Should You Locate Your Retreat in a Town or the Countryside? The Pros and Cons of Each

Do you want your retreat to be in a small town, on its outskirts, or some miles away in empty countryside?
Do you want your retreat to be in a small town, on its outskirts, or some miles away in empty countryside?

Choosing a retreat location is the hardest thing you must do, because there are so many variables, issues, and choices to make.

Furthermore, many of your choices are far from clear-cut.  They depend on things uniquely to do with you, your circumstances, and to do with the areas you are considering, and require you to make difficult value judgments where a choice for something might then impact on your ability to also optimize some other important feature.

This all makes it difficult for you, and of course, difficult for those of us who try to write on the topic too!  But write we do; indeed this article means we now have over 90,000 words already published about choosing a retreat location (more than a full-sized book), and there’s plenty more still to write.

This article can be considered as a follow on from several other articles that directly or obliquely consider the choice between an in-town or out-in-the-country type location.  See, for example, our two-part series, Identifying Good Towns and The Robustness of a Town’s Services, plus articles such as Where to Locate Within a Town, The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Will Your Nearby Town Thrive, Survive or Fail.

In this article we identify some of the respective good and bad points associated with living either in a rural area far from other people, or in a more concentrated population cluster such as a small town.  You can decide on the relative importance of these things, we simply offer them up for your consideration.

Positive Aspects of Town Living Negative Aspects of Town Living
  • You become a member of a local community, and with a group of people in the town, can select your friends and fellow community members from a larger group of people to choose from
  • If the town groups together constructively, there is better mutual security – ‘safety in numbers’ and with help closer at hand in an emergency
  • Probably have some community services such as medical, law enforcement, fire, water, sewer
  • Probably have businesses providing all sorts of commercial services – eg electrical and mechanical maintenance, plumbing, etc
  • Most places you need to go to will be within walking distance
  • A group of people in one location aids effective trading – buying, selling, exchanging, bartering
  • It is harder to quality control your neighbors (and their neighbors, too) and you are more impacted by them and their actions
  • Some locals may pose present threats, others may become troublesome WTSHTF
  • An unknown number of people will be truly prepared, and an unknown but greater number may become dependent on you WTSHTF
  • A greater population density and more frequent interactions with other people makes it easier for epidemics to spread
  • A town is unlikely to be self-sufficient for food, and unlikely to be able to become so in the future (too many people, too little land)
  • You have much less privacy of any type in a town
  • The desirability to be discreet about your resources and capabilities and the lack of privacy will pose problems, for example, with antenna arrays, making your dwelling structure bullet proof, etc
  • Smaller sized lots make it more difficult to use them for many different purposes
  • Land prices are higher, limiting the amount of land you can buy in a town
  • Land taxes are probably higher than in the country too
  • Local city bylaws are probably going to be more restrictive in many respects (some possibly unexpected).  In particular, you can forget any opportunity to use firearms for any purpose on your town lot, and may have major restrictions on the fuel you can store
  • City laws (and laws in general) may be more aggressively enforced with a city police force and less ability to do things unobserved
  • A town’s services may fail WTSHTF and make the town less viable without the services than the countryside would be (never having the services in the first place).  For example, most country folk have their own septic systems, what do townsfolk do when their town sewer system fails?
  • You probably can’t hunt or fish or raise livestock on your town property; even if you could, just how much game do you expect to find in your back yard?
  • Might not even be allowed/able to collect rainwater from your roof.  Where else/how else would you get water in a town?
  • Less space for solar arrays, probably no chance of hydro, probably little/no chance of wind power
  • Impractical to consider activities that generate significant noise or smells
  • Towns are more likely to organize formal food sharing (ie confiscation) type programs in an emergency.  They have an additional level of government (city govt) and a significant concentration of people needing food.

Positive Aspects of Rural Living

Negative Aspects of Rural Living
  • Free of direct/immediate issues from neighbors, who are probably sufficiently distant to give you much greater privacy and to have less mutual impacts on what you and they do
  • Lower population density and fewer interactions with other people reduce the spread of epidemics
  • Your neighbors (and you too) are all more likely to be already self-sufficient in terms of food production
  • You may even have a chance to start growing food surpluses to trade with others
  • Because everyone was not relying on city services (eg water, sewer) to start with, WTSHTF you will all be less impacted
  • Land prices are lower – you can buy more land for the same money as less land in a town would cost
  • Land taxes are probably lower than in the city too
  • More land gives you more space for everything, and a greater amount of land spreads your risk of unexpected events over a broader area, hopefully making such events less impactful
  • With more space, costing less money, and more private, you can set up all sorts of things ranging from private gun ranges to antenna arrays to more extensive cultivation of many different crops to safety and privacy zones
  • You have the space for extensive solar arrays, might possibly be able to implement a micro-hydro system, and maybe add a wind turbine too
  • You can consider activities that are noisy or smelly or in some other way would be too attention-getting or objectionable in town (eg methane gas generation from cow dung)
  • You’re more likely to have a solution already in place for water
  • Fewer (or no) restrictions on hunting and fishing and livestock raising on your land
  • Easier to build structures with non-standard construction eg for fire-proof and ballistic protection and to erect obstacles against vehicular assault
  • Less likely to have as much county government interference as city folks do with both city and county government, and more able to live your life discreetly
  • Larger lots allow for inefficient but beneficial land uses such as forestry and harvesting trees for both construction materials and firewood/energy
  • Your nearest neighbors are probably too far away to be able to provide immediate urgent assistance in an emergency
  • Even communicating with neighbors may become difficult if cell phones and landlines fail
  • Might not have high-speed internet and state of the art cell-phone and data service
  • Although neighbors are far and few, you are more dependent on additional people to manage and secure a larger lot than you are in a town
  • There is probably less of a community spirit, and a smaller potential community anyway, at least within a few hours walk/bicycle/horse ride
  • There is a lack of convenient local services.
  • Nothing will be a short walk away, and if liquid fueled internal combustion powered vehicles become impractical in the future, distances will become a major problem

Towns Aren’t All Bad

Wow – looking at the imbalance between the pluses and minuses of town and rural life would seem to suggest that everyone should choose a rural location for their retreat.

But not all the bullet points are of equal importance, and you need to do more than just count bullet points.  You need to decide which are the most important factors for you, and whether you can minimize the negatives that inevitably are associated with any set of positives.

We provide considerable more detail on the brief bullet points we offer above in other articles on these topics.  We linked, above, to some of our other articles about town vs country living, and you can also visit our complete collection of retreat location themed articles here.


The difficult art of choosing an ideal location for your retreat involves trading off the pluses and minuses of each issue you need to consider.

To help you understand and evaluate the consequences of your choices, we’ve listed almost 50 different factors to consider when trying to select between a town or rural retreat location.

7 Replies to “Should You Locate Your Retreat in a Town or the Countryside? The Pros and Cons of Each”

  1. Morris

    Good article, but I wish you writers would clarify what you mean by town. Living in the northeast I view
    what your saying as to mean a “village.” A town in contrast, or at least the towns I’m familiar with are
    lrge and spread out, often surrounding small and mid-size cities. It’s a little hard to apply some of the
    pointes your trying to make.

    • David Spero

      Hi, Morris

      I agree, the term ‘town’ is very ambiguous and means many different things to many different people.

      In our case, we mean the size of small settlement that we’ve earlier discussed as being optimum in size, ie usually having a population of between about 100 and 2000, and more ideally, between 200 and 1000.

      Hope this helps put things in context


  2. Michelle

    So in comparison, I live in a “Town” of about 56,000 residents and on the weekends it swells to about 250,000 due to the residents of the Surrounding reservations coming to “town”. I have a small farm in the city limits with a block wall around the back from East wall of the House to the west wall of the house> would this be considered a “safe” place to “bug in” for a lengthy time?

    • David Spero

      Hi, Michelle

      Thanks for a chance to comment on your real world situation.

      We consider a town of 56,000 people to be way way too big for any degree of certain safety. Furthermore, it clearly acts as a service area for many more people – you say it grows to 250k on weekends, and those extra 200k people may be of greater concern than the first 56k residents.

      Your block wall around part of your property isn’t really going to do much, is it. The key thing isn’t so much the parts where there is a block wall as it is the parts where there isn’t one.

      We’re sorry to sound so negative, but we’ve lived in towns that size ourselves, and we know they usually contain good and bad areas and sub-communities, and there’s no way that the 56,000 people, let alone the 250k people, can transition to an independent life WTSHTF. They’re going to come looking for you, your supplies, and whatever is in your garden.

      You also don’t tell us about other factors – what other towns or cities are in a 50/100/200 mile radius of this town? Our comments were based on the assumption there were no other large population groupings, but if there are, then it just gets worse.

      Come join us in upstate MT/ID….. 🙂

      • Michelle

        The Closest Large City is, Albuquerque, 180 miles away from us, but we ARE in an area that is considered a Tri-city area because those other two communities are within a 15 mile radius of one another.
        We are fairly close to the mountains but we feel that is the most likely place others will run to since they are riddled with mines. (abandoned as well as working)
        Ideas? a bunker is more than we can afford but bugging out isnt a real great thing either since during the winter months there is quite a bit of snow, and living in a mile hi desert there isn’t much else to do.
        Any input you have would be appreciated.
        (I’m fairly sure getting to you would be very long and difficult on foot since gas will be very scarce, but who knows… :))

        • David Spero

          Hi, Michelle

          You’re just under 1100 miles away, give or take a few miles, and the worst part of the journey might be getting through the SLC metroplex.

          That is a long but not impossible one day drive, and wouldn’t require too much extra gasoline in a vehicle to get you there without becoming dependent on being able to refuel en route.

          We *really* don’t like bunkers for anything other than sheltering from radioactivity. Tactically they are dreadful, and if you’re in your bunker, you can’t also be in your fields or anywhere else, doing anything else.

          The solution for many people is to consider moving to a better location and making that your full time residence, in good times and bad. Depending on the types of careers you and the others with you have, and anything else that might restrict your ability to consider such an option, that would always be my first choice.

          Bugging out by not bugging out – ie, living in an excellent retreat year-round – is by far the best outcome for everyone.

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