Bugging out is a popular subject amongst prepper blogs and websites. It's really no wonder that it should be that way. Many of us are dreaming of a world where things are simpler, the government doesn't have their finger in everything we're doing and we can live our own life, much as our forefather's did. We'd probably bug out today, if we could.
What would you say if I told you there were several thousand people, here in the United States, who are currently living a more-or-less permanent bug-out? Would you believe that's possible? Would you want to do it yourself? If you were to do so, how would bugging out now affect your long-term survival plans?
Well, let me confirm it, rather than leaving you hanging. Those people really exist. Not only that, but for nine years, I was one of them. They have no permanent address, other than for mail, move from place to place, are ready for any emergency, and even manage to live comfortable lives, spending much less than most of us do for their day-to-day needs.
A small minority of these people are working fairs, carnivals and circuses, which necessitates them taking their homes with them. Then there are those who live this life because the wanderlust is upon them. But the single largest group of these nomads is made up of retired people, who go north in the summer and south in the winter. In South Texas, where many of them spend the winter, they call them "Winter Texans."
There are two or perhaps three categories of people who qualify for this. They are:
- People who have left their homes and are off-grid homesteading
- People who live and travel full-time in a recreational vehicle (RV)
- People who live and travel full-time in a boat
For the sake of this article, I want to focus on the second of those groups. Those who are homesteading off-grid are a separate group; and while those who live on a boat and those who live in a RV are similar, there are some distinct differences between them; mostly that the people in the boat travel internationally.
As I already mentioned, I spent nine years living in a RV, specifically a 33 foot long Winnebago motorhome, along with my wife and three of our children. We traveled through 41 of the 50 states, using that motorhome as our car, our house, our office and even the school for our children. It was an amazing lifestyle and one that lends itself very well to a survival mindset.
Self-Sufficiency in an RV
A mobile lifestyle has a number of advantages from a survival point of view. First of all, when one is readily mobile, they can leave an area early, when the first warnings of a problem are approaching. While an RV might not be the fastest thing there is to travel in, the very fact of having such a huge lead on anyone else is a great advantage.
There were a number of times during the years that we were in the motorhome, when there were hurricane warnings and other major storm warnings. Since we kept close track of the weather and were mobile, we were long gone before anyone else started getting concerned. A RV isn't an ideal place to pass a storm, so we made sure that we got out of Dodge quickly.
You can also call a RV the "ultimate bug-out bag." Whereas most people have to make some serious decisions about what they can bring with them in their 40 pound pack, we had more room in our 12,000 pound one. Granted, we were still space limited and had to make those decisions, but for us the decisions were about how many pairs of blue jeans we could carry with us, not whether or not we could carry one.
This also meant that we were actually set up to survive for much longer than the average person who is bugging out. Most people plan their bug-out bag to include three days worth of food. We typically had three weeks worth of food in our cupboards, even before getting into our emergency supplies.
A RV can be made to be very self-sufficient, if you work at it. They already have a plumbing system installed, with a water supply and septic tanks (two actually, grey water and black water). With practice, we were able to make our on-board water supply last three days, including washing dishes and five of us taking showers every day.
If you're traveling about, you can always find sources of water; and just like the wagon trains of old, we'd fill up on water whenever we could. In the beginning, that meant connecting a hose and using tap water. But as time wore on, I developed the means of capturing rainwater with our awning and filtering it to provide us with much better water than what we got from most municipal water systems. The same filtering system allowed us to get water out of rivers, streams and lakes.
My sister is currently building a tiny home and is taking a page from my own book on that. She has already made the roof into a permanent rainwater collection system, emptying into a gutter that is large enough to serve as a tank. From there, the water passes through a 0.02 micron filter and into her clean water tank. She should never be without water, unless she's in the midst of a drought.
She is also installing a composting toilet in her tiny home, which one-ups me on dealing with waste water. Rather than having to find someplace safe to dump her water, she's going to be able to turn it into compost and use it to feed her plants.
An on-board tank of propane was enough to last us a month, cooking food on our stove, heating water for bathing and running our refrigerator. Yes, we had a refrigerator that ran off of propane, rather than electricity. While it could run off of electricity, we usually used it in propane mode.
To extend the life of that gas supply I built an adapter, which allowed me to connect my gas supply to an external 100 pound propane tank (about four feet tall). Since the external tank actually dumped into the internal, I could actually transfer propane that way and disconnect the external tank, keeping ourselves mobile. Between the o-board tank and the external, we had enough propane to last four months.
Our other energy need was electric energy. A RV usually has one or two extra batteries, just to run the house. Much of the electronics are designed to run off of 12 volts DC, but we had an inverter for those times when we needed 120 volts AC. The batteries could be recharged from the on-board generator, but I also had solar panels on the roof to charge them when we weren't using the generator.
What About Supplies?
One of the biggest questions that we would be asked, from a survival point of view, was about supplies. I've already mentioned that we had three weeks worth of food in our kitchen, without getting into our backup supplies. That might not have been three weeks worth of our favorite food, but at least we had something to eat.
There are two problems with supplies in a RV; space and weight. RVs have a limited amount of storage space, and when you consider that everything you own is in that RV, you start getting jealous about the use of that space. Not only do you not want to see any of it wasted, but each family member has their own justifications for using that space the way they want to.
Our Winnebago was old, so it didn't have as much storage space as the newer models do. Modern motorhomes have a higher floor, with what is known as "full cabinets" underneath. That means that you have storage underneath from just behind the front wheels to the back bumper, less the space taken by the back wheels. While some of that space is taken by the fuel tank and septic tanks, it's still a lot more than what we had. With proper care, a lot can be stored in the belly of the beast.
We made do with roof-mounted pods and a cargo trailer. The trailer was excellent in that it actually had a higher load rating than the floor of those full cabinets that they have on modern motorhomes. I built shelves into it, so that we could store things organized and we could actually walk through the center length of it, inventorying what we had on the shelves.
So when it came to supplies, we were much better off than you would have expected. On top of that, if we heard that a hurricane was coming in or some other problem that could cause concern, we'd stop in a grocery store and stock up. So what if we had boxes in the aisle for a few weeks, we had plenty to eat.
A friend of mine who was also a full-time RVer built a conversion unit, starting with a school bus. In his planning, he built the bed and sofa higher off the ground than you normally would, with a shallow step leading up to them. That allowed him to fill the entire space under his sofa and bed with food. He had enough food in that bus to last him well over a year.
The other thing I did with our Winnebago was to go through it from stem to stern, looking for wasted space that I could turn into storage. I found a number of places which were not well utilized and built in custom cabinets, increasing the overall storage space we had. Of course, we were living in it with three children, so the amount of storage space we had was a very important issue.
So our food situation was fairly good. I'm not sure, because we never really kept an inventory, but I'd say that we had about six months worth of food on board at any one time. In addition, we could always hunt, even if that meant hunting some rancher's steer in an emergency. While I never did that, in a true crisis where I had to feed my family, I wouldn't have any problem with it... although the rancher might.
Let me say something about that for a moment. Shooting someone else's livestock, even if you have a need, is stealing, plain and simple. I don't believe in stealing and the idea of people assuming that they can just kill farmers' livestock or steal produce from their farms in a time of crisis sickens me. While I understand desperation and that people will need to eat, stealing from another is not the best way to go about that; especially if we want to think long-term.
My solution for that is gold and silver. If I were to need to kill a steer in a prolonged survival situation, I am planning on paying the owner of that steer for its value, based on the market price of gold and silver before the crisis. That way, I'm not stealing, but leaving them with something of value for what I've taken. Along with my guns, we carried both gold and silver in the RV for that and other emergency purposes.
I've already talked about water and propane, so the only other survival supply I need to mention is gasoline. That could be seen as our biggest survival need in that motorhome, when a crisis would hit. We only had a 60 gallon gas tank, which would take us about 400 miles.
Switching to Survival Mode
I've already mentioned that part of our survival plan during the years we lived in that motorhome was to execute an early bug-out. By doing so, we could manage to avoid a number of the more serious problems associated with a bug-out, namely the highways turning into parking lots.
If we managed an early bug-out, we would also run away from the problem of gas stations running out of product. So, as long as we could stay away from the bow wave of other evacuees, we would have gas available. But our big secret was that we weren't planning on running all that far. We always kept a list of potential bug-out locations; most in or near small towns and most in the woods.
This did several things for us. First of all, we knew a lot of people in a lot of small towns. Rarely were we more than a tank of gas away from someone that we knew, who happened to live in a small town, usually surrounded by wooded hills or mountains. Since small towns have a lower population density than the cities, supply problems aren't as bad. So we pretty much always had a bug-out location to head towards.
Being in the woods gave us a ready supply of fuel, so that we were ready for the inevitable day when our propane ran out. While we didn't have a wood-burning stove in our RV (my buddy did in his bus), we had ways we could burn wood for cooking and even for some heat. We might not have been toasty warm, but we would have survived.
The key was always getting to someplace where we could hunker down. Unlike a lot of people who plan on heading for the hills, we were heading for rural America; although I will have to say that rural American was often in the hills.
The other thing we always did was to top off all our supplies as soon as we suspected that a problem might happen. This basically meant that we bought a lot of supplies for emergencies that never occurred; but that's all right, we used the supplies anyway. We had to eat, so those supplies somehow always got consumed.
When Y2K hit, we were ready. I spent the last couple of days of 1999 topping off our supplies, our gas tank and our water. We parked in a campground, where we had ready access to the woods and natural running water. Then, when we woke up on January 1st of 2000 to find that the power was still on and the water was still running, we had a good laugh along with everyone else. But we were ready.
Working from the Road
Now we get to the kicker. Why don't more people live like this, if it is so easy? The big problem, for most, is having a way to make a living. While they might personally love the idea of going on the road in a RV, they don't have any idea of how they're going to pay the bills, let alone anything else.
Let me say, I understand the problem. After all, I was taking care of my family during those years we were on the road and I didn't have retirement or disability to help. We had to make whatever money we needed, along the way; or there wasn't going to be any money for much of anything.
To start, living like this is actually a lot cheaper than you'd expect, other than the cost of buying the RV. Those can be quite expensive, especially if you buy one of the nicer, newer ones. Ours was rather old, so it wasn't all that expensive, even though I had to do some repairs to it.
Our major expenses were gasoline, food and repairs. Of course, back then gasoline was cheaper than it is now. But we simply didn't move unless we had the money to do so, without getting into our emergency funds. That made the cost of gasoline rather simple. Food usually wasn't a big problem and repairs were a sporadic pain in the neck ,whenever they were necessary.
So, the key is in finding a way to make money while on the road. Actually in the information age, that's not such a big deal. There are a lot of different ways that you can make money while on the road, or even in the middle of the ocean.
To start with, many small and mid-sized companies are outsourcing work to freelancers, rather than doing it in-house. There are a number of advantages to the company, mostly that they don't have all the employee-related expenses and paperwork. They can contract freelancers to do a job and only have to pay a fixed rate for the job or fixed rate per hour.
There are also a huge number of advantages for the freelancer; more than anything, the ability to set your own schedule. If you need money, you can work more. But then, when it's time to go down the road, you can put your work on hold for a few days and travel. With internet service so readily accessible everywhere, you can stop and connect wherever, uploading work to your customers and receiving new assignments.
Freelance work exists for a wide range of professional specialties. You can find work on anything from simple data entry through accounting and engineering. I completed a number of engineering assignments during our years on the road, as well as some other types of work.
If you don't have a skill that you think is marketable, then turn to sales. Today, you can start an internet business, selling something, easier than anything. The simplest ways are through eBay and Etsy. Countless people now have eBay stores, selling a wide variety of products. In most cases, they but the products in bulk or in case lots, and repackage it for sale on eBay. Buying in bulk allows them to buy their products wholesale, and gives them their profit margin, even while selling it cheap on eBay.
Etsy is a better choice for selling things you make yourself. Crafts, art and handiwork of all kinds find their way onto Etsy. Once again, there are people who have entire stores, making their products at home and selling them on Etsy. All you need is to find a unique niche and produce something that people will want to buy.
I mentioned earlier that we had a cargo trailer, talking about using it for storing food. But that trailer didn't just haul food. About half was food, while the other half was products we were selling. When we stopped at night and connected to the internet, we'd check on outstanding orders, packing them up and stopping at the Post Office the next day to ship them off.
Of course, you could just put your thinking cap on and come up with an idea that is more original than these. Maybe you could make a living selling nature photography. Traveling would certainly give you the opportunity to find good places to shoot. Perhaps you could write a book or three and live off the income from those books. It's really up to you and what marketable skills you can bring to the table.
Would it Work?
Ultimately, this is the question. All I can say is that it worked for my family and I for nine years. We criss-crossed this great land of ours, mostly in the south; traveling, working, teaching our kids, having great experiences together and surviving. While we were never in anything more serious than a thunderstorm or snow storm, that wasn't just by accident, it was partially by design.
At any time we could skip town and be in a relatively safe place, along with everything we needed. The motorhome gave us the convenience of home, on the road, because it was home to us. But it would have provided that same level of convenience to us, even in the midst of a major crisis. Even in an EMP, the aluminum skin of our motorhome made it a perfect Faraday Cage, so we would have been some of the few people who still had electricity and working electronics, while everyone else had to do without.
Looking at a longer-term disaster, such as the aftermath of an EMP, living in an RV gave us an advantage over everyone else as well. Since we had everything we needed, all we had to do was find a good place to hunker down and start homesteading. While we would probably eventually end up building a larger home to live in, we'd have someplace to keep us warm, while we were getting our homestead started.
But the best part of it all is the freedom. I still remember the day we drove away from our (rented) home and hit the road. What a feeling of freedom. We were not tied down to a home, bills or anything else. We could go where we wanted and do whatever we wanted. We were free.If there's anything that would take me back to that permanent form of living bugged-out, that would be it... that feeling of freedom. Oh, as Willy Neson so eloquently sang, to be on the road again.