Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted
(May 2020) I’ve written before about the importance of adaptability in the preparedness world. It’s one of those things that are so important you simply cannot overstate it.
There were some comments on the article I wrote recently about the things I’d learned during the lockdown and it opens up a topic I’d like to discuss further. The commenters expressed disappointment that I had ditched most of my worldly possessions and headed off to wander the world and live the nomad life. Let me be very clear that I’m absolutely not trying to call anyone out – everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I respect your point of view. But I thought it might make for an interesting discussion.
This isn’t a newsy article filled with deep research or a how-to that will teach you ways to deal with specific threats. It’s simply a blog post in which I’m sharing a personal story and philosophy that some folks will find thought-provoking and others will find outlandish. But either way, do share your thoughts in the comments.
What I’d like to do is discuss the increased adaptability and resilience that I’ve experienced due to my unconventional lifestyle. I’m not suggesting that everybody should abandon their preps – living nomadically isn’t something that everybody would enjoy. But what I hope you do is begin to think outside the rigid confines of “bugging out” or “bugging in.” Because those are not the only options or possibilities when things go sideways. However, some preparation is warranted for the other options.
And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Check out this article by Selco about being adaptable enough to leave everything to survive.
A little bit of background
Last fall, I divvied up my preps between my daughters and sold or donated a lot of my things. Clothing, furniture, car, and clutter became history when I decided to streamline my life and go explore Europe. This may sound greatly at odds with preparedness, but please bear with me, because it’s actually not.
I was making my way up the Balkan peninsula when I got the news of a death in the family. I had spent months in Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania and was in a lovely seaside village in Montenegro when I had to quickly return to North America. I had originally left with two suitcases, a giant purse, and a backpack and by this point had pared down to a suitcase, a carryon, and a backpack as I found more and more of the things I’d brought were, quite frankly, unnecessary.
Then, before my return flight to Podgorica, Montenegro, it became evident we were facing the possibility of a pandemic. I pushed back my return flight for three months and stayed with one of my daughters while I watched the situation unfold.
I’ll be very clear that I have every intention of returning to this nomadic lifestyle when I’m able to do so because life is all about living and experiencing things. I hope that you, too, will continue to live a life that makes you fulfilled and happy. Preparedness doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your dreams.
This was a life-altering journey in more ways than just mileage on a map. I learned some valuable lessons in resilience and adaptability, and I became a more confident urban survivalist. I strongly recommend this step to anyone who wants to become better prepared mentally – take the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, whatever that may mean for you.
Here are some of the ways this helped me grow personally.
I became very adaptable.
When you take your 2 pieces of luggage and relocate regularly, you become good at adapting quickly. When we’re at home, it’s very easy to get set in our ways and to demand a certain level of comfort. (Who among us has “my chair”?) We get used to sleeping in the same bed with the same pillows and the same comforter, so much so that it can become difficult to sleep anywhere else. We have our favorite mug washed and ready to go for the following morning’s coffee. We have our favorite store that contains our favorite brands of our favorite products.
We become creatures of habit.
And there’s nothing wrong with that – habits can help us become better, stronger, healthier people when our habits are wise ones. But it’s also good to shake things up a little from time to time.
Every new place I went to had different stores with different food items. The local customs, restaurants, and apartments all varied. Each time, I got a little bit better at adapting faster. I can sleep anywhere. My business is such that I can work remotely in any place I have a decent wifi signal. I picked up some important phrases, like please, thank you, how much, and where’s the bathroom as soon as possible once I arrived in a new place. I learned a new currency in nearly every country I visited and wrote down the formula to quickly convert it to USD so that I could understand what I was spending. I can eat whatever gets put in front of me and enjoy nearly all of it, even when I thought I had ordered something completely different.
I quickly learned that when in another country, it’s impossible to rigidly stick to your ways and still have a good time. This helped me pare down to my most important needs – wifi, a plug adapter, a safe place to stay, a Berkey water filtration bottle, and appropriate clothing for my setting. Everything else can be acquired quickly and easily. (More on acquisition in a minute.)
If you were to strip your needs down to the absolute essentials for you, what would they be?
I learned to orient myself to new settings rapidly.
I started my trip in Athens, Greece and the first day or two was kind of rough. Even though I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to see the signs in a totally different alphabet. I was jet-lagged and exhausted and it took me an hour of wandering to locate food and a restaurant where they spoke English. On the second day, I took a car service to try and get to a restaurant and ended up at an ancient temple instead, with no food in sight.
It was the learning experience I needed. I said to myself, “You’re living the dream. Don’t be such a baby. Go find something to eat and just go with the flow.”
That became my mantra throughout my time in Europe – go with the flow. I downloaded some apps to my phone to help with navigation and I got out and walked miles and miles. When arriving in a new location, as soon as it was daylight, I got out and walked to identify a nearby source of food (restaurants, grocery markets) and a convenience store.) I found the closest bodies of water – anything from creeks to fountains. I figured out where the nearest embassy was. I bought a local map. I acquired supplies immediately (dried soup mixes, bread, fresh produce).
After that, I just spent time adding more and more distance from my home base as I explored. Here’s an article about the methods I use to quickly orient myself to new cities.
I can put together a reasonable supply very quickly.
As I mentioned before, I started nearly from scratch preparing for the pandemic. Because I had an emergency fund, I was able to quickly and efficiently to get the necessary supplies to see us through the situation.
The ability to start over is extremely important. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it. When my daughter and I moved back to the US from Canada after the death of her father, we were not allowed to bring our food across the border. So I started from square one then, too.
There are many different reasons you might one day need to start from scratch. Maybe it’s due to a house fire or flood. Perhaps it’s because your neighborhood or even your household is no longer safe and you need to bail. It could even be a case of government overreach that you find intolerable that sends you looking for greener pastures.
Whatever the reason you must start over, being able to do so quickly is invaluable. Knowing what you need and where you can acquire it is a skill that means you won’t be paralyzed with fear if you need to leave everything behind.
Each time I relocated in Europe, I grabbed a two-week food supply to keep on hand, just in case. I refilled my water bottles from the tap after drinking the water I’d purchased. (Here’s a prepper’s guide to international travel.) Heck, I even did an experiment visiting a tourist attraction to see how quickly I could create an emergency kit – you can find that here.
I got in shape fast.
Living without a car in a walkable place is a great way to get into shape quickly. I wrote before about the difference in activity levels in other countries and it’s absolutely true.
It doesn’t even feel like you’re working out when you are wandering through ancient cities and finding the most authentic food possible. Not only that, but grabbing your food and water every day and carrying it in your backpack is great practice for that day you might need to bug out for real.
When I first arrived in hilly Athens, it was pretty challenging to go from a car-lifestyle to a pedestrian one. But within a couple of weeks, my body had acclimated and I felt myself getting stronger. By the time I left, my apartment overlooking the sea was 231 stairs up the side of a mountain, and I carried 15 pounds or o up it every day after walking down to pick up a meal, some water, and some local wine.
As well, the food in that part of the world is far less processed than the food you commonly get in the US, so even if I’d wanted junk food, there wasn’t much of an option to get it. I ate loads of delicious, locally grown produce and meat, with freshly baked bread on the side.
By the time I left, I was walking 5-6 miles per day without any trouble at all. There were even longer days of exploration which resulted in around ten miles.
I trust my gut.
While traveling, I checked the local-to-me updates on Google News to help keep me aware of things like protests or other events I’d want to avoid. If something seemed like it had the potential to turn ugly, I rescheduled my outing. I was able to avoid a protest and an immigration raid by paying attention to local information and what my instincts warned me were tenuous situations.
My original return to Europe was in late January. My spidey-senses were tingling at this point because of the widespread lockdown in China. I spoke with my daughters and chose to push back my return for a couple of months. Delaying my return was clearly the right decision, although I’ve needed to push it back even further due to the nature of this emergency.
Learning to rely on a combination of information and instincts is a skill that will serve you well.
I can handle discomfort with ease.
Moving into someone else’s apartment is often an exercise in discomfort – after all, there’s no place like home, where everything is ideal by your standards.
Much like Goldilocks, I’ve found beds that were too hard, too soft, and just right. I’ve slept on a sofa that was more comfortable than the bed which was in the rental. I have developed the ability to get comfortable enough to sleep just about anywhere – and that’s something that could come in handy.
As well, unfamiliarity itself can be uncomfortable.
When you’re someplace totally unfamiliar, with different restaurants, stores, products, and people the last thing you feel is “comfort.” You need to put in the effort to figure everything out and you have to get a general feel for the area. Some people find this puts them constantly on edge and unable to focus. It’s good training to learn to deal with discomfort while still staying sharp.
The urban survival course I took with Selco and Toby in Croatia underlined this repeatedly – you need to learn to be uncomfortable and function anyway.
You may not need as much stuff as you think you do.
When you live out of a suitcase, you have limited items on hand by necessity – there’s only so much you can lug around. What I discovered is that as I moved from place to place, I ditched more and more things. After about 6 months, I ended up with my 4-season wardrobe, a medical kit, a Kindle, a phone, a laptop, hygiene supplies, cosmetics, a water filtration bottle, and a small but versatile emergency kit.
If something had gone down that meant I needed to bug out quickly with only what I could carry, my emergency kit would have fit into my backpack with plenty of room to spare for food. When I attended Selco’s course, we students found that a lot of the gear we brought was utterly useless under real-world conditions so my kit was pared down, to begin with.
There’s a saying in the survival world, “The more you know, the less you carry.” I’m not sure I know a whole lot, but when you have to lug it around on your back, you learn quickly how to downsize what you consider necessities.
A great test of this is simply lugging your bugout bag around with you (on your person, not in your car) all weekend. Use it for everything – sanitation, drinks, food, cooking, and whatever else you might need. After testing out your gear like that, ask yourself two questions about each item: Is it really worth the weight of it in your pack? Does it work as well as you expected? If you discover the answers to these questions are no, you may want to downsize, even if you’re staying close to home.
The same thing holds true for your home, too. If you don’t have unlimited space, you may want to drill down to the items that are most important to your survival and stop hanging on to things that you’ll probably never use.
I stopped worrying about what other people think.
Something that is kind of ironic is my concern about what people would think when I took off to gallivant around Europe. After all, I make my living writing about controversial things, not the least of which is preparing for doomsday in a society of people wearing rose-colored glasses.
But you guys, the readers, you’re my people. You aren’t some uneducated folks who think that we’re all bunker-dwelling weirdos. I know that I disappointed a lot of you with my decision. I know because many of you have told me so – in the comments, in emails, on social media, and in private messages.
If you are one of the people who was disappointed and who couldn’t understand what the heck I was thinking, you weren’t alone. People close to me, people I love, people in my family, people with whom I’d been friends for years, all told me at great length how ridiculous and irresponsible I was to make the decision I made. It hurt, of course. Anytime someone you care about tells you that you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, it hurts. Any time someone says that they value your conformity more than your happiness, it hurts.
I’m very fortunate that I had the support of my daughters and some very close friends who cheered me on every step of the way. I honestly have the best friends in the world. (You guys know who you are.)
This is a lesson in itself.
Nobody has to like what you’re doing except you, assuming you’re not hurting anyone. Your life choices should not be based on the approval of others.
People can think whatever they choose about my wandering ways. It’s entirely your prerogative to feel how you feel. As for me, I intend to get to the end of my life with more memories than regrets. I will seek experiences and new places and knowledge for as long as I’m able. And whether anybody else “gets it” or not is irrelevant. I’ll keep writing and researching and sharing as long as people want to read my articles and books
I won’t be that person who is willing to die for a building or supplies.
I see so many people talking about a premise that is antithetical to survival. They talk about how they’ll never leave their home and how their guns will have to be pried from the cold dead hands. They’re perfectly willing to go down in a blaze of glory for “stuff.” I’m probably going to ruffle some feathers when I say the following: They think that it makes them seem noble and patriotic, but to me, it just seems stupid.
There’s nothing noble about needlessly dying when the odds are stacked against you, thus leaving your family at the mercy of the horde at your door. You are far better served to live to fight another day when your chances of victory are higher. There is no “stuff” that is worth dying for. (And you’ve got more “stuff” cached anyway, right?) People are worth dying for, but not “stuff.” You can always get more stuff – even in an SHTF scenario. The thing that matters is your life and the lives of the people you love.
By becoming versatile enough to think outside your pile of stuff, you’ve added another possibility to the bug-out vs. bug-in debate – that of surviving in some way that was completely unplanned. But to do it, you have to loosen your death grip on your things and be willing to say, “I’m a resourceful person. I care more about my family than this building and the belongings in it.”
I absolutely believe in making my home secure and in planning ahead. I believe in being productive and learning self-reliant skills. But I also believe that life is meant to be lived, and not lived in fear. When you can be plunked down anywhere and make a life for yourself, you’re better able to face other challenges too. Anyone can be more prepared to face adversity by increasing their adaptability and resilience.
Despite the fact that fear right now is being stoked to an all-time high, it won’t always be like this. You have to be able to balance risk vs. reward yourself, without listening to those who want to scare you into submission. Your skills should provide you with the confidence to go out there and have some adventures, to expand your horizons. Being a prepper or survivalist doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to only one tiny place on this planet or one way of life. Being prepared isn’t just about how much stuff you have.
Two lessons that I hope I’ve taught my daughters by example, are that you can always start over as long as you’re still breathing, and that life must not be lived within the narrow boundaries created by others.
To me, this is what resilience and adaptability are all about.
Daisy Luther writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.