From my book, Emergency Evacuations:
Your kits are ready, the pets and kids are bundled up and you’ve remembered to grab their favorite play toys and diversions, but now the big question remains, where do you go? Remember that if your end destination is more than a day’s travel away, you’ll need places to spend the night along your planned route.
If you’re like the majority of Americans, you don’t own a second home and don’t have friends who live on rural ranches or farms. Those are all considered to be “safer” spots for long-term evacuations, but what other options are there? Obviously, staying with grandparents, siblings, or other relatives and close friends are locations that will be at the top of your list. But if those destinations aren’t viable for some reason, here are a few more to consider:
Camping is one of the very best activities you and your family can experience to help prepare you for survival scenarios.
You’re providing your own shelter, heat (if needed), using off-grid methods for cooking and sanitation, and banding together to not only survive the wilderness but have a fun time as well. If you own basic camping gear and have at least some skills for selecting a good campsite, pitching a tent, safely starting and building a fire, cooking food, and procuring water, then evacuating to a campground is a good choice. If campgrounds are full, then get out your map and head for a state or national park that allows primitive, or dispersed, camping. This is camping anywhere other than a designated campground and you won’t have access to any facilities. Find out which parks allow that and what their rules are.
This option is a possibility for both tent camping and RV/trailer camping. Some businesses, such as Wal-Mart, allow overnight RV camping in their parking lots. If you’re very subtle about it, you can park for a night or two in an apartment complex parking lot or at 24-hour grocery stores if you have no other options. You’ll need to have all your supplies very well organized, with the items you’ll need most easily accessible. During the day, you can go to a local park for some fresh air, a picnic, and to let the kids play. For a family, this isn’t an easy option unless you have an RV or a pickup with a camper.
Camping on friends’ property
You may not have friends with spacious homes or homesteads, but just about everybody has a friend who would allow them to “urban camp” in their backyard or driveway. They may not have sleeping space for you, but would gladly allow you to use their bathroom and laundry facilities, and share meals.
Mobile home park
If you own an RV, you may be able to park it, temporarily, at a mobile home park. Call ahead to check their regulations since many are set by the city or state.
These can be pricey and if ATM machines in the area are down, you’ll have to be prepared with enough cash to cover the expense. However, there’s virtually no preparation involved, other than calling ahead to get a reservation. If you have pets, you can find pet-friendly hotels at BringFido.com. Hotels are far less accommodating when it comes to cats, but cat-friendly hotels do exist.
If you’re like millions of timeshare owners, you probably have extra weeks banked. These resorts are an excellent destination because timeshare units often include laundry facilities and full kitchens. Many also have scheduled activities, which will help a great deal for keeping the kids occupied. Call your timeshare company directly, explain your situation, and ask for their help. Be flexible with your destinations, don’t insist on a 5-star deluxe resort — but if one is available, by all means, grab it!
Started in 2008, Airbnb is a fairly new travel concept. Homeowners with extra space for visitors open their homes to travelers on a short term basis. You may end up sleeping on the floor on futons or get a spacious room, or more, all to yourself. Check out the website, read the terms, and look for locations near your evacuation routes. And, as with any other type of accommodation, take care and stay situationally aware.
Back in the day, I stayed in hostels all over Europe and noticed plenty of families with kids of all ages as well as adults of all ages who were also taking advantage of this very low-cost option. Most hostels are definitely no-frills but will cost about $15-40 or so per night, which is a huge savings over any hotel or motel. There aren’t nearly as many hostels in the U.S. as there are in Europe, but you might get lucky and find ones along your evacuation route. Visit the Hostelling International (hiusa.org) and Hostels.com websites to learn more.
Stay with friends of friends
When my husband moved to Texas, ahead of our family, he was welcomed into the home of a homeschooling family we had never met. The arrangement came about from a simple request on the homeschooling group’s forum. It was a blessing for us, and we would do the same for another family in need. If you have connections through a church, homeschool organization, social clubs, and the like, you may be able to find just the right, temporary destination for your family’s evacuation. Don’t be afraid to ask and let your needs be known.
If the thought of checking in to a FEMA shelter gives you the willies, then keep your eyes and ears open to temporary shelter facilities at churches, schools, and other public buildings. Organizations such as The Salvation Army often coordinate with local businesses and government to get these set up quickly. In fact, in most cases, these shelters will be up and running long before FEMA officials even complete their lengthy paperwork. That’s the nature of bureaucracy.
If you do find yourself heading for a public shelter, here are a few things you should know:
- Be prepared for a nearly complete loss of privacy.
- Bring your own food and water. There may be some available, but having your own will be much better than standing in line.
- Pets will not be allowed but service animals are.
- Adults and older children/teens should take turns keeping an eye on family belongings. Don’t assume that anything is theft-proof.
- Keep cash and other valuables stored out of sight in your locked car. If you have to bring anything in that you don’t want to be stolen, a small security safe, like a pistol safe, is handy for storing prescription drugs, cash, ID papers, and other small, important items.
- Be sure to bring chargers for your electronics, an extension cord, and a multi-plug outlet.
- Bring bedding, pillows, and towels from home.
- Pack pajamas or something modest for sleeping. You’ll likely be in a large room filled with cots and many strangers.
Learn from the homeless
I’m not eager to recommend this, but in some cases, you may be homeless for a while, from just overnight to several days or more. No one said living out of a car, truck, or other vehicle would be easy, but hundreds of thousands of people do it every day. If you are well and truly stuck, these tips passed on to me from a few folks who lived the homeless lifestyle may help:
- Get organized and stay organized! Have a place for everything and make sure everyone in the group knows where to find things and to put everything back in the same place. There’s no shorter route to insanity than having to search for every single thing you need, especially if the need is urgent.
- Keep a family toiletry bag handy with a bar of soap, washcloth, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and any other items needed for freshening up. You can find showers at truck stops and KOA campgrounds, usually for a small fee. If you belong to the YMCA, you can use their facilities anywhere in the U.S.
- Pack lightweight, thin towels. They’ll dry faster.
- Have a small, plastic basin handy for washing dishes, hand-washing small batches of laundry, and bathing. A dishpan or 5 gallon bucket will work just fine for these purposes.
- If you have freeze-dried meals, this is where that investment may really pay off. They’re very lightweight and can be prepared in minutes. An immersion heater can heat up the water quickly and those are available with the standard electrical plug and one that plugs into your car’s power socket.
- Always use window shades in your vehicle for privacy.
- If possible, attach a tarp to your vehicle or nearby trees for another area of shelter.
- Do not use candles inside your vehicle. Rely on flashlights, headlamps, and other sources of light.
- Libraries have computers and internet access, which you’ll need to contact your insurance agent, employer, friends, and family.
One final note. Depending on where you are, do a quick search on Vacation Rentals By Owner. Most of what you’ll find aren’t budget friendly, but if they are in a location that is unlikely to be affected by whatever disaster you’re runing from, it might be worth the expense. Be aware that most of these homeowners will require a cleaning fee, pet fee (if they allow pets), and a minimum number of nights.