If things go bad do you bug in or do you bug out. This decision will probably be made at the time depending on the expectations of what the emergency will be and just how bad you expect conditions to become. Are you expecting a hurricane or other disaster sizable enough to worry about? Will you be gone for a week then return and open the house back up? Are you expecting a Katrina size event or might it unexpectedly turn into a long term emergency where the only things you have will be those things you take with you.
What is your home like, is it standard wood frame construction? I remember a picture taken after a wildland fire in California. The picture encompasses what looks like the remnants of hundreds of homes. In the middle of this devastation is one intact home. The home owner had anticipated the hazard and had prepared for it. He had built a fireproof home. If I remember correctly he rode out the fire at home. Now I’m not saying that I wouldn’t want to bug out in this situation but this guy could have moved back in the next day even if he did leave. He had prepared for this eventuality, everyone else had to find a new home for several months or years till they could rebuild. If memory serves this guy was an architect. I wonder how many or his neighbors hired him to design their homes. Are you worried about civil unrest? Just how defensible is your home over the long term? Certainly, bugging in will have the advantage of the volume of supplies you can have on hand. Other considerations may make this option untenable.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your bug out location is a family members residence in the mountains. There is a chance of a forest fire so your home is their bug out location. This means that both places should have an abundance of supplies. You will want to carry as many of those supplies with you as possible, especially if you expect an extended stay. Most bug out bags are intended to sustain you for up to three days. This is to allow you to get back to your supplies. A longer dislocation will be better served with a different solution.
One answer might be a bug out trailer. Think of all those people after Katrina, or any number of other emergencies, looking for a place to sleep. Would a FEMA camp be your first choice? I’d rather have a root canal. You might have to drive a long way to find a motel room. Even if you did find one how long could you afford to pay for it. Would they be willing or able to take your credit card? Having a significant portion of your bug out supplies already loaded can mean getting out of Dodge faster with more. I have used tents before but I find trailers, campers and motor homes more comfortable especially for a protracted stay.
If you don’t want to live at a FEMA camp then you had better have a bug out location or at least a bug out vehicle. Do you have another property in a safer spot? Fine, install a septic tank and possibly a well there and you are set. Nothing to steal or burn down, just park your trailer on your pad and you are good to go. If your home is the bug out location for your friends or family you might want to install a Y in your sewer line so they can have a convenient sewer hookup for their trailer or for your trailer if it becomes a spare room. Setting up a sewer dump for a trailer is a relatively easy project now. Later it may be difficult to find the materials and equipment. Even if the ground is easy enough to dig by hand leaving home to acquire the materials could be a security issue.
Do you have family or friends you could stay with? Would you be more welcome if you had your own bedroom, bath, and food? I personally would be more comfortable if I could get away from my host for a significant amount of time. If living with them was my first choice I would have moved in already. If they have to bug out it might be easier to put them up in your trailer rather than displacing one of the kids. After all if living with you was their first choice they would have already moved in. When I was a kid my grandparents came to visit for a month or more every summer. We had a few acres so my dad and I built a septic system just for their trailer. Every year they parked in their spot. We ran a garden hose and electricity, they set up their awning and deck chairs and in an hour everything was set.
When do you bug out? This has been covered many times by many authors but generally the sooner the better. The less traffic the faster you will move and the easier it will be to get fuel and other supplies. Whether you will look like a fool if you bug out too soon is something you will have to figure out for yourself. If you leave too late it could get to the point where you are better off bugging in.
So what are you looking for? The bigger it is the more space you will have for yourself and your supplies. The smaller it is the more maneuverable it will be and the less power it will take to pull. Your decision will also be based on the vehicle you have to tow it with. If you have a Prius then you are probably reading the wrong article, unless you plan to tow your Prius with your motor home. If you have a 4X4 one ton pickup then you can tow quite a bit. All this applies to a motor home also if that is the way you want to go. Much can be accomplished with an old horse trailer or U-Haul type trailer also. I had a cab over camper that set in the back of my pickup once. With that and a small tow behind trailer you could carry a lot. I prefer the pickup option. My grandparents towed with their car. My uncle had a van that he towed his trailer with. A buddy of mine had a camper van that we traveled across the country in. What you already have, what your personal situation is, and what you preferences are will all factor in on your final decision.
Let’s take a look at the trailer. You will want enough beds for the immediate family, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The bathroom does not have to be grand but there are times when you do want privacy. Being able to close off the master bedroom from the kids is also a bonus.
In the kitchen you will want a two fuel refrigerator. Propane, 12 volt, 120 volt are the likely options and if you can find a unit with all three so much the better. Multiple energy options means you are more likely to have refrigeration. In the novel One
Second After, the daughter of the main character died because he could not refrigerate her medicine. As we all know the fridge is a very useful item and being without one would be a bit cumbersome. If you had a power outage that lasted days then you could move the refrigerator food into the trailer and use the small fridge if you had to. If your freezer finally gave up the ghost you could turn down, all the way, either the house or trailer fridge and at least delay the thawing process while using the other fridge for cool foods. With a mobile survival shelter you will have options as to the best way to use it.
I would prefer a trailer with a couple axles. You will be adding extra weight so spreading that to more than one axle will make your trailer more reliable. You will certainly want to be packing spare tires but being able to drive a mile down the road before dealing with a flat could mean the difference of escaping a sticky situation or being forced to deal with it. Remember, the best way to win a fight is to avoid it. Also more axles mean more brakes thereby reducing the wear on your main vehicle. If you find a used trailer with less than optimum axles, moan and groan to get the price down while inwardly smiling that you can use the money saved to put in beefier axles and brakes. At some point you might want to consider an upgrade to the suspension system. There are a number of air suspension brands out there that would give you the option to enhance your suspension as you add weight to the trailer. These products have a 12 volt air compressor that you pipe into the system. As you add or reduce weight you can change the pressure in the air bags thereby taking some of the weight off the springs. You may want these for your vehicle as well as your trailer. Many trailers are designed to carry a heavy load so this may not be necessary. You will also have to consider the tow hitch. Each hitch type has a maximum load capacity. You will want to mount a hitch on your vehicle that is compatible with your fully loaded trailer. The strongest is a fifth wheel setup. If you go with the motor home option the hitch may well be a moot question unless you tow a trailer behind that.
The great thing about a travel trailer is that they are made to store an abundance of stuff. The trick will be finding all the little cubby holes that were built into it. If you give some thought to provisioning then you should be able to live with just this storage for a fortnight or two without any problems and probably much, much longer. One thing you can put in a bug out vehicle or trailer is a number of tools. You might be able to get a Swiss Army Knife or a Leatherman in a bug out bag but you will need a lot more tools than that to survive for an extended time.
You will need everything from toilet paper to tonight’s dinner. You will need water, fuel, a way to start a fire and so many other things that no list would ever be complete. One of the storage areas often overlooked is the skirted area under the trailer. This is not a readily accessible area but for many items that is not important. Most travel trailers come with a couple small propane bottles on the tongue. Leave them in place and use them first. They are the easiest to steal so you are better off if the empty or partly filled tank disappears. They can also be removed and refilled without having to take the entire trailer. In a pinch they could be used as a barter item. They make horizontal propane tanks that you can mount under the trailer next to the frame. One or more of these tanks will give you a significantly increased storage capacity. You may want to set up some sort of a valve system so that if a thief takes one tank you can still use the others. A thief may think it faster to cut your propane line than to use a wrench so having a way to isolate each line is important. Anything mounted out of sight will likely be out of mind and even if a thief becomes aware of their presence the complication of removing something mounted under the rig should deter most.
Water is another critical concern. Here again you probably have built in water and sewer tanks. Additional water storage is easily added thereby expanding your time between replenishment. Do you already have a bunch of water jugs in the basement? That is great but another hundred or more gallons might sound pretty good. I would want to drain and replace the water on a semi-regular basis to keep it fresh but you could use that water for the lawn, or to wash the car if you were concerned about wasting it. Most trailers are designed with slightly larger sewage tanks than water tanks. If you add more water storage it is nice to add more yuck tank capacity but it is probably going to be easier to get rid of the sewage than it is to find clean water and water is necessary for life. The dish water can also be used to flush the toilet and if necessary an out house can be built. Remember to bring plenty of paper plates to minimize the water usage. I built a motor home once where the gray water and black water were in separate tanks. In a pinch I could dump the gray water in a ditch then close the dump valve, open both tank valves and double my black water storage. Not my first choice but dumping some shower water in a ditch is a minor sin. Road side trailer parks usually have a dump site that you can use for a fee. City sewers can be accessed by removing the heavy lid covering the access port. Some cities have designated sights to dump your sewage but all would rather have you use the sewer system than to dump your sewage out in the open.
You will need, or at least want, electricity. A small generator can be mounted underneath the rig. This saves space inside and it is not as readily accessible to a thief, as a generator sitting on the ground, especially if some thought is taken on the installation. When I was in the Army a radio was stolen from a squad member, while he was listening to it. It was sitting in the window and someone reached up from outside, grabbed it and took off. Anything you can do to make stealing your equipment or supplies more time consuming, noisy, or difficult for a thief is to your benefit. You will need fuel for the generator but here again that can go underneath. This is another case where your bug out resources can be used to bug in. If the power is out you can use your generator to power the fridge, freezer, heater, and lights at your home. If you show up at the in-laws with a power source you might be doubly welcome. You may have to rotate these items depending on the size of the generator but a freezer run for an hour a day and rarely opened will stay frozen. As soon as the freezer or refrigerator drops to the set point it will shut off and you can move to the next appliance. Generators can be set up to run in concert with each other. Some are designed to do this easily. The advantage is efficiency. If you have an 1800 watt load a two kilowatt generator will be more efficient than a 4KW gen. set. If you get to your friends and they have a larger generator then you can run your unit for the times where the load is light and theirs when the load is heaver and both if you have a really heavy load. A multifuel generator or multiple generators where each can run on different fuels gives also has the benefit to be able to adapt to what ever is available. Those solar panels you have been thinking of can be installed on the roof of your trailer. If you bug in you have that power available and if you bug out then the power source is already packed.
While we are on the subject of fuel you might consider finding a place to put a fuel tank suitable for extra fuel for your primary vehicle. This would be a last ditch reserve to get you a bit further down the road. Every few months I would use this to fill my vehicles then I would refill it with fresh fuel. Gas and diesel do get old so rotating your fuel stock is as important as rotating your food stock. If you don’t want to rotate the fuel as often then you might add a fuel stabilizer. I would suggest fuel stabilizer as part of your emergency supplies. If you are lucky enough to get some warning and can lay in a stash of fuel having the ability to stabilize that fuel could make a big difference. Even then I wouldn’t want to go past a year on gasoline. Diesel might fare a little better but why stretch it if you don’t have to. I have used fuel older than a year but after a while it becomes a problem. The engine runs rough and eventually it is useless. If you have a truck then you can probably find a secondary tank to place under the bed and save that weight and space under the trailer. Then again you really can’t have too much fuel. If, for example, you take two cars or if a less prepared buddy is tagging along with you it might be better to put some fuel in his tank than to have him in your vehicle. You will have to weigh the fuel against the loss of resources. Remember that fuel is always traded for what we want. We trade fuel for heat . We trade fuel to move us and our assets from one place to another. We trade fuel for the electricity to power a myriad of things. If we have enough we can also trade fuel for other supplies.
If you haven’t already filled up the entire underbelly of your once relatively light trailer, think about adding, what I will call "tubs" underneath. These are five sided containers of appropriate dimensions attached underneath and sealed to the floor. An access panel is placed in the floor so this additional space is accessible from inside. You will need to put a lip at the top of the tub to attach it to the floor. If some care is given when cutting the floor the panel that is cut out can rest on a portion of the lip of the tub to form the top. A simple finger hole will make removing the panel easy. Another design might be to cut the hole, drop the tub in place and use a thin plywood or other material to level out the floor around the lip. A carpet can then be laid in place to hide the existence of this storage. If you left some of your food, guns and ammo here you would probably still be able to survive if you were robbed. Once the trailer is packed this will give months worth of food.
Some thought will have to be given as to placement of this additional storage in order to maximize space. A smaller trailer will of course store less underneath but then it will also store less inside. Fuel and water tanks can be placed pretty much anywhere as long as the fill and drain are accessible. The tubs need to be mounted where you have open floor space to install the access panel. That means the tubs will do better down the centerline and the tanks are better suited down the sides.
A VHF and/or a CB radio in both the vehicle and the trailer so you can communicate if you are separated. You might be able to use hand held radios in place of base stations but I would prefer the hand held radios as a backup. VHF and CB are for relatively short distance so I would consider a Single Side Band radio if you want to be able to communicate over an extended distance. An SSB is capable of communicating half way around the world, given the right ionospheric conditions. The size of most SSB radios will probably relegate it to the trailer or your home. You will want to set up a primary channel where you can contact friends and family. If you don’t know which frequency to listen on or call on then it will be shear luck if you can find each other. Sometimes communication is better in one frequency than another so a backup frequency is a good idea. You will also want to set up a schedule. It might be easy for you to listen to the radio all day while you are driving but at home you will have a few other things to do, especially if you are expecting company. You can also use your cell phone but if the towers are down or overloaded they will be of little use. If you can’t get through on the cell phone you might try a text message. Text takes less band width and will go through sometimes when voice will not.
Batteries are another item that will be vying for weight and space. If you have a motor home you will want your engine battery and a set of house batteries. After camping for a few days and finding out that you can’t start the engine because you used all your battery up running the fridge, lights, and radio will be a real bummer.
Go to trailer shows and go to boat shows. Both are designed for maximum storage and it is a really fun way to get some great ideas not only for storage but for comfort. Survival is certainly primary but the longer this bug out lasts the more important comfort becomes. Do not underestimate the importance of your mind set. The longer a situation lasts the harder it will be to keep your spirits up. If you allow yourself to become depressed survival is much less likely.
You can carry a motorcycle or bicycles on the back and they make boat carriers that allow you to put a skiff on top. These are usually mounted on a truck but I have seen them on trailers. Their design is such that it simplifies the loading of the boat. A simple car top carrier could also provide needed space.
Take the family on a day trip, or if you already have the trailer or a tent, for the weekend, to visit a few campgrounds. Many of these places have something to keep the kids entertained while you walk around and start a few conversations. Most of these people are very friendly and when you tell them you are thinking about buying or improving a trailer they will probably be more than happy to have a new ear to brag to. Some of these people have been using a travel trailer or motor home for years and they are a wealth of information.
If you live in a warm climate a car port would be nice to keep most of the rain off and to keep the direct sun off it. If you want to use the solar panels you can park the trailer on the North side of a building which will protect the trailer from direct sun while still allowing a significant light to collect on the solar panels. When you open the door and you can’t go into the trailer for ten minutes the food stored inside is not going to last as long. If you live in a cold climate then a heated garage would be nice. You don’t have to keep the garage at 70 degrees but if you can keep it above freezing then you don’t have to empty the water system for six months of every year. If it is not all that cold parking on the South side of a building will give the solar panels better sun and help warm the trailer.
When you get done you will have created a mother-in-law apartment, pantry, and mobile survival shelter. How you set it up will depend on your personality, resources, and perceived needs. The options are endless.