“I can’t afford a survival retreat and I have nowhere to go!”
I hope the information I’ve imparted so far—scrutinizing the source of your prepper information and determining the worst-case scenario to prepare for—has the wheels turning inside your head. Maybe you’re not totally convinced that you should abandon your current plans to survive in place yet, but you admit there’s at least an inkling of truth to what I’m saying. Your biggest roadblock may be financial, and that may seem insurmountable. Most of us aren’t millionaire businessmen who can afford a fully-stocked survival retreat to bug out to. I get that! Hopefully, I can convince you that there are alternative options for you and your family.
For those of you who can afford it, having a rural, well-stocked, and professionally designed survival retreat that no one knows about is an absolute no-brainer in surviving a total collapse scenario. Even if you live in an upscale gated community with a security guard, it’s not going to matter. Once the grocery stores are looted, I can assure you that the inner-city population is coming to your rich neighborhood next. Bubba, the rent-a-cop at the front gatehouse is not going to stop them. Rich people are hoarding all the food, right? The main stream media and the progressive left have been promoting class warfare for quite some time. You need to understand that there is a rapidly growing segment of the population that hates rich people. Most media outlets have people believing that the rich are to blame for the poor’s circumstances. For now, these mini-Marxists may just talk tough on their social media posts; however, when they start going hungry, they are going to get angry. At first their anger will be directed towards the government, whom they believed would always take care of them, but they will also act out on their resentment for the rich. My belief is that the hungry and starving will go after the rich neighborhoods first, before looting suburbia.
So, what if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth? How could you possibly afford to have a bug out location? The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of effective bug out locations in existence; you just need to locate one of them. The key to bugging out on a budget is having a purposeful Plan of Action in place before the SHTF. Please be aware that the various plans of actions I will propose all come with risks, some more so than others. At the same time, those risks are minor compared to the risk of trying to survive in the city.
My first recommendation would be to join an existing prepping group that already has a full survival retreat. In truth, this is very hard to do. Most people who have survival retreats don’t discuss them in public. If they are discussing it around the water cooler at work, I would immediately rule out their group because their OPSEC is already blown. You can search for existing groups on certain prepper forums, but you need to be careful. While every client I have worked with has been completely sane, there are also a whole lot of crazies out there. Just watch a few episodes of Doomsday Preppers, if you want examples.
I cannot stress enough the precautions you need to take when looking to join a group. You need to thoroughly vet the group you are joining and make sure they are a good fit for you and your family. You need to make sure they have an effective retreat location and know what they are doing. For every good survival retreat group, there are five that don’t know what they are doing. Most importantly, make sure they have at least a year’s worth of long-term food  for every one of their members. This is a big issue I see when doing my survival retreat analysis for existing groups. More than half of the retreats only have a fraction of the long-term food  they are going to need to make it through the first winter. Most groups rely on each family unit to supply their own food, but they don’t enforce it or make sure the food is purchased and stored on site. While they may have a good location and plenty of skills, that won’t be enough to save them when their food runs out long before harvest time.
For you to join an existing retreat group, you will need to have some sort of skill to bring to the table. Being an emergency room surgeon will likely be a shoe-in for most groups (but most trauma surgeons can afford their own retreat). Experience in electrical engineering, prior-combat military, mechanical engineering, gardening, or some other essential skill will be needed to join one of these groups. Even if you have a vital skill they are lacking, you’ll likely need to bring your own food with you, unless there is a wealthy benefactor running the group. You can’t expect them to feed your family just because you know how to fix cars. I put joining an existing retreat group first because if it works out for you, it is your best option. In truth, unless you know someone already who has a retreat, you are probably going to strike out heading in this direction.
My second recommendation is to make survival plans with someone you know who already lives in a remote location. However, just because Uncle Charlie lives on a farm, that doesn’t mean you should bug out there. It still needs to be in a good location. If it’s only twenty miles outside of the big city, that’s only going to buy you a little time before the city masses flee and head your way. If the farmhouse only sits a few hundred feet off a major two lane road through the country, it’s not a good option.
This is a common fall back plan for a lot of suburban preppers, but make sure you do some research on what makes an effective retreat location first. Your chances of survival are much higher if you can avoid any interaction with the masses. You need to be far from any big cities and at least ten miles from any small towns. It’s best if the location is two or three turns off any secondary roads, preferably on a dead-end road. It’s especially important that the house is far back from and not visible from the road with the least number of neighbors as possible in view. These are just a couple of points to consider, but by no means are they the only ones. Again, do some research on what makes an effective bug out location. If Uncle Charlie’s farm doesn’t fit in well with the requirements of a standard survival retreat location, you need to go a different direction, which I will discuss shortly.
Let’s assume that Uncle Charlie’s farm does meet the requirements of an effective bug out location. What then? First, you need to have a discussion with Uncle Charlie. Then, you need to start storing your long-term food and other survival supplies there and not at your suburban home. You don’t know for sure if you will be able to haul all your needed supplies there if the highways get blocked by people evacuating and breaking down or running out of gas. Also in the aftermath of an EMP, you may not have a running vehicle. Are you going to leave all that stuff behind, and will that decision make you second guess your bug out strategy and convince you to foolishly stay in town with your supplies? Either way, it’s a really terrible situation and decision to have to make. The next difficult decision for those of you with a little more capital to invest in your preparations, is whether to install backup power, secondary water sources, greenhouses, et cetera that you would normally be putting into your suburban home. I realize it’s weird and maybe a little un-nerving to be putting some serious money into property you don’t even own. I get it. But I still recommend you do it. Also, hopefully Uncle Charlie is fully on board and willing to store up his own food and supplies. If he’s not, you need to do it for him. You need to be sure there is long-term food storage for everyone who is going to be showing up there. Otherwise your family’s one year food storage is going to be gone fairly quickly. To minimize this, be sure Uncle Charlie understands the importance of secrecy and isn’t discussing what you are planning with anyone else.
What if your Uncle Charlie has a good location but thinks the idea of prepping is “crazy talk”? That’s fine, just let it go at that and don’t discuss it any further with him. Rent a storage unit close to where he lives and cache all your stuff there. Just make sure it is a temperature-controlled storage building, if you are keeping your long-term food there. One of the worst mistakes you can make with long-term food is storing it in a location with extreme temperature changes. When the SHTF, just show up at Uncle Charlie’s with all your food and supplies. He will then be grateful you were so “crazy” and understand why you were preparing for hard times.
Okay. So you don’t know anyone planning a survival retreat and you don’t have an Uncle Charlie (or his farm is in a bad location), then here is my third recommendation to find a bug out location. Download Google Earth and teach yourself how to use it. After that, use all the “effective survival retreat location principles” you’ve learned, and start looking for the absolute best area near you for a survival retreat. Pretend you are a millionaire and getting ready to purchase property for a survival retreat. Once you find a couple areas that would work, look on Craigslist and perform a general Google search for remote rental cabins in that area. I do not mean large RV parks or campgrounds that offer cabins. I mean singular cabin rentals, preferably ones that are commercially-owned and not rented out when the owners aren’t using it. Make it a priority to spend a couple weekends this summer getting out of the city with your family and spend a night or two at a handful of these locations. See how they match up in person to your survival retreat considerations. Is it well off the beaten path? Is there an area that could be turned into a garden? Does it have off-grid power? Is there a wood stove to heat the place throughout the winter?
Once you have found a good location, do the same thing I mentioned when dealing with a skeptical Uncle Charlie. Rent a temperature-controlled storage unit nearby and cache your stuff there. Now, it’s important that you understand my meaning behind doing this. I am saying when the SHTF that you should go to that cabin and move in, but I am not implying that you steal it from the owners. If they show up there, you will need to have a discussion with them on how it would be beneficial for you to work together with them. You will need to be able to effectively explain the dire circumstances that the country is facing. Explain the benefits of the extra hands to put in the garden and how you already have survival seed . Explain how it will be easier to keep a twenty-four-hour watch over the property with extra people and how you’ve got plenty of guns and professional training to help protect them. A huge recommendation here is to have extra long-term food stored for them as well. If you do all these things, they would have to be idiots not to see the benefits of working together. Again, this all assumes the owners show up in the first place. If you are considering multiple locations, going to a corporate-owned rental cabin will be better than some summer cottage that a wealthy person rents when they aren’t using it.
So, you’ve done an exhaustive search for cabins and maybe even spent a couple weekends with the family at a few of them with no luck. They just don’t fit your needs. My fourth recommendation is to get back on Google Earth and start searching those same rural areas you highlighted as good bug out locations from where you live. Start looking for small farms that are at the end of a dirt road. Farms that sit well off the road and maybe have state game lands or other large farms surrounding them. Find a good ten different locations and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Write their addresses down as well as highlight their exact locations on a paper map. Take a Sunday drive sometime and drive past these locations. Is the farm clean and well-kept or are they slobs? Is it as good of a location as you thought or is there an OPSEC issue that you didn’t notice on the satellite or terrain view? Don’t forget to keep an eye out while driving around for other locations that might work better. Keep good notes of everything you’ve seen and considered. Find a storage rental in a centralized location and stash your supplies there, like we discussed previously.
When the SHTF, start at the best location at the top of your list. Knock on the door and start a friendly conversation with the owners. Wrap your head around the situation and have a strategy for the conversation going in. Don’t just wing it; have it written down with bullet points. Don’t give away your intentions at first; just try to get a feel for the person. Your line of questioning should give you answers to the following questions:
- Are they friendly?
- How much do they know about what is going on out there?
- What have they heard?
- Are they an older couple that could possibly need you for protection and your family’s younger muscles to garden?
- Do they have livestock and chickens running around?
- Do they have lots of family living nearby? (How many people could be potentially showing up?)
You really need to plan and practice this conversation in your head beforehand so you don’t come across as too intrusive or suspicious. Smile, be friendly and conversational, and for goodness sakes, don’t wear your plate carrier or carry your battle rifle (though you should have a concealed handgun, just in case). You want to look like a Regular Joe and not too militaristic or threatening. Don’t ignore your “gut feelings”. If you don’t get a good feel from the original conversation, move on to the next location. You can always come back if the other locations are worse.
The absolutely most important part of going with this scenario is bugging out of the city immediately and approaching the farmers right away! I have lived in the country most of my life, and most rural country farmers are “salt of the earth” types. However, if you wait too long to approach them and they are watching the evening news each night and seeing the world fall apart on TV, you just might be greeted at the front door with a shotgun. Don’t wait until things fall apart, if this is your fall back strategy. This is also not a good strategy to try on a whim. If you are working on an extreme budget, don’t have anywhere to go, and don’t have much money to put into prepping, you need to put this plan of action into effect immediately. It’s not the best option for bugging out, but looking on Google Earth and taking a drive past these locations is free! If you were really smart, you might even approach them ahead of time and feel them out. Doing so will be very weird and uncomfortable, I’m sure. What if they think you are crazy and kick you out of their house? How embarrassing would that be? But don’t forget you are working on a budget and you don’t have a lot of options. Alternatively, you could just ride it out in town with the other five hundred thousand starving and desperate people and see how that works out for you.
Putting together a well thought out and well-crafted Plan of Action from the beginning is the key to you and your family’s survival. It will take a lot of the stress off you when one of these long-term SHTF scenarios comes to pass. It will be a stressful enough time as it is; not having a plan of action to follow and trying to wing it will make the situation incredibly worse. You will not be thinking as clearly as you are right now. You will make mistakes. Making mistakes in a SHTF situation could ultimately mean your life and the life of a family members. So, if you plan to prepare for hard times, please do the planning first and tailor your preparations to that plan, not the other way around.
Are these strategies easy and without risk? No. There are lots of things to consider and wrap your head around. There will be obstacles to overcome. Are they going to make you uncomfortable? Absolutely. In a perfect world we’d all be millionaire preppers with multi-million dollar survival retreats to bug out to. Would it be a whole lot easier and more comfortable to ignore that small voice in your head that’s telling you my warnings are warranted…and to just continue your preparations at your suburban home? Sure, it would. Please don’t. What if you are wrong about how bad it’s going to get? What if that prepper expert you follow is wrong about “hiding in plain sight”? If you do the research I recommended on human desperation and starvation, I think you will understand where I am coming from. If people in this country truly begin to starve, regardless of the SHTF culprit, please believe me that it’ll likely be ten times worse than I described.
At some point in the future, you may find yourself huddled in your basement in suburbia next to your crying family members while a large raiding force is breaking down your front door upstairs. Sure, you have a battle rifle in your hands, but most of the looters do too, and there are just so many of them…. “How could that many desperate people be so well-armed and working together so well?,” you’ll wonder to yourself. You know your fate. You’ll put up a good fight, but deep down inside you know you’re a dead man. “What’s going to become of my beautiful wife and daughter once I’m gone?,” will be your next thought. That’s a horrible thought that no one wants to have, and prepper experts don’t usually discuss. I promise you, at that moment, you are going to think of this article and wish you hadn’t buried your head in the sand. You are going to wish you had put together a bug out strategy and gotten your family out of harm’s way when you had the chance. I hope that’s not the case, but are you willing to take that risk? It’s just so much easier and a whole lot more comfortable to ignore the truth and make your plans around surviving in place at home. It may be easier, but it sure is a whole lot deadlier.
If you live in a big city, or an area with a lot of people in your proximity, I hope that my three-part article has given you a solid reason to include a plan for bugging out in your preps. Do your research from qualified sources, decide what SHTF scenario makes the most sense to prepare for, and find a bug out location. Make sure you have an effective plan of action in place before spending a lot of money on preparedness supplies. Don’t wait for the right moment; start now. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Jonathan Hollerman is a former military S.E.R.E. (Survival) Instructor and best-selling author on preparedness. Hollerman is a full-time Emergency Preparedness Consultant specializing in Survival Retreat Design through Grid Down Consulting .