Traveling when the SHTF

An apocalyptic disaster can happen at any time, even when traveling. It doesn’t matter if you’re travelling for business or pleasure, you CANNOT assume you can shelter in place and rely on the hotel’s services indefinitely. You must find a way to get home as soon as possible, because tourists are the first people locals will evict when a major disaster happens.

Think about it.

You don’t have family living at the tourist trap of a town you’re visiting and nobody is obligated to look after you. To the locals, you’re an unemployed stranger who’s consuming precious resources. You must begin the journey home before those locals start saying: “It’s them or us.”

Before Leaving

You probably don’t have your bugout bag with you, so the first thing you need to do is make one by shopping at a sports or department store. The electronic cash registers probably won’t work and you’ll need to pay in cash, or use a 5-finger discount[1]. If you must rely on the “discount”, be cognizant of the location to which you apply it because shopping in such a manner is dangerous. It could be less dangerous at a big box store in a major city, since the minimum-wage employees probably won’t care enough about the business to stop you. 

Regardless of how you shop, your focus at the store should be: 

  1. Water filter
  2. A large knife (guns won’t be accessible)
  3. Backpack (if you don’t already have one)
  4. Bicycle with spare tire and pump
  5. Small tent (poncho or thermal blanket work as make-shift tents too) 
  6. Camping food and snacks
  7. 2-way radios and batteries
  8. Fitness clothes (especially if you’re on a business trip)
  9. Anything light and easy to grab

Returning to your hotel may be a good idea so you can grab useful items such as: medications, clothes, soap, shampoo, a towel, and necessary travel documents. Most major hotels have backup power generators and it’s possible you can get more information about the disaster from broadcast news or radio.

The Odyssey Home

Don’t sleep on it. Start the trek… NOW.

The longer you wait, the more dangerous the journey will be. You need to get on the road before other people realize things are going to get worse. Once it becomes apparent that things aren’t going to get better, people tend to be less hospitable or outright hostile to strangers.

Technology has forced maps into extinction, so you’ll need a good sense of direction to get home. Get your bearings and go to the nearest interstate or highway. These roadways have signs specifically designed to guide drivers to the next major city. If you have a general understanding of geography, you can use them as a breadcrumb trail home.

The last thing to do is survive the journey as best you can. During your journey, you’ll probably encounter: street gangs, escaped prisoners, dangerous wildlife, extreme weather, other desperate people, and maybe an army. You may be able to avoid most of the human-related problems if you start travelling right after the disaster happens. Just keep in mind that the more days into your journey, the more dangerous cities and towns will become.

It’s going to be hard to assess the risks you should take or avoid, but always be prepared to defend yourself. You may also want to consider traveling with a group because there’s strength in numbers. However, that strength can also make you a target if the predators of our society see a herd of people moving through their territory.

Use your gut instinct when assessing what risks to take. If you get a bad feeling about someone, don’t travel with them.

Traveling Overseas

Traveling overseas is the exception to my advice regarding getting home at all cost, as soon as possible. If you’re across an ocean when disaster strikes, the only way home is by air or sea and it’s going to be next to impossible to book passage.


Obviously, computer systems will be down and online bookings won’t work. What’s less obvious, is that on-site booking at the airport won’t work either and there isn’t a non-digital backup system. Airlines won’t allow planes to fly without a functional system to verify who you are and that airfare has been paid, meaning airports will be crammed with panicked travelers.

It will take weeks for a system to be worked out… if at all.


Cruise liners will experience similar problems. Passengers who are already on the ship or who have printed boarding passes will probably be allowed on board, but cruise ships don’t have a system for taking on new passengers at the dock[2].

Thanks to terrorism, you can’t gain access to most ports to ask cargo ships if they’ll take you across. Even if you manage to get within yelling-distance of a ship, cargo ships aren’t equipped to transport human cargo and they’ll deny you passage.

What can you do?

If you’re overseas when the SHTF, you can try getting home. Just be aware that your chances at getting home are going to be slim to none. You’re best chance at survival may involve hooking up with someone and starting/joining a family. It’s going to suck having to abandon all your preps and make an entirely new life in a country you don’t know much about.

You’re a survivalist, so deal with it and survive as best you can.


Hurricanes, fires, floods, and avalanches befall tourists all the time and there are emergency plans and resources available to deal with those disasters. However, a civilization-ending disaster will be much worse because there’ll be a cascade of failures on a systemic level. If such a disaster were to occur while you’re traveling, remember that sheltering in place is a death sentence.

You must go home, even if it means walking there.

[1] Crime/Violence Disclaimer: I do not condone violence or breaking any laws, nor does the author support vigilante justice. The intention of this article is to educate readers on how to improve personal survivability during a theoretical disaster, and does not promote or entice anyone to steal, loot, or commit any other crime in any ordinary circumstance.

[2] Human Cargo: There once was a time when you could book passage the same day or at the ship itself, but that ended in the 1900s.

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