Get Home On Your Own

 One of the most haunting emails I’ve received this year is from Mallory:
I recently started reading your blog (love it!). I have a couple more business trips planned for the rest of the year, and some are quite a distance from home. I wondered if you could give any advice at all on what I should prep for, gear-wise or even mentally?
The thought of an EMP happening when I am NOT at home, maybe not with my spouse and children, it scares me.  I just want to be as prepared as I can be, because who knows when something like this could happen — 2 minutes from now or 2 years from now?
Once you’re aware of a power grid failure due to an EMP, cyberterrorism, or a solar event, you can’t help but share Mallory’s worries, but actually, a disaster of any type that finds you miles from home is going to present a major challenge — how to get home on your own.
A natural disaster or extreme weather could block roads with snow, flood waters, and debris. Civil unrest could present you with the challenge of either waiting it out until the streets are clear and law and order are restored or trying to get around the chaos to a safer location.
In short, you’ll need planned routes, a well-equipped bag of essential supplies, shoes and clothes that are suitable for the season and climate, street smarts, and a good idea of when to stay and when to go. If possible, a form of communication, a cell phone or small ham radio, will be a life-saver.

Route planning

A super-easy first step in planning to get home on your own is simply planning multiple routes. If you do this throughout the normal course of the day or week, you’ll begin to automatically notice alternate routes to avoid unsafe parts of town, the possibility of following canals or other waterways. Bridges, alleyways, and other routes you hadn’t noticed before will suddenly click as either safe or areas to avoid.

Look out for potential targets for terrorists and civil unrest, such as airports, government buildings, courthouses, and universities. Industrial areas are often the sites of chemical spills, fires, and even explosions. If flooding has been an issue in your area, keep in mind where the lowest points are and plan to avoid those.

Since you have no idea what type of emergency will require you to get home on your own, possibly without your vehicle, it’s wise to consider different scenarios and plan accordingly.

In general, try to come up with four routes from each of your most common destinations. Those places might include:

  • Workplace
  • The homes of friends and family
  • Grocery store
  • The kids’ school(s)
  • Church

Actually drive, bike, or walk various routes to calculate the distances to your home and see, first hand, what you will likely encounter and if you’re able, physically, to make the trek.

Intermediate refuge locations

Getting to your own home quickly and safely may take a while. You might end up spending the night outdoors or in some other uncomfortable location. For this reason, you might want to keep a tarp, paracord, or some other expedient shelter-building supplies in your vehicle or bug out bag.

However, there is another option: multiple refuge locations.

Begin identifying places where you would be welcome and safe for an overnight stay or longer. On a map, mark these locations and, as you plan your routes home, try to include them, just in case.


  • The homes of family and close friends
  • Commercial buildings you own, have permission to access, or are owned by friends/family
  • Churches
  • Extended family, even those you may not know well
  • Contacts through any organizations you belong to
  • Timeshares — If you have any banked weeks, these could come in handy.
  • Hotels
  • Campgrounds
  • Community buildings

If you aren’t able to get home by the time the first night falls, you’ll be grateful for any safe and welcoming refuge and of course, the concept of multiple safe refuges isn’t just for you. Your kids should also know where they could go for safety until you can either pick them up or they are able to continue on their own, depending on their ages.

Keep a list handy of all these possible “safe houses”, along with phone numbers. Discuss your plans with any individuals involved and offer your home as a refuge should they be the ones in need.

Worst case scenario homecoming

What if a worst case scenario finds you, not 10 or 20 miles from home, but many hundreds?

In the book, Lights Out by Ted Koppell, he details the get-home plan of Craig Kephart in the case of a power grid failure. Craig is an avid bicyclist and a prepper. He lives in an upscale area of St. Louis, and his business requires frequent business trips around the country. From the book:

Craig worries that he may be trapped out of town and that all conventional forms of travel could be shut down. He always carries enough cash so that, no matter which city he’s in, he would be able to buy a bicycle, biking shoes, and whatever other equipment he would need to take him back to St. Louis.
Craig assumes that he could ride 150 to 200 miles a day. He’s thought about this a lot. “Last place I want to be is in a major metropolitan area during a time of national crisis.”

Craig’s plan might be a very effective one for him, in the case of a cyberterrorist attack or another event that takes out the power grid. 

He has realized that getting home from hundreds of miles away when the world has erupted into chaos won’t be easy and he’s come up with a plan and is training for that possibility. If this should happen, there will be countless scenarios which he may not have anticipated, but at least he has a plan for getting home.

Your plan should include:

  1. Transportation. Planning on hoofing it home? Better start getting into super-shape now! Other options might be bicycles, motorcycles, or even a scooter or roller skates! Anything with wheels will speed up your journey.
  2. Water. Where you’re stranded, the terrain between you and home will determine if you will be able to find a plentiful supply of water on a regular basis. If you’re not sure you can, stay where you are or plan to travel in short segments. In a city, you will probably be able to find water from outdoor spigots, and if you learn how to locate a hose bib on the outside of commercial buildings, a sillcock key can help you access the water in the pipes.
  3. Food. Can you set traps? Hunt and fish using alternative methods? Can you identify edible and medicinal wild plants? Do you know which parts are edible and which are poisonous? Do you know how to start a small fire for cooking and purifying water, and, if so, what will you use for a cooking pot? These are just a few of the issues to consider.
  4. Shelter.  Putting up a lean-to is one thing, but surviving the elements within that shelter is quite another.
  5. Security. You may be surrounded by people more desperate than you. More fit, more strong than you. Can you survive on your wits alone? What self-defense skills do you have?
  6. Weather and terrain. Those will both change as you travel. Are you ready for all possibilities? Do you know of alternate routes that might be easier or would allow you to avoid populated areas?

Some of these considerations apply to much shorter distances. In fact, it could be easier getting home over 200 miles of straightaway, rarely traveled roads than through the urban center of a city like Houston.

5 Possible ways to survive when many miles separate you and your loved ones

In my view, being stranded from home following a worst case scenario would leave you with few options. Here are a few viable options in case the worst really does happen and you are dozens, if not hundreds, of miles from home.

  1. Head home regardless, carrying with you the basics for survival, or whatever you can acquire. Survival novels are full of tales of determined men, making their way home to their families over hundreds of miles. This option might work if you are in good physical shape, have no health issues, and are blessed with an enormous amount of luck. It wouldn’t hurt if the terrain between you and your family has multiple supplies of water. Forget it if you have more than just a few miles of desert to traverse.
  2. Stay put and lay low. If you have the skills and knowledge, set up a wilderness camp and use your ingenuity and Boy Scout skills to live off the land. You’ll end up dying a pretty quick death, most likely, but this is an option.
  3. Stay put and try to become an indispensable part of another household or group. If you have a bank of life-saving skills, such as knowing how to grow and preserve food, medical training, or can help guard your new group of fellow survivors. When the infrastructure begins to be rebuilt, you can then begin heading home.
  4. Stay put and start a new life. This option isn’t necessarily pessimistic. Given the circumstances, you may have no other choice.
  5. Do a little bit of both. Combine stints on the road, always heading homeward, with time spent staying with a community or with a family. They might be grateful for the additional help with physical labor and whatever practical skills you possess may help get them through a difficult time until you’re able to travel again.

Getting home when you’re NOT on your own

If you’re like me, you almost always have a kid, or maybe a grandkid, with you. If you’re stranded from home and you’re all alone, that’s one thing, but looking out for someone else, especially if they cannot walk or move quickly, presents a whole new set of challenges.

  • Will you likely have an infant with you? In that case, always have with you a stroller and a baby sling or some other carrier.
  • Young children will slow you down greatly in more ways than one. You’ll have to cope with their slower pace and emotions. A stroller or a wagon would save time and provide a small sleeping area for a toddler.
  • A loved one confined to a wheelchair cannot be left behind, so you’ll need to plan your routes and supplies accordingly. Shorter walking segments and sticking to sidewalks and paved roads will limit wear and tear on wheelchair tires as well as on your back, if you’re doing the pushing!
  • Motorized scooter users should always have at least one charged backup battery. If the battery dies and there is no way to charge it, getting home may become all but impossible.
  • Children ages 10 and up will be a big help with carrying bug out bags, looking for potential shelter and water sources, and helping with younger, or older, family members. This will likely be a high adventure for them, but keep an eye on their energy levels, since they may tire out more quickly than they realize. Keep them entertained with stories and “I Spy” type games.
  • Teens and adult members of the group can provide assistance in all areas, including security.

Every piece of the plan you put into place now for getting home following a disaster of some sort, will make that journey a little easier.



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