When I launched SurvivalBlog in 2005, I summarized my criteria for selecting retreat locales in a series of articles. Soon after, I evaluated 19 western states, for their retreat potential. I later put that data in a SurvivalBlog static page: Recommended Retreat Areas. This article serves as a 2022 update to that page.
Some Things Don’t Change
A lot has changed in the intervening 17 years, but some ground truths and some key trends haven’t changed at all:
- The tendencies of governments haven’t changed. They’ve only grown a bit bolder and their tools for surveillance of the citizenry have become more refined and pervasive. For example, the advent of Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) has changed how policing is conducted, and has severely limited anonymous travel. Also consider: The ubiquitous Ring Doorbell cameras are being networked for law enforcement use, in some cities.
- Urbanization is continuing. With every passing year, the bedrock agrarian culture of America is being eroded. Less than 2% of Americans make their livelihood by farming, ranching, or fishing, and feed the other 98%. America’s cities now constitute a political bloc that now dominates popular culture, academia, and governments at the state and Federal levels.
- The web of technological interdependency is growing. Increasingly, industry, transport, and commerce are locked into high technology. The power grids used to be the linchpin of society. But now, there are multiple linchpins that are interdependent and co-equal. Supermarket shelves don’t get stocked without power, fleets of trucks, and even the Internet, for automated inventory control. As robotics and eventually drone delivery and fully automated trucking come to the fore, the level of interdependence will surely increase.
- We are still being lied to. Propaganda in the mass media has become the norm. The leftists’ grip on the mass media has become more blatant in recent years.
- Human nature is changeless. We are born sinners and live in a sinful, fallen world. Some of us are repentant, but the majority are not. One key factor that has changed is the acceptance and normalization of sin. Roughly 30 years ago, the mass media began to urge people to tolerate sin. Today, they are denigrating anyone who does not accept sin. And I fear that in the near future, there will be demands to fully embrace sin. The legislation to make that happen will surely follow. For example, “Misgendering” is already a crime in some countries. I used to chuckle when I heard syndicated talk radio host Michael Savage refer to San Francisco as “Sodom By The Sea”. But now, I can see that the popular culture of the entire nation is now emulating San Francisco’s intentional licentiousness. Woke politics, the transgender crowd’s antics, cross-sex bathrooms/locker rooms, and systematic grooming of America’s schoolchildren are all on the rise.
- Global threats are not going away. The threats posed by droughts, famines, mass migration, war, and pandemics will be with us, most likely for centuries to come.
Now, to get back to the specifics retreat locales…
My core advice on where to live hasn’t changed much, over the years. I still emphasize the need to move to lightly-populated farming and/or ranching regions that are well-removed from major population centers. However, in my blog writings and in my conversations with my consulting clients, I’m now placing a greater emphasis on some of my long-standing criteria, and I’ve added a few new ones.
A Side Road of a Side Road
I now place a greater emphasis on the importance of buying retreat property that is on the side road of a side road. You will want to live somewhere that is on such a small and lightly-traveled road that the locals take note of every vehicle that they see pass by. This is a de facto security apparatus. The chances of a burglary are far less, in this sort of neighborhood. Even in suburban towns, I’ve noticed the difference in the sense of “neighborhood” on cul-de-sacs versus living on typical gridded streets, or on avenues. But when you get out into truly rural farming country, you’ll witness the “cul-de-sac mentality”, even more strongly. The importance of this will only be fully appreciated once you live there. I described this “we/they paradigm” in a September 2008 SurvivalBlog article. It is titled: Finding a Mineshaft or a Gemeinschaft. If you are not familiar with that article, then please take the time to read it.
Deemphasizing DSL Availability
I used to stress the importance of finding a property that had DSL service. I no longer do so. The ongoing roll-out of the Starlink satellite constellation has definitely changed telecommunications. Now, for $110 per month, you can get a rock-solid satellite internet connection with unlimited downloading at quite high speed. That is what we now use for Internet access, here at the Rawles Ranch.
It has been predicted that the entire Continental United States have Starlink satellites overhead by the end of 2025. This will make quite remote off-grid retreat properties quite viable, for telecommuters. A Starlink connection also obviates the need for either a telephone landline or a cellular phone signal. There are umpteen Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone services available. Vonage is just one example.
Meanwhile, the price of fully off-grid photovoltaic power systems keeps dropping. So now, with both remote power and remote Internet, you can live just about anywhere in the country where there is private land with a water well or a spring available. How remote? Very remote. Even old patented mining claims and grandfathered private property inholdings of National Forests have become much more viable options.
My Basic Criteria
The next few paragraphs will reiterate my long-standing basic criteria:
Plentiful water–preferably spring fed or an artesian well. (Pumped well water would be an inferior second choice.)
Good exposure for gardening and photovoltaics. Not on a flood plain and in a region with minimal natural disaster risks. (See this map: Where to Live to Avoid a Natural Disaster.)
Southern exposure (for those reader in the northern hemisphere, naturlich)–particularly important at higher elevations”Panoramic views.” This usually means a hilltop location with open fields of fire and defendable terrain. The concept of holding high ground goes back to pre-history. Yes, I know, that this is mutually exclusive with the concept of having a house that is not in line of sight of any major road. “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. (TANSTAAFL). Decide on one or the other. But don’t buy a place that has neither attribute.
A diverse and healthy local economy. (See the City Data web site to do your research on demographic information.)
Minimal noxious weeds. (Russian Thistle, Teasel, Russian Knapweed, Yellow Star Thistle, etc.)
Not in the path of real estate developers. Look at where suburban developments have been established in the county. Suburban tracts tend to follow a “line of march” in certain directions—especially where there is level terrain. Note that in most regions, row crop farmland and orchard land is at the greatest risk of development because it is so easy to subdivide. Put on your thinking cap and do some extrapolation. If your intended retreat land area will be in the path of the sprawl within 10 to 15 years then start looking in a different direction in less advantageous terrain, or a little further out of town.
If a property has an existing house, a house with fireproof/ballistically-protected (e.g. masonry) construction. Note: If it is also in an earthquake-prone area, you might weigh the odds in this regard and opt instead for more earthquake-safe timber-frame construction.
Low housing costs. As discussed in detail in some of my previous blog posts, don’t overlook examining as many factors as possible including home and car insurance rates, property taxes, and so forth. This useful Internet tool compares the cost of living in two cities.
An active, growing farmer’s market. I have found directories of Farmer’s Markets posted on the web for Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. The presence of farmer’s markets is a good indicator for towns with retreat potential. Furthermore, in a post-collapse America, it will likely be the farmer’s markets that will be the genesis of a revived economy.
And, not near any nuclear power plants.
In summary: My personal preference is to select a retreat in a mixed farming/ranching/timber region in low-humidity area of one of the American Redoubt states. I generally discourage folks from living in coastal regions for health reasons, risk of tidal waves or hurricanes, oil tanker mishaps, visits by foreign terrorists, and the outside chance of dramatically rising or falling sea levels in the event of a climate shift. I also discourage relocating to anywhere within 150 miles of the Mexican border. (Note: I’m not a racist–just a realist. The crime rate is higher near the border, and in the event of civil war in Mexico or any number of variations on TEOTWAWKI there could be a huge influx of illegal immigrants.)
After much consideration, all of the eastern states were intentionally excluded from my analysis because they are all either downwind of nuclear targets and/or are in areas with excessive population density. This wasn’t just the result of subjective bias. I try to use the dispassionate mindset of an actuarial accountant.
As evidenced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, population density is perhaps the most crucial factor to consider when selecting a safe haven. The big cities on the Gulf Coast became hell holes, whereas the small towns got by fairly well. I know that this will cause acrimony with a lot of my readers who live east of the Missouri River, but the plain truth is the East has too much population! The northeast is also downwind of some major nuclear targets.
Unless you are among the uber-rich and can afford to buy an elaborate fully hardened bunker with HEPA filtration deep in the Smoky Mountains or the Appalachian Mountains with a five+ year food supply, then I firmly believe that you will be safer west of the Missouri River. That is just my opinion, so your mileage may vary (YMMV). However, before you write me a tirade about how wrong I am and how safe you’ll be in upstate New York, please re-read my August 5th through August 10th, 2005 posts in the early SurvivalBlog archives. Also, take a long hard look at the “Lights of the U.S.” photo maps at: DarkSky.org. Again, a picture tells a thousand words.
When thinking about where you’d prefer to buy your retreat and/or retirement home don’t just look at climate. Look at all the factors. Depending on your age and interest in true independence from “the system” you might also consider factors like homeschooling laws and home birth laws.
A New Criteria: Red/Blue State Trends
The sociopolitical divide between democrat-dominated “blue” states” and more conservative “red” states is continuing to grow. The red interior States are getting more solidly red, and meanwhile the blue coastal States are getting more solidly blue. In the long term, internal migration patterns will amplify this effect. With their insane “woke” policies, high taxes, and draconian gun laws, the leftists keep nudging the United States toward bifurcation, Balkanization, and possibly even a second civil war. I can see that Texas will be one of the first States to seek autonomy. Bottom line: Be sure that you are living in a place that matches your morals and outlook on life, or you may end up as the victim of sectarian violence or have your property seized from you. Vote with your feet!
A New Criteria: Private Party Gun Sales
You should also look at gun laws in your state. Of increasing importance is the privacy of secondhand gun sales. There are still 34 “private party” states where secondhand guns can be freely bought, sold, and traded between private parties–so long as they are both residents of the same state where the transaction is taking place. Because there is the risk of eventual gun confiscation, and sales records are a key enabler of any confiscation, it is wise to live in a jurisdiction where there is still some privacy. Avoid living in any of the 16 states where all sales of modern guns must go through a Federally-licensed dealer. It is no coincidence that those 16 states are all “blue” or “purple” states.
A New Criteria: Permitless Concealed Carry
In the 17 years since I started the blog, there has been a wonderful transformation in gun laws. Permitless concealed carry (aka Constitutional Carry or Vermont Carry) is now recognized in 26 states. This map shows the progress of gun carry permit laws. Be sure that you are living in a place that recognizes your right to keep and bear arms. Again, vote with your feet!
A New Criteria: Lack of Homeless Populations
I can remember my first sight of large shanty-town squatter camps outside of Pretoria, South Africa. I was then thinking: “Only in Africa.” But today, similar camps are now becoming commonplace in most major American cities, and even some suburbs. So I’ve added this to my list: A Lack of Significant Homeless Populations. Let’s face it: Most of the folks in those camps folks are drug addicts, or mentally ill. In the camps crime and disease are rampant. Leftist do-gooder politicians have actually encouraged the development of the squatter camps. Avoid living in a state with large numbers of squatter camps.
Some Confirmation: BLM Riots Hit Population Centers
The widespread urban riots in the past two years served as confirmation for several of my assertions. The riots, looting, and arson were largely seen in just large cities. There were no BLM riots in small towns. Yes, there were some sympathy protests and marches, but those were small-scale, and only a few towns with low populations suffered any property damage. So I stand by my assertion that you will be much safer in a small town.
For Further StUDY
There is much more detailed information on retreat property selection in a book that I co-authored with my #1 Son, Jonathan. It covers all 50 of the United States. It has some great updated data and very useful maps. The book is titled Survival Retreats and Relocation. An e-book edition is also available.