A number of my friends and consulting clients have begun talking about making contingency plans to drop entirely off the grid. One of them calls it “going ghost.” His goal: Being ready for a time of repression that would require him to drop off the radar–to essentially become mobile and invisible to authorities. He said that he wanted to have two options: 1.) In CONUS, being ready and ablrice to blend in and travel by road fairly anonymously, and 2.) being ready and able to travel internationally (OCONUS).
This whole concept of “going ghost” would be daunting for most of us. It is one thing to stop using any credit cards and cease accessing the Internet, but it is quite another to completely vanish. Anyone with a large family, and anyone living from paycheck to paycheck would find this nearly impossible. For many, just the stress of being out of contact with family and friends would be substantial. There would be many challenges. Most notably, traveling costs money–lots of money. When away from hearth, home, and garden nearly every aspect of life comes with a price tag attached. Every meal and every night’s lodging comes with a cost. And of course the larger your traveling party, the higher the cost. Granted, traveling solo can be done fairly inexpensively. But imagine the cost of keeping family of seven quietly on the move!
So this leaves us with our first dilemma: Travel on a shoestring budget.
There are a number of ways to minimize costs. The first that comes to mind is what is now commonly called “The RV lifestyle.” By cooking and spending your nights in a camper, trailer, or RV, your daily costs plummet. That is if you keep your daily mileage low, to minimize fuel expenses and vehicular wear and tear. However, by their very distinctive profiles most campers, camping trailers, and RVs tend to stick out from the normal flow of passenger cars and commercial trucks. One way to keep a lower profile is to build fairly standard camper components into a white cargo Sprinter van that has no side windows. This is called a Stealth Camper. When traveling in stealth mode, your van will look like just any other tradesman’s. Having a few magnetic door signs made for non-existent companies can complete the stealth effect. This has already been discussed briefly in SurvivalBlog. And we have quite heavily linked to instructional videos that describe how to do such van conversions, in the past three years. Just search on “Stealth Camper” and “Sprinter Van” using our Search box.
Another way to minimize costs is to “car camp”. That is, traveling in a car or SUV whilst carrying a fairly large tent. BLM land, National Forest land, and to a lesser extent State forest and park land are available for camping. The main limiting factors would be seasonal weather and the length of your stay in any given location. Ideally, you should use a tent in earth tone colors, to blend in.
A much more extreme approach would be backpacking and stealthily camping on National Forest or BLM land. But going Full Eric Rudolph Hidin’ in the Hinterboonies is probably viable only for someone who is both very hardy and very desperate.
If someone were particularly concerned about license plate scanners, then another option might be the Jack Reacher approach: Traveling by regional bus, and paying bus fares in cash. (But FYI, Greyhound and Amtrak now both require ID.)
Now, on the grand dilemma: Surveillance.
The Eye of Sauron
The next major consideration is the growing Surveillance State. There are now surveillance cameras–some with facial recognition–in all cities in America. There are also now license plate scanners operated on all freeways, most highways, toll roads, and bridges. Many police departments in even small cities are now deploying license plate scanners on their police cruisers. Nearly all motel and hotel chains require ID for check-in, and maintain databases. And even many rural “mom and pop” motels and private campgrounds now insist on guests presenting ID. The owners of smaller ones are now in the habit of photocopying or scanning your driver’s license. Meanwhile, the large hotel and motel chains typically do a full database entry. How lovely.
Completely avoiding surveillance in the United Sates is now nearly impossible. The best that we can hope for is breaking the chain of regular surveillance and going undetected for weeks or months at a time. And once our society goes cashless, we can essentially say goodbye to any hope of anonymity. At that stage, avoiding detection would require both lodging and provisioning through trusted friends. You would essentially have to live like the proverbial “Jews in the Attic.”
Even if you were able to avoid license plate scanners, facial recognition cameras are becoming ubiquitous, especially in urban centers. So most covert travel would also necessitate changing your appearance.
We must also assume that all telephone calls are subject to monitoring and geolocation. Burner cell phones with removable batteries will be de rigueur.
Most international travel in the 21st Century requires border controls and customs checks, with your passport being presented. I assume that all First World and Second World countries now check arriving travelers against databases. These days the only way around that would be considered illegal: Traveling by boat or ship and declaring neither your departure nor arrival in a new nation, or Illicitly walking across a border. Yes, this can be done. But you probably won’t be singing a carefree song, when you do. Traveling by yacht would require either lots of money, or tremendous “people skills.” If you are physically fit, under 40, and traveling alone or as a couple, then you might be able to hire yourself out as crew on a yacht. If you are over 40, then you’d need to be an awesome chef–to be able to be hired as yacht-owner’s cook. But be be advised that these days, you can probably count on a yacht owner running a background check or at least a credit check on you. That would raise red flags if you are on “the list.”
So let’s suppose that you are going ghost into some Pacific island nation without going through passport control. Once there, you’d still have the difficulty of both finding a place to stay and a way of making a living “off the books.” There are some small islands in the larger archipelagos like Indonesia and the Philippines that have virtually no immigration or law enforcement presence. As long as you contributed to the local economy and didn’t make yourself a nuisance, you could probably ghost along in such a place for years without attracting the attention of authorities. Similarly, if you were to quietly make your way deep into the Zomia highlands region without leaving a recorded trail of passport checks, you could probably vanish from the radar of all nations. There are also a few other fairly lawless regions–such as the Ilemi Triangle, but your comfort level would probably be marginal, even if you had substantial portable wealth with you. And of course any time you enter a “sketchy” country, there are risks.
One item that would be particularly useful in ghosting would be a small waterproof caching container that could contain most of your cash, identity papers, other valuables, a knife or two, and perhaps a pistol. If you are in a situation where you will be staying with others there is always the risk of theft. By covertly burying your waterproof container before entering a town for lodging or provisioning, you can protect yourself from thieves. Even something as small as an opaque wide-mouth water bottle can be very useful for this purpose. A small trowel can serve dual purpose–both for caching and for digging small hasty field latrine holes–commonly called “Cat Holes.”
A lot of the planning for going ghost will of course depend of the anticipated severity of your circumstances, your goals, and your stage of life. The old saying attributed to Hippocrates is: ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures.” So ask yourself: Just how desperate do I expect to be? Do I just want to avoid a paper trail when I’m shopping? Do I expect religious persecution? Political repression? De-platforming? Fabricated criminal charges? Will I be be on a roundup list? To quote a wise Colonel who I once served: “Assess the threats, analyze, mitigate, and plan accordingly.” – JWR