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Probably the biggest problem associated with bugging out is having a place to go. A few survivalists or preppers have a cabin in the woods or a bunker buried somewhere, but most of us don’t, simply because we can’t afford it.
Please note that I don’t consider just bugging out to the wild a viable alternative. Few people have the necessary skills to play Grizzly Adams and live off the land. And trying to do that, with what you can carry in your bug-out bag, is a recipe for disaster. You just can’t carry the tools you need to be able to build a cabin and cultivate crops in the wild. Nobody can.
What if I were to tell you that you can build that bug-out retreat and you can do it relatively cheap? Now, let me define “cheap” here. I’m talking about building something for a few thousand dollars, maybe as much as $5,000, but definitely less than $10,000. Compared to what a cabin in the woods costs, that’s cheap.
There are two basic things you need in order to create a bug-out retreat: land and a shelter. With that as a starting point, you can work on putting together the rest. So, let’s start with those.
Overall, land is expensive. But it is still possible to buy land cheap, if you aren’t picky about what you buy. Land values are based upon the land’s utility, so the key is to find land that doesn’t have any real utility. While that land isn’t going to have electricity, water, phone service and city sewer, that doesn’t mean it’s totally useless. In fact, if you can come up with those things on your own, then that land becomes ideal for a bug-out retreat.
What makes this land (usually referred to as “junk land”) so attractive for a bug-out retreat is that it is in places where people aren’t likely to go. We’re talking about land that’s out in the middle of nowhere — not close to any body of water, not close to any major highways, and you can just forget about finding a local electric company, let alone getting them to run wires out to your property.
But because this land is so unattractive to other buyers, you can buy it for next to nothing. I’ve seen land like this go for as little as $160 per acre. At that price, a 5- or 10-acre lot is still cheap.
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The biggest problem with this land, from a survival point of view, is water. You’re either going to have to count on rainwater collection or drilling a well — unless you want to haul water in. So, before buying any junk land, you want to figure out a water plan. That means doing some research — specifically into the annual rainfall and how low the water table is.
Surprisingly, the first layer of water-bearing sand isn’t usually as deep as most people think. If you talk to a well driller, they’ll tell you it’s hundreds of feet down. But they’re looking for really good water, as well as the bigger fees that come with those deep wells. There are ways that you can put in 20- to 100-foot wells yourself, without paying a fortune.
Preparing Your Land
Before going much further in preparing any bug-out shelter, you’re going to need to do some preparation of the land. More than anything, this means developing some means to get water, putting in a rudimentary septic system, and coming up with some way of producing electrical power.
Of these, finding water is the hardest, which is why I listed it as a deal-breaker on any land you explore. But if you can get enough water on your land to survive, then you can do the rest. Keep in mind that you’ll not only need water for drinking and cooking, but also for cleaning and gardening. So forget about the “gallon of water per person a day” that some people reference. Even with being cautious of your water usage, you’re probably going to need somewhere between 20 to 50 gallons per day.
But that’s doable, even from a shallow well. Remember, our ancestors lived without wasting 100 gallons a day watering their lawns and running their washing machines, and we can, too. In many parts of the world, there are still families living on five gallons of water per day.
Sewage is easy. At its simplest, you need to dig a hole in the ground. If you want to do a little better, you can create a two-tank septic system out of 55-gallon drums and a leech field for it out of plastic pipe and some gravel. That would merely be a scaled-down version of what is used for a home.
Part of the reason you can use a scaled-down septic system is that you can reuse your grey water. Every drop of water you use for washing clothes, dishes and bodies can be reused, either for washing something else, or for watering your garden. That will do wonders to reduce your water usage. I’ve watered my garden for years with grey water and it hasn’t hurt the plants a bit.
While electricity production isn’t really a requirement, we live in a society that is highly dependent on electricity. Having some electrical power production capability on site will make life easier in your bug-out retreat, even if that capacity is limited.
Actually, in the case of many types of disasters, your own electrical power production will be more reliable than depending on the grid. So, be sure to put in a wind turbine or some solar panels, whichever will work better in your area, along with a battery backup system. That way, you’ll be able to use your electronics.
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Okay, so now that you’ve got your land and you’ve done some work on it, the next big issue is shelter. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about a lot of different sorts of survival shelters over the years, and most of those are good. But personally, I’d rather be comfortable.
There are people who build a cabin out of 100 percent scavenged materials. Those are impressive. I’ll have to say that I’ve seen some amazing things built out of scavenged materials, like the cabin that a couple built with a front wall made of scavenged windows. But that requires a lot of time that you dedicate to scavenging the materials and lots of time to turn them into something usable.
There is another option that I’d like to show you — one that you may not have thought about. That’s to use a travel trailer. Now, before you tell me that travel trailers are expensive, take a look on eBay or Craigslist. While there are plenty of expensive travel trailers there, you’ll also see some older ones which can be bought for a song … or maybe two songs.
Look for one that needs some tender love and elbow grease; that’s how you get a trailer cheap. Add a little patience to that recipe, so that you don’t rush out and bid on something that’s beyond what you can afford. Remember: If you don’t win the bid, another one will come along.
A little elbow grease and a few hand tools will go a long way toward saving you thousands of dollars on a travel trailer. Buying one that needs work makes for a good project to work on evenings and weekends, and you can even turn it into a family project that you work on together.
The biggest advantage of this means of building a shelter is that you don’t have to change your entire life to do it. The change from living in a house to living in a trailer is much easier than that of moving into a yurt. At least you’ll have beds you recognize, as well as real cabinets to store things in. You’ll even have a real bathroom with a real toilet you can use.
Putting it All Together
Obviously, there are going to be a lot of other details you’ll need to discuss and work on to finish out your bug-out retreat. But these are the two biggest expenses. If you think about it, everything else is going to be pretty much the same, whether you bug out or bug in. So, those expenses are mostly identical.
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