by Scott Kelley
I’ve always been a fan of being self-sufficient and learning skills. Sailing is one of the skills that I always wanted to acquire but until my sister married her husband, I never knew anyone who sailed. I love it so much now that I’m considering selling everything and living on a sailboat. As you’ll see below, learning how to sail will give you the opportunity to learn all sorts of self-sufficiency skills, emergency preparedness skills, and off-grid capabilities. As far as I’m concerned, the skills and knowledge required to sail a boat to a distant shore and live on the boat require almost exactly the same skills that preppers pursue.
Lemme throw some context at you for a sec and then tell you why you might want to consider learning how to leave dry land if you need to. I went out to Kalifornia in September to visit some friends and family and along the way, I spent a week in Monterey, where a good friend is learning Russian at the Defense Language Institute (DLI). Since I didn’t want to sit around his house all day while he was in school, I decided to take this opportunity and take sailing lessons. I’m glad I did.
I spent a week and got my ASA101, Basic Keelboat Sailing and ASA103, Basic Coastal Cruising certifications (those links are to the exact books they gave me for the courses but I’ll list the other books I’ve recently read at the end of this post. I then stopped in at Oxnard on the way back to Phoenix, and instead of getting a hotel, I decided to just rent a 32-foot sailboat for the day since it was almost the same and I’d have the boat for daytime (they let you sleep on the boat). I ended up staying all week on the boat and had a great time sailing and meeting people – and even sailed in a race that weekend. I still need to take one more class – ASA104, Bareboat Cruising, before I would feel comfortable heading out to an island for the weekend.
If you’re really into self-sufficiency as I am, you’ll love sailing. I’m not saying you should sell your stuff, get out of debt, and move onto a sailboat like I’m in the process of doing but just getting out there with friends and learning how to do it is really fun and very eye-opening. When you look at the awesome videos out there from people like La Vagabonde and S/V Delos, you can see that being out on a sailboat can be a great adventure that would be an awesome way to learn survival skills (check out these two videos, for example).
See what I mean? The more I’ve gotten into sailing (and watching hundreds of hours of these videos), the more I’ve seen that sailing provides the perfect opportunity to practice self-sufficiency as well as learning to become truly off-grid. You may have seen the nautical prepper guy on Doomsday Preppers. I tried to find a video of it for you but the only ones I found were pirated (see what I did there), but he did write this book, The Nautical Prepper: How to Equip and Survive on Your Bug Out Boat (Preppers).
If you’ve ever sailed a boat for any length of time, you know that there are constant reminders that shit happens, and if you’re out at sea or anchored at a deserted island, you have no one to rely on except yourself to deal with them. People who’ve logged any length of time on a sailboat are people who know how to deal with what life throws at them and fix things themselves with duct tape and rope. Sailing teaches you to deal with adversity and fix things yourself.
In order to live on a boat, you have to not only learn how to operate a sailboat and navigate, you have to be very particular about what you can take with you. This requires you to take a good look at what you need to survive (as comfortably as possible) and learn medical skills (and have the proper supplies), know how to fix your engine and other systems (and have the right tools), know how to gather food (usually by fishing but not always), have alternative sources of power, know how to process your food so it lasts (not all boats have refrigerators), be able to gather fresh water, know how to communicate through radio and other means, and so on. It takes a lot of prepping to be able to live on a boat.
So let’s look at this from a prepping/bug-out viewpoint. Obviously, you can see that in absolute worst-case scenarios where society collapses, getting away on a boat could be a great option, but I don’t really like looking at things from a TEOTWAWKI perspective – but let’s play with that thought for a moment. What happens if we get a big blast of sun gunk thrown at us from space that wipes out all our electronics for hundreds or even thousands of miles? (Read these three posts by my friend Frank if you want to know about EMP/CME). The nice thing about sailboats is they don’t need fuel or electricity to work. It is more convenient to use the motor to park the boat in a marina or to get moving when the wind dies (called being becalmed), but it’s not necessary.
Now keep in mind that sailing isn’t a skill you can ‘usually’ just pick up and do. You may be able to after a while but much like using a ham radio, it’s MUCH better if you learn how before you really need to do it.
So what that gives you is the ability to head out into the water when everyone else is scrambling around, not able to use their vehicles because they died or because of the ensuing traffic jams (provided your plans can get you to your boat. With enough training and practice, you could head out to the sea to get away from the mayhem and maybe find an island to stay (or other country) to get away. You can also now more easily fish for food, etc than you can from shore.
“How would I be able to find my way?” – Yeah, I hear ya. You can’t just hop in a boat and head out into the ocean and luck into an island. You’d have to know where you’re at and where you’re going. It is possible, however. You do it the way people did it for hundreds of years before GPS was invented – by sextant. Now, using a sextant isn’t something you can just pick up and start doing. This book can show you how to find your way using the stars, or you can take classes such as ASA107: Celestial Navigation. That’s one of those things you’ll understand once you start actually getting out there.
Now I’m not saying that you should be focusing a lot of your time and effort into bugging out in a sailboat, but if you’ve gotten your plans developed so you’re covered for the 99.99% of things that are much more likely to happen (losing your job, car breaking down, house fire, personal security, etc) then it doesn’t hurt to think bigger. Just don’t get the cart before the horse. Work on things like what to do if your power goes out for a few days or what you should put in a bag in case you have to leave home or get home. What I am saying though is that if you really want to practice what it would be like to have bugged out, with truly no one to rely on and nothing you can use but what you’ve packed in small area, sailing is a great way to do that – and have a fantastic time doing it.
Heck, you might even be able to get your significant other onboard with being prepared if they’re not already.
Ok, so as you may have guess from the average length of my posts, I’m kind of anal about research. As promised above, here are the books I’ve personally ordered and have read or am currently reading that pertain to sailing (like I said, I read a lot):
I haven’t read this series yet but Scott Williams has a four-book series called The Pulse that relates to sailboats and an EMP causing a SHTF/apocalypse scenario with the main character on a sailboat. It looks really good.
So, you don’t have to go all out and buy yourself a sailboat but if you know anyone who has one and goes out for at least overnight trips (and better yet, someone who has cruised to distant shores), I’d suggest getting out there and start talking to them about how they plan their trips. I think you’ll be surprised just how ‘prepperish’ they are. As far as I’m concerned, sailors are preppers.
While I am not a fan of bugging out, I realize that situations can force any of us to leave our homes. Of course the perfect bug out location is to have a fully equipped home in a good area of the country. That’s just common sense, but most of us can’t afford that, so what are our options?
You can find friends or relations that you can join in an emergency. If you make prior arrangements with them and stock some supplies, you will probably be welcome. Don’t just make the mistake of showing up and expecting that they will take care of you. In fact, here’s some wise advice from rural preppers who are pretty sure friends and family will find their way to their homestead.
Some people have purchased or gained access to vacant land and stashed supplies ahead of time. This can be a good idea, but you need to have a substantial amount of food and items to provide shelter. You have to hide these supplies well. Some people plan to take supplies with them and live off the land. Unless you are very experienced this is a very hard way to go, avoid this if you can.
I know some people who have a second home or small cabin that they keep stocked and ready to move in. This is a great idea if you can afford it and keep it secure. Make sure that you have the ability to get there in an emergency. Some people have already bugged out and now live in theirs year round.
Let’s assume you have the money and means to develop a bug out location or resettle to a new area. What criteria would you use to find the perfect retreat location?
A very detailed map, like a DeLorme atlas, will provide much of this information for you.
Before I moved there, I would spend a fair amount of time learning about the community. In addition to the research you can do through the internet and Chamber of Commerce, you need to spent time there. This means getting to know people other than realtors. Maybe subscribe to the local paper for several months. Go on some of the prepper blogs and ask if anyone lives near there, you may get lucky. Find a church in the area, talk to people. The more you can learn upfront the less you are likely to be disappointed later.
Designing a house, even a tiny cabin, should be fun! It’s a chance to for your dreams to become real in the form of a home. Most of us don’t get to include all the bells and whistles we might like, but we can include the most important ones, leaving the possibility to add more, later. At the very least, when you build and design your own bug out home, you can avoid things you truly dislike.
You may have purchased your land to live on full time, use for recreation, or for a time in the future when you might want to get away from cities in a bug-out scenario. Regardless, the first steps are aimed at getting ready to build.
The very first step to take before buying land is to have a perc test done, if one hasn’t been done already. If it fails, no home can be built on the property; just walk away and find a different location, unless you want a lot of extra hassle and potential difficulty reselling the land. (There are options that allow some of this land to be built on, but it’s more complicated, potentially expensive, and can be harder to maintain.)
The perc test tells how large the septic drain field can be, and that, in turn, lets you know how large your house can be. The result will be something along the lines of, “This property perked for three bedrooms”, which means you can build a three bedroom house, but not a four bedroom house. That’s not a suggestion and cannot be ignored. If your lot perks for three bedrooms and you need four, then you will need to buy an additional piece of adjoining land that perks for at least one bedroom and combine the two to build a four bedroom house.
Even if you don’t plan on building a full-size house and only plan to camp on your new land, you really should at least do a perc test for the sake of future resale value.
Once you buy the land, install a well and septic system if they aren’t already there. You can have the basic well and septic installed without having a final home location, but that would be a bit unusual and require the contractors to come back out later to finish the installation and hook-up. Try to avoid that extra expense, if possible.
It’s also important to know that you will need a fair amount of power to operate the well pump and the septic pump, so electricity will also need to be run to your property.
Some areas support geo-thermal heating, solar power, wind turbines, and other off-grid technology. If you are wanting, or hoping, to go completely off-grid, looking for properties that lend themselves to these options, is the way to go. You don’t want to invest money in property, developing, and building, only to find out that your location doesn’t lend itself to many off-grid options. Planning for the installation and use of these alternative power sources should be done in the earliest stages of designing and building.
If you want to be on your own well, before purchasing the property, find out if that’s even an option. One farm property we looked at was on city water. When I asked about having a well dug, the nice folks in this rural Kentucky area had never heard of such a thing. The realtor asked around to find someone who could even dig a well! That surprised me, because I had assumed a homestead of 20+ acres and well beyond city limits would automatically be on its own well. So, be sure to ask about this.
As mentioned in the post on choosing a property, a well and septic system can be $10,000-20,000 or more each, depending on size and complexity, so a $60,000 lot with a well and septic installed may be a bargain compared to an unimproved one the same size for $40,000. Personally, I would buy a lot with a well and septic already installed, if that was an option because it’s just easier and there are no worries about unexpected costs in installing the well and septic. Many people have successfully dug their own wells, however.
For the well, I have heard that some areas used to regularly install little windmills over the well to power them in an emergency. It’s also possible to install a hand pump. Those both sound like fine plans to me, especially after we had our well pump go out and had no running water in our house for several days. If you have a well and septic, no well also means no toilet because you need the water from the well to refill the toilets.
Tiny houses are cool. Tiny houses are fun! Tiny houses are…tiny. However, we all have to start somewhere. For a Get Out Of Dodge location or a weekend getaway, a tiny house is a great place to start, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop there forever. You can start with a tiny house and add on as finances allow. Also, my view is that if a 200 square foot house is “tiny” for one person, then an 800 square foot house is still “tiny” for two adults and two teens, so “tiny” doesn’t have to mean microscopic! If you’re a DIY type of person, or family, you could possibly build your own tiny house with plans such as these.
Tiny house or not, your initial space needs to include a kitchen. Since this is typically the most expensive space to build, it makes sense to build it with future expansion in mind. For example, if your initial building is quite small, the original space eventually becomes the kitchen and dining area with a guest bathroom. To me, the easiest way to do this is to have a series of smaller spaces connected by corridors or hallways, possibly surrounding a courtyard, parking, or work area.
As your family or group grows and/or you have more money to spend, the original small Get Out of Dodge shelter grows, but in an orderly and pre-planned fashion.
I found a floor plan in the book Compact Cabins that has another great idea for connecting two parts of a home: build a greenhouse or enclosed patio in the space between them. Depending on need, this space could be used as a mini-greenhouse, storage, or living space. I can easily imagine a space near the garage with pegboard walls covered in tools, another filled with books and homeschooling materials, and yet another filled with herbs and veggies.
Storage is always an issue, so another option would be to start off with a garage with a bathroom and plenty of storage space. (You may not feel this way, but I want a bathroom ASAP!) Later, a garage bathroom makes it possible to have dirty kids, dog, etc. clean off before coming into the main house, but initially, the large garage provides perfectly suitable living quarters. By starting with a garage, you’ll have covered and secured storage space right away.
If you are thinking of building it yourself, Cabins: A Guide to Building Your Own Nature Retreat by David Stiles, describes how to build your own cabin in the woods. It starts with site preparation and goes all the way through furniture selection.
Whether you are looking primarily for a weekend getaway or a full-on bug-out location, landscaping needs to be part of your planning. A portion of the land will need to be cleared, a basement may need to be dug, a driveway and parking created, and open space around your building(s) determined.
Even if you want to keep your lot heavily forested, there still needs to be some space around your buildings. If trees are too close, the roots can damage foundations, limbs are more likely to drop onto the roof or otherwise damage the building, and critters can easily use them as a pathway onto and into your (now their) home. In areas prone to fire, this should also be large enough to provide a firebreak.
Another consideration, is that you will need a rather large area for growing food. If your land is heavily forested, the shade will become a problem. It will also make any type of solar cooking more difficult!
Most people will simply plant pretty (but low-maintenance) flowers, bushes, and trees because that’s what they are used to doing. As a prepper, odds are that you will want your landscaping to do more work for you. Herbs, vegetables, berry bushes, nut trees, and fruit trees come to mind, but landscaping can also be done so it camouflages your property and provides protection. Many herbs and flowers, including marigolds, provide protection from insects. Anything with thorns is a deterrent for human pests trying to break in.
There are many good books on the topic, but Rick Austin’s are particularly good. Secret Garden of Survival: How to Grow a Camouflaged Food Forest tells you how to design an edible garden that won’t be noticed by passers-by and that requires minimal human involvement, which is critical for a rarely-used getaway. Secret Greenhouse of Survival: How to Build the Ultimate Homestead & Prepper Greenhouse is about building a greenhouse that doesn’t look like a greenhouse. Because it is designed to retain heat and help warm the house overall, the ideas are good even if you aren’t interested in a greenhouse.
Tiny houses often have little hidden compartments. If you are building a property that won’t be your primary home, at least for now, having some more burglar-resistant (hidden) spaces makes sense. Even if you don’t plan on leaving a lot of belongings there, it’s still a good idea. For example, my family has lots of DVDs that we will copy onto a portable drive. Having that stolen would be irritating, and a hidey-hole would conceal it perfectly!
If your location will be hot in the summer and cold in the winter, you may want to add a root or other cellar to store your temperature-sensitive medicine, electronics, and food, including basic canned goods. Take precautions in case a pipe freezes and bursts as well.
Personally, I want to build a series of smaller buildings with corridors or breezeways connecting them. This way, we can build one small building, then add onto it as money allows and as our kids grow older. Ideally, these will eventually surround a central courtyard. This offers a lot of great flexibility and options in terms of both privacy and security. Your courtyard can be as open, or as hidden, from the outside as you choose.
Spanish haciendas, with their interior courtyards, are a great example of this kind of style. They are generally one continuous building but may have several different levels, so it’s still worth taking a look. While Spanish hacienda style isn’t my first choice, it does have some great ideas for easy maintenance, comfort in the heat, and indoor-outdoor living.
The interiors of yachts and private cars for trains are my favorite source of inspiration for space-saving interiors. The people who design these are masters at that! For example, they routinely have a small shelf above the bathroom door to hold extra toilet paper and special dish racks to keep dishes safe on bumpy rails/seas. (This also keeps dishes safe in smaller earthquakes.) Small-scale appliances designed for use in boats can be used in a tiny house as well.
The Japanese are also renowned for their small-space designs. The home on the cover of The Very Small House has a raised floor for the kitchen. Naturally, there are segments that open to access storage under the entire kitchen floor.
Finally, Ikea. It’s a great source of ingenious space-saving furnishings.
Unless you are an architect (I’m not), you should work with a professional to turn your dreams and ideas into a buildable reality. They will be able to help you design your preppers hideaway in stages, adding additional rooms and sections, as time and finances permit. Will it be costly to hire an expert? Yes, but not nearly as costly as not having a professional make sure it’s right. Even small mistakes, such as forgetting to include a septic pipe, can be incredibly costly to fix. A professional builder should spot and fix at least the most obvious design mistakes, but that will take more of their time. You’ll end up paying at one end or the other!
So why bother going through all this process? An architect is a professional, but not a mind-reader. The more clearly you can articulate what you want, the easier (and possibly more fun) their job will be. If you tell them, “I want a 1000 square foot house with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms”, then you might as well look through a book of pre-made plans and pick one out. You have given them nothing to work with. If you say, “We want a lake house that brings to mind The Great Gatsby with a lot of yacht-inspired details, passive heating and cooling, and the lot perked for 3 bedrooms”, they have a real direction to go with their design. Creating a Pinterest board is a great way to show an architect or designer what you love (or hate).
I’m excited to design and build a bug out location for my family – even if we only need to “hide away” every so often from the routine drudgery of school and work!
When many urban or suburban people think about Prepping or Survivalism, they think about bugging out to a more rural location. This has to be one of the most frequently-expressed fantasies in the Prepping world, and reams have been written about where to go and how to get there.
But very little has been written from the perspective of the rural dwellers. How does your average farmer or homesteader feel about urban folks bugging out to the country?
We live on a twenty-acre homestead farm in rural north Idaho. Wow, I can see your eyes sparkling from here. You’re thinking, “What a perfect bug out location!” Then believe me when I say the most dreaded words a homesteader can hear on the subject of Prepping is, “Well, if the bleep hits the fan we’ll just come live with you.”
“Farm” does NOT mean remote or isolated or even self-sufficient. Farmers live pretty much like you do, but with more elbow room. We go to the grocery store. We have jobs. We have neighbors. And we have towns nearby.
Okay, granted those towns can be pretty small by urban standards, but they’re just as full of unprepared people as anywhere else. That means if the manure hits the rotating device, we’re going to have our hands full dealing with them.
Bear in mind that most people in the country may not be much more prepared than you are – which is to say, perhaps not at all. Unless rural folks already have a Preparedness mindset, they’re just as susceptible to societal interruptions as your average city person.
Our only advantage is we’re farther away from the Golden Horde, that mythical group of city folks who will take to the road in times of disorder, or so some survival experts believe.
Or, are we really that far away and safe from thousands of straggling refugees? In our case, we live within a very short drive (as in, four minutes) from a town of 1000, many of whom are on welfare and are just as dependent on government checks as anyone in the inner city. This means they will certainly go “foraging” when they get hungry.
Many people don’t realize that the Greater Depression has already impacted rural areas. Hard. Jobs out here are as scarce as hen’s teeth (as the saying goes) and unemployment in our county hovers around 20%. Most of us are poor to begin with, especially by urban standards. That means we don’t have a lot of money to pour into elaborate “prepper” projects.
So does this mean you should give up your idealized little dream about bugging out to the country? Yes and no. It depends on how realistic you’re being about your bug out plans.
To smooth the way, here are ten tips that may make your welcome a little warmer.
If you want to escape from the city, make your own private plans in advance and do not broadcast them to every Tom, Dick, and Harry of your acquaintance. Nothing will dismay a rural friend or relative – much less a perfect stranger – more than having a brace of new people on their doorstep asking for food, shelter, and protection. There’s nothing wrong with talking to rural-dwelling friends or relatives about the idea of deploying to their place if things get bad. But if you do……
One of the “panic” aspects we country folk feel is that we don’t have enough supplies to provide for a hungry horde. And we don’t. Let’s face it, sometimes we barely have enough supplies to feed ourselves (remember, 20% unemployment in our area). Do the math to understand our concerns. If, through hard work, thrift, and diligence we’ve managed to squirrel away a year’s worth of food for our family of four – and then you show up with your family of four – then we’ve automatically halved our supplies to six months. Now can you understand our fears?
Pretend you’ve bought an isolated cabin in the mountains to use as a bug out. Would you be pleased to show up, exhausted and scared, to a cabin with no food, water, bedding, lighting, heat, or other necessities? Of course not. Presumably you would outfit your cabin to be ready for a bad scenario.
Your plans to bug out to a host family should be no different. Send supplies in advance. Send lots of supplies in advance. Can’t afford it? Well guess what, neither can we. That shouldn’t stop you from sending a case of canned goods, a few sacks of rice and beans, perhaps some boxes of ammo. If the host family has an unused corner of their barn, perhaps they’ll allow you to dedicate that area for your supplies. Don’t forget clothing, sleeping bags, toiletries, firearms, medical supplies, etc., and make sure you make everything weather, insect, and rodent-proof.
If your finances permit, consider funding an expensive project that may be beyond a host family’s reach, such as a windmill, pond, or other pricey item. Think of it as a sort of investment.
Sending supplies in advance proves your worth. It demonstrates you don’t plan to be a leech.
Even if you’ve made plans ahead of time and stashed adequate supplies, don’t expect a host family to welcome all your baggage. For example, we have two large and semi-aggressive dogs. We have large and aggressive dogs on purpose – they help protect us. If you show up with a yappy Pomeranian and four cats, don’t expect us to be happy about it. Our dogs would spend every waking hour trying to eat your pets for lunch. And no, it’s not our fault that our dogs are “aggressive.” It’s your fault for bringing animals into a situation that we’re not prepared – or willing – to handle.
This is our home. We live and work here. We pay the mortgage. No matter how much we may love and welcome you, you’re still coming as a supplicant, not a part-owner of our farm. You are in no position to make demands or request that we change our way of doing things unless you can demonstrate you’re an expert. And even then, it’s still our house, property, equipment, and possibly food and other supplies.
Hint: diplomacy will go a long way if you think you know a better way to do something.
If you bug out to a rural host family, remember they’re not running a bed-and-breakfast. Don’t expect them to wait on you or cater to your every whim. A farm – especially post-bleep – will be a place of constant and brutal work. Nothing will annoy a host family more than some lazy jerk who does whatever he can to weasel out of the day’s chores. Be ready, willing, and able to help. It’s possible that lives may depend on the willingness of everyone to pitch in and work together to do what must be done.
When you arrive at your host family’s rural location, you must immediately change any wasteful habits you may have and become very parsimonious. If you spill something, don’t lavishly use paper towels to wipe it up because you can’t buy any more. Use a rag. Treat everything as irreplaceable – because believe me, if you’ve bugged out in the first place, it’s probably because the bleep has hit the fan and common everyday things are irreplaceable.
Host families in rural areas will be more likely to welcome those with useful skills. If your most useful skill is shopping or meditation or social activism, don’t expect a whole lot of sympathy. Your master’s degree in 18th century French literature is not likely to do you a whole lot of good post-bleep. But if you have practical skills – medicine or defense or mechanics or food preservation or animal husbandry or veterinarian skills or sewing or something similarly needed – you’re far more likely to find an open door.
And this should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t lieabout your skills or abilities. If you state with confidence that you’re an expert at hunting and butchering – but have never held a rifle or dispatched a steer – that will be discovered soon enough. Learn those skills first before you claim knowledge. Duh.
So learn stuff. Don’t show up ignorant.
If/when the bleep hits the fan, people (urban and rural) are likely to be a lot more hysterical than normal. Having your plans in writingahead of time clarifies all the obligations, expectations, andlimitations between the two parties. This contract can also include what the urban person can and cannot bring. Pets should be included in this list. If the rural refuge is not prepared to handle your yappy Pomeranian because he has three aggressive German Shepherds, you need to know that in advance.
This contract should include one very important part: how many people the host family is expected to take in. If, in your compassion, you gather up every second-cousin-twice-removed and show up with a swell of fifty people, do you honestly think that’s going to work?
Okay, let’s say you’ve done everything right. You’ve made a contractual plan in advance with a rural host family. You’ve sent plenty of supplies ahead of you. The welcome mat is ready to be rolled out.
Now whatever you do, shut up. Don’t blab your plans to friends and coworkers, because doubtless they’ll want to know more, and before you know it, the host family’s OpSec is blown. The host family is already going out on a limb by agreeing to take you in – don’t compromise their safety even more. And if martial law ensues and your gossip spreads about the host family’s supplies, it may mean those supplies may be confiscated. Congratulations, now you’re screwed – and so are the people who took you in.
The dictionary defines forbearance as “patient endurance and self-control.” Believe me, if the bleep hits the fan, we’re all going to have to practice astronomical amounts of forbearance.
It is not easy to move into someone else’s house. It’s not easy for the hosts to have permanent guests either. Imagine a standard-sized ranch house with five women in the kitchen. Do you honestly think they’ll all get along swimmingly? If that’s too sexist for you, imagine a building project with five guys or (worse) five engineers who all have their own ideas of how something should be done. Who’s right?
Hint: Whoever owns the house gets the final say unless you can diplomatically demonstrate you’re an expert in something. And even then, ownership trumps expertise.
Remember what it’s like at your home when friends and family arrive for the holidays? After three days, you long for everyone to leave. Well if it’s TEOTWAWKI, it won’t be a three-day vacation. There will be stress, anxiety, and short tempers. Everyone will need to walk gently, or the biggest danger for all may be much closer to home than you realize.
Living spaces are likely to be cramped and not private. There is only so much room in the average country home. It’s not like farmers live in mansions with multiple extra bedrooms. Expect to be bunked down on the living room floor or even the barn, shoulder to shoulder. (And no, the host family should NOT have to give up their bedrooms for you.)
Additionally, septic systems are easily overwhelmed by extra usage. One of the first projects everyone is likely to be involved in is digging an outhouse. Please don’t complain about its construction or usage.
If the circumstances with your host family become hostile and unbearable due to stress, high emotions, and general fears – then feel free to make other arrangements and leave.
I apologize if this list makes me sound hostile, but I’ll admit rural folks get tired of being treated like everyone’s personal deep larder if the bleep hits the fan, expected to uncomplainingly provide food and water and medical care and shelter and protection for anyone unprepared enough to show up on their doorstep. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not without Christian charity and will do what we can to help; but like most of our neighbors, we are low income and our resources are NOT INEXHAUSTIBLE. Our primary focus will be our family, neighbors, and beloved friends.
This article is not necessarily to discourage anyone from making plans to bug out to the country. This is just an attempt to make you look realistically at the people whom you’ll be bugging – and I use that double-meaning intentionally.
By Patrice Lewis.
Whether it is used to power a vehicle, run a generator, or fuel a lantern, few people escape the need to buy and store liquid fuels like gasoline, kerosene or diesel. In normal times, we have easy access to fuel at the gas station, and safety is taken for granted. But are you aware of the potential dangers of liquid fuels, and how to mitigate the hazards? If not, please read on!
The two most common fuels important to people preparing for emergencies are gasoline, which is liquid at room temperature, and propane, which is used as a gas at room temperature. Other liquid fuels include diesel fuel, a denser, oily fuel popular in trucks and generators, and “white gas,” a petroleum fuel related to gasoline but used in the popular Coleman and other brand camping stoves and lanterns. Unlike pressurized gas fuels, petroleum liquid fuels have a limited shelf life; they separate into their component chemicals over time and become unusable.
While natural gas has more widespread use in home heating and cooking, it is used less in rural areas because of the extensive piping needed to distribute it. Where it is available, it is cheaper and easier to use than propane. Natural gas is lighter than air, and thus disperses more easily than propane which is heavier than air.
Propane, also known as LPG (Liquefied Propane Gas) is used for heating and cooking in mostly rural areas where natural gas is not available and is stored in large tanks at the user’s home or business. Periodically, the propane tank is refilled by a mobile propane truck.
Propane has the advantage of portability, available in consumer-sized portable containers including the popular 20 lb. tank used for barbecue grills and a small 16 ounce tank used for lanterns and small barbecues.
Gaseous fuels like natural gas and propane are kept under pressure, and require a closed system (tank-to-hose-to-tank) that prevents loss of fuel during transfer from one tank to another. Usually a trained technician is needed to refill a propane tank. In normal times, there’s no problem, but during a disaster, this characteristic can be problematic.
On the other hand, all of us have filled up our car’s tank at the gas station. No thought required, you pay for the fuel and put the nozzle in your tank. You don’t see the safety measures engineered into the dispensing system; accidents are few. If you follow a few basic safety principles, you can safely store significant amounts of gasoline as part of your preparedness strategy.
Gasoline’s value as a fuel is its volatility, or its characteristic of rapidly changing from a liquid to a gas. Even in freezing temperatures, an open container of gasoline quickly produces vapor that is extremely flammable. In hot temperatures, gasoline vapor can create outward pressure on a container, and if the cap isn’t tight vapor can escape; in extreme cases, the pressure can rupture the container. In the worst case, a burst gasoline container can ignite, resulting in an explosion. I have seen estimates of the explosive power of a gallon of gasoline equivalent to 20-60 sticks of dynamite.
Gasoline vapor is heavier than air, and so like water settles to the lowest possible point. Accidental ignition of the vapor will flash back to the container and ignite the remaining gas. As a result, one should NEVER store gasoline in any amount in a dwelling or garage with a potential ignition source like a water heater pilot light. Static electricity is another hazard; containers should be on the ground when pouring to safely avoid static sparks.
Less volatile fuels like diesel are easier to store than gasoline. While gallon for gallon diesel has more energy than gasoline, it has a higher ignition temperature and isn’t as volatile.
Not surprisingly, the best container to store gasoline is called a “Safety Can.” These 5-gallon cans are built to prevent rupture, and have a spring-loaded seal instead of a screw-on cap. The seal keeps the gasoline vapors securely inside, and a spark arrestor screen prevents the contents from igniting from a flash back. In the event of a fire outside of the Safety Can, the seal will vent gasoline vapor that builds up inside, preventing a catastrophic explosion.
A Type I Safety Can (pictured) is just for storage, you’ll need a funnel to pour out the gasoline. It’s also the least expensive of the Safety Cans, available on ebay for about $40.00 each. Type II Safety Cans add a flexible spout to make refueling easier, and are about $60.00 each. Reputable brands include Justrite and Eagle.
While it seems like a lot of money to invest, the Safety Cans have a 10-year warranty and are well-constructed. In addition to their use in your plans, 5 gallons of gasoline or diesel would be a terrific barter item in an emergency for something else you need.
If you decide to store gasoline or diesel, you have to plan a rotation schedule, as they both will start to decompose within several months. Using old fuel in an engine will cause major problems in short order. You can extend their life with a fuel stabilizer like STA-BIL, but ultimately if you don’t use it you’ll lose it.
Let’s say you store 8 five-gallon cans of gasoline, for a total of 40 gallons. Number the cans 1 through 8, and each week empty one of the cans into your car or other gasoline-powered equipment and refill the can. Mark this on a calendar and it becomes automatic; in two months, you’ve rotated your gasoline stock without too much trouble.
To sum up, you’d be crazy not to include some fuel storage in your preparedness plans. Just be sure you do it safely, and that you can rely on it when you need it.
By Jim Acosta
Lots of preppers are convinced that they’re going to “live off the land” should the world as we know it come tumbling down around our ears. Seed banks are stockpiled, books are purchased, and people are confident that they’ll be able to outlive everyone else based on the sweat of their inexperienced brows.
But no matter how hard working you are, farming takes time. Time for learning, time for mistakes, and time for your plans to come to fruition. A prepper homestead is something that must be built over a period of time – it’s absolutely not a plug-and-play solution, regardless of the number of survival seed packets you have carefully stashed away. Farming for survival is not a good plan if you have never done it before.
If a prepper homestead is your survival plan, let me give you some advice: STORE. FOOD.
You are going to have to have something to get you through that first year when your farm doesn’t produce diddly squat.
As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows, my family is prone to new adventures. We’ve moved from a large city to a cabin in the North Woods, where I discovered I knew nothing about building fires and living in the wilderness. We drove across the continent to move from Ontario, Canada, to the West Coast, where I had to rebuild my preps from the ground up, since US Customs would not allow us to bring our food supplies across.
This year’s adventure is food production. My daughter and I recently moved to a small farm, eager to polish up a new skill set and build that idealized prepper homestead that many of us dream about.
After only a few months here, I feel it’s my duty to announce that while raising your own food is a noble goal, it’s not as easy as people seem to think. Heck, even though I expected some setbacks, it is way harder and more time-consuming than I expected.
Of course, shortcuts do exist to help you circumvent all of these issues. If you have lots of money, you can shorten the amount of time it takes for your farm to be productive. The shortcuts all seem to cost a lot more money than the hard-work-method, and if you’re getting into self-reliance on a dime, they may not be practical or affordable. The other issue is, you may not even know the issue exists until it smacks you in the face and you’re chasing a goat down the road in your pajamas, frantically waving your arms to warn approaching pickup trucks to slow down so they don’t mow down your livestock. (Ask me how I know this.)
The real truth is, raising your own food takes time. It isn’t something you undertake after the SHTF. If a self-reliant homestead is your survival strategy, you need to start now.
Unless you’re Jack, the possessor of magic beans that grow to prolific heights overnight, you’re going to get awfully hungry waiting for your garden to feed you. The first year a garden is grown in a new place, you learn about all sorts of foibles of your location, things you’d never know unless you have taken the effort to create your own salad bar.
Some folks get lucky and end up with a lush green jungle from the very first season, but for most of us…well, let’s just say that my daughter and I would struggle to live for a week on the calories produced by this year’s garden.
We have had all of the plagues this year that condemned us to gardening failure. First, we moved late in the season, but I had nurtured my veggies in buckets, so I assumed I’d transplant them and they’d magically grow.
Alas, on the first night, they fattened up the local deer. If I shot a deer that got fed by my vegetable plants, would that count towards the success of my gardening efforts? Because that would substantially up the caloric bounty.
So, I re-fenced, got a big dog, and replanted. Then, like something out of a sci-fi movie, freaking GOPHERS yanked the plants down by the roots and made them vanish. All that remained was a fluttering leaf here and there.
I dug out my raised beds, laid hardware cloth at the bottom, and refilled them. Then I replanted again. By this time, it was late July and we had a heatwave. Many of the new plants didn’t survive the blazing 110 degree days, despite shade and plentiful water. Some of the ones that did survive got peed on by the dog I got to protect them from the deer, and immediately withered from being drenched in urine.
Did I mention hornworms? They decimated several of my tomatoes and peppers overnight! I watered in the evening and things looked great. The next morning, half of my plants looked as though they’d been scalped. Out of a sense of vengeance, I threw those hornworms in the chicken run to be pecked, tortured, and eaten alive. Take that, you evil little jerks.
I am still picking tomatoes and peppers from the plants I saved, but that’s all we got this year. Thankfully, we’re big fans of salsa and marinara, but we don’t have enough to live off. In four months on my little prepper homestead, I’ve basically produced a large salad.
This is all part of the game, though. Next year will be better because I’ve put into place what I’ve learned. I’ve gotten a deer-proof fence, I’ve gopher-proofed my raised beds, I figured out how to keep my dog out of the lower beds by placing barriers at the corners after he peed on my favorite tomato plant. Once I’ve harvested the last tomato, I’ve got a cover crop ready to go into the beds to enrich the soil and feed my chickens this winter. And to greater express my determination, I’ve enrolled in a master gardener’s course through my county extension office.
I will grow food next year. But if we had to live off of this year’s harvest, we’d be screwed.
As I mentioned above, shortcuts are expensive and all of these may not be realistic or fall within your budget.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
In farming, it’s the chicken. The chickens come well, well, before the eggs. Like, at least 6 months before.
I have 13 chickens of varying ages, and nary an egg in site. My oldest three hens will be laying soon, but there’s a lot more to backyard egg production than throwing some feed into a henhouse or opening the door to let your birds free range and telling them to be sure and deposit their eggs neatly in the bins provided to them.
First, many people start with little baby chicks. Not only are they flippin’ adorable, but they’re way cheaper than adult birds. You get to know exactly what they’ve eaten for their entire lives, which means you know whether they’ve been consuming antibiotics or hormones, and can alter their diets to fit your personal food philosophies.
But chicks are fragile. Out of my first batch of 8, five died. FIVE. More than 50%. I felt like an unwilling serial killer of baby animals. Since my subsequent batches have flourished with the exact same care, I suspect there was some illness from the feed store where I purchased them. Baby chicks need special food, an environment that is safe from predators, and a heat source so that they can maintain the right body temperature. Of course, you have to be careful with the heat lamp or you can set your coop on fire, something that very nearly happened to me, but mercifully, we caught it just in time.
When they get big enough, you have to teach them where the water is and put them in a safe place where they won’t be eaten by predators. We have a large covered run that keeps them protected while allowing them fresh air and some freedom. Keep in mind that when it’s too cold or too hot, your chickens won’t lay eggs, so hens of laying eggs are actually no guarantee of fresh eggs on a daily basis.
Everyone thinks of cows when they think of milk. A calm, productive dairy cow is a wonderful thing. However, this is not an instant kind of thing either. If you get a calf, you should know that cows should not be bred before 15 months, and may not reach maturity until they are 22 months of age. Cow gestation is 9 months, like humans. So you’re looking at about two and a half years or more before you can get so much as a drop of milk from a cow. Their poop is enormous, smelly, and draws flies, which is a problem if you don’t have a lot of land for them to roam on. Cows are also quite expensive to purchase and eat way more than goats, so for the homesteader on a budget, goats are a better option.
Goats come with their own set of difficulties.If you go and get a couple of female baby goats with the intention of bottle feeding them to make them friendly, that’s awesome. You will succeed in having the sweetest goats around, and they’ll follow you around the homestead like a dog. What they won’t do is give you milk for at least a year and a half. 18 months of feeding for them, caring for them, shoveling their poop, and cleaning their stalls.
You should not breed a goat until she’s a year old. Then, if the breeding takes, you have 5 months of waiting for babies. Then, you have a couple of weeks where she’s producing colostrum for her kids, which you should never, ever take. Finally, you have milk. FINALLY. And it’s delicious. But that first glass is the most long-awaited glass of milk you will ever sip.
Goats are cute but can be a total pain in the rear. If you give them a cardboard box full of veggie scraps, they’ll eat the box and ignore the vegetables. They will climb on your vehicle and dent it with their little hooves of destruction. If you fence them in, they will get through, around, or over your fence. No matter how many acres you give them to romp on, whatever is on the opposite side of the fence is what they must have. Our 10-month-old goat discovered that she fits through our gate and we had to chase her down the road that leads to our farm the other day. In pajamas, since it was morning and we weren’t dressed yet. Today’s project is running hardware cloth through the bars on the gate and hoping that keeps her in. There’s a project every day with goats. Here’s some GREAT information on housing your goats that I wish I’d seen at the beginning.
Meat is also far from instant. The closest thing to instant meat is going to be rabbits. Cute, fluffy rabbits. They breed quickly and prolifically and are mature by the age of 8-12 weeks, at which time they can be butchered for food. Below, you can see the ages at which these animals can be butchered for meat:
Of course, this is the age of maturity in the best of all possible worlds. The world that contains premium feed, the ability to pick it up from the feed store, a controlled environment safe from predators. If your animals are free-ranging, they’re going to grow more slowly and be leaner since they’re working for their food. If you have selected heritage breeds, they grow more slowly still than the hybrids that are bred specifically for a speedy maturity. As you can see, this isn’t an instant gratification kind of thing. Add a SHTF long-term disaster to the mix, and you’re looking at quite some time before you can harvest meat.
It gets even trickier when you want to develop a breeding program on your farm in order to raise your meat. Then, you must add in the time for the mother animal to become mature, waiting for the right time to breed her, and then waiting for the gestation period to be over. Literally, we’re talking about years before you have meat production for many species.
Then there’s the butchering. Are you going to be able to slaughter the animal you saw born, raised from a little baby, and perhaps gave a clever name to? Lots of people are fine with this, but many others will find that it’s much harder than they expected. Humanely dispatching an animal takes experience and the right tools. Cleaning and butchering the animal is also not something you can dive right into. If you’re lucky, you have some farmer friends who will help you the first time or two.
So, you might read this article and think I’m telling you that a prepper homestead is an unrealistic survival plan. That’s not it at all.
What I’m telling you is that a prepper homestead has to be created well before a disaster strikes. You have to figure out:
You have to learn many of these things from experience. My experience can’t teach you because my setting is entirely different. You may have different predators, a different climate, differently physical challenges – every single family’s circumstances will be unique. The only way to predict the problems and overcome them is to experience them in the first place. And trust me, it’s way better to experience failure when the feed store and the hardware store are only a short drive away.
While it’s incredibly important to take every step you can towards self-reliance, it is equally vital to have a backup plan. Have these things to fall back on:
Most of us learn our homesteading lessons through failure. Something we thought would work, did not. The weather turned against us. The point is, you need to have experience to be able to overcome the things that go wrong. Better to get that experience now when the store is only minutes away.
An affordable bug out location or Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) property is a wish and a dream for many a prepper. Unfortunately, though, few of us can afford those multi-hundred-thousand dollar properties we see on TV with orchards, solar power, stocked ponds, and all the bells and whistles.
Even a moderate property out in the country is an additional expense, not only for survival or preparedness but as a place to go while the kids and grandkids are little. Time in the country makes for many happy memories. After all, you might want to get out of Dodge simply to escape from the stresses of everyday life.
If this is a dream and a goal for you, the first step is to find an affordable, usable GOOD property for your family, preferably one that is a fun weekend and summer getaway as well. Once you’ve found that dream piece of land, then it’s time to design and build your dream property, all without breaking the bank or having to drive too far (as defined by your family).
The first issue to tackle is where you want to buy property.
To narrow the search, the first decision is how far it is reasonable to go. For us, anything more than a full work day (eight hours) of driving in normal conditions was too far both for that Get Out of Dodge location and for an enjoyable family weekend/summer retreat. If everything did hit the fan, getting that far would be difficult to impossible. For family getaways, we would spend two days driving, which uses up an entire weekend and cuts down too much on a longer vacation. In addition, getting there to check on problems and make sure everything was safe is too difficult.
PREPPER TIP: Decide how far you’re able to drive, in both hours and miles, and then mark those distances on a map, going in different directions from your current home. This may lead you to the perfect area you hadn’t considered.
Living near a major city, two hours is bit too close to the potential hordes. Ultimately, we decided that a three to four hour drive from our home is comfortable for us both in terms of being far enough for a SHTF situation and close enough for summer vacations and weekend trips. However, a knowledgeable friend in our own town has a retreat ninety minute to two hours from here. His belief is that three to four hours is too far if you need to walk, and his family is able to regularly use their weekend place because it is convenient. Point being: the ideal distance is what you are comfortable with, not a static, fixed number.
Another consideration is the terrain you will need to travel. Given our location, a lot of potential destinations involve twisty, country roads or heavily traveled interstates. That definitely impacts our choices.
Depending on where you live, some directions may have rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, canyons, and other geographical features that can make driving harder, or possibly easier. Seasonal features such as flood plains and roads that are routinely threatened by avalanches, mudslides, or rock slides must also be considered, although these are unlikely to be marked on anything other than, possibly, a detailed map such as a DeLorme Atlas.
Man-made potential hazards such as dams, prisons, and power plants are not marked on all maps, but should certainly be considered. (I lived near Three Mile Island when it made nuclear history.) Other considerations include having a national border (Mexico, Canada) or big city (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) within a few hours. We have a big city about six hours north of us. Six hours is more than far enough to feel safe from it even in our home, but any property owners several hours north of us will regret being that close to a large city. Obviously that isn’t ideal in a SHTF situation, but it also tends to make property much more expensive in everyday life.
Weather is another consideration. In my case, the weather even four hours north tends to be cold enough that it would limit how much we could use the property. Similarly, buying property three to four hours east of Los Angeles would tend to make it too hot and dry to be useful. (It is a literal desert.) Some areas are also prone to natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, which can lead to significantly increased expenses for building, insurance, and repairing damage. In short, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the local weather and natural hazards in any area you are considering.
RECOMMENDED READING: I cannot recommend highly enough the classic by Joel Skousen, Strategic Relocation, for evaluating locations within every state and continent as a potential Get Out of Dodge location.
Your family may also have specific health-related concerns that will affect your GOOD location. Anywhere with too much time on twisty roads is problematic for my family because of rampant motion-sickness. Another friend has serious health issues and has to be within an hour or two of a top-notch hospital. Allergies and even phobias may also impact your choices. If someone is truly afraid of heights, a cliff-top property might be completely out of the question.
Once you look at all those factors, you should have a solid, reasonably-sized radius to look in and it’s time to narrow down the search to specific counties or towns.
Spend some time thinking about what your family enjoys doing and where they like to do it. Are they avid bikers, backpackers or hikers? What kind of terrain? Do you regularly canoe, kayak, sail, swim, or do other water sports? Are they better suited to the ocean, rivers, or a lake? Is the property just for you or do you plan to build with friends or family?
These may seem trivial if you have end-of-the-world scenarios in mind, but at some point, you might be LIVING in this location, so it might as well be somewhere you actually want to spend time.
How old are your kids? If they are small, what safety concerns do you have? With toddlers, a deep swimming hole could make an otherwise-perfect property a no-go. If they are bigger, do you want to make it big enough that they can join you with their own significant other and/or family? Do you have any other family members you need to consider, including your parents and in-laws? How much space do you really need both in acreage and in home space, and think ahead several years to changing family size and circumstances.
How do you plan to get there? Do you have a private plane? (If so, your search radius can be hours farther from your home – a ten hour drive might be a nice short flight!) That will clearly change what you are looking for since you will need a landing strip nearby. Will you be taking an RV or tiny house? Do you have a four wheel drive vehicle? How about a truck? Will your family or group be arriving in multiple vehicles? Not only will your form of transportation affect how far your GOOD site will be, but also the types of roads you’ll be able to navigate.
Do you want to start a survival garden? If so, what plans do you have? Your needs will be different if you want to have a mini-orchard, an herb garden, or a small greenhouse, but gardening generally needs more open (not forested) land than hunting or fishing, for example, and your needs in terms of soil, sunlight, and water will be greater. The north side of a mountain may simply never get enough sunlight for successful gardening.
RECOMMENDED READING: Develop a survival garden that blends in with the surrounding native plants, providing food but camouflaged to passers by. Rick Austin provides details in his book, Secret Garden of Survival.
Would a hunting property be regularly used, or does your family fish? Depending on what you hunt, the game might be plentiful in different areas, and you might want to adjoin (or avoid) national or state park lands. As a fisherman, you may choose to avoid certain areas if the water (and fish) are known or believed to be contaminated, or to choose other areas where they are plentiful and tasty.
In our case, my kids love kayaking, canoeing – any water sports – so my preference is property on or near water, just not the ocean. (I don’t want to deal with hurricane insurance or damage.) That means our ideal GOOD property will be either on a lake or a river. My preference is a lake because rivers tend to have large cities on them, which makes it easy for those citizens to go upstream in an emergency and our safe shelter might not be so safe any more. Rivers also frequently have power plants and factories on them, increasing the chances of pollution.
Using MapQuest and Google Earth, I initially searched in a 2 hour radius from our home for rivers, larger lakes, and any other water feature that might serve, until we found an area that seemed to suit. (The DeLorme Atlases are also a great way to search.) The next step was to (virtually) check out actual real estate.
Some areas have realtors that specialize in that area, although that can be a warning sign that they are popular and possibly too populated. For other areas, Zillow or realtor.com can help you decide if the area suits. This is a great way to get a general idea of what the local style is. If you really hate log cabins, an area where most of the available property tends toward “log cabin” probably won’t be a great fit. But it might be perfect if you love log cabins!
In my own search, the first area I found to my liking is near a major natural spring, making geothermal energy a real option, but it’s also far too close for comfort to a less-than-totally-safe city. It’s also an area with lots of tourists, and this makes the prices a bit higher. Moving on, the next potential property I found didn’t appeal to my husband because it was too close to where we live now.
After talking with my husband a bit more, I realized that I was looking for locations too close to our current home. It was at this point that I went from looking a couple hours away to three or four hours away. Lesson learned: it’s important to be flexible and talk with your spouse while going through this process. As we talked through things, I realized that we were really only interested in looking south of where we currently live. That simplified things a lot!
I spent a few more hours on Google Earth and narrowed down the search area even further simply by looking at the geography. By identifying a more specific area and then looking at geographical features, we now have an area that’s a good enough fit to actually begin looking at properties.
Wanting to learn more about the area from those who have visited it first hand, I started to ask people what they thought of it. Since it’s a popular vacation spot, asking around doesn’t raise any suspicion. When I was picking my son up from school, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt for that area and asked his opinion. Since his family has been going there every year for thirty years, I think he counts as a fan! More importantly, talking to local people about it has given me a better feel for how long it really takes to get there and how hard the drive is, or isn’t. (Motion sickness is a big issue for my family.)
The area has lots of summer vacation home rentals but that isn’t realistic for us this year. Camping, on the other hand, is totally doable, so I’m going to try to wrangle the family and get them to go down for a long weekend to really see what we think of the area.
One item to keep in mind while you are looking at undeveloped land is that a well and septic can be $10-20,000 or more each, depending on size and complexity. Well prices depend in large part on depth; our well has water about 40 feet down but the well is over 200 feet deep, so don’t assume water fairly near the surface will mean the well doesn’t go deep. A $60,000 lot with a well and septic installed may be a bargain compared to an unimproved one the same size for $40,000.
How can the cost of a GOOD property be affordable? Consider it’s potential as a rental. In the area I’ve been looking at, because it is a popular vacation spot, there is the potential for rental income depending on how and where we build. (Local ordinances restrict some areas from short-term rentals; other areas are simply not desirable.) Honestly, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Once we have our personal items there and at least enough food that we don’t have to go grocery shopping immediately upon arrival, I don’t know that I want strangers staying there, but I might be OK with it. I simply don’t know, and it’s far down the road, but it’s an option that could help us if we experienced a financial setback.
Sharing the property with like-minded friends and family is another way to lower the cost, especially if you have multiple buildings on one larger property. One possibility is starting with a tiny house or two — enough covered living area to provide a sturdy shelter until a larger home can be built.
Really be purposeful and realistic about what you are buying. Do you actually need one hundred acres, or would five to ten acres suffice for your needs? More land means more area to protect and develop. Living near a state or national park may decrease how much property you need, if isolation is your primary concern. Finding a property where you can generate off-grid power such as solar, geothermal, wind, or water power may also help you lower the long-term costs.
As with any big purchase, there is a lot to consider, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or outrageously expensive (for real estate). Take your time, think about your needs – not what someone else tells you is important, and what you want out of a property. Enjoy the process – and don’t rush it! It’s better to take a few more months, or even a couple of years, and end up with a property you love than to settle for something not-quite-right.
Way back in 2007, when I first became aware of the need to prepare for an increasingly uncertain future, I was convinced that our family needed to move from the city to a hidey-hole or a cabin in the woods, commonly referred to as “rural survival retreats.” Preferably in Idaho.
Our retreat would be located at least 25 miles from the nearest interstate and 10 miles from the nearest town, which would have no more than 1000 residents. We would be safe from zombie biker gangs and hoards of desperate people leaving the big cities en masse.
Since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to survival retreats and have come to realize they aren’t the be all, end all when it comes to preparedness and survival. That’s not to say they will become hell-holes when everything hits the fan, but I’m concerned that too many trusting folks believe that once they get to their retreat, they’ll be safe and sound.
Here’s why a rural survival retreat may not be the safe refuge that everyone thinks.
In case you haven’t noticed, self-reliance isn’t exactly a lifestyle encouraged by a federal government and many state governments intent on increasing the level of dependency of citizens. Incredibly, top politicians boast of the number of
Americans on food stamps and are actively working to increase those numbers!
Citizens wishing to decrease their level of government dependence are viewed with suspicion. Without a doubt, those living in rural areas will come under increasing scrutiny as their activities are viewed as oppositional to those of the federal government. You will be in their bulls eye in the form of punitive regulations and laws, at the very least.
Recently it was reported that the federal government had some 30,000 spy drones it was willing to bequeath to law enforcement agencies across the country. Has your local police or sheriff’s department requested one of these? Is there any reason to believe it won’t be used to spy on the activities of innocent civilians, especially those who may show signs of uppity self-reliance activities?
In 2012 it was rumored that drones had been used by the EPA to keep track of the activities of independent farmers and ranchers. The rumors were denied, but I can’t think of a single reason why they won’t be used to check out “suspicious activities” of those living off the radar.
Do you really think your survival retreat hasn’t been mapped by Google? Activate a drone, and a survival retreat is less of a
retreat, with survival questionable. And, Google has a very cozy relationship with the federal government.
Here is just a sampling of stories that illustrate all too well how powerless a rural family is against the force of government.
Keep in mind, though, that in the summer of 2015, the EPA brilliantly managed to release over 1 million gallons of highly toxic waste into the beautiful Animas River in Colorado. These are the same people who believe they have the right to regulate rivulets of water on private property.
“U.S. top court backs landowners, limits power of EPA” The Supreme Court did not say that the EPA’s methods ere unconstitutional, just that citizens have the right to sue after the fact.
“New labor rules threaten role of farm kids,” This idea was dropped but serves to illustrate the lengths that some in
government are willing to go in order to squelch those desiring and promoting self-reliance.
How many rural families have the time and resources to fight unjust charges and policies such as these? Not many, and I haven’t even started on the I.R.S.!
I’ve noticed that every crisis seems to cause some in government to react with reactionary speeches and usually unnecessary, burdensome policies.
The current drought has me worried because I can easily see it used as an excuse for government interference with the use of well water. How hard would it be for an agency to declare that one person or another was, “using more than their ‘fair share’ of water,” and regulating well water usage for everyone?
Read more: Already living in a drought? Learn these techniques to garden in a drought.
Of course there are also natural dangers that low levels of water bring to rural areas in the form of forest fires, animal starvation, and difficulty in growing crops.
Has your local news media been covering Agenda 21? No? Thought not. Americans don’t even realize that the policies of this oppressive document are already being voluntarily implemented in many towns, cities, and states. The goals of Agenda 21 are shocking and when you read through them, it’s obvious they are becoming a threat to rural America in the form of various regulations put in place by people who mean well but don’t understand how easily they are signing away basic freedoms.
How long does it take to establish trust?
How well would you have to know someone in order to leave your children with them for a week?
Would you tell your family members about your preps, what you have, and where they are stored?
Well-meaning folks who buy a rural retreat and attempt to become established there are sometimes shocked to discover that their neighbors may be polite but they are hardly welcoming. Some of these neighbors have lived in these small towns and outlying areas for decades, so I don’t blame them at all for looking at newcomers with a roll of their eyes.
You’ve moved out to the boonies, the neighbors don’t seem interested in joining your “survival team”, so now what? How many years must you live there in order to become one of them and, in fairness, would you really want to? Just because they’re country folk doesn’t make them trustworthy or noble any more than coming from a city or the suburbs makes you shifty or irresponsible.
Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and massive forest fires endanger everything from big city buildings to placid rural retreats. You may have found the perfect location for your bugging out but it’s not impervious to acts of God.
One of the most memorable scenes in Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is when one of the main characters, a self-made millionaire, finally reaches his survival hide-out only to discover that it’s already occupied by squatters. He doesn’t have the weapons, man-power, or tactics to remove them, so he continues on, hoping to survive without any of his supplies, gear, or shelter.
Book review: Here’s my video review of Lucifer’s Hammer.
Rural retreats are, well, rural. They’re out in the country, the boondocks, and unless you live there pretty much fulltime, they are vulnerable to squatters moving in, using your stuff, and staying there. How, exactly, will you prevent that and when you arrive at your now squatter-filled home, will you put up a fight or walk away? What if law enforcement isn’t available or they just don’t care?
When you look at a map of the United States, there’s a reason why vast areas remain virtually unpopulated. Those areas encompass enormous deserts with few, if any, water sources and tracts of forests that cover steep mountainsides and difficult-to-access valleys.
These areas aren’t just rugged terrain but they also experience some of the harshest weather conditions, such as extreme drought or multiple winter blizzards. Throughout history, people have built their civilizations in areas that enjoyed milder climates and reliable water sources. Sure, the lure of a peaceful retreat may be calling, but make sure you visit that location in different seasons so you know what to expect.
I’ve always said, “People who live far from other people, do so for a reason.” Sometimes it’s because they truly want to be one with nature and enjoy the solitude, but for many it’s because they want to avoid the law and law-abiding citizens.
When we were house shopping in Texas, we checked out a number of homes miles from town and on acreage. One local friend said, “Be sure to find out where the meth houses are,” and he wasn’t kidding.
No, not everyone who loves country living is a criminal, but you can’t deny that the hinterlands have a certain allure for people who have something to hide.
Thousands of words have been written about bug out vehicles, with long debates about which make and model is best. The fact is, though, that the vehicle is less important than the road conditions to your retreat. There are some routes that are completely impassable during long periods of time in the winter. If the S hits the fan during December or January, you may be completely out of luck due to something as mundane as road conditions and will have to go to Plan B — hunkering down at home.
I have multiple copies of the DeLorme atlas, which is very detailed, but in certain weather conditions, having multiple routes planned still won’t get me to where I need to be, no matter how urgent the cause.
I love getting away from it all and leaving the sounds of traffic and people far behind, but in a survival scenario, being alone and isolated can work against you and, in fact, could be deadly.
Health and physical safety are very fragile. Accidents happen, a common cold or flu can take the turn for the much worse overnight, and you’ll find that your First Aid class and copy of a survival medical handbook just aren’t going to do the trick. If an urgent trip to the hospital becomes a matter of life or death, can you make it there in time?
Sometimes the problem won’t be a health issue but, instead, a bad-guy issue. Living away from everyone else has its risks but for the criminal, it also has its opportunities.
Fernando Aguirre, author of Surviving the Economic Collapse, lived through Argentina’s multiple collapses and has this to say about surviving in a rural area:
I don’t think an isolated homestead or farm is the best place to be in, and it certainly isn’t when crime becomes a real problem all across the country. In people’s minds, in their novels and fantasies things may always work out just the way they want. It also helps that none of the things speculated in these fictional scenarios have ever occurred, at least not yet. A person can be so easily fooled into thinking that his retreat or homestead in any given US state is safe from looters and criminals because this or that “expert” claims so, the real reason why it´s been working well for any given period of time is that you’ve never actually had it put to test by your environment. Argentina puts you to test and that’s where suppositions, theories and wishful thinking crash against the cold hard reality.
…a friend of mine suffered an attack to his farm in just a couple days ago. He’s smart, successful, experienced, and a true survivalist in my opinion. You might remember the home invasion attempt my dentist suffered a while back. This friend of mine wasn’t that lucky. During the afternoon five men approached the housekeeper’s home and took the family hostage. Dogs barked but they (the men) moved fast. They used ski masks and gloves, armed of course, communicated with radio and were very professional. Right after reducing the housekeepers they quickly moved to the main building and took control of the main house. My friend wasn’t there with his wife and kids, it was occupied by other family members that were visiting. Being the smart person he is, that’s not his main residence and prefers to live in a gated community.
Read Fernando’s entire article at this link.
In these different scenarios, how quickly will help, in the form of law enforcement, medical professionals, or fire fighters get to your location? If you don’t have reliable internet or a phone landline, how will people know that you need help?
I haven’t written these points to discourage anyone from establishing a retreat somewhere away from big cities, but I think it’s important to not over-estimate the level of security such a retreat might bring and to have a checklist of sorts for considering how quickly things can go sideways.
No, I don’t think cities are safer! They come with their own challenges and dangers, but at least preppers who are also city-dwellers are aware of their vulnerabilities. Too often, survival pros sell the concept of a “survival retreat” as a cloak of immunity from coming troubles, and that is what concerns me.
I doubt there is a prepper topic more popular than “bugging out”. Search the term on Google and you’ll end up with nearly 2 million results! Add “bug out bags“, “bug out vehicle” and “bug out location” to the mix and you’ll be overwhelmed with information — reading material for a lifetime.
It’s relatively simple to come up with items for a bug out bag and a bug out vehicle could be an old Ford pick up truck you pick up for a couple thousand dollars. The priciest bug out item, by far, is a bug out location, that is, if you want something more secure and sturdy than a tent or a lean-to.
This is where a “tiny house” might fit in with your plans for bugging out.
When I first heard of tiny houses, I knew it wasn’t for me. Not so much because of the small size but because those espousing the beauty of tiny houses were hipsters, cool singles with no messy kids or the need for a home office. Yes, they looked mighty cool sitting on their tiny porch in front of their tiny house, but as any mom will tell you, put 4 or 5 people in 200 square feet for more than an hour or two, and someone won’t be walking out alive.
I couldn’t get the idea of a tiny house out of my head, though. I even started following a couple of tiny house Pinterest boards and was intrigued enough to check out a few online floor plans — and that’s when it hit me. A tiny house could be the perfect answer for the biggest bugging out dilemma of all, and that is, “Where do we bug out to?”
In order to be considered an official “tiny house”, a dwelling should be less than 400 square feet. Considering that the average master bedroom in a typical home runs right around 300 square feet, a tiny house is stinkin’ tiny!
Only about 1% of all real estate transactions involve tiny homes, so it’s not like this is a huge and growing trend. Rather, it’s a housing option that fills specific needs for certain people.
For the purpose as a bug out location, a tiny house has many advantages. In fact, I’ve almost convinced my husband to buy a few acres and begin building a tiny house on it — first, one for us and then one for each of our kids!
Tiny houses are an affordable option because fewer square feet obviously requires less expense for building materials and labor. Now, some of these tiny houses are virtual works of art made of expensive woods, with beautiful, intricate detail work, but a bug out location only needs to be secure and sturdy. The smaller size also allows for a quick build, and no need for advanced construction skills. In fact, this college student built his own tiny house in response to his frustration to high college housing costs.
As a very small shelter, not a whole lot of land is needed. Even on a rather small lot, say 1/2 an acre, a tiny house leaves a good deal of land available for a very large garden, chickens, beehives, and an outbuilding or a second tiny house. Half an acre is very budget-friendly in a world of survival experts who recommend many times more than that.
In fact, with the money saved, maybe you can afford more easily to buy a tract of land in a prime location or spend the money saved on fencing, which is quite expensive, or farming equipment, or a second tiny home right next door!
TIP: For the most realistic piece of information I’ve ever read on the realities of rural living and that enormous bug out piece of property touted by the survival experts, read this ebook by my friend, Patrice Lewis. It’s worth every penny of its $1.99 price tag.
Once you’ve built your first tiny home, it will be easier to build a second, and then a third. Why might you want multiple tiny houses?
In fact, a large family (or survival) group could easily build a survival community without the need for a large amount of land. Having close relatives and friends nearby is a huge advantage. If we ever do build our own tiny house, you can bet that we have 2 more planned — one for each kid![aweber-form]
A few more advantages to consider:
This past summer, my family spent a week in a tiny house. At just around 500 square feet, it was plenty tiny for 2 adults and 2 adult-sized teenagers! We were fortunate that it overlooked a beautiful, lonely beach, but we were actually in the house only to sleep, cook, and to use the shower/toilet.
We spent hours outside on the small porch or down at the beach. I felt that the very small single room that housed a kitchen sink, tiny oven, tiny refrigerator, and virtually no counter space was designed for preparing only a quick meal like a sandwich or to heat up some soup. The fire pit outside was far more practical for cooking something in a cast iron pot.
This tiny beach house had a few windows but, overall, the house was dark and even during the day we needed to use the overhead light. This particular house had no storage at all, other than a single shelf above the toilet and one small cabinet in the kitchen. For sure, much better use could have been made of the space available.
Fortunately for us, the weather was beautiful and there was no need to stay cooped up inside the tiny house all day and night. That would not be true in colder weather or in parts of the country that experience a lot of rain and snow. In that case, I’m not so sure our family would have been on speaking terms after a week!
A tiny house may be perfect for one person, perhaps two, but humans need some privacy, some alone time, and that’s hard to come by in a couple hundred square feet. One woman wrote about staying in a cute tiny house with her mother and pointed out that when it came time to use the restroom, the entire tiny house was the restroom!
There’s also the consideration for a few basics of living:
And then, there is the ever-present government, at various levels, with zoning regulations and building codes. Even on your own land, you may not be allowed to park, or build, your tiny house.
You may very well love the concept of a tiny house as a bug out location or for something more permanent, but make sure you and everyone in the family has realistic expectations.
Lack of privacy is a concern, so consider adding a room divider and a tiny, separated toilet/shower area.
Counter tops that are hinged to the wall can be lowered when a workspace is needed and than raised back up to create more floor space.
Be creative with furnishings and choose those that provide storage space. Have strict rules about adding more stuff. When your home is 300 square feet, it won’t take much to turn a tiny house into a hoarder’s paradise.
A tiny house doesn’t necessarily need a foundation unless you plan on keeping it one spot permanently. Many tiny house owners keep their homes on a trailer with wheels, ready to move it somewhere else when the mood strikes. In fact, for some, a tiny house on wheels has become their alternative to an RV.
For energy, add solar panels, use propane tanks, or possibly connect the house’s small electric system to a windmill or even a generator powered by natural gas. More importantly, plan on living a lifestyle that requires little or no reliance on electricity, especially the power grid.
A composting toilet and an outside well will provide your tiny house with the basics for sanitation. It won’t make for an easy lifestyle but for a bug out location, especially in the midst of a major crisis, hauling in a few gallons of water per day will seem like a small inconvenience.
Continue to apply common sense. Have one or two fire extinguishers in the tiny house and ask your insurance agent about coverage for the contents of your house. The house itself is unlikely to qualify for coverage, but that could depend on your insurance company and state regulations.
A tiny house will provide an inexpensive shelter, far more secure than a tent. It can be built inexpensively, placed just about anywhere, and is portable, depending on its size.
Compared with the far less practical bug out location recommended on most all survival sites, this is one you can actually afford to build, own, and maintain. A tiny house isn’t the answer for everyone, but for some, it will be a perfect fit.