How Practical Is Traveling to an International Bug-Out Retreat?

International bug-out locations may be tempting, but getting there in an emergency may be too problematic to make them practical.

The whole idea of a retreat is to get away from the worst of any problem situation and to go to a place, away from the problem, where you can hope to live a safe, satisfactory and sustainable life until the world as we know it returns back to normal.

Usually people confine their thoughts for retreats to locations within a day or (at the most) two drive of their main residence.  But, on the basis of ‘if some distance is good, maybe more distance is even better’ why not look further afield?  And, in particular, because some problems will be confined to specific regions or political/social zones, why not set up a retreat very far away, and in a totally different region and political/social system – in a foreign country?

As part of our ongoing series on international retreats, we look in this article on the topic of traveling to your international retreat – ie, bugging out, particularly when TSHTF.

We’ve written several times on the topic of traveling to your retreat when you sense the onset of a Level 2 or 3 situation, but primarily in the context of traveling only a short distance, domestically.  Now we consider traveling longer distances, internationally.

Distance is Not Your Friend When Bugging Out

Many people worry about the possibility of encountering difficulties when moving to their retreat, and generally people limit how far away they locate their retreat so as to make it less challenging to get to in troubled times.

When you start thinking about traveling to an international location, clearly these difficulties magnify greatly.  Assuming you’re not simply considering Canada or Mexico, then pretty much anywhere you might choose to relocate to requires either a plane ride or a boat trip, and certainly in the case of flying, would require you to travel on a commercial jet service because any affordable type of light airplane you could own yourself would not have nearly the range needed.

The thought of having to rely on an airline, and a regular ordinary scheduled flight, as a means to get to our bug-out location makes us very uncomfortable.  There are several reasons why we don’t like this arrangement, starting off with the fact we don’t like needing to rely on people and things totally outside of our control, a dislike made greater by the realization that in an EMP or solar storm event, planes will be some of the first things to be disabled.

There are two more reasons worthy of mention too.  The first is cost.  Anywhere international is by definition going to cost more money to fly to, because it is further away.  This cost differential is made even worse because international flights can be less competitive than domestic flights.

Furthermore, ticket costs for international travel are more directly related to how far in advance you buy your tickets.  That is somewhat the case for buying domestic tickets too, although not as much these days as was the case before.  For an international ticket, you’ll usually find the cheapest fares require a 21 day (or sometimes longer) advance purchase, and if you are buying tickets within a week of when you want to travel, you could be paying two, three or four times more money.  If you are within three days of travel, expect the fares to go even higher again.

Let me ask you this – how often do you expect to have more than three weeks clear advance warning of a Level 2/3 situation occurring?  Usually, by their very nature, such things are completely unexpected.

The second issue is availability.  These days, flights operate with a greater percentage of passengers on them than ever before.  A couple of decades ago, flights averaged about a 65% load factor – in other words, one seat in every three was empty, and, if needed, a flight could take half as many people again as they typically would.  This gave a good amount of ‘surge capacity’ – if one flight was cancelled, then the offloaded passengers could be quickly loaded onto other flights, for example, and at peak travel times (eg Thanksgiving) it was still possible to get seats on flights, even when booking last-minute.

But these days, flights often operate with 80% – 90% loads.  That gives flights much less ability to accept additional passengers, and some popular international routes are often close to full on every flight.  A single cancelled flight can disrupt travel patterns for days, and if you want to travel at peak times (eg around Christmas) you might find that if you haven’t booked your flights two or more months in advance, there are no seats to be found for a week or more either side of your preferred travel dates.

Let me ask you this – how comfortable would you feel if, WTSHTF, you had to wait a week to get a seat on a flight out of where you live and on to your retreat?  Will the flights still even be operating a week later?

The Need to Plan Ahead

One of the things we conclude about bugging out to a domestic retreat is that you probably have a several day head-start on the large mass of evacuees from cities when a Level 2/3 event occurs.  Even if there is a small immediate growth in people bugging out (ie other far-sighted prepared people such as yourself) it will be some days before gridlock – and panic – sets in on the roads, and hopefully you’ll be well and truly at your retreat long before that happens.

But what about bugging out internationally?  Instead of simply driving somewhere on freeways that can easily accept twice the normal/average amount of vehicles, you are needing to squeeze onto flights that are already at close to capacity.  Instead of an additional capacity on freeways for maybe 50,000 – 500,000 extra people to travel out of a city each day, you’re instead on an air route that might have excess capacity of only 50 – 500 people a day.

We also expect that international travelers will be quicker to respond to ‘the gathering storm’ of any adverse event.  It will be harder to ‘beat the rush’ and the rush, when it happens, won’t just mean very very slow travel; it will mean days at an airport with no movement away from ‘Ground Zero’ of whatever problem you’re seeking to avoid at all.  Meanwhile, unless you’re an ultra-frequent flier paying full fare for first class travel, you’ll regularly be finding new people arriving at the airport and being placed ahead of you on the waiting list, with higher priority access to flights based on their elite frequent flier status and/or the higher level fare they can afford to pay.

Making it worse, this all assumes that air travel schedules remain in place and unaffected by whatever the problem is that may be developing.  Air travel is an intensely infrastructure-reliant means of transportation, and when flying by commercial carrier, you are unable to influence any of the dependencies your flight is based upon.  Will jet fuel be available?  Will planes be able to fly in and out of your airport?  Will air traffic control systems be operable?  Will the ground crew and air crew all report for duty?  Will the planes be commandeered by the authorities and diverted for other ‘essential’ purposes?  Will the airlines themselves redirect their flights and planes to serve other markets as a result of whatever the event is that is causing your need to bug out?  And so on.

Don’t forget, as mentioned above, the fact that if the Level 2/3 situation comes about as a result of an EMP attack or massive solar storm, then the avionics on planes and in their engines will likely be fried and many of the planes themselves will be inoperative.

Plus, a week after TSHTF, maybe the country your bug-out location is in has altered its immigration policies to avoid a flood of refugees, and you might find yourself turned away at the border, once you do manage to get there.

The Opposite Strategy – a Delayed Bug-Out

Some people say they’ll survive in place as long as they can and only bug out to their retreat when things are truly bad and after the ‘first wave’ of evacuees has passed.

We’ve never felt this to be a good strategy, but depending on where you live and where your retreat is located, it might be feasible to consider it in some cases.  Maybe your bug-out will involve flying by light plane somewhere, or traveling by boat – that way, when you do travel to your retreat, you can do so without exposing yourself on the regular roads, and without relying on the roads remaining open and freely passable.

But if you’re bugging out internationally, our guess is that the ability to fly out of the US – and into the other country – is something that will get more and more difficult with the passing of time.

The Cost of a False Alarm

So, clearly a bug-out strategy to another country requires you to leave at the first sign of trouble.

It is no big deal to risk false alarms and to bug out possibly unnecessarily, when a domestic bug-out simply sees you and your family piling into your pickup truck and driving 500 – 1000 miles.  You can turn around at any time and return home and only be out the cost of the gas, and maybe you’ve had to ‘pull a sickie’ and take a day or two off work.  But other than that, a domestic bug-out is something you can undo at pretty much any time with a minimum of fuss or cost.  You simply do a U-turn and start driving back again.

This is good, and encourages you to ‘head for the hills’ at the first sign of trouble (which is also good).

But if your bug-out involves a 12 hour flight to a foreign country, things are not quite so simple, and neither is the cost quite so trivial.  There’s nowhere you could fly at short notice for less than $1000 per person, and in many cases you could find yourself paying $2,000 or more per person to travel.  First class tickets can go the high side of $10,000 per person.

In other words, for two of you, you need to anticipate that a short notice bug-out on your part might cost as much as $5,000 and perhaps much more, and if you are mistaken, you’ll be out of the country for at least a couple of days and potentially much longer.  That surely discourages you from getting out of Dodge at the first sign of any trouble, doesn’t it!  And it adds a huge cost penalty any time you unnecessarily evacuate only to then come straight back home again.

Regular Visits to Your Retreat

Wherever your retreat is, you’re going to want to visit it at least once a year, just to make sure it remains in good functional order and condition, and to remain somewhat familiar with the retreat and living conditions there.

Even if your retreat is more than 500 miles away domestically, you can still go there, spend a night, and come back in little more than a single weekend, and with no more cost than a few tanks full of gas.

But heading to a retreat somewhere in the southern hemisphere or Asia – that’s a very different issue entirely from both a time and cost point of view.  It is unlikely you’ll be able to visit so often, and you’ll be less familiar with everything – your retreat itself, and the society/country in which it is based – if/when you have to bug out for real.  You’ll be much more an obvious outsider and foreigner and much more vulnerable to local scams and corruption than would be the case if your retreat was merely in a nearby state, and still in the US.

International Travel by Boat

Flying is not the only way you can get to far-away places.  You could also make your way to a US port and then travel from there by ship or boat.

Although, in ‘normal’ times, it is possible to arrange to travel by freighter to some places around the world, you can forget any such thing in a crisis.  Freighter schedules will be disrupted, the crew will board their own families, and the booking support systems for such services will cease functioning anyway.  Plus there aren’t daily departures.  You might have to wait 2 – 3 weeks, even assuming that the ship then departing would agree to accommodate you on its sailing.

Cruise ships are also unreliable as a way of bugging out somewhere, besides which they don’t really go anywhere very useful.

But it might be possible to bug out on your own boat.  You’d need to own a big boat for it to be capable of safely carrying out ocean crossings, and you’d ideally need to have three or four or more people traveling with you so as to crew the boat 24/7 while at sea.  Plan on a 50 ft or larger motor boat, or a 60 ft or larger yacht as a bare minimum size, and note that it will need to be constructed to oceangoing/passage-making standards, rather than to more common ‘floating gin palace’ standards such as you’ll see in the marinas around the coast.

The boat would also have to have the capability to travel many thousands of miles.  The longest leg of any typical international journey is about 2500 miles (ie west coast USA to Hawaii); just about all other routes can have you island and coastal hopping in shorter legs.  But this requirement to be capable of a 2500 mile voyage assumes resupply and refueling capabilities upon arriving in Hawaii; and for that matter, even the island and coastal hopping routes also assume similar refueling/resupply services at each stop.

There will be two negative impacts on your ocean voyaging after an extreme event.  The first will be disruptions to normal refueling and resupply capabilities.  The second is that lawlessness may see pirates attack your boat.   You might have heard about the Somali pirates, but piracy at a low-level, and of smaller private boats rather than large commercial ships is dismayingly common in many other parts of the world as well, including central/south America and much of Asia.  Such lawlessness can be expected to massively increase in a Level 2/3 situation.

Ideally your boat should be able to travel all the way to your destination without needing to be refueled or resupplied.  That probably means using sail power for much of your journey – while wind is free, it is also unreliable and your speed will probably halve, meaning you’ll need more provisions (and possibly more water depending on what water makers your boat has) for the journey.

Taking any boat on an ocean-going voyage is a fairly daunting and challenging experience, and sailing requires considerably more skill and experience and the speed you’ll proceed at is of course weather dependent.  You might cover less than 50 difficult miles in a day, you might cover 200.  So you have to plan for the worst, while hoping for the best.  You don’t want to find yourself becalmed in the middle of the ocean with no food and no water.  And in a situation where maybe the weather reporting services will be down, you’ll not be able to rely on state of the art assistance for finding the best routes and weather.  Oh – you’ll also have to assume that the GPS service is down too.

On the other hand, the good news is that a sailing vessel – or at least, its sail based propulsion – is EMP resistant.  But remember all the electronic accessories and other devices on the boat and be sure they are protected.


Most people will find that choosing an international location for their retreat is not a practical solution.  While, on the one hand, it might be the very best theoretical solution in terms of avoiding some types of scenarios that could massively destroy the US while leaving much of the rest of the world unharmed, the practical challenges of bugging out from one’s normal home to one’s international retreat are massive.

Most of us will find ourselves with the choice between an international retreat that has associated with it a high risk of not being able to get to it in the event a Level 2/3 situation occurs; or a domestic retreat that while not quite as effective a solution to surviving a Level 2/3 event, is much more readily reached in such a situation.

The other choice we may face is between spending our money to build a really good retreat in the US and to create a reliable way of getting there, or to spend much more money to build a retreat offshore somewhere and to drain a lot of our funds into some way of hopefully being able to get there in an emergency.

Ideally, for those with no shortage of funds, one should have both domestic and foreign retreats.  But if you have to choose between only one of these two options, most people will probably concentrate on doing the best they can with a domestic retreat.  ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’ – or, in our case, a for sure reachable retreat is much more desirable than a retreat which may be impossible to get to.

One Reply to “How Practical Is Traveling to an International Bug-Out Retreat?”

  1. Julie

    I agree.

    For most of us with less than “unlimited funds”, the most practical reality is going to be doing the best we can with something that is within, at most, a day or two’s travel within the US; and maybe far less than that. While finding a place 100 miles or more from any city sounds good, on the other hand if the disaster turns out to be an EMP which totally wipes out most transportation along with the power grids, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get there. Even if one has the foresight to find and maintain and old-style, non-computer chip vehicle, odds are good that everyone and his brother (including every local authority) will be attempting to confiscate it from you if you DO try to travel any distance.

    If an EMP happens to occur while I am at work in the city, I know I can manage to walk 25 miles or so to where my family is located, even if it takes me all night, but I’m not nearly so confident I could round up my family and that we could all manage to travel 100 miles, on foot or by donkey cart, on to our retreat.

    Anything less than a large-scale EMP is more likely to be a “local” disaster, and thus more likely to be only Level 1 or Level 2; or at least more gradually deteriorating into a Level 3.

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