could do to help you survive when you’re on the road and traveling. The focus of that article was on what skills, supplies and activities you should consider to increase your chances of surviving while you’re away from home for any period of time, but I received feedback from several folks that the article didn’t really provide much information about how to actually get back home if an event did occur. The goal of this article is to address that gap and provide some ideas and suggestions for planning on how to get back home if you’re away when a significant event occurs, which I’ll refer to a ‘Return to Base (RTB)’ planning. This type of Get Home Bag planning I’ll be focusing on is for large-scale events that impact all or most of the country. Options for smaller regional events where help will eventually show up is what I focused on in my previous article.

One quick note – I use the words ‘acquire’ and ‘obtain’ a number of times throughout this article, and I’d like to avoid a flame war regarding the legality and morality of how you can get hold of required supplies and equipment after an event. I carry gold and silver coins and a stash of cash whenever I travel, so I’m pretty comfortable that I can legally get hold of what I need in an emergency. I know a lot of folks emphatically argue that any form of scavenging or scrounging is nothing more than theft and that they would never do it, but I believe everyone will need to evaluate their own unique situation relative to the circumstances the find themselves in and balance their need to get back home to their family against their moral compass.

[JWR Adds: As previously discussed at length in the SurvivalBlog, “scavenging” would only be justifiable following a massive die-off, where lots of property is truly abandoned, and no heirs could ever be located. In any lesser situation, it is outright theft. There is also the issue of crop gleaning, but morally that can only be done with expressed permission, or permissive signage.]

Why RTB Plan?

Most people tend to at least occasionally take trips away from their home. Unless you’re the kind of person that never gets further than a mile or two from your homestead, there’s always a chance that a major SHTF event can occur while you’re away, and the more time you’re away, the greater the chance that an event will occur while you’re gone. Unfortunately for most people travel is so commonplace that they tend to not think about its ramifications. I recently had a conversation regarding emergency preparations with an acquaintance that commuted back and forth to work – her office was about 20 driving miles away, and it usually takes her about an hour to drive each way. She has a typical office drone job and dresses in decent business clothes for her commute. I asked her how she would get home if major event occurred while she was at work (EMP/CME, earthquake, civil breakdown, etc.) and she couldn’t drive, and she responded that it was “only an hour away” and that she could easily walk that. She had no concept of the actual distance involved, potential weather conditions, roadblocks or any of the other hundreds of factors that could prevent her from ever making it home.

RTB planning for shorter local trips that happen every day can be relatively straightforward, but things can get a lot more complicated if you’re traveling any significant distance to somewhere you aren’t as familiar with. That might be a business trip, a family vacation or even a day trip to visit some relatives or go hiking. Regardless of the reason, distance or duration, any time you’re away from home and/or family you should perform at least some basic planning on how you would return.

The distances involved will obviously play a big role in how much detail you can get into with RTB planning. In the previous example of a regular commute of 20 miles each way you could easily keep detailed maps, route plans and a Get-Home Bag (GHB) in your car, and even practice walking the route occasionally. However, if you’re going to go on a business trip to somewhere you’ve never been that’s a hundred miles away, planning will become a lot more complicated. I know a lot of people believe that if you’re that far away when a major event occurs you’ll probably never be able to make it back home, but I have to travel occasionally and if it happens to me I know I’m going to make every possible effort to get back to my family and home, and that effort begins with preparation and planning.

RTB Pre-Planning Preparation

Being prepared for a long trip home actually begins well before you even know you’re going on a trip – you need to have the skills, conditioning and attitude necessary to maximize the odds of successfully traveling a long distance under potentially harsh and dangerous conditions. Some things you need to consider are:

  • Physical Conditioning – If your normal exercise consists of walking to and from your refrigerator, you’re probably not going to be able to survive a 100-mile hike home with a loaded backpack over rough terrain. Long-distance backcountry hiking, camping and snow-shoeing are good ways to prepare for such a trip, and you need to practice in all kinds of weather conditions that you might encounter.
  • Mental Attitude – You need to be mentally prepared to understand the reality of a situation as it unfolds, make decisions based on the information you have and be prepared to implement those decisions, no matter what you encounter. I’ve never been through the training, but I’ve been told by several knowledgeable people that have that most special forces tests (e.g. SEALs, Green Berets, Pararescue, SAS, etc.) are 90% mental attitude – it’s the people that keep going no matter what that are most likely to pass. You may need that same degree of mental toughness to get home.
  • Medical Skills – Moving long distances under potentially dangerous conditions will significantly increase the risk of injury. You need to be able to quickly and effectively diagnose and treat yourself and anyone with you.
  • Survival Skills – This is kind of a catch-all category and includes your ability to understand and meet your requirements for things like water, food, shelter, fire, etc. These are similar to bushcraft skills, but you may need to apply them in urban and suburban environments as well as in the woods or the desert.
  • Tactical Skills – Depending on the circumstances you may encounter bad people wanting to do bad things to you, or situations where you need to avoid such people. You need to be able to move quickly and quietly when you can, and use any weapons you may have effectively when you have to.
Initial Route Planning

Your actual planning should begin as soon as you know you’ll be going somewhere. I’ve created RTB plans for dozens of locations that I’ve traveled to over the years, and I keep them all organized using online Microsoft OneNote notebooks so that I can access from anywhere. I also keep hardcopies of critical information in folders in a file cabinet that I pull out and take with me on each trip. Some locations I travel to more frequently than others, so I regularly review and update those plans.

The most obvious starting point for planning is what route you’re going to take to get home, which can be impacted by a lot of different factors. One consideration is how you got to your destination in the first place – did you fly, drive, sail or take a train or a bus? If you have or can obtain motorized transportation like a car, motorcycle or boat which continues to operate and the routes are reasonably open you can consider returning home that way. One example of this was a co-worker of mine that was down in Philadelphia on business when the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks occurred – he had flown down there a few days earlier and had a rental car, but since all air travel was grounded he decided to keep the rental car and drive it home to New Hampshire to get to his family. However, in most post-SHTF scenarios, cars, ferries, buses, trains or planes probably won’t be a viable option for getting home. Even if they’re not disabled by an EMP/CME, most major roads will probably be clogged with traffic and vehicles running out of gas, and public transportation probably won’t be running, so you’ll need to plan on getting home using muscle power.

When planning an RTB route I usually start with Google or Bing maps to get an idea of the distance and terrain involved. I right-click on my home and select it as the ‘Directions To’ location, then select my travel destination as the ‘Directions From’ location – both mapping services allow you to select walking as the method of transport, and they will give you distances (assuming an optimal route) and rough time estimates. They don’t publish the formulas they use for estimating walking times, but it generally works out to about 3 miles per hour, taking terrain into consideration. It’s important to note that the time estimates they provide don’t include any stops. The routes they show also don’t include considerations for what conditions would be like following a major SHTF event, so they won’t do things like routing you around dense urban centers to avoid potentially violent crowds. On the plus side, both tools allow you to drag the route wherever you want it, and they both avoid major highways since you can’t walk on those.

Google Maps does have a couple of advantages over Bing Maps – it allows you to select a bicycle as the mode of travel, it shows an outline of elevation changes over the whole route, and it allows you to send the route to your phone (assuming your phone has Google Maps installed). Both services also allow you to print out the route, although Bing provides more detail in the printout.

(To be continued tomorrow, as part of a five-part series.)


  1. Your article gives some very sound advice . Women seem to be unable to understand that if you’re dressing for business and wear a dress and high heel shoes you aren’t going to make it very far if you are required to walk. Women need to have a change of cloths so they can blend in. Skinny jeans may be in fashion but you aren’t going to be able run for any length of time in them. Get some loose legged pants. And a pair of good hiking shoes or boots and some wool socks. Also dress for the weather.
    All the best. Gman

    1. “Women seem to be unable to understand that if you’re dressing for business and wear a dress and high heel shoes you aren’t going to make it very far if you are required to walk.”

      Seriously, did you just make this rude generalization? Did you mean to say, “Some women…?” Don’t paint me with that broad stroke. And I’m no feminist. Personally, I’m more prepared and ready and aware than any man I have yet to met in person. My cars and suitcases are always stocked and ready.

      Oh, I know there are plenty of you in the ether who have it together. But my take on getting home by the urban population is that neither sex is particularly ready, able, and kitted out.

      1. Seriously, did you just presume to correct the author’s content? Did you mean to say, “I’m here to edit you for political correctness…?” “According to The Elements of SAAA6 Style, here’s what you really meant…?”

        Oh, grow up. He’s making a point and generalizing an example. No need to continuously scan the horizon for any word or phrase to which you can take personal offense. Despite what your hair trigger tells you, you’re not that important.

    2. And if you wear long skirts or dresses, don’t wear the straight “pencil” style. if you can’t run fast in it, don’t buy it. The flared ones are prettier anyway.

  2. As an interest sidebar to 911. Two couples that are close friends where on a trip to the NW when 911 happened. They pooled their resources and bought a used car and drove back to FL.

  3. Lots of good advice to consider. I put the app on our phones which can be used offline and carry hard copy maps of the states we frequent most. I’m usually trying to decide whether to use roadways or railroad tracks to get home.

    1. Good ideas. I’d also consider power line right-of-ways. Even in the winter you might find snowmobile paths that are packed down. I left work and jogged home on snowmobile trails on many winter days in Maine. Rarely did I never see anyone.

  4. I do not travel as much anymore, but when i am out of town i always check a route back. I like Google maps and Google Earth for checking out my routes when hiking. I find allot more water feature that are not listed with Gmaps on Google Earth. You have to scan your route but it also makes you more aware of the route. I have found caves and old mine tunnels that way.

    Thanks for the Article, i cant always take a GHB bag with me but i always do little things to help financially and prepping wise. I always buy a case of water when i reach my destination and keep it in a hotel room or the work truck. 1 this always gives me access to water and 2 saves me from paying a dollar a bottle. I always pack protein bars and gives the same benefits as above. If i have to leave i can stuff what i need in the bag.

    The bag i take is usually a military duffel bag. I can fit a ridiculous amount of stuff in it. I roll it inside out all the way to the last 6″ and pack rolling the edges up around my belongings. It allows me to pack clothes for a week, plus extra shoes and workout gear. 5 bottles of water and snacks. Always have room left, i think living out of a bag is one of the most important thing the Army taught me.

    Very much looking forward to the continuation of this series.

  5. Just a side bar and I have no skin in the game. I recently cleaned out my truck in preparation to selling it and I had stashed a few packages of Datrex Bars in it. One of the packages looked a little sorry so I decided to open it. These bars were 6 years old. I opened it up and found that there were a lot of bars individually wrapped, I just had to try one. 3 bars later I decided that they were not only still good but surprisingly tasty. I have tried the bars that Walmart sells over in the camping section and they are brick hard and not very tasty, I know they would do in a pinch but the Datrex bars were so far ahead of them there was no comparrison.

  6. Good info! I have many water crossings on my 20 mile one-way work commute. I carry a change of clothes, trunk rifle, ammo, folding mountain bike, food, water, Get home bag, and a life preserver in my car. Oh, also my CERT backpack & helmet. I also have offline maps on my cell…not too many alternate ways to get home, but I could do it (I pray) if needed without my car. I also have a 2nd emergency bag at work, besides a larger backpack at home, in case…

    Michael J.

    1. Michael J., you seem to be set. I suggest that the folding bike is the most important element in your preps. There is no substitute for a rapid retreat.

      As our author said, “Depending on the circumstances you may encounter bad people wanting to do bad things to you, or situations where you need to avoid such people.” Emphasis on “avoid”. If you have to engage in combat, your chances of survival diminish significantly.

      Yeah, each of us thinks (naturally) that we would prevail. Ask those who have fought off enemies. At the very least your journey is delayed. If wounded you are slowed down. Ballistic combat also attracts attention, the last thing you want.

      Carry on

  7. An interesting note… someone told me, while deployed to scenic Afghanistan, that a common topic of conversation among the troops (officer and enlisted) was how they would get home… if…

      1. One of my favorite books of all time (and one of my favorite authors). Having a full brigade backing you up would sure make getting home a lot easier 😎

  8. I travel all the time so this kind of issue is on my mind. A few comments:
    1. Acquiring necessities. I won’t deny that anyone and everyone will do it when forced to by hunger etc. But by the same token in the event of loss of the rule of law if I come home to someone “acquiring assets” from me I will feel compelled to shoot them.
    2. At my age walking any great distance will be difficult. I do hike a lot but it is exactly because I do hike that I realize I can’t just “up and walk” 100 miles. Whereas any 20 something can even if they only walk to their refrigerator currently.
    3. The GHB. I never take such a thing when I fly. I carry 5 changes of clothing, a phone and my tablet. I sympathize with those people I see schlepping luggage around in the airport. More than likely when you need it you won’t have it with you for whatever reason. I don’t know how to fix that but I do know that creating/designing ever larger BOBs or GHBs isn’t the solution.

    1. Anon,

      Regarding #3 – My philosophy is that if I’m traveling and I didn’t bring something critical with me I’ll need some way to obtain it if an event occurs, which will probably be a lot more difficult. I always get an airline/train ticket that allows me one carry-on, and I use that to make sure I have some mobile preps with me. I’m probably one of those people you see schlepping a bag around airports, but my philosophy with travel is that I’m not in that big of a hurry, which has greatly reduced my level of stress, so waiting a few extra minutes for my checked bag allows me to de-compress from the flight.

      1. The problem with preparing stuff for an emergency is that the kit/bag gets bigger and bigger as you learn about the additional essential things you must have. I just went through my backpacking bag last night in preparation for some hiking. I have half a dozen 1st aid kits one weighs about 10 lbs and two are the size of my wallet. I decided to not take a 1st aid kit with me hiking. And this is “almost” my same philosophy about BOBs and other bags. Because either they are fairly complete but so large you can’t take them with you or they are so small that they don’t have what you need.
        When I was stationed in Germany in the 60’s everyone was issued a gas mask and atropine. We were required to keep it “handy”. We didn’t. Once a month we were required to wear it if we were out of our workspace so on that day we stayed in our workspace. My point here is to say that Most likely on that day you need the BOB or 1st aid kit you won’t have it with you and if you did it wouldn’t have what you need.
        I’m not saying this just to disagree. I struggle to make a better plan and not just check off a box and call it good. I used to have a full BOB hanging in my bedroom closet. Now I have only an ultralight hiking bag with minimal contents.

  9. Whatever you wear/carry, be prepared to blend in. For this reason, I would consider long guns to be less useful than a handgun, as they would spend most of their time taken apart or folded down inside a pack or bag. YMMV.

  10. Because I have bad feet, I understand that there are those with physical limitations that would prevent them from carrying an adequately large enough pack for any distance, a bicycle, with or with out a trailer, traveling quickly and directly to the destination is good option. This method requires one to leave immediately to be able to travel the most direct routes, as quickly as possible. Another option is using a golf cart caddy ,or other light weight means that can traverse rough ground. I would also learn how to use an ultra light pack load out that makes travel fast, with or with out the bicycle. I would also have several routes. If the direct route appears to be too risky, use the alternate. An alternate might preclude the use of a bicycle, therefore there is another reason to have the pack….

    The more we know the less we need. Finding the right gear, and learn how to use it will take some study and practice. The pack should not weigh more that 30 pounds, and have the goal of 20 pounds as a target. If the pack is 20 pounds, then I can carry 10 pounds of water. The old adage of ‘travel light, freeze at night’, applies, yet ‘speed is the key’ to success. The thinking is that the longer you are out there, the greater the risk that you will not make it. If one is physically handicapped, or not, if the route allows, I would also install cashe’s for each leg that includes water, further reducing the weight and size of the pack.

    1. Here is a dual purpose baby stroller, that converts to a bicycle trailer, or vice versa.
      I paid $25.00 at a garage sale for a like new version, and $20 for a like new Peugeot bike (good quality). A nice set of used saddle bags for the bike ran me $10. The saddle bags are optional and might be used if the trailer had to be abandoned. This combination cost me only $55.00, and covers many contingencies. The trailer could be converted to a stroller, or pulled by hand. A pack fits in the trailer, and a smaller one on your back if you can handle that. If the trailer had to be left behind suddenly to avoid danger, you could have a few survival items with you at all times.

      Rawles discussed this kind of travel in his novel Survivors, as the main character made the trip from Europe to his home in the U.S. Should roads be too dangerous, the trailer is surprisingly light, and can be carried for short distances over rough terrain, while wearing the pack. At least one portion of the trip, might made with a bicycle at a relatively faster rate reducing the overall time and weight needed to carried to make the entire journey, if only a pack were used. And a trailer alone would also lighten the load, and increase the rate of travel, or make the journey possible when otherwise it would not.

    2. This is absolutely, critical, Tunnel Rabbit: The thinking is that the longer you are out there, the greater the risk that you will not make it.

      I’m glad you said it.

      Carry on

      1. Thanks for highlighting the premise. (And thanks to Rawles for cleaning up my slop. ) A bicycle gives one perhaps, a 6 to 1 advantage. In other words, what ever you can do on foot, one can perform 6 times faster, or carry 6 times the weight for a given effort. Whatever the actual advantage, it is a huge improvement. And because I believe speed is key, going light weight as feasible for the journey, on foot, or by bicycle is best. The bicycle would significantly decrease the time exposed to the potential, and rapidly escalating violence that would emerge after a sudden financial collapse, or other catastrophic event.

        To use a number, and risk over simplification to illustrate the concept, if it might require 6 days hiking, 6 days of food, plus basic gear that would have to be carried. The pack might need to weigh 40 pounds without water, in good weather, if one had no cashe’s installed. If one is healthy and fit, this not as much an issue, yet if one is old and fat, and has a slightly broken body like myself, it is a significant issue. Fit or not, we are attempting to flee from a dangerous location as quickly as possible. With a bicycle, we might make the same journey using only an ultra-light pack of perhaps 30 pounds that includes all the water and food that could be required. No need to find water, or risk dehydration. On foot, we are in comparison, much slower in removing ourselves from the threat, and remain in danger for 6 days, instead of one. This situation would justify going to the trouble of having a bicycle available for at least the first part of the journey. Getting only a few miles away from the danger zone is a very significant achievement, that even an old rusty bike could make possible.

        If saddle bags, or a trailer is not available, a 30 pound pack might comfortable for younger folks on a bicycle. If the path is not suitable for the bicycle, the pack can be strapped to the bike, and the bike pushed. If funds are limited, put the money into a good quality bicycle first. The rest of the gear and equipment need not be the highest quality, and can be improved over time.

        Even if now, old and slow, there is no need to be concerned, as one can be smarter and fast enough. If you are in really bad physical condition, a three wheeled bicycle would work. I also have a small motorcycle. Got it running in one hour, and it only cost 80 bucks including the parts to repair it. It pays to be a jack of all trades, and prepared to fix your bike with a few simple tools, should it break.

        1. Actually, one of the things I keep in my car as a travel prep if I’m driving somewhere is on old Montague Paratrooper that I bought used off of Cragislist. It was in pretty bad shape but I managed to fix it up and it was a fantastic investment.

          1. Impressive and ideal! Just like a spare tire, it could stay there. We get the best prices by being patient. Fortunately a full size bike fits on the rack of my old truck. Doesn’t look trendy, but it works. When I go huckleberry picking, I’ve got to way up in the mountains. Last time I did, I went for several weeks, and the sharp rocks put holes in my tires 6 times. Good thing I could plug all 6 of the them. Next time I might not be able to, and there is no way I could walk out several miles with my feet. I’ll be looking for one of these…. thanks!


  11. Get to know your local bicycle shop- and I mean first name basis with the owner/manager. My thought is sort of reverse of this article, what if you are home and need to get to somewhere else after an event, say to pick up your children. A cross or gravel bike and a map or good knowledge of rail way lines can get you almost anywhere in the Eastern part of the country while avoiding highways interstates. A gravel bike will be best for travel using the railway easement.

  12. I used to backpack the AT trail in the Smoky Mts with a 37 pound pack and stay out for a week at a time. My average walking speed was about 1 1/2 MPH – maybe two at times. I was 30 at the time. I had all I needed for a week out on the trail. I carried just the clothes I had on and a change or two of socks and underwear – rain gear – water purification tabs – and food (Mountain house) meals. If I were stuck out with a 20 mile distance to cover I would expect about a three to four day trek. Roads would become dangerous quickly. I would also carry a 9MM and two spare mags on my side. No time for digging one out if the need pops up suddenly. Good boots are essential. One should never carry more than 1/4 body weight. Carry a good knife – backpacking stove and one quart of fuel. Know where the water sources are along your trek and how far apart. I usually carried one quart of water for the trail. Railroad tracks are good paths to follow if you have any going in your general direction. Do not use flashlights as they attract anyone who has nothing and who may want what you may have to eat or drink. I usually got a good 5 miles a day with what I had. About 3-4 O’clock I started looking for a good spot to camp for the night and hopefully near to a water source. Go light on the campfires as they also attract the wrong types of company. Main highways also make good ambush spots.
    Now at 72 I may be a little slower but I could still make the trek and my trigger finger is still good and steady. I work armed security to this day and qualify each year.

    1. Your contribution reminds me of this quote, Dejavous:
      “If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any practical result whatsoever, you’ve beaten them.” – George Orwell

      Carry on

  13. Pack any kind of sealable container and a silo class key. For the first few days there will be a lot of potable water available from most of the buildings along your evacuation route.

    1. What is a “silo class key?”

      I always bring along AA batteries, a solar AA battery charger, and a GPS (along with compass and maps). Flying cuts down on the amount of kit you can bring so it forces some amount of minimalist planning.

      1. Silcock
        I even fixed it on the idiot spell checker.

        You know how many/most institutions & businesses have outdoor faucets without handles? This is a portable handle.

  14. Re: bicycles. An alternative means of transportation is the lowly push scooter, look for “Adult kick scooter” online. These are bigger than child scooters and have much larger wheels for a smoother ride and steering. While not as fast as bicycles, cost is much lower and they take up much less room in your car or office for RTB. I also like that they can easily be lifted over fences or through small openings. And, finally, if you have to defend yourself, they are much quicker to dismount. I’m not saying they are the right answer for everyone, just one more option to consider. Oh, and they are fun too.

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