I've had great difficulty figuring out how to approach writing this submission. Initial versions came out a bit prideful and preachy. In the end it's usually best just to stick to the facts. So here's the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'll let you interpret it yourself.
Please note that this submission comes to you from Australia, so (as y'all say) “your own mileage may vary”. Furthermore, I understand that this is not a survival "silver bullet". It is intended as a temporary solution for those of us doing the best we can with what we've got.
Roughly 36 weeks ago my family and I were living in the suburbs of a city housing over a million people. Our landlord wanted even more money than the already ridiculous amount we were paying. We'd suffered through the worst summer in memory (which barely edged out the last one and the one before that). We had water restrictions, power grid failures, and the buffoon in charge of it all was bragging that by 2020 our population would be up by another half a million. In short, we decided that the time to Get Out of Dodge (G.O.O.D.) was now. But how? We couldn't afford to buy a retreat property outright. In fact, we weren't even in a financial position to acquire a mortgage.
We looked at our options. Staying in our home state was out of the question. It ticked just about zero boxes for TEOTWAWKI survival. We considered dozens of factors, and from the short list went with the one that felt right for us. Tasmania. (I know there's a big empty spot in the middle of our country, but it's empty for a reason. Trust me!)
We talked to our family and friends about it. The consensus was uniform. We were crazy. Regardless, many were still supportive and this was a major factor in our successful relocation.
Problem one was getting jobs. We needed employment from the time we arrived or no house rental agency would give us the time of day. Fortunately nurses were in strong demand and my wife had recently attained her nursing degree. She was offered a job with a large hospital and we began applying for rental properties.
Well... being that we were so far away, most of them still didn't want to touch us with a ten foot pole. In the end we had to find the cheapest places available and offer to pay three months rent in advance. That made the agents sit up and take notice! We got two offers immediately (both very rural) and in hindsight we chose the wrong one. This brings me to my first piece of advice. Beware of false economy. We chose the cheaper house but since it was an extra 15 miles out of town we ended up paying much more in petrol than we saved in rent. Expect a lot of trips to and from town in your first six months!
Back to the planning. We had a place to go to, but now we had to get there. We'd already moved out of our old house and were staying with my wife's parents. We'd also gotten rid of a good 50% of our stuff and were selling or donating anything that wouldn't fit into two cars and a trailer. Easier said than done! We planned the trip in great detail, but nothing ever goes quite according to plan. We lost a half day of packing prior to lift-off because when we went to pick up our hire trailer the clerk had every trailer connection imaginable except for the one that we needed. The frustrating part was that our tow car was only five years old and had the most common of connectors. It was many a pensive hour before the trailer maintenance man arrived with a “spare” connector, however, this was just an appetiser for that evening. We packed, repacked and by 9 pm (T-minus 7 hours) had crammed everything except ourselves into what space we had available. We were about to settle in for a stressful nights sleep before the 4 am start when a voice inside my head said to me “you really should make sure you know where all the car keys are... just in case”. Sometimes you get that voice in your head that sounds different than your normal inner monologue, and whatever it has to say is usually important, so naturally I froze in terror. Lo and behold, the hatchback key was missing. What's more, it was blocking the exit and the column lock was engaged. It was going nowhere. The house was turned inside out. The cars were ransacked. Meanwhile I called every after hours locksmith I could find in the yellow pages. The three responses I got was “not available”, “can't be done in the dark”, and “it'll cost you $900”. After we'd partially disassembled the steering column in a fit of desperation we got a call back from a fourth locksmith who promptly arrived and cut us a key on the spot for $200. It was a costly reminder to always have another key handy. By the time we repacked the cars it was midnight and we were too stressed to sleep anyway.
Our lack of sleep made the following 14 hour drive very unpleasant. We thought we'd given ourselves plenty of time to get to the Bass Strait ferry in Port Melbourne but we somehow arrived there with only a half hour to spare. The GPS had a hand in this. I should have updated it or (better yet) bought current maps. We realised the next day that a single flat tire would have seen us miss the ferry and lose our non-refundable tickets (and before anyone says “I can change a tire in less than half an hour, remember, we'd have to unpack the car to get to the spare and repack it afterward). Another piece of advice. If you're ever covering a trailer with a tarpaulin in windy/rainy conditions, invest in a cargo net to hold down the tarp. Our tarp resembled a bunch of knotted blue ribbons by the time we arrived, and because it poured with rain our belongings were thusly soaked.
The ferry trip was rough but I slept like a baby. My wife and her father were another story. By the time we'd exited the ferry and driven another two hours they both looked like zombies. Amusing in hindsight, but imagine traveling to your retreat after the SHTF and having to scan constantly for ambushes, road blocks etc. Under those conditions a mere hour of driving would be utterly exhausting. Preparing S.O.P.s for driver rotation if you have to travel post TEOTWAWKI is prudent.
Miraculously we made it to the rental agent's office with thirty minutes to spare, despite the GPS and the weather. Remember, your GPS probably doesn't have settings for “it's raining, I'm tired, and I have a trailer weight that exceeded my braking capacity as soon as the road got wet.”. My GPS tried to take me down some pretty steep goat tracks, and one narrow road that had recently (read: since I bought the GPS) been turned into a dead end street. An annoyance now, but a death trap during Schumeresque times. Seriously... Get maps!
Twenty more miles later we arrived. It was a cheap little cottage/shack on a large block in a town of 200. The local river was a stones throw away if your arm was any good, and on the other side was woodland. To say it was modest would be putting it mildly, but to us it was a mansion. #(As a side note: we now refer to this trip as “the pilgrimage”, and it's given us a newfound respect for the men and women who struck out into the unknown when there were no maps, roads, or really much of anything to assist their journey. They were truly made of sterner stuff.)
We bought some overpriced wood at the local store and gleefully put our wood fire heater to use (what a novelty)! It didn't take us long to realise how much wood you can go through, especially when your house is poorly designed and insulated. Remember that other house I told you about? It was far more modern than this one and would have been much easier/cheaper to heat. Another false economy! At any rate, we got settled in and my wife began doing her 3 hour round trips to work while I looked for work in the area. The first month was a real eye opener. We expected to learn as we went along, but... well what can I say. As country living goes, we were greener than grass. We ran out of things constantly. Not for want of money but for want of foresight. It was a one hour round trip to the nearest supermarket which wasn't exactly open 24 hours a day. It meant that if we forgot to buy milk, then our cornflakes were eaten dry and our coffee was served black (the horror)! It was a crash course in stocking up and a valuable one at that. Travel time was another oversight. It just adds up and up and up, along with your petrol bill. It can wear you down quickly when you're not used to it. The local school was not far from that supermarket I mentioned earlier. That means our boy's schooling equated to two hours of driving per day Monday to Friday (home schooling was looking better and better).
By the end of the first month I'd secured part time work. The pay rate was very low and it was shovel and barrow work but it's key importance was that it provided a foot in the door to get some local references. The first week revealed just how soft I really was (though thankfully not as soft as most of the other workers). Previously I'd done plenty of hands-on work in my spare time but labouring all day was a different matter. If you're planning on becoming a post TEOTWAWKI farmer then I hope you're in very good shape. I gained 5 kilos in as many months (not of fat either) and every meal seemed to gravitate toward meat, meat and more meat. It also demonstrated to me the worth of good tools. On my work site we've replaced so many cheap tools that we'd have been financially better off buying good ones from the start, to say nothing of the time and work efficiency lost. Post TEOTWAWKI you wont have the option of buying another cheap shovel or pick. How many flat screen televisions would you have to trade for a Fiskars brand splitter or axe? I digress.
At the end of the first month we were blessed with the news that our second child was on the way. The previous nine months were fruitless in this regard, yet perhaps if we'd been successful before the move we might never have undertaken it in the first place. What came next was less fortunate. A mystery blood condition caused my wife to suffer a massive clot in her brain. Doctors were slow to diagnose it, and by the time they did it required urgent and lengthy hospitalisation. It was so large she was considered lucky to have survived it.
We were all emotional wrecks. My daily routine consisted of getting our boy to school, going to work, picking up our boy from school, visiting my wife for as long as I could and getting home to clean up and prepare for the next day. Nine hours of work (home-making included) and four of driving wasn't the exhausting part. Living with the fact that every day might have been the last day I would hug my wife simply crippled me like nothing I'd previously experienced, and as I write this I understand how survival scenarios can break someone down, even if they have the beans, bullets and band-aids they need to survive.
Thankfully, our family arrived like the proverbial cavalry to help with basic day to day tasks. We also found out what financial hardship was really like. We went to the wall and only got by with more help from our family. The lessons for us were; If you can retreat to an area where you have family then it would be a wise choice. You just cannot predict life's ups and downs. Family are like the shock absorbers of life. In fact, one of the main reasons we left the city was so they could turn to US in times of great need. We ate humble pie on that one but hopefully in time we can repay them. Lesson two was a double dose of a previous lesson. Travel time is a burden not to be underestimated. Moving an hour out of town to start with would be much wiser than an hour and a half. It can make a huge difference by the end of the week. Lesson three? Hope for the best but plan for the worst. The last thing we anticipated was losing our primary source of income. It was a mix of equal parts diligence and dumb luck that I even had a job by that stage (jobs here are scarce and getting scarcer). I wont tell you to get rid of your debts because it's far easier said than done. Downgrading your car for something more affordable? That's realistic. Do you really, really need that huge flat screen television? Sell it! Suddenly you have a monetary buffer for bad times. Keep it secure, or better yet, pay out expenses like food (storable food) and firewood in advance once you're there. It's better than money in the bank.
During that five months we struggled greatly yet, surrounded by trees, wildlife and good people, we never regretted our decision. Even our family members who shared our burden agreed that we'd done the right thing. They're a stubborn lot but I sense that even they are beginning to smell the economic smoke. After our 6 month lease was up we applied to rent a place a little closer to the city (but not much closer). We're now in a much nicer house that costs more to rent, but it's proximity to my job, our boy's school, doctors clinic, chemist and supermarket (if needed) combined with its superior build (heat retention, solar hot water etc.) more than make up for the difference. We're still an hour away from the nearest city (which is really more like an overgrown suburb) but we're still in a far better position than we were nine months ago living in a suburban sprawl. Having read this you may be thinking “the heck with that” but I'll list some of the benefits we've gained while struggling with the hardships:
• The tap water tastes “proper”. i.e. Not like watered down chemicals.
• The air is fresh. In fact, I can barely tolerate city air anymore.
• My boy can ride his bike down the street without us worrying.
• There are no gangs or dealers. They wouldn't last five minutes ;)
• Nobody here jumps out of their skin at the sight of a gun, law enforcement included.
• Locals sell fresh grown fruit and vegetables at lower than store prices. The taste (and nutrition I'd wager) is also superior.
• The local butcher sells meat that's actually fresh.
• Growing food in your back yard is perfectly commonplace.
• Imagine putting aside your Bugout Bag to focus on your Get Home Bag.
• Good picnic, camping, hunting and fishing sites are not far at all.
• There are tons of people that can teach almost any survival skill you want to know.
• Television reception is terrible. • The local work is likely more in line with what you'll be doing post Schumer.
• Saving money is easier when the nearest fast food outlet is a two hour round trip away.
• Farm auctions and country garage sales are prepper heaven.
• You wont feel out of place driving a beat up, old (read: EMP resistant) pickup/ute.
• When you have the means to pick out a retreat property it'll be easier to scout for a good one.
• No incessant background noise means you can actually hear yourself think. It makes planning and focusing your thoughts a lot easier.
• You're not being constantly bombarded with advertising telling you to buy things you don't need.
Most importantly, you'll be integrating yourself into a group of people that will be able to support each other when times get bad. Am I squared away? Heck no. In fact, I'm barely more equipped (logistically) than I was before the move. Yet I rate my survivability as an order of magnitude higher than it was when I lived in the periphery of a large(ish) city.
Now, here's some stuff that I learned (some of it the hard way):
• Check whether your mobile phone service provider has coverage for the area you're moving to, and check your phone has a strong enough signal for that matter. A new phone or provider will be easier to arrange before the move.
• Ditto for internet service providers, assuming you still want to read SurvivalBlog. Personally I'm still catching up on the August to December archives by way of the local online centre (not OPSEC Optimal, I know.)
• Budget for firewood as applicable. I recommend you steer clear of the idea that bringing a chainsaw and a block splitter will allow you to slip seamlessly into “mountain man mode”. Unless you really know what you're doing your wood supply will deplete faster than you can replace it. When I arrived there was an article in the paper about a life long forester who'd just killed himself felling a dying tree that threatened nearby power poles. He was a professional and reportedly one of the best. Doubt you can kill or injure yourself, even cutting up fallen timber? Watch the television series “Axe Men”. It will give you respect for the factors involved.
• Be realistic about the place you rent. Out here the rent on a 600 square yard block and a 20 acre hobby farm is not much different, but you're not bringing a ride on mower or a flock of sheep with you, right? 20 Acres might seem great, but check with the owner/agent where your maintenance responsibilities end and theirs begin.
• Play friendly with your landlord, even if it means biting your tongue once in a while. There are only two rental agencies where we are so if you burn your bridges then your future options will be severely limited.
• You will be asked why on earth you moved to the boring old country (it's a trick question). There's no need to start quoting Mel Tappan. Just tell the inquirer that you want a safe, clean place for your kids to grow up. They will smile, nod, and leave it at that.
• Mind your manners, especially on the road. My car is common in the city, but out here it's unique within a 40 mile radius. You will be recognised and remembered by your conduct so it must be spotless 24/7.
• Buy those maps! If you need directions the gas station attendant won't go near your GPS, and you don't want to mess about with all that “take a left, then a right” nonsense. What would you do if the main road washes out in a flood? Many of the roads out here are not on any database. Likewise, some of the roads that are on the database are actually privately owned (my GPS didn't understand the concept of “trespassing”) so get maps, and be prepared to alter them accordingly.
• Ditch your fancy “sort of 4WD” before you move to the country. If you can find an old 4X4 pickup in the city where nobody wants one then you'll probably get it cheaper. Country folk seem to drive their vehicles 'till they've pretty much returned to the earth. Not many used vehicles for sale out here at all... Of course, be mindful of any potential registration pitfalls. Here in Australia, for a car to be re-registered in a new state it typically has to pass a roadworthiness inspection.
• You might find yourself falling in with other recent city leavers looking for that “tree change”. Don't! If you hear someone say “I've never gotten along with the people here” or something to that effect then politely excuse yourself and avoid them as a rule.
• Attend the local firing range (or similar) even if you don't have a gun yet. Despite the average 20 year age difference between me and the locals there they really spoke my (our) language and offered plenty of advice and assistance. This is especially important in states/countries with vague and confusing firearms legislation. Also, these are the guys that will be heading up the “neighbourhood watch on steroids” post Schumer, and they'll be more than a little wary of a relative stranger turning up to the party heavily armed and outfitted.
• Join the local church if applicable. If the bomb drops tomorrow and you're not squared away then you'll be on the soup line with everyone else. I'd rather be the guy spooning out the soup than the guy at the end of the line. Also, churches are often the nexus of the local underground economy. Just mention that you need work, or firewood, or a cheap sofa and the word will go out on your behalf. Of course it's expected that you pass on these charitable efforts to the next person in need, but that's like me telling you that water is wet.
So how can I sum it up. a) If you desire a retreat property in your current state then keep your city job and move as far in the direction of your imaginary retreat as your finances and time considerations will allow you to commute. or b) If your state is likely to become a meat grinder after TSHTF then act now! Apply for jobs in another state, remembering the three D's. Dirty, Dangerous or Dull. Take the pay cut if you have to. Maybe you can apply for jobs with a large store chain that will be willing to shuffle you to another store location as soon as you can make up a believable excuse for your move. In either case, once you're an hour or so out of the nearest city (make it as small a city as possible) you can look for work locally. Then, once you've got that local work then you can move even farther out. BTW, just to be clear, “an hour out of the city” means an hour of travel beyond where the houses have given way to trees or pasture.
“But nobody out in the country will employ me”, I hear you say. That depends entirely on your outlook. As times get tougher out here in the country a lot of people are doing the opposite of what the average SurvivalBlog reader is trying to do. They're moving to the city where they can find higher paying jobs! They don't want to downsize their living arrangements so they're going where the money is. That's why half my weekends are spent at garage sales. There are jobs to be had out here but there's a proviso: You have to want it more than the next guy! I got a job, partly by luck in coming across the advertisement just in time, but also because when I turned up for the interview they could tell just by looking at me that I was dead serious about my application. I wanted the job, and what's more, I would work hard to keep it. Six months later my references now speak for themselves and in a place where everyone knows everyone else, references are everything. I'm no superman, so if I did it, then you can too! You just have to want it bad enough.
So clearly I'm not that guy with a hundred acres of farmland and a concrete bunker with a bunch of armour piercing rifles and heat seeking bullets (kidding). A year ago I found SurvivalBlog and I felt like I'd arrived at the party too late. Then I remembered the old saying; “You don't have to outrun the lion. You just have to run faster than the other guy!” If you really pulled out the stops. If you quit letting excuses hold you back. If you stop waiting to win the lottery and start making some hard decisions, how long would it take for “home” to be at least an hours drive away from Schumer ground zero? When I lived in the city I always felt like my preps were completely inadequate, and always would be. Like I was using a shot glass to bail water out of a sinking boat. In my new location my prepping is beginning to move under it's own momentum because out here preppers fit in rather than stand out. I don't feel out of place buying 20 cans of corn when it's on special because the person in line behind me is doing exactly the same thing. How can I put it other than to say that I am becoming one with my inner survivalist and more importantly my family is too. So promise your wife a massive flower garden (or you husband a workshop). Promise your daughter a pony and your son a quad. Do whatever you have to in order to get them on board and G.O.O.D. so that in nine months time you can write a submission telling the new batch of survival stragglers that they can do it too! Through all the hard times (it seems we've had our fair share thus far and them some) we're becoming hardier people and a tougher family unit. Surviving TEOTWAWKI requires nothing less.
So get cracking. You wont regret it. Despite all that's happened we've never regretted our choice. And don't worry about TEOTWAWKI coming tomorrow. After all, It's already tomorrow in Australia!