Bugging out as a concept is very familiar to most in the preparedness world. Less so is “getting home” and I don’t mean heading back after the smoke has cleared, the sirens have gone quiet and the Wi-Fi is, mercifully, back on. Hooray for 4 bars!
Getting home contextually refers to heading for home or base if you are caught out at your office, whatever it is, when the SHTF. Considering the amount of time most people spend at work, the chances are that you’ll be at work when a sudden-onset crisis occurs are really pretty high.
That’s a bummer, but should be a wakeup call. Most of us do not drag a proper long term survival kit or much of our gear with us to work when we head out. Most of my readers will have a basic kit in their vehicles to handle breakdowns and things of that nature, and perhaps rudimentary sustainment supplies as well. Things like some water, blankets, maybe some rations, etc. Regardless, it is time to step your get-home game up, and plan to get from work to home as soon as the balloon goes up. All your best-laid plans and carefully stocked preps won’t matter an iota if you are miles away across town or in the next city.
In this article, we’ll learn a few different ways to clock out early and head home when the chips are down.
This article is about how to get from your workplace or office to your home, home being wherever you live and (assuming) you keep the bulk of your material preps and supplies. I am also assuming your family is at home, or you don’t have family to worry about. The situation at hand may be a far sight more complicated for you: you could have family scattered all over town when disaster strikes, or you could get caught on the road or really far from home, like states away, depending on your job and typical travel itinerary.
This is going to change things up significantly. There is no surefire template or guide to situations like this. That is why contingency planning is so important. That is also why it so important that you keep a get-home bag in your vehicle or accessible at work at all times. What’s a get home bag? I’m tickled you asked, reader, as I have written a whole article about them on this very site here (article to be published soon).
Be sure to read it and get a better understanding of what a get-home bag contains, how it differs from a BOB and why they are so important, even if you work fairly close to home. I will further be assuming you have your get-home bag with you, as the items it contains will facilitate the task of returning to base no matter how you get there.
One more thing: getting home assumes you can actually, physically get home. The nature of the event, your injuries and local conditions may make that effectively impossible. If that’s the case, you’ll be glad you have your get-home bag contents and furthermore it would be wise to keep a few living and sustainment items at the office or in your vehicle. Things like a sleeping pad, small pillow and poncho liner or blanket can make “office living” far more comfortable if you must shelter in place. If you simply cannot get home, or chances are great you’ll die in the attempt, stay where you are if it is safe! You won’t be any good to anyone dead on the side of the road.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to getting home. Presented in order of preference, with speed and safety being prioritized. Note, once more, that any of these may be difficult or impossible depending on your unique situation and the hazards present, so preference will likely give way to viability in some scenarios.
If you went to work in a personally owned vehicle, you should hop right back in it and make haste for home. Your biggest risk with this strategy is getting mired down in traffic. Depending on your locale, how far from home, what route you took to get there, population density and nature of crisis, etc. roads could become positively gridlocked in short order. Sure, you can get as far as you can and then abandon ship and walk the rest of the way, but others will likely do the same thing, and nothing mires roadways faster than abandoned cars and wrecks. Try not to contribute to The Suck at this point.
If you have assessed all of the above factors and believe you can get home, do so at best possible speed. A smart play would be to avoid all major thoroughfares and take tertiary “back roads” to get home, even if this would ostensibly increase travel time. The fewer vehicles and their panic-stricken drivers you have to worry about the better.
Of course, to make that work with certainty, you’ll need to know all those little-traveled ways, detours and shortcuts to get from work to home. If you have not traveled any of them, start doing so when time permits. Get comfortable with them in daylight and dark until you can run them by memory. Knowing all the sneaky ways into and out of a place will also pay off in the event the authorities roadblock main thoroughfares “for your protection.”
I don’t want to sound like a schoolmarm, but take care driving. No matter what has happened, and who is waiting for you at home don’t forget they are counting on you to arrive alive. If you are racing Hell for leather and crash, perhaps die, their situation will get a whole lot worse. Pay attention to your speed, and the road. Don’t forget your seatbelt. It would be embarrassing to survive the onset of the end of the world and die in a car wreck.
If your work arrangement is such that you do not have a vehicle of your own to use and cannot procure one, you might have a family member or friend retrieve you and take you home. Assuming cell phone networks, landlines or the internet are still up and not utterly clogged with traffic you should be able to establish contact with one or the other and make arrangements for them to come get you.
Admittedly, those are pretty big “ifs” but it will beat staying separated or a long hike back home. This is one situation where it pays to coordinate with family or understanding friends ahead of time. This type of operation does not survive improvisation in the face of chaos very well. You should prearrange “if/then” plans to lessen dwell time in the event comms are busted or unavailable.
Depending on your family and social circle, this type of response may be suboptimal or invalid. Think it through; if you have shifty, fair-weather friends or merely acquaintances you should not count on them when the skyline is on fire and the Horsemen roam the earth. Minutes matter in most disasters, and standing by the door waiting for them to pull up while things get worse, only to have it dawn on you that you’ve been deserted is a bad way to go.
Similarly, neurotic or unskilled family members should be instructed ahead of time to stay where they are if it is safe and damn the torpedoes. Don’t let them potentially get stranded or crash in parts unknown in a misguided attempt to pick you up. That will make things worse all the way around. If you are “the calm one” or “the one that knows how to handle things” in the family, you probably should count on your own wits and resourcefulness to get home.
Hitch a Ride
Traveling by automobile is the way to go if at all possible. If you don’t have a car, and don’t have or cannot reach family or friends with cars, you might try getting a lift from a coworker, first responder or stranger, if need be. So long as they are headed closer to your home, even if they are not passing directly nearby that will shave a ton of time and much weariness from a potential hike home.
All the other concerns and considerations for travelling by auto in a tough spot apply here too with a few extra admonishments. If you get a lift from a stranger, you might have to contend with the fact that you will know almost nothing about their skills, mindset and plans. Should they be overcome by stress, or suddenly have more urgent matters to attend to, you might wind up in a crash or significantly off course.
All in all, if you feel confident about getting where you need to go with a willing driver, saddle up. If you don’t, pass, and take your chances elsewhere.
For all but the most uneven or rough terrain, a bicycle is far less taxing and faster than walking, even when pedaling at a very leisurely clip. A few of you probably bike to work at any rate, so this is a no brainer. A bicycle can also slip between stalled or gridlocked cars with ease as well as travel on sidewalks or thin shoulders. How clever you’ll feel scooting by all those idle cars!
Bikes have their flaws though. They are muscle powered, and so your physical fitness level will largely determine how much “gas” you have in the tank at any given time. Bikes are also vulnerable to being mowed down by speeding cars or overtaken by pedestrians, so in times of unrest or panic you will be considerably more vulnerable than you would in a car (assuming the car was not immobilized).
Over rough or hilly terrain a bike may not be as efficient as walking, though it is simple enough to hop off and push a bike, if you have to carry one for any length of time in addition to you get-home bag fatigue will become an issue. You’ll still need to do advance work on route selection and scouting.
You will of course need a bicycle to pull this off. Assuming you don’t ride one to work, where will you get one? You might be able to stash one at your workplace or come up with one near work, but this will have to be sorted out. If you have a fair bit of disposable income, you can actually purchase so-called paratrooper bikes that fold up into a small package. One of these lightweight, low profile bikes may be just the ticket.
If all else fails, you live in an urban area or simply cannot come up with a set of wheels, you’ll have to rely on your own two feet. Walking is rarely ideal, but assuming you know where you are going, know your routes and are in decent shape, it is a dependable mode of travel. Strap on your pack, pick ‘em up, set ‘em down and you are on your way.
Walking or hiking is obviously slow, but one of the best ways to bypass impassible or clogged roads. Walking will let you get off the path, so to speak, and avoid other people if you want or need to, but your range will be limited based on weather, terrain and your conditioning. Out of all the other modes of travel we discussed, hiking home will entail the most additional preparation to make it feasible.
Depending on local conditions and distance to travel, you may need to pack an additional set of clothes and footwear suitable for long walks and the weather, shelter supplies, water, and perhaps some rations for energy. You’ll be most vulnerable to human predation when on foot, generally, so take appropriate precaution when it comes to defending yourself. Consider that a hike home may take several days to accomplish; you might have every intent to march through the night and take no rest till you get home, but the realities of the situation may dictate a stop for shelter and rest.
Additionally, take the time to practice hiking with a decently weighted pack on your back. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fun but developing your muscles (and your feet!) to put up with the added strain is mandatory unless you are carrying a crazy light pack.
If you work out of state or very far from home, you may need to look into alternate means of transportation. Chartering or bribing your way into a car or a private flight is an option. Travel by river could be another if appropriate. This is another good reason to always, always keep a goodly stash of cash or precious metal with you. Any of it might add up to the favor you need in a tight spot.
Similarly, keeping or procuring good maps is a necessity in the event you do wind up needing to travel during a severe crisis, as the chances that your route will become impassible or detoured will be high depending on what’s happened. You may think you know all roads in your area like the back of your hand, but you probably do not know quite all. Paper remembers, the mind may forget.
Getting home from your workplace when SHTF is a highly probable scenario for most people. If you are not planning this as your first step in a crisis response plan, and you do leave home for work, you are probably mis-prioritizing. Knowing how you’ll get back, and having the skill and grit to accomplish it, is critical. If you have not put in the time to formulate two emergency travel plans from office to home, start doing so today.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.