The time has come, a disaster has hit and it's time to bug out. You grab your bug out bag and jump into your truck, trying to beat the crowd of other people who are going to be trying to get out of town too. Following your pre-planned route, you avoid the traffic bottlenecks and make it out of town. The only question now is... Where are you going to go?
Bugging out requires exquisite planning and a lot of practice. But even with all that, there's a key ingredient that's missing for most of us. That's a destination. Way too many of us have no more of a destination than, "somewhere out in the woods." While that sounds great, it's an awfully risky survival plan. Living off the land is much harder than most of us realize and building a long-term shelter with what we've got in our bug out bag is all but impossible.
There are some exceptions to this. We've all seen videos and articles about people who have a bug out retreat somewhere in the wild. Either they've built an underground bunker or they've got that nice little cabin in the woods that we all wish we had. But most of us can't afford $50,000 or more to buy property and build a cabin.
But what if you could do it on the cheap? I see articles every once in a while about people who built a cabin for $5,000 or less. If they can do it, why can't you and I? Maybe what's keeping us from having a survival retreat isn't money, but rather imagination.
Options for Building Cheap
There are a lot of different options that you can consider, many of which are expensive and many of which are about as cheap as dirt. The question becomes deciding how much of a budget you have to work with and how much time to have to devote to the project. Typically there's a tradeoff between the two; the more time you spend, the less money you have to.
I want to look at two totally different categories of shelters; stationary and moveable. While I personally love the idea of a cabin in the woods, that's not practical for everyone. Your situation may dictate having a plan where you are able to move from time to time. You may not be able to buy any land. Your plan may include traveling two states over to a family member's property. In any of these cases, having a moveable survival retreat would have advantages over a fixed one.
I lived for several years in a motorhome, traveling back and forth across the country. While I no longer have that motorhome, I can assure you that if I did, I would have it set up to be my survival retreat. It would either be parked somewhere, set up for that purpose, or my bug out plans would include taking that along with me. Either way, I'd take advantage of having that asset.
Build from On-Site Materials
Throughout much of mankind's history, people around the world have used the materials they had ready to hand for building their homes. That's why we see so many different types of construction. In areas where there are a lot of trees, log cabins became the norm. But in the southwest United States, where trees were sparse, adobe bricks became the norm. Eskimos in Alaska built their homes out of the most common material available, snow; while in the African grasslands, homes were built out of bundled grass. Settlers in the American Midwest often built "soddies" cutting chunks of the sod to use as bricks. At times these were partially underground, making them very cozy during the cold winters.
While I wouldn't call all of these excellent options, I would say that some of them are. If you have land with trees on it, building a log cabin might just be the best possible option for you. After all, many of our ancestors built log cabins and lived in them their whole lives.
Remember, we're talking about a survival retreat here, not a vacation home. While you may use it as a vacation home as well, it doesn't have to look like a vacation home. Dirt floors and walls are actually okay in a home like this. Maybe you want hardwood floors, but you don't really need them to survive. The majority of homes in the Old West had hard packed dirt floors. They would sweep them clean, but they'd still be dirt.
Of course you can always scavenge carpeting to cover your floors. As long as it stays dry, you shouldn't have any problem with it. Just make sure to pack the ground below the carpeting hard and have good drainage to keep water out of your shelter.
Building from Scavenged Materials
People have built some pretty amazing cabins and retreats out of purely scavenged materials. One of the better known is a two-story tall cabin, whose front wall is a montage of different scavenged windows. The couple who built this little beauty off in the woods has a gorgeous view and probably gets some pretty good solar heating out of those windows.
Gathering that many used windows would take some time, but they did it. Other people have gone for more conventional designs, where they didn't need to find so many of one hard-to-find building supply. Pallets are popular, although I personally think that it's hard to build with wood that's only four feet long. I'd prefer to have longer pieces to work with.
That's possible too. You can find quite a bit of used construction material on Craig's List. While some people are trying to sell it, most of the time the price is minimal. If it isn't just pass it by or wait a while. When they can't get what they want for it, they'll probably be more open to a reasonable price.
One nice thing about building off in an isolated area is that you probably won't have to worry about building permits and building inspectors. That doesn't mean that you should totally ignore the building code though. Most of what is written into the building code has come about to avoid structures falling, electrical fires starting and buildings flooding. So, make sure that you build safe, even if you are using scavenged materials.
Whatever you build, keep the idea of expansion in mind. This goes for building a log cabin out of trees on your property too. Once you finish your survival retreat, your mind is going to naturally turn to improving it. So, plan for that, building in such a way that you can add on, without having to rebuild a whole wall.
Using a Shipping Container
Shipping containers have gained a lot of popularity amongst the prepping and survival community. They provide you with a basic structure to start with, which is waterproof. That reduces your work to finishing out the inside, turning it into a usable living space.
Whatever you do, don't bury a shipping container. I know that some people have talked about this, but a shipping container is not structurally designed to support the weight of the dirt over it. The corners are strong, but the roof and sides aren't. if you drive even a small bulldozer over it, backfilling the dirt, it will end up in your living room. Shoot, you don't even need to drive over it with the bulldozer, just the weight of the dirt, as you are backfilling will be enough to make it collapse.
One nice thing about shipping containers as a building is that they are relatively secure. They're not the type of cabin that you can break into easily. Of course, a lot will depend on what you do as far as doors and windows, but if you build with security in mind, you should have a shelter that will be extremely difficult to break into.
Keep in mind that even though a shipping container is made of metal, it's not bullet proof. About the only bullets it's going to be able to stop are .22 long rifle and small caliber pistol rounds (.38 special, .380 and smaller).
I recommend looking at travel trailer and motorhome designs to get ideas for how to finish out your container. Turning one of these into a usable living space is much like converting a school bus into a camper; so, taking a look at recreational vehicles will give you some good ideas of how to utilize the space effectively.
Of course, you can build a shelter out of multiple shipping containers, but that's going to make your cost go up considerably.
Make a Yurt
The Yurt was developed by the Turicks and Mongolians as a portable tent. However, it is much more than the typical tent. Mongolia is a very cold place, especially in the wintertime. So the Mongolians needed a sturdy tent that would provide them with good protection from the cold. The yurt is what they came up with.
Yurts are round and have a fairly extensive structure. This is not the type of tent you'd want to set up and take down every day. The wall structure is made of latticework and topped by a tension band. This prevents the roof ribs from causing the yurt to expand. An actual door helps keep the cold out, allowing you to close it much more securely than a tent flap can be secured.
The outside of the yurt is traditionally covered in skins, but homemade yurts are usually made out of canvas or some other sturdy fabric. It is even possible to make a permanent yurt, built on a wooden platform and a Plexiglas dome on the top of the roof.
However, I'm mentioning a yurt as more of a temporary structure, which you could move to a bug out location and set up as a long-term shelter. If it was good enough for the Mongolians to live in full-time, it would probably work out well for you or I in a long-term survival situation.
Two people can erect a fair sized yurt in an afternoon, with practice. This makes it possible for you to build your yurt at home and then haul it to your survival retreat site in your pickup truck for erection. By building it first in your backyard, you can ensure that everything works and fits together. Then, when it is time to go, you can take your shelter with you.
Buy a Used Travel Trailer
Of all the inexpensive options, this one is my favorite. You can buy an older travel trailer on eBay for as little as $1,000 to $3,000, especially if you are willing to settle for one that needs a few repairs. Anyone who is handy with tools should be able to repair one and you'll have a ready-built survival shelter.
Trailers are intended for moving, so you can take it literally anywhere and set it up to survive in. They have all the furniture and appliances you need furniture built-in, ready to use. The problem may be that you have trouble coming up with propane and electricity, but the shelter itself will be ready-made for you to use.
If you install some solar panels on the roof of the trailer, you'll have at least some electrical power. It won't be enough to run the air conditioning or power the refrigerator, but it will be enough for lighting and the water pump. The refrigerator can run off of propane, so you will need a good supply of propane for it. In fact, it would be a good idea to have spare propane tanks, filled and ready to go.
Between a trailer and pickup truck, you can have a great bug out setup, providing yourself with transportation and lodging. The one thing you'll need to do is to avoid traffic. So, you either need to bug out early or wait until everyone else has left, before you try to go.
Build a Tiny House
The tiny house movement is gaining in popularity. Many people build them on trailers, making them essentially a homemade travel trailer. However, a tiny home is generally much better built than a travel trailer and actually provides more space, as they typically have a loft or two.
Besides time, the problem with building a tiny home is cost. You hear stories of people who claim to have built their tiny home for $5,000, but most end up costing somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000. So, before even thinking about this option, you need to really evaluate how much it will cost you.
You Gotta Have Some Land
Okay, so we've talked about several ways to come up with a shelter on the cheap, but where are you going to put it? At some point in time, you're going to need some land to park that shelter on, or it's not going to do you much good. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to own that land or that you have to spend a lot of money buying it. There are lots of options for land, some where you own it and others where you don't.
Of course, if you're not going to own the land, you better have some sort of a moveable shelter. People talk about building a cabin on government land, saying that it's really the people's land. But those people will find out differently when government agents come to call. In most cases, their shelters will be confiscated and destroyed out of hand.
But that's not to say that you can't use public land at all. Many people camp on public land, staying in state or federal park campgrounds for vacation. If they can do that for vacation, I can't see why you can't do it for a bug out. Just make sure that you're ready to move on when the time comes. Don't put down any roots and plan on staying. It won't work.
There are other options to consider as well. Which one you ultimately use will depend on your personal bug out plan and what resources you have to work with.
What Does Your Land Need?
Before looking at possibilities, let's talk about what you need that land to provide for you. First of all, it has to have enough room to set up your shelter. That's actually more than just the building itself, as you need to consider parking your vehicles and growing a garden. Make sure you've got a good plot for a fair sized garden.
You're going to need water, wherever you go. You might not have it on your property, but if you don't you need it to be somewhere that is readily accessible. Consider rainwater capture, putting in a well and getting a water hauling trailer to bring water in from the closest river or lake.
The other thing you're going to need is firewood. During a time of collapse, most of us are assuming that we're going to heat with firewood. Well, if that's the case, you need to have firewood on site or at least nearby. While it might be nice to have it already cut and stacked, that increases the risk of it being stolen. It's enough to have it available.
Finally, you have to think of defense. How are you going to defend that property against anyone who tries to take it from you? That has to be part of your plan. So, look at the property with a general's eye and figure out how you can make it defensible, without having to throw a wall all the way around it.
Use a Friend's Property
Do you know anyone who lives out in the country? How about a family member who has a farm? Many of us know at least one person who has a home out away from town somewhere. That could be just the person you need. Perhaps you can build your survival retreat on their property, forming a survival team together with them.
The first thing to ask yourself is why they own land outside of town in the first place. There's no guarantee that they are survivalists, but the possibility does exist. If they are, then they are likely to be open to the idea of working together. Their big question will end up being "What can you bring to the table?" If they are providing the land, they'll expect that you have something of equal value to offer them, whether it be resources, equipment or knowledge.
Buy Land with Your Survival Team
If you are already part of a survival team, then consider buying some property jointly with your team. Maybe you can't afford land on your own, but if your team consists of five families, then you only have to pay for 20%. Of course, you want to make sure that everyone in the team really can afford it, before making a move like that.
There are lots of places where you can buy a couple of acres of land for $20,000 or so. That may still seem like a lot, but remember, you're dividing it up amongst your group. So, each family is paying much less.
Before signing a contract on land like this, make sure that you can actually use it in the manner you intend to. Are there any local zoning laws which would prevent you from using it? How are you going to designate the property, in order to make sure you are legal? A private campground might work, as long as there aren't any laws against that.
Look at the resources the land offers, as well. Remember that those resources will have to be split between the families that are part of your team. Wood goes much faster when you're keeping five fires going, than it does when you're keeping just one fire going.
Go to a Small Town
The general consensus is that small towns will be much better off than the big cities. That's not because all those small towns have more resources or because they have a bunch of farmers, although they may; but rather because they have less people. That means that there will be less people vying for whatever resources the community does have.
Going to a small town with the idea that they will provide for you is foolish. Small town people all know each other and can be positively clannish. Even if you are there with them, that doesn't mean that they will provide you with anything. So, you'd better make sure that you take whatever you need with you.
Not only will taking your supplies with you ensure that you have something to eat, but it might also lessen the possibility of the townspeople throwing you out. It may seem cruel, but it would be simple survival for those people to throw strangers out. If they didn't they'd end up having to provide for those strangers or risk being attacked by them. If you have your own supplies, you aren't so much of a risk to them.
It can also be helpful to get to know some of the people in that town, before you have to go there. Spend some vacation time there or go on a weekend every once in a while. Build a relationship with someone; better yet, several people. That way, when you show up in the wake of a disaster, you're not a stranger. Small town folk tend to be suspicious of strangers.
You might even want to consider buying a lot or abandoned building in that town. Property in small towns is considerably cheaper than it is in the city. A small lot would give you somewhere to build or park your shelter, as well as giving you legitimacy in that town.
Buy Junk Land
One of your best options, if you can do it, is to buy junk land. This is land that is not commercially viable. It's not close enough to a population center to justify building homes, businesses or industry, nor does it have any true agricultural value. That could be because there's no water or because the ground is too rocky to plant on.
There is junk land all over. The trick is finding it. Real estate agents won't have listings of this land, as it doesn't sell for a high enough price to make it worth their while. But there are a few websites that have junk land listed on them. Just do a search for junk land in your state and see what shows up.
If you can't find any junk land that way, you might have to advertise for it. A simple ad in the classifieds should bring you some calls. Be patient, because most of those will be from realtors who want to show you something other than what you want. Thank them and tell them "no thanks." Wait for someone who has some junk land that they want to sell.
Junk land typically sells for $500 to $1,000 per acre. So, you can pick up a couple of acres pretty cheap. If you can't get it that cheap, it's probably not what you're looking for. Patience is the key.Never buy junk land without checking it out thoroughly. You need to make sure that the land is unencumbered, that the seller holds legal title to it, that it will work for what you need and that you will have access to the land. There won't be any utilities, but you want to be sure that there is a road and that you can use that road. If the road is private, get a written agreement.