Fourth Principle: Prepare for Where You Are
I can think of no greater irony than for someone who is a “prepper” moving somewhere and not doing some of the basic analysis required to adjust the preps for where you are. Still, I have talked to several like-minded expats who basically suspended their preps while on assignment. In researching the assignment country, we noted that there are particular risks for which we have never specifically prepped in our part of the U.S. These are risks for which our preps would contribute to the preparedness required for those events.
This can be complicated because the local flora and fauna may vary or climate and growing seasons may be different. Legal restrictions may limit your ability to do things the way you did at home. While this last issue is perhaps less relevant to those bugging out to a retreat, even that may offer some challenges depending on the degree of law enforcement capabilities in jurisdictions you may have to cross to get to your bug out location. In the end, having redundancy for water, bug out bags, first aid supplies, et cetera were all important issues in the assignment country but not sufficient. Some things we did:
- Even though I work in a large metropolitan area, we chose a home in a more rural area on the outskirts where we had a river in our back yard.
- The leased home had a pool that could be accessed for gray water, and it also had a backup diesel generator. [Alas, we just had the misfortune of having our landlord return to this country from the U.S. He wants his house back, and we have to move. We are staying in the area, but we will be investing in a generator and in some water storage to make sure we are secure in the new home.]
- We brought about five cases of freeze-dried food in #10 cans in suitcases under the guise, although true, that we would use it for backpacking. This was accomplished through various trips, bringing a little at a time. [International moves generally prohibit food and liquids.]
- We immediately bought a chest freezer, filled with a locally-sourced side of beef and lamb. We stocked our pantry with rice, beans, and other goods that would allow us to make it for three to four months minimum without resupply. We also began canning soups, stocks, and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Due to legal limitations/complications, we did not acquire firearms here; however, we did bring archery gear and obtain a powerful air rifle for varmint deterrence or hunting small game. [If we placed a higher probability on scenario three, we would probably go ahead with a purchase or two. The cost and the loss we would incur on them along with the legal hoops to jump through seem too onerous, given our expectations.]
- We have two off-road capable vehicles and one that is a simple diesel, which would serve as a bug out vehicle in an extreme scenario 3. The natural barriers between us and the U.S. are such that driving home is not an option. However, if we need to get out of dodge, we have the capability.
Fifth Principle: Quality First
For the fifth principle, I am indicating a need to keep the highest quality gear at hand. Where we have multiples of particular preps, a decision had to be made about what level of quality we would take with us. One of the temptations was to leave some of the best gear in the U.S. so it would be available for us at the homestead property. In the end, my decision was to take the highest quality stuff with us for the following reasons:
- Leaving it in the U.S. meant leaving it in storage or with friends, where different issues can come up like maintenance, misuse, theft, other damage.
- Not having it in the assignment country meant two to three years of aging with no benefit to us.
- The assignment country has risks for which we need to be prepared; not having it in the assignment country meant it was not available in case of emergency there.
- I want the highest quality stuff that I can carry with me at all times, like a large get home bag.
- We need to use our gear constantly and become familiar with it. One example is the Berkey water filter. It is not complicated, but familiarity will pay off, based on my experience.
This seems obvious when written down, but I assure you, dear reader, that it was not at all that easy when sorting through what would stay and what would go. One big reason for that was—and I think this is an instinct of many of us—we want to keep the best gear unused, perhaps, or only for “special” or emergency occasions. This is a grave error. You need to use your gear. If you have a retreat location of your own or are part of a group that will bug out to a retreat, it is important to think through what should stay and what should be pre-positioned. I approached it by thinking through the probability that an item would be used, depending on its location. The closer gear is to me, the more likely it is to be used.
Another reason this was difficult was that some of our early preps were not the same quality as what we now are acquiring. We made a lot of the beginner mistakes of just buying gear without knowing how to use it. Some of that turned out not to be what we wanted or needed, and some of that was not the right quality. When the things we didn’t want or need had been replaced or we had acquired a higher quality item, we didn’t just toss them. When the move came up, we decided to keep those items near our homestead property. It might not be exactly what we would buy today, but it is useful gear and would perhaps help us if we were suddenly sent back, or it could be useful to someone else or for barter.
Even though we expect to need our preps in the U.S. as our baseline scenario, we felt that the most important thing was to use our good stuff and become accustomed to it while also having it with us and usable in case the worst happened (scenario three). In the case of some of the gear, it would perhaps be a key part of what we would carry in an evacuation or what we would need locally, if we couldn’t leave. I imagined having to tell my son to try to perform some task using an inferior knife or something just because I had left the good stuff where we knew we wouldn’t have it handy unless we were able to travel back to where it was cached.
Sixth Principle: We Prep To Live; We Don’t Live To Prep
One of the most striking things about being an expatriate is that you have an opportunity to see a completely new part of the world. It would be easy to have a bunker mentality out of fear of the unknown while in a different country with a different language. I fear that many preppers do have such a mentality, even though they are at home. This assignment has taught me to look for the good in the situation and to value the time we do have, while travel is relatively worry free and our children can be exposed to cultural, natural, and other phenomena that they may never see again, whatever the reason. Additionally, our mental preparation is enhanced by creating memories of good and beautiful things and building strong relationships.
Away from some longstanding friendships, we turn to each other and spend more time as a family. My wife and daughter are taking classes, like sewing, knitting, and crocheting. Our sons are involved in Cub and Boy Scouts, and I am an assistant Scout Master.
Some things we are doing as a family:
- Enjoying the natural bounty here by hiking and camping, using our gear!
- Traveling to different parts of the region
- Studying music
- Continuing our rigorous homeschooling regimen
- Staying involved with our church and serving others
None of these things necessarily detract from our prepping, and some even contribute, but I am not always going to say to my kids that we can’t join a sports club or take a music class just because we need another can of mac-n-cheese. Balance is important. It is important that our children maintain some cautious optimism about the future of the world and about their chance to contribute to it. We are preparing with a sense of urgency but not out of fear. My preparations instill a sense of calm, peace, and confidence. Keeping that balance for my children is extremely important.
I think the above principles would be incomplete without talking about a few things we would do differently.
I mentioned our beginner mistakes above, so I will just elaborate on things I would do differently over the last year:
- We brought some fishing gear and all of our archery gear. As it turns out, we haven’t really been able to use it. It will probably serve us well at the homestead and would be nice to have there for our occasional visits. I would probably split those in two and leave half in the U.S.
- We thought we had a year supply of soap, but it only lasted a little more than half that. This discovery was another good thing about our experience and about using our preps.
- We should camp and hike more.
- A lot of good intentions have not been realized. Off the top of my head: getting general class Ham radio license, wilderness first aid class, setting up a small garden, and more. The demands of life sometimes get in the way.
- I brought our bug out bags as they were. When I got them out here, I realized that they suffered from some of the beginning mistakes. A lot of the stuff in there is not that useful or is too heavy. I would have redone those before we left.
- Organization of preps in the U.S. is not up to standards. We took a storage unit near our homestead (relatively speaking), and we were in such a hurry with the move that we did not organize it well.
- I was near panic when we dismantled our preps in the U.S. to take them to storage. In retrospect, it was helpful to be less dependent emotionally on the fact that they were there and to recognize that most of the preparation that will pay off is mental.
While the above principles are derived from our experience on an international assignment for work, they apply to the suburban and urban prepper with plans to relocate to a retreat if the SHTF. For all such preppers, prepositioning caches of preps will be important, and determining what to preposition and what to keep where they are will possibly determine success or failure, either prior to or during the bug out or when they arrive at the retreat. The above principles have been very helpful to our family over the last year plus and our experience has confirmed each of them. The sixth is purely the result of experience, as I did not start out with that mindset. I am hopeful that the information presented here will provide a framework with sufficient nuance and context to make this information actionable. Godspeed!