18 Tips For Buying an Affordable & Usable Property for Getting Out of Dodge

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affordable bug out locationAn affordable bug out location or Get Out Of Dodge (GOOD) property is a wish and a dream for many a prepper. Unfortunately, though, few of us can afford those multi-hundred-thousand dollar properties we see on TV with orchards, solar power, stocked ponds, and all the bells and whistles.

Even a moderate property out in the country is an additional expense, not only for survival or preparedness but as a place to go while the kids and grandkids are little. Time in the country makes for many happy memories. After all, you might want to get out of Dodge simply to escape from the stresses of everyday life.

If this is a dream and a goal for you, the first step is to find an affordable, usable GOOD property for your family, preferably one that is a fun weekend and summer getaway as well. Once you’ve found that dream piece of land, then it’s time to design and build your dream property, all without breaking the bank or having to drive too far (as defined by your family).

Finding your affordable bug out location

The first issue to tackle is where you want to buy property.

To narrow the search, the first decision is how far it is reasonable to go. For us, anything more than a full work day (eight hours) of driving in normal conditions was too far both for that Get Out of Dodge location and for an enjoyable family weekend/summer retreat. If everything did hit the fan, getting that far would be difficult to impossible. For family getaways, we would spend two days driving, which uses up an entire weekend and cuts down too much on a longer vacation. In addition, getting there to check on problems and make sure everything was safe is too difficult.

PREPPER TIP: Decide how far you’re able to drive, in both hours and miles, and then mark those distances on a map, going in different directions from your current home. This may lead you to the perfect area you hadn’t considered.

Living near a major city, two hours is bit too close to the potential hordes. Ultimately, we decided that a three to four hour drive from our home is comfortable for us both in terms of being far enough for a SHTF situation and close enough for summer vacations and weekend trips. However, a knowledgeable friend in our own town has a retreat ninety minute to two hours from here. His belief is that three to four hours is too far if you need to walk, and his family is able to regularly use their weekend place because it is convenient. Point being: the ideal distance is what you are comfortable with, not a static, fixed number.

Take terrain, hazards, and weather into consideration

Another consideration is the terrain you will need to travel. Given our location, a lot of potential destinations involve twisty, country roads or heavily traveled interstates. That definitely impacts our choices.

Depending on where you live, some directions may have rivers, lakes, mountains, deserts, canyons, and other geographical features that can make driving harder, or possibly easier. Seasonal features such as flood plains and roads that are routinely threatened by avalanches, mudslides, or rock slides must also be considered, although these are unlikely to be marked on anything other than, possibly, a detailed map such as a DeLorme Atlas.

Man-made potential hazards such as dams, prisons, and power plants are not marked on all maps, but should certainly be considered. (I lived near Three Mile Island when it made nuclear history.) Other considerations include having a national border (Mexico, Canada) or big city (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles) within a few hours. We have a big city about six hours north of us. Six hours is more than far enough to feel safe from it even in our home, but any property owners several hours north of us will regret being that close to a large city. Obviously that isn’t ideal in a SHTF situation, but it also tends to make property much more expensive in everyday life.

Weather is another consideration. In my case, the weather even four hours north tends to be cold enough that it would limit how much we could use the property. Similarly, buying property three to four hours east of Los Angeles would tend to make it too hot and dry to be useful. (It is a literal desert.) Some areas are also prone to natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, which can lead to significantly increased expenses for building, insurance, and repairing damage. In short, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the local weather and natural hazards in any area you are considering.

RECOMMENDED READING: I cannot recommend highly enough the classic by Joel Skousen, Strategic Relocationfor evaluating locations within every state and continent as a potential Get Out of Dodge location.

Your family may also have specific health-related concerns that will affect your GOOD location. Anywhere with too much time on twisty roads is problematic for my family because of rampant motion-sickness. Another friend has serious health issues and has to be within an hour or two of a top-notch hospital. Allergies and even phobias may also impact your choices. If someone is truly afraid of heights, a cliff-top property might be completely out of the question.

Once you look at all those factors, you should have a solid, reasonably-sized radius to look in and it’s time to narrow down the search to specific counties or towns.

Getting more specific in your search

Spend some time thinking about what your family enjoys doing and where they like to do it. Are they avid bikers, backpackers or hikers? What kind of terrain? Do you regularly canoe, kayak, sail, swim, or do other water sports? Are they better suited to the ocean, rivers, or a lake? Is the property just for you or do you plan to build with friends or family?

These may seem trivial if you have end-of-the-world scenarios in mind, but at some point, you might be LIVING in this location, so it might as well be somewhere you actually want to spend time.

How old are your kids? If they are small, what safety concerns do you have? With toddlers, a deep swimming hole could make an otherwise-perfect property a no-go. If they are bigger, do you want to make it big enough that they can join you with their own significant other and/or family? Do you have any other family members you need to consider, including your parents and in-laws? How much space do you really need both in acreage and in home space, and think ahead several years to changing family size and circumstances.

How do you plan to get there? Do you have a private plane? (If so, your search radius can be hours farther from your home – a ten hour drive might be a nice short flight!) That will clearly change what you are looking for since you will need a landing strip nearby. Will you be taking an RV or tiny house? Do you have a four wheel drive vehicle? How about a truck? Will your family or group be arriving in multiple vehicles? Not only will your form of transportation affect how far your GOOD site will be, but also the types of roads you’ll be able to navigate.

Do you want to start a survival garden? If so, what plans do you have? Your needs will be different if you want to have a mini-orchard, an herb garden, or a small greenhouse, but gardening generally needs more open (not forested) land than hunting or fishing, for example, and your needs in terms of soil, sunlight, and water will be greater. The north side of a mountain may simply never get enough sunlight for successful gardening.

RECOMMENDED READING: Develop a survival garden that blends in with the surrounding native plants, providing food but camouflaged to passers by. Rick Austin provides details in his book, Secret Garden of Survival.

Would a hunting property be regularly used, or does your family fish? Depending on what you hunt, the game might be plentiful in different areas, and you might want to adjoin (or avoid) national or state park lands. As a fisherman, you may choose to avoid certain areas if the water (and fish) are known or believed to be contaminated, or to choose other areas where they are plentiful and tasty.

In our case, my kids love kayaking, canoeing – any water sports – so my preference is property on or near water, just not the ocean. (I don’t want to deal with hurricane insurance or damage.) That means our ideal GOOD property will be either on a lake or a river. My preference is a lake because rivers tend to have large cities on them, which makes it easy for those citizens to go upstream in an emergency and our safe shelter might not be so safe any more. Rivers also frequently have power plants and factories on them, increasing the chances of pollution.

Narrowing the focus and looking at properties

Using MapQuest and Google Earth, I initially searched in a 2 hour radius from our home for rivers, larger lakes, and any other water feature that might serve, until we found an area that seemed to suit. (The DeLorme Atlases are also a great way to search.) The next step was to (virtually) check out actual real estate.

Some areas have realtors that specialize in that area, although that can be a warning sign that they are popular and possibly too populated. For other areas, Zillow or realtor.com can help you decide if the area suits. This is a great way to get a general idea of what the local style is. If you really hate log cabins, an area where most of the available property tends toward “log cabin” probably won’t be a  great fit. But it might be perfect if you love log cabins!

In my own search, the first area I found to my liking is near a major natural spring, making geothermal energy a real option, but it’s also far too close for comfort to a less-than-totally-safe city. It’s also an area with lots of tourists, and this makes the prices a bit higher. Moving on, the next potential property I found didn’t appeal to my husband because it was too close to where we live now.

After talking with my husband a bit more, I realized that I was looking for locations too close to our current home. It was at this point that I went from looking a couple hours away to three or four hours away. Lesson learned: it’s important to be flexible and talk with your spouse while going through this process. As we talked through things, I realized that we were really only interested in looking south of where we currently live. That simplified things a lot!

I spent a few more hours on Google Earth and narrowed down the search area even further simply by looking at the geography. By identifying a more specific area and then looking at geographical features, we now have an area that’s a good enough fit to actually begin looking at properties.Read these 18 tips for buying an affordable bug out location. #PrepperTalk #SHTF Click To Tweet

Wanting to learn more about the area from those who have visited it first hand, I started to ask people what they thought of it. Since it’s a popular vacation spot, asking around doesn’t raise any suspicion. When I was picking my son up from school, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt for that area and asked his opinion. Since his family has been going there every year for thirty years, I think he counts as a fan! More importantly, talking to local people about it has given me a better feel for how long it really takes to get there and how hard the drive is, or isn’t. (Motion sickness is a big issue for my family.)

The area has lots of summer vacation home rentals but that isn’t realistic for us this year. Camping, on the other hand, is totally doable, so I’m going to try to wrangle the family and get them to go down for a long weekend to really see what we think of the area.

One item to keep in mind while you are looking at undeveloped land is that a well and septic can be $10-20,000 or more each, depending on size and complexity. Well prices depend in large part on depth; our well has water about 40 feet down but the well is over 200 feet deep, so don’t assume water fairly near the surface will mean the well doesn’t go deep. A $60,000 lot with a well and septic installed may be a bargain compared to an unimproved one the same size for $40,000.

Lowering the cost even more

How can the cost of a GOOD property be affordable? Consider it’s potential as a rental. In the area I’ve been looking at, because it is a popular vacation spot, there is the potential for rental income depending on how and where we build. (Local ordinances restrict some areas from short-term rentals; other areas are simply not desirable.) Honestly, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Once we have our personal items there and at least enough food that we don’t have to go grocery shopping immediately upon arrival, I don’t know that I want strangers staying there, but I might be OK with it. I simply don’t know, and it’s far down the road, but it’s an option that could help us if we experienced a financial setback.

Sharing the property with like-minded friends and family is another way to lower the cost, especially if you have multiple buildings on one larger property. One possibility is starting with a tiny house or two — enough covered living area to provide a sturdy shelter until a larger home can be built.

READ MORE: Could a tiny house be a realistic GOOD option? The Survival Mom researched the tiny house craze and gives her opinions and suggestions in this article.

Really be purposeful and realistic about what you are buying. Do you actually need one hundred acres, or would five to ten acres suffice for your needs? More land means more area to protect and develop. Living near a state or national park may decrease how much property you need, if isolation is your primary concern. Finding a property where you can generate off-grid power such as solar, geothermal, wind, or water power may also help you lower the long-term costs.

As with any big purchase, there is a lot to consider, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or outrageously expensive (for real estate). Take your time, think about your needs – not what someone else tells you is important, and what you want out of a property. Enjoy the process – and don’t rush it! It’s better to take a few more months, or even a couple of years, and end up with a property you love than to settle for something not-quite-right.

affordable bug out location

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Bethanne is an eclectic writer who lives in the exurbs (that's what comes after the suburbs) with her husband, sons, and cats. She has been writing for The Survival Mom since 2010. You can learn more about her books, including the "Survival Skills for All Ages" series, at BethanneKim.com.

32 thoughts on “18 Tips For Buying an Affordable & Usable Property for Getting Out of Dodge”

  1. Liz, your article is wonderful. One thing we may be forgetting is that during an EMP strike cars will not run because of the chip in them. Unless you have an automobile that was created in the 80’s and/or before. It is worth checking into if you are interested. I thought about relocating during a disaster and then thought of bugging out, but then I decided to stay put. We are not in a big city and after doing research I realized many things can happen during a disaster. Major flooding is one. EMP strikes from the sun or from another country is another. I would hate for a family to purchase a cabin to relocate only not be able to get there. And if that is the case, they should move there NOW. Those are just my thoughts as I see things in the world changing very rapidly and not for the good. I have my own personal view of what is happening, but that is not the subject here. Safety, water and food is number one for people. They should, in my opinion, begin canning food NOW, (freezer will not work) learn to use herbs for food and pharmaceutical use, learn to poltice the herbs in our front yard for wounds, snake bites, etc, purchase a HAM radio and learn to use it now, collect water from outside home with rain barrels and begin immediately to collect and purchase filters to filter the water they must live on, go to the second hand stores and pick up things that work without electricity to use, stock up on warm clothing, put a small cooking and heating stove in the basement NOW, collect wood and just sit tight and pray. Also, sanitary questions come up. If possible, (this sounds crazy) put up a temporary OUT house behind the garage and out of sight, if not just the hole part, (the toilets will not flush and water will not run), and also learn to raise chickens for eggs.
    These are things that our grandmothers did back when there was no electricity. This is what I have done. I have a small brick home and I will not allow anything or anyone to drive me from it. I will survive and I hope and pray you and your family survives as well. But remember if it is an EMP strike, it will happen quickly before we know what to do and then if we can drive the highways will be a parking lot. (have maps on hand to take the back roads) that is if the car runs. But I believe no one will be going anywhere for some time. Where we are is where we will be and it is a good idea to begin setting up a small, out of the way survival place to live where you are or move and begin setting it up NOW. Let us all pray that God and the Holy Spirit will be in our hearts and soul and will give us confidence to survive with out fear. God bless you my dear for the work that you do and the people that you touch. My prayers are with you and yours.

    1. Thanks so much I’m glad you enjoyed it, but there are a lot of different possible scenarios. EMP is just one of them. I totally understand your concern, but that is why I recommend families come to their own conclusion. As I said, 90 minutes to two hours is closer than I feel comfortable with, but a friend agrees with you – three to four hours is too far to walk, and so is too far for a GOOD property.

      Your comments and thoughts are much appreciated. Hopefully they help others!

    1. I’ll leave the link here but in no way is this something I endorse. Building trust between people takes years and to give money to a group of strangers as a “shareholder” for some type of utopian community, well, history is full of those types of experiments and all have failed.

      1. Ivy, S. mom: : Another idea is for like minded trusted friends in your community get with a couple or relative with property out from city, let’s say 3 older couples with maybe one or two college age kids, that have campers they can park on property of either extended family (cousins, siblings) or close friends for mutual support and helping with chores. Family privacy is important living in campers. No one would have to buy property. Everyone would bring their own food and needed supplies and share work in garden and animal care. This would make sense if agreed on by all, for mutual support and protection 24/7 against thieves. Eight people , or ten would be ideal. Several I know out of my area planning this (siblings and their families). Church groups (small churches) with fundamental beliefs like several I heard of in Mt., Idaho, S.C. are bugging out to someones land when the hammer drops. Small rural churches may have country retreats for members.

      2. Do you think possibly Ivy meant people you already know and have known for years? Neighbors and friends that have the same views as you do? Most sane people aren’t going to wait till the last minute then join up with any ole group available. Frankly her idea isn’t a bad one for people that can’t just go out and lay down another $40,000 to $60,000. Some people are actually struggling right now.

  2. One of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read. If the SHTF, you will not make it 100 miles from your current home. Depending on what the cause is of the SHTF, you may not make 1 mile. If it is an EMP, your vehicles are dead and done, now are you going to walk what was an 8 hour drive? That’s over 400 miles by any calculation, you are going to walk over 400 miles with all of your survival crap and your children? Almost any scenario of SHTF, the highways will be closed, there will be roadblocks all over the place, gas will be rationed at best and most likely unavailable . Anybody thinking like this author needs their head examined. The only way this works is if you have an early warning so you can make the trip while things are still normal.

    1. You claim to have read the post, and yet you missed the very most basic point and one of the first made: figure out the distance YOU are comfortable with and that YOU feel your family can safely reach in an SHTF situation. I explicitly stated that my max distance was three to four hours (certainly not 8 hours!) by car, and that a friend’s max distance is ninety minutes to two hours. If someone feels confident they can go eight hours, perhaps that is because they have older vehicles they know won’t be impacted, friends they can meet along the way for refueling and to caravan with, etc. That’s not for either of us to judge.

      Why on earth is everyone obsessed with EMPs? They are not the only potential SHTF scenario, just one. In an economic collapse, which is another of the most commonly brought up ones, moving to a rural bug out location would not be significantly harder than it is now. A personal financial disaster where you can no longer afford your main home would also have no affect on getting there. Honestly, there are so many different possible scenarios and MANY of them have a window of opportunity to bug out while you can still move freely (and get gas easily) IF you are paying attention.

    2. I don’t know why you are SO cynical! If an EMP strike hits, how do you think road blocks will be set up immediately? AND, for what reason? Don’t you think that police vehicles and military vehicles won’t be affected? I plan on using my old “clunker” that doesn’t have a brain box to “bug out”. I have a couple of BOBs in it and everything else I need ready to grab up and go.

  3. The idea of living in the city, and then fleeing to some safer place after catastrophe strikes, is RIDICULOUS!

    So what will you do? Drive hundreds of miles, only to subsist in your “bug-out” location until your supplies run out?

    If you’re thinking that you’re going to garden and raise livestock: Those things take TIME to establish; require that you have all the accoutrements on-hand, and know what you are doing. They are not something you can set-up and start living off of in a few days or weeks!

    Seriously, if you want to “prep”, get out to your “bug-out” location and live there full-time NOW. Establish your means of food production, and heating and water, etc. because if you wait till TSHTF, you’ll be SOL. (LOL!)

    Best of all, you’ll enjoy your life NOW and be able to live much freer.! (I’m not a prepper, I just live this lifestyle for the aforementioned benefits…but coincidentally, we will be the ones who are indeed prepared, while all of you “preppers” are out of gas on the side of the road, or snagged by the armed servants of our overlords. And those who make it to their acreage, will leave after a week or two….)

    Wake up, you preppers. You’re living an arm-chair fantasy, which is not going to work-out in real life.

    1. I certainly hope I don’t live anywhere near someone with an attitude like yours. And for living in a so-called paradise, you certainly don’t seem to be a very happy person.

    2. 1. Establishing your bug out location – including any off-grid capabilities, preparing the area for gardening (meaning clearing land, building fencing, possibly some critter-proofing – not trying to grow lettuce or whatever) – so it is ready if you need it is the entire point of this post.

      2. Lots of people have JOBS that require them to live or work in cities or suburbs. Simply quitting and leaving isn’t always an option, certainly not an immediate one.

      3. Berry bushes, fruit trees, herbs, and other landscaping and garden items that would be great post-SHTF are perfectly reasonable to plant long before you ever want to live there full-time and require minimal ongoing care. A veggie garden needs a lot of attention, but there are plenty of things you can get started well before moving to a place full time.

      4. No one mentioned livestock. You have to be with livestock full-time to tend to them.

      5. You don’t actually seem to be responding to this post, just venting your anger that other people have made different choices than you. Go have a beer, or read a book, or whatever you need to do to relax and chill out.

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    1. I think I see why you were confused, if you were reading the article quickly. Four hours north of ME is mountainous and gets a lot of snow, comparatively. Four hours east of LOS ANGELES (a separate example in a different climate) is too hot and dry. You just assumed I lived in Los Angeles and both comments applied to LA, even though that wouldn’t match other information in the post. Those were two different examples of why it’s important to pay attention to the climate where you are looking to buy to see how it may impact you.

      BTW, Big Bear is two or three hours east of Los Angeles. It’s a popular ski resort – you know, a place that has to be COLD.

  5. I would like to add that the Strategic Location author/book has a video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkWs5Doadq4 I was able to see and hear him speak at a preparedness fair. Very good and brought up some many excellent points for things to think about when finding a good BOL. When looking for hazards that are not usually listed web searches or contacting the local emergency management or CERT team can get you the information. A lot of government agencies are now posting interactive maps for natural disasters, I know that Oregon just released an interactive ARCGIS map for weather related information for the state. Another site to consider is http://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/ if you are concerned about nuclear fallout this map can give you good predictors for fallout travel patterns. Also if you are concerned about earthquakes remember to check your routes for bridges and do a bit of research on which bridges may survive a quake and which ones most likely won’t.

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  9. It really does make sense to live at the location you would consider your
    “bug-out” area – if it is possible. This is a life choice, and may not always
    be possible with jobs, etc. But… it seems to make more sense than a last minute
    rush and bug-out: i.e. the travel, a new area to settle, infra-structure, gardens to plant, etc.

    I’ve lived in a country area with acreage – out of the way, but fairly close to
    some medium size towns – for over 20 years. It does take time
    to build infra-structure (i.e. solar, water source, etc.) – so it’s a good idea to
    start as soon as possible (i.e. move if necessary, prepare property, etc.) –
    IF you are serious about the best survival methods, and the doomsday scenarios.

    One last thing: It’s interesting to me to see the extent that some serious preppers and survivalists go to – to be covered (i.e. many to extremes). Personally I think
    all of it can be good and that it’s very important to be prepared (in many areas – food shelter, finances, etc.) However, it’s also important to keep in mind that even the best of preparations – may not be good enough…depending on the situation.

    With this in mind, very simply, those who have their trust in the Lord have the ultimate survival plan. Whatever happens, you’re covered. If this sounds strange to you, take a few minutes to read some chapters in the New Testament (Ephesians, Galatians, I and II Corinthians, and others – for answers. I have a website you
    may also be interested in checking out: http://www.answers4today.com
    Best, Bob

  10. Thezombiesarecoming

    If we have learnt anything from watching twd it’s that you won’t be able to stay in your safe location or carry your hoarded food. All the prepping in the world won’t be enough

    1. Really? The good people of Alexandria have been there since the beginning. Eastman was happy and safe in his home until Morgan arrived and ultimately led to his demise. For that matter, Morgan was doing OK in Rick’s neighborhood until he lost his son. Unstable, but otherwise OK.

      Maggie, Beth, and Hershel were safe in their home for several months, until pure bad luck brought a massive zombie horde toward them. They have encountered other, isolated instances (including Father Gabriel) where people have held out for an extended period of time right where they started.

      You may not be able to hold out forever, but even two or three weeks will allow a lot of the craziness to die out, literally and figuratively. That’s worth a lot in and of itself.

      The one thing you can always carry with you is your knowledge. It still makes me nuts when I see the first few episodes when they are in the Atlanta department store. Not a one of them grabs a hat to protect their head and neck from the Georgia sun, nor do they grab a big pot or spices or ANYTHING when they run through an industrial kitchen. If they had been preppers with even minimal knowledge, they could’ve made MUCH better use of what was in that store before it was overrun.

  11. I’ve read your article and a good portion of the comments. Location of undesirable attractions (weather, humans, or facilities) is a major factor that has to be weighed against must/needs to be met. A military facility is relatively near our residence. In terms of bugging out, my entire family (26, of which 20 are adults) we have to think in terms of how much distance do we need to place between ourselves and accesses to/from the military. Not that the facility is bad but it can be a hindrance (if it is a target for any type of terrorism) or it can be beneficial (it wasn’t attacked and it is seen as a safe haven) either way we didnt want to be in the path of fleeing victims coming from or going towards this place.

    We all have a radius of 5 to ten miles (as the crow flies) from our BOSS (Bug Out Safe Shelter) that we live. We have on our BOSS’s site the materials need to make it quickly feasible for up to 40 ppl while regularly housing 2.

    After years of being on this property we also know the neighbors and what THEIR properties have as natural assests (like a natural spring that washes out property every time it rains more that 2 inches-which is a lot to begin with). It could be the only source of water for a while if the weather is the reason for bugging-out.

    And we were lucky enough to have multiple trade skills between the 20 adults that advice/experience overlaps in all necessary fields to survival, procreating, and finally living. Living together will come in shifts of sleep eating and working. This is just some of the factors that have to be accounted for when WE think in terms of survival.

    Before anyone questions the distance between home and BOSS it is mostly because of those 6 whom are children, and of various medical conditions in a few adults, 10 miles is very demanding on those bodies. And the parents’ piece of mind. Survival isn’t just how far you can get away, but how many in your family unit that can make it there alive.

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