Going Ghost: Planning for a Low Profile Mobile Lifestyle

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.

Minimizing Costs

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.

Ghosting Overseas

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.

Waterproof Caching

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.”

Conclusion

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

 

 

 

 

 




42 Comments

  1. Is this now time, or after the shtf? I know big brother and all that, but seems like your hiding from the law for some reason. I guess I’m getting old , I like to be warm and comfortable and have music and tv and grandkids making noise. But if you cross us who ever you are you will be deep planted from my frontend loader somewhere on our property.

  2. I find this all to be excessive. Most people are not on the US Marshals 10 most wanted. Trust me, if you want to become hard to find all you need to do is research how illegal aliens, drug dealers or ex felons live. You can live trailer parks and low cost housing by paying rent in cash or labor. Get vehicles in friends or relatives names. Stay off social media. That’s it, if you don’t have any nationwide warrants nobody will find you.

  3. For those law abiding conservative Americans, trying to raise a family and home school, and make enough money honestly to live an “adequate” lifestyle, I fear for them. Those who “publish” opinions against the Deep State, etc. are already being censored. How soon will they be advised to keep their opinions to themselves, and if that does not work, to be “rounded up”???? I am OLD, so it does not matter, BUT I know young people, good people and I fear for them. The Courts, the Judges, the lawyers are increasingly Socialistic/Communistic and there is almost NO protection for us from the Bill of Rights. We are fooling ourselves to believe that we have these freedoms. One advantage of living long enough to have heard the OLD stories of my Great, Great Grandfather, handed down (here in a BLUE New England State), and what my Dad did during the Great Depression, and afterwards, I feel like a living “history” book. Remember the movie “Fahrenheit 451”???? The all seeing, all powerful government knew your every movement and thought. Well, we are now HERE. How soon, sadly, probably after I am dead, will my friends be rounded up??? I paint a DARK picture, but economically we are burdened with so much debt, and the economic collapse WILL come. I worked in finance before retiring, so I know something about it. I was raised on a large farm and know how to grow food, save food, raise and kill animals. How many Americans know how to do that. I do NOT need a book to tell me. I LIVED it! None of my younger relatives want to “know”. They would rather have their heads where the sun does not shine, and do NOT prepare. I bet they do NOT have more than a FEW days of food in the house!!!! Well, reality ALWAYS comes back to BITE ONE IN THE BEHIND. I suppose someday they will be talking about their “crazy” relative and perhaps remember WISTFULLY that I said such and so. Well “hind sight is 20:20”.

  4. I met an older couple, no family left at home. They attached a 5th wheel camper to a tractor, and either sold everything or put it in several storages around the Country. He has consistent income, so everything is debited. True that he is not off the grid, but I agree with what has been already said here about lower profiles. Most of us could not really live completely as a ghost, but a lower profile and staying below most radars will give you the life you desire.

  5. This is a difficult subject in several ways. JWR’s approach is certainly thought provoking. In contrast, given the limitations to “going ghost”, what is everyone’s thoughts about hiding in plain sight?

    As an example, big data and surveillance is a huge consumer market. The market is so large that I wonder unless someone is doing illegal stuff, their data profile will be lost in a haystack, so to speak. Anyone have any thoughts?

    1. Muddy, I would tend to agree. I have a friend whose name is as common as John Doe and posts on FB dozens each day, and often from all over the region and at times from overseas. All his online appearances in one day perhaps is in the hundreds accessed from several different devices and isp’s. In the small town where he lives there are several others by the same name, their mail is often mixed up despite different street addresses.
      The last time I was in Walmart I looked up at the ceiling hung video surveillance camera focused on me; I went online to a website first time ever yesterday and at the top was “Hello ____”. How did they know my name? Cookies I suppose.
      AlthoughI read articles like this and might adopt certain ideas from it, my attitude is; if you want me, come and get me.

    2. You are right Muddykid,
      The pool is quite large and you can stay in the shallow end. Just don’t go off the diving board. The bigger the splash, the bigger, and for longer period of time, the ripples.
      The proverbial needle in the haystack theory can work, especially with our country letting in millions of illegals. The problem arises when you go to the hotel lobby and make a request, let’s say for a guests room number, they ask if you are staying in the hotel, of course you say. This is when the the concierge points to the inocuos little fingerprint scanner on the counter. You back away, trying not to make a scene, but the facial recognition scanner behind him has got you. You sir have been flagged. And it is all down hill from their.
      All you can really hope for is a good splashing in the kiddy pool and hope nobody takes an interest in what you are doing.

  6. So I guess we go in hiding huh.? I don’t mind minimizing profile but that is ridiculous concealing yourself on some island in the Philippines. Good grief what a life to lead. What happened to family, grandchildren, friends, beloved pets and just generally enjoying your life?

  7. I was just reading about how Mexican illegals, and felons who are trying to find work under a fake name, purchase fake drivers licenses and social security cards in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. Sellers have all the specialized computer software (illegal of course), take your photograph, and have the printing and laminating set up in the area. Interesting.

    There’s also a company I’ve read about for years called PTShamrock that can get foreign passports and residency status. It’s expensive, though.

    So much entrepreneurship.

    1. McArthur Park, in LA, has been servicing the illegal and warranted community since I was in high school. You can be any person you choose to be, a movie star, a police officer, or just plain Joe Smith. The social security number is fake of course. But for some reason, the id#s for California driver licenses are always correct. I believe a few were busted at DMV for selling lists of correct Id#s; about 5 years ago. But, I am sure there are new & willing entrepreneurs who enjoy the taxfree benefits. With these false documents, you can vote, get welfare, drive, and work. You can also get tax benefits from the IRS. Even if the SS office knows someone else is using your SS#, they will not tell you who or why or who they work for. Unfortunately, my home state has long been a leader in these shenanigans, and it is all filed under the “fairness, equal treatment, and happiness” flag. What a sad banana republic we have become.

  8. I can’t help but feel that “going ghost” might actually make you stick out. It would be all but impossible to not pop up on some entity’s radar on occasion. The data base would kick you out as an anomaly. Where have you been for the past six months and what were you doing between Topeka and Portland?

    On the license plate readers, do they match the plate to the vehicle? I think if they don’t now they will be in the near future. Instructions from the LEO will include walk to the front of my car with your hands out and stop. The facial recognition camera will then match you to the car and plate. Driver licensing already requires your picture. How difficult would it be to link the pictures in the DMV data base to the LEO’ cameras.

    Security issues will probably mandate plate readers at refueling stations. Opting out would probably not be allowed by the insurance companies.

    Somehow or another and I’m not too sure how it happened but I went from a fairly robust middle aged male to an increasingly frail old guy. My existence can be counted on to end in the next decade or so. It’s a bit-h but it will happen. I guess it’s just not feasible for most of us to drop of the grid. It was certainly a thought provoking article.

  9. I believe that the point of JWR’s article is that we are now at a place where everyone is a potential criminal. This is how government controls us.

    The current special prosecutor’s farce playing out right now is a good example of this. Just filling out a 1040 tax form makes you a criminal, you either give the testimony they want to hear or you go to jail. The right and wrongs of law are now fluid, depending on the circumstances.

    It looks to me that the only truly “ghosts” in this country are the homeless and the illegal aliens.

  10. I have often thought about the attempt to use huge databases to perform surveillance on carefully quiet people. Garbage in garbage out should be our friend in most cases.
    The problem is improvements in technology is moving at light speed.
    Never give up. Continue to reduce your footprint by reducing your debt and seeking self sufficiency.
    Godspeed

  11. Thanks is for selecting an original off-gridder to start the days page. I’m absolutely certain RLS with his pasty skin and Scottish brogue blended right into Tahitian obscurity, hehe. Point well made to me is that location is primary for the initial base of security establishment.

    Here’s two salient points:

    First, most police departments send officers out to grab people first priority by dispatch calls, secondarily by prosecutor demand or interagency assistance request. So choose to confront or avoid.

    Second, felons arrested are kicked back onto the street in 24 hours in lib states while most policeman are filling out multiple reports daily and are unable to conduct hundreds of investigations anually, required before a prosecutor will take the case. One officer may get 10 cases per daywhich comes to 2000 cases per year. A department with just 10 officers could have 20,000 cases per year.

    Police are overwhelmed by workload, understaffing, and the increased lawlessness. Thefts and robberies usually aren’t investigated unless guns are involved or someone pushes hard on the prosecutor. I personal!y am aware of prosecutors rejecting good, documented cases. Especially now that WA law prohibits courts from fining indigent law breakers. Cities and counties will have to tell police not to arrest, or that they will not prosecute.

    These are my casual observations. i suggest plugging these facts into your planning cycle.

  12. JWR has always said to move to the Redoubt. We moved from the People’s Republic of California to Nevada until the frightful day the SWAT team raided the home across the street for a drug warrant. We were well on our way with preps and especially guns due to Nevada’s laws being more in alignment with the Second Amendment and California is not.

    We then picked up an moved to the Redoubt because staring down many acres of property to the perimeter of our boundaries would be a nice comfortable long range target should the SWAT surround our heavily fenced/fortified Redoubt property.

    The only way to disappear is to be around like minded people that can/will fight along side you. If everyone in the Redoubt fought back when the Liberals come to town, they will leave and fast!

    The only way to be a Ghost, is to let the authorities know they can’t bother you anymore OR ELSE!

  13. We cannot be a ghost. we would not be happy. We are totally out of debt and self-reliant in many areas and will continue in that direction with our life style. We simply live a quiet life and tend to be a shade of gray in the way we live and interact with others . We would rather be a light to those close to us instead of a lightening rod in the greater community.

  14. You can’disappear’ in Slab City (for now). It’s an old military base in SoCal. Not where I would want to live.

    If you want to live as a nomad check out cheaprvliving.com and his Youtube channel cheaprvliving. Many different options presented.

    As for information collection, It’s stored as need to know information. Day to day tracking isn’t an issue for most of us. My former employer tracked me every minute of the day while on the clock. Do something ‘illegal’ and they will come looking for you…

  15. This is my country, and I am not running and hiding from a bunch of bullying control freaks. If I ever become a wanted man by the State, I have the items in place and a long thought out plan for that. I won’t be running to hide. Once the State declares war on a man, it is a matter of time before he is either captured or killed. He should use that time to wreck the machine however he can and then fight to the death when they finally pin him down. The view from behind a fence is no view at all.

    Running away is a temporary respite at best. You think America is rough, get caught entering a foreign country illegally while armed and in possession of gold or silver. You will wish you had stayed here. Unless you already have friends there, starting fresh in a foreign country is hard enough, doing it while there illegally is fraught with danger. Probably more danger than hiding out. In an American city. Better to have a bolthole in the rural US to go to. There are a lot of places in the Ozarks, the South, and even the west where a person could lay low if they laid the groundwork right. Ultimately, though, there will be no hiding anywhere for us, so we had best be prepared to fight, and acquit ourselves well in that endeavor, unless we wish to be less than a footnote in the history books.

  16. Hiking either the Appalachian or Pacific crest trail affords a person an escape from the world. I’v section hiked the PCT and between the Canadian border and the southern cascades , if you are skilled and resourceful you can literally disappear for as long as your skills can sustain you. I met an old man who, along with his donkey literally lived on the PCT, they hiking it back and forth from Canada to California for two years.. The donkey just followed behind the guy packing their provisions. It was pretty amazing, and they looked like they had been on the trail that long too.. Not sure about dragging the Von-Tramp family along tho..

  17. “Going Ghost” would be a daunting task, better left to the professionals of the “Jason Bourne” type who live lives much different than most of us. That being said, since this is a survival / prepper blog, it is useful information that could be gleaned, if necessary, if the situation in our beloved country called for such. As an aside, I sometimes watch the old episodes of The Twilight Zone. I must say, quite a few episodes that were supposed to be science fiction then, are reality now.

  18. If you want to be undetectable in a forest, ensure your mobile abode is at least 80% covered with natural foliage or burlap when at rest. Keep your heat signature down to a minimum.

    Multi-spectral, or hyperspectral sensors deployed on aircraft can easily spot man-made items. It does this by sensing the infrared signature of paint or metal.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperspectral_imaging

    Many aircraft in the US inventory have these sensors, and routinely scan national forest lands for evidence of camping and illegal pot farms.

  19. Speaking as a Christian to other Christians, I believe God places His people where He will. He own’s not only those who live rurally, but His doctor who works at the Mayo Clinic; His engineer who keeps the city streets flowing; His missionary in China; His police and firefighters who have city jobs; His nurse who takes care of the hospice patient; His Amazon tech guy who fills my order; His Costco checkout lady I see every few months; His aged, retired Navy vet who lives near near his wife’s weekly dialysis office. My husband’s job is vital to the large Redoubt city we live near in Montana and God provides opportunities every day for him to be in a position to mentor and live a godly example to a diverse group.

    I’m not saying that this article advocates a “ghost” lifestyle is for everyone but there seems to be a heavy load placed on the prepper community to live not just quietly and rurally but invisible. But not everyone is called there – great if you can, great if you can’t. We are a large family and are, by God’s grace, debt free and self sufficient. On the flip-side, we have friends who live in New Jersey who would LOVE to be back here but are exactly where God wants them to be.

    A balancing act: Proverbs 22:3 “A person sees danger and takes cover, but the inexperienced keep going and are punished” with Proverbs 18:1 “One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgement,” requires much discernment and often ends up appearing contrary to our instincts.

    Maybe some of us need to hide away, maybe some of us are destined to walk into the firey furnace, and maybe some of us Christ will use to draw other’s to Himself. I’m at a loss to see where in the Bible Christ advocates a ghost lifestyle. Sure He has hidden many, many people, and some for long periods of time, but they were “hidden under His wing”, not removed from society; and I would wager He has allowed many more to become martyred for His name. Prayer for wisdom is needed nowadays that we might fear God and not man, that we might face our modern Goliath not as King Saul as much as young David. Ephesians 6:13 “This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.”

  20. In Canada this past week Stats Canada(the government agency that compiles information) announced that it was requesting detailed personal financial info from several banks for over 500,000 people.
    The promised to evaluate the info, then put all the personal identifiers in an electronic vault and keep the non personal info to use.
    Public outcry seems to be hindering the process thankfully.
    Hundreds of ways that info could be used and would make grey much more difficult to maintain. Imagine a search that tracks rifle or ammo purchases or bulk purchases of food?

  21. Another option may be van living. Local Walmart stores allow campers and RVs to park for a limited time in their parking lots. I’ve noticed a pair of older “delivery” vans in one parking lot over the past six months. They rarely move, so the occupants must be living in them. Not what one would want if one desired to be a ghost, but such vans are ubiquitous

  22. The one thing that was not addressed in the article. If you’ve “Gone Ghost” … what if you have medical issues? Every doctor office, hospital, emergency room, “doc in a box” is going to ask you for your health insurance card and birth date. I don’t know, but I really doubt there is a medical office in the USA that will treat you if you say “I don’t have health insurance, I’ll pay in cash”. After Teotwawki you are on your own, but right now as a ghost the best survival is to rely on the best doctor you can find.

  23. Midwest Marco:
    That is exactly the way I take care of general medical expenses. I say “I don’t have medical insurance. Is there a deduct if I pay in cash?” Automatic 30%. I have never been turned down.

  24. You can still “ghost” in plain site, though it’s getting harder. Banking, actually, is the hardest, especially when you are forced into face recognition to get your money. Right now you can in a lot of places — rural mostly and cities with no money to put them up — avoid traffic cameras, You can pay cash using small, local businesses. You can avoid television with monitored programming (cable, satellite). You can use the library rather than using subscription services, rental boxes or online purchasing of TV programs. Same with AM radio. Use an older car that does not auto scan for phones when you enter the vehicle. Purchase eye glass frames that detract light, making you impossible to read by a CCTV camera (they look weird, so you’ll have to pretend you are a fashion maven or too old to care). You can get a drivers license in a state with a religious photo opt out — Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire (but you have to have an actual residential address, not a mailing station, even with a street address). So, yes, you can do something now. But … you are prepping not for a catastrophic event, but a creeping surveillance state that will, eventually, keep you from buying and selling unless you let it scan your biometric “mark.”

  25. You can make glasses that will fool facial recognition, as long as you are allowed to wear them, and they don’t have to stand out. Frames with zero-correction lenses and gaudy, broad temple pieces work best, to hide the workings. You will need soldering skills and a bit of electronics knowledge, or a friend with those.
    Get small infrared LEDs, low power is okay but half watt is better. More power than that and they will be too big to hide. Power them with whatever fits, between the size of the frames, the size of your head, and how many LEDs you are using. Put one at each corner of each lens, and an additional one on each temple piece pointing toward your cheeks (these should be higher power.) Wire them with transformer wire, painted to match the frame. If you use a driver circuit or a battery pack, you will need to run a pair of wires down the back/side of your neck to the circuit and paint these wires appropriately.
    How it works: CMOS cameras see infrared just as well as they see visible light, but humans can’t see it. Thus what looks like nothing to a human looks like a not-face or a distorted face to facial recognition systems. In any case, it doesn’t look like your face, if your face has already been catalogued.

  26. A few over looked points;drivers licences(real) are tied to a “real” address unless state allows otherwise,but must still be kept valid,also to operate a”second division” vehicle(federal designation) requires a upgraded licence,the boat option has many advantages but DoNot try to leave a port without the check out procedure(port taxes,fees,ZIRP(customs and Immigration exit pass),you will find few if any places that allow you in without paperwork from last port(they work together on this) and to enter without”clearing in” is a major crime and will quickly get you thrown in prison and your boat confiscated,a residence card or second passport is your best option(even conus-show a cop a passport and he will have a hard time questioning it),the best way to handle finances is probably thru a corporation(licence plates,credit/debit cards,property ownership,bank accounts)

  27. I’d be careful about melting into the Zomia Highlands region. Just saying. Having spent years traveling to and around the Golden Triangle, and upcountry Burma-Myanmar/Thailand, I can tell you that in those areas in particular, you will not fit in unless you were born there. You can speak as much Burmese or Thai as you like, but no one up in that area (the badlands of the Shan State) will speak to you in the oppressor’s language. Which of the 100 plus ethnic languages should you learn? Ethnic Shan will only get you so far outside the cities. Many ethnic militia’s identify with China, not Burma, and carry on a version of a smuggler’s paradise that few Americans will understand or be able to adapt to easily. Millions and millions of dollars in drug money profits are in play, and the stakes are high. If you are thinking to ghost in with your backpack (a despised “begpacker,” now restricted in Thailand), and live in harmony with the locals, good luck. First the local cops/military and militia will want to make sure you are not a CIA hire out to destabilize their gig. Then they will wonder why you are not in America, where everyone wants to go after fleeing the militia’s and/or Burmese military. If they surmise you are a crook be prepared to pay. And pay. Even “locals” who go to America and come back are treated with a high level of suspicion. There were/are many areas that Americans/foreigners cannot go to, even with police/military escorts (who are often afraid of the militias when not being paid by them to look the other way); many roads are closed to everyone but locals (especially near militia HQ’s); many routes into Thailand are watched by cops/military on both sides, looking for drug smugglers to shoot and/or tax (“extra judicial killings” is how these events are reported), and it is very, VERY third world. Your medicine will be in your backpack. Don’t have any trauma-related events or you must hope you will naturally survive. We helicoptered into areas where they treated us as though we were aliens from outer space. No power/running water, barely subsistence living. While many Christians live in these areas, they too are persecuted by the Burmese and other Buddhist entities, and quite insular. If you are even considering this part of the world, go visit first. It is easier to get a visa into Myanmar nowadays, but anywhere north of Tachilek and up into Muse/Ruili, you will be asked many questions. Don’t even consider being armed in any way. That will earn you a shallow spot in a ditch. All you cell phone/internet addicts will have to detox when you exit the cities and there are no power poles, never mind internet. How much cash will you need to carry for however long you want to spend there? The big city ATM’s often double deduct, if you can even get money out. Cash is king, and if US greenbacks, they better be in pristine condition or your exchange rate drops. No bills under $50 or $100 exchanged outside Yangon (Rangoon). Don’t try to use your “filthy” ATM 20’s unless you are prepared for a much lower exchange rate. Credit cards often go on walkabout, and how do you contest those extra charges? People in this part of “Zomia” are not free-wheeling off-grid types, but oppressed and fleeing one conflict after another (not on the move).

    In regards to Thailand, all foreigners must keep $20,000 USD (if American) or $30,000 (if a non-American foreigner) in a Thai bank as a measure of your good behavior. Yearly this account must be certified as having the correct balance. You must exit Thailand on a regular basis to get a visa renewal. They track you. The Thai government has cracked down on foreigner business visas. You will never own land in Thailand; the most you can hope for is a part of a condo association, or you must have a Thai partner (hope you trust them not to sell out from under you; its happened). If you are a “retiree” (not working), you must prove monthly income beyond your minimum balance. If you want to work, there are many hurdles. It is doable but you will always stick out in a crowd, even in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. Even if you speak Thai. I’ve lived third world a few times. It is no longer really an adventure, but more of a slog. Especially when you get old and gray and need first or second world medical care…

  28. I used to wonder if a houseboat would make a decent hideaway, but I’m guessing now the authorities take a dim view of anyone permanently putting down roots there now. Too bad – its seems to me to be a good way to go off-grid. No roads to lead you to the boat. Finding a back water ox-bow to be set up – not too bad.

  29. I suggest reading the Jack Reacher novels for ideas on going ghost. The author has Reacher hitchhiking, buying used clothes rather than using the laundromats, taking buses, working as day labor for cash, etc. to get around being traced.

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