How to Use Geography to Determine Your Retreat Location

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By the author ofStreet Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

Jose did a great piece recently on the importance of timing for relocation. When to leave is perhaps the hardest aspect to determine for either a planned move (in advance of an event) or an emergency escape.

Actually, getting the timing right is hard in most serious situations of life due to the continuous, fickle, and capricious nature of events.

Where to go is equally critical: geography plays a major role in strategic relocation. It must be considered and studied whether plans are to stay in place, relocate, or bug out.

Geography causes a lot of uncertainty and confusion among preppers. 

A lot of that comes from dread, which is often fear of the unknown. To make these feelings go away, we just have to learn the unknown.

Once we realize that geography in the context of prepping and survival is basically comparing a defined set of conditions between different locations: our own and potential destinations, those feelings go away.

Unlike timing, geography deals with more material and static conditions. Thus, it’s a lot easier to make sense of.

The tricky part is doing informed and objective analyses. 

Cognitive biases, preconceptions, and information quality (among other issues) can make conducting cold assessments very hard.

There are emotional factors involved, too. And when it comes to information, much of what’s available is superficial and propaganda (good and bad) rather than objective metrics.

All that can muddle judgments and negatively influence decisions. The way to overcome this is by applying some method. (One of the best ways to do this is to work through Joel Skousen’s book Strategic Relocation.)

Geographical assessment

Even with the entire world going through a volatile and turbulent period, the stuff won’t hit the fan equitably in all places. That means regions and countries will be less troubled than others, and people will always look for greener pastures.

But thinking “Whatever, I can move anytime” simply based on potentially false or weak assumptions is not smart, regardless of other parts of a plan.

Know for sure, or at least with factual support. It’s relatively simple and free. And it can even be fun, a way to involve the other members of your family, like a game.

The objective approach

This is simple as one, two, three. Literally:

  1. Build a chart listing the places considered for relocation (column #1) and the criteria in the following columns to the right (as in the image below).
  2. Assign a note or grade to each factor from each of the listed places based on research (more about this in a minute).
  3. Add the totals to get a comprehensive and more objective assessment of the various conditions in the chosen places.

That’s the general idea. Adapt as necessary (or preferred). Add colors to the grades to make visualizing and interpreting easier, side notes, and observations. Come up with your own comparative score. Get creative.

Grades should be given based on research or direct experience whenever possible. Talk to relatives, friends, and coworkers who may have visited or lived in those locations.

Look for surveys and studies from independent institutions. Government agencies provide official statistics and data sets for administrative purposes on the most relevant indices. Things like census, crime figures, health data, income and employment rates, and so on are all stats you’ll want to gather.

Watch videos and documentaries. Make contact with locals. This is the age of the internet, so start digging and networking. There will be distorted and biased feedback for sure, but at least you get a more “people like us” perspective and a second opinion.

A bird’s eye view

Admittedly, it’s not easy to find reliable and up-to-date data about every metric in every place out there. Don’t worry about that: the goal with this is to lay a more grounded framework, to base discussions and support decisions and eventual actions – not to compile an accurate or detailed report.

A helpful tip is to go beyond generalizations (“Third-world countries are total shitholes”), superficial aspects (“Brazil is the country of Carnaval”), or self-serving judgments (“The people in X country are just not civilized enough for us”). Doing that requires jettisoning old cultural beliefs and stereotypical notions of places and populations.

Finally, this is a work in constant progress, if for no other reason because the world is constantly changing (now faster than ever). The objective is to learn more than to reach a definitive and pristine conclusion.

Don’t turn this into a mammoth. 

I usually narrow it down to two or three places, five maximum. Sometimes having fewer options make things more objective. If your list has like thirty or fifty places, maybe that’s an indication you should really consider relocating.

Most people have an idea about a few places they’ve already visited or heard (or read) about. If you don’t, get a map and choose by distance or immediate affinity for starting points. The closest “best” place may be the one with the same (or similar) language, costumes, and culture.

Distance is a critical aspect, especially if plans are to stay put and only relocate in case of emergency (bug-out). There are always costs and logistics involved in every relocation. This is especially critical for numerous families.

Besides, taking a plane, ship or train might not be possible. Also, staying closer to relatives, friends, and other roots may be a defining factor for those who’d prefer to remain close to relatives. Consider that.

(Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to emergency evacuations as well to figure out what you’ll need to do to get out of chaos in a hurry.)

Why not start by analyzing our own location? 

It sounds easy, or easier – than researching other places. And it is in some aspects. But easy is rarely the best option in life. In this case, there are lots of emotional and subjective aspects and biases to interfere with that.

After doing this for myself and others numerous times, I’ve found that analyzing unknown (or less-known) places first helps with achieving a much colder and objective assessment of our own location.

When we dig, compile, and analyze data about other cities, states, or (better yet) countries, something changes in the way we look at the place we live. Just don’t ask me why this happens, though.

Factors and risks

Below is a list of some relevant criteria to consider when studying potential destinations at various levels. Some repeat at national, state, and city levels because of heterogeneity and territoriality: large countries like the US, Canada, Brazil, and Australia are in reality formed by smaller, very different territories.

If moving to another country is in your plans (whether for a strategic relocation or bug-out), start with countries. Once you narrow down your locations, move to the state, then the city. Suppose your objective is just to move to a different state, city, or neighborhood. Start straight with those.

Country level

  • Climate (temperate, with or without extremes)
  • Level of individual freedom and liberty
  • Level of employment
  • Language
  • Invasions
  • Terrorism
  • War
  • Nuclear war
  • Natural resources (can indicate future potential)
  • Economic and financial status (and stability)
  • Institutional stability (inter-respect for the division of powers)
  • Social contract (crime and violence, respect for laws, etc.)
  • Political stability and regime
  • Geopolitical alliances
  • Geopolitical risks (distance from potential
  • Development (industrialization and GDP)
  • Infrastructure (roads, railroads, airports, ports, etc.)

Region/state Level

  • Climate
  • Geomorphology (volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis)
  • Natural disasters (weather-related: tornados, hurricanes, floods, etc.)
  • Social and economic development
  • Level of employment
  • Natural resources
  • Political slant
  • Ideological slant
  • Tax regime
  • Crime rate and social violence
  • Industrialization
  • Environment and natural resources
  • Amenities (parks, attractions, etc.)
  • Wildfires

City level

  • Size and population
  • Infrastructure (transportation, utilities, services
  • Pollution
  • Crime rates
  • Development (services, education, transportation, etc.)
  • Environment (presence, absence, and overall quality of water, green, parks, etc.)

Neighborhood level

  • Service availability (commerce, offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants, etc.)
  • State of public and private services (sanitation, law enforcement, etc.)
  • Crime and violence
  • Presence of institutional, political, or geopolitical agents (prisons,
  • Infrastructure (age, level, conservation, etc.)
  • Leisure and entertainment (public and private amenities – parks, theaters, etc.)
  • Wildfires

Home level

  • Structural stability
  • Conservation state
  • Fire
  • Floods
  • Invasion
  • Crime rate

Some conditions are relative.

The list of stuff hitting the fan worldwide right now is pretty long. The economy and finance are going bust worldwide. Civil unrest – crime, violence, protests – is skyrocketing pretty much everywhere, too.

But how we look at and “feel” these things on an everyday basis can change a lot depending on where we’re starting from. That’s important, so I’ll expand on that.

Things like social unrest and inflation might be scaring and upsetting Americans right now. Someone from El Salvador, Argentina, or even Brazil wouldn’t flinch.

Americans are coming from a period of peace and prosperity. There’s a shock factor as the situation worsens. That’s not to say it isn’t bad, just that when studying geography from the perspective of a potential relocation, zooming out and looking at the broader picture should come after the number crunching.

Some conditions are not relative. 

For instance, you’re unlikely to find snow or extreme weather or temps in tropical regions, as you would in the north or deep south. But heavy rain and occasional floods (especially during summer) are frequent in more temperate ones and cause some serious destruction too. And so on.

There are cultural factors, too. Active shooters are a thing in the US. But not urban open combat between police and criminals (or rival gangs and factions) as is frequent in the suburbs and even the streets of developing countries or ones with high crime rates.

Australia and Germany have super-low crime rates – but if the situation heats up in Eastern Europe and South Asia, both can become potential targets for cyber or even kinetic attacks.

Terrorism has practically zero track record in Uruguay or Iceland. And, what are the odds of some nuclear power targeting any country in South America? But each of these places has its own issues.

Final considerations on territoriality. 

Conditions can vary significantly within the same country, state, or even city. Most of the issues aren’t uniform in the places they exist. It’s perfectly possible to live a peaceful, prosperous, and decent life pretty much anywhere. The opposite is true, too.

Most countries, states, and cities (the big ones) in the world are actually microcosms, a representation of the world. There are safe, prosperous, well-cared, and vibrant places. There are many “not so much” ones, more mixed and heterogeneous with “a bit of everything.” And there are those areas in which not even the police would enter.


Relocating is not for everyone. Each person has a specific context: age, health condition, family, and others to care for. Also, resources, career, ties, and other obligations. All of that (and more) plays a major role in the capacity, ability, and even desire to relocate.

Moving requires, at the very least, some time and money invested. It may imply a total remodeling of one’s lifestyle: learning a new language, integrating into a new community, building a new network, starting a new career, and so on.

None of this should disincentivize someone from making plans, studying options, or even taking action, to relocate. It’s always better to know and be well informed. Do the work and trust that it will serve you if necessary.

What are your thoughts?

What qualities do you look for in a retreat location? How do you choose where you would go if you had to bug out? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Fabian

Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.

Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.

You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor


Picture of Fabian Ommar

Fabian Ommar

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    • A good option, but there are others. I assume you have restricted your search to English-speaking areas, and in that case, New Zealand is another good choice. If you can speak Spanish, the net widens considerably, and any other language will widen the net as well. If you can speak only English, you should also consider countries where English as a second language is so common that you can manage well speaking only English, at least for a start (Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, for example). Also, India is a very large English-speaking country with attractive areas in the North.

  • Why would you be considering another Country? I want to stay in the U.S. because of being familiar with the terrain, the climate and the people, a smaller town with good resources, in close proximity to other like-minded people and of course your family members. Ireland? New Zealand? I don’t know anyone who lives there, and all my preps are right here with me in the U.S. Those Countries have specific rules on just who can move there, besides establishing a community of like-minded you’d be on your own.

    • Another problem is that native Citizens tend to blame foreigners for any problems that arise. So immigrants are often targeted for violence by the rest of the local population , even in good times.
      If the problem(s) occurring are bad enough then they will act out with extreme violence.
      This is the best reason for not relocating to another country.

    • “Why would you be considering another Country?”

      indeed, americans have accumulated a bad reputation around the world over the last decade and will be ill-thought-of if times become hard.

      or to another state. e.g. californians have accumulated a bad reputation in other states over the last decade and will be ill-thought-of if times become hard.

      or to another city. e.g. chicago has accumulated a bad reputation etc.

      simply put, the best location is the one where you’ve settled in and fit in right now.

  • The only thing stopping me from staying put is that we still owe a lot on mortgage. Otherwise, I’d never leave, as where I am now is my dream! (Reality bites)

    • I don’t know your circumstances, but if it’s your dream place, why not try to find ways to stay?
      We are talking about the idea of using our house in a very non traditional way for where we live: we are wondering if there may come a time when multifamily dwellings would be more common. In this case, we would put our resources into finishing our basement so it’s comfortable for one or more families. Our mortgage isn’t high, but it’s not fully paid off, and utilities are only increasing in cost.

  • That´s a great article, Fabian!
    I even saw some criteria I applied, and one of my former co-workers wrote a matrix for decisions with some items just like the ones you summarized.
    You made it much more complete, tough!

    • Thanks a lot my friend. As we say, we prepare to stay, and we prepare to leave. But sometimes it’s not for us to decide. You know these things better than anyone, I’m sure.

      Anyway, information is power. Right now I have no reason to move, whatsoever. But things can change, and if I had to scramble or rush, or do something this significant totally in the dark, then I wouldn’t be a prepper.

      I have my options well studied and it cost nothing. Actually, I love geography and history, learning other languages and different places and cultures so it’s always fun.

      Stay safe.

  • Good article! I know that my country (New Zealand) is one of the safest places to be (if you forget about earthquakes and the occasional volcanic eruption…). But even here we are seeing inflation at alarming rates. We are prepared for this to get worse.

  • Daisy – I am trying to purchase the Nuclear package linked above but I cannot remember my password to Self Reliance and Survival website and I have been trying for 2 days to get it to send me a reset. I put my email and and wait hours before trying again. I have triple checked to make sure I have the right email. What else can I do?

  • I’ve been to other countries and grew up outside America. I’ve been here around half my life and have no intention of leaving.

    I’ve lived in cold climates and warm ones. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages. In the cold I can stay warm without electricity, Florida on a hot summer day requires electricty for the AC but the difference in temp at night is nice.

    A good chunk of land that will produce crops. Trees for building materials and heat in the winter. A source of water like multiple springs and a small river on the property. These are all good things to have, and fortunately such a place exists in rhe family – more than just one actually. Knowing I’ll be welcome is the big part.

    While the upper Midwest may not be ideal in some people’s minds it’s survivable and home.

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