A lot of post-apocalyptic fiction stories start with a massed exodus of people. Whether a nuke has gone off and radioactive fallout threatens, aliens are zapping the cities with invulnerable war machines, or a horrid disease decimates the population, the solution in these tales is always to get the heck out. Know why they do that? The “run for the hills” beginning takes the main character away from the known into the unknown, where they have no resources, thus making for a more dramatic story. Now they must scavenge for supplies, make difficult decisions, endure tremendous physical hardship, see exotic places, and barely make it out alive. Makes for a great movie or TV series, but as a practical plan, I’d prefer to “bug in” rather than “bug out,” if I had any choice in the matter at all.
When things go terribly, horribly wrong, I prefer to let more excitable people run around in the streets shooting at each other, while I sit at my computer eating popcorn and posting, “Wow this is crazy huh?” on Facebook for as long as the Internet still works. I have enough food and water stashed away to put me on a terrorist watch list (according to Rand Paul at least). I have medical supplies sufficient to keep me healthy and treat a wide variety of injuries. I have enough guns and ammo to arm not only myself, but my friends and neighbors, too. I have cleaning supplies to maintain both my gear and myself; just because my world has been turned upside down doesn’t mean I’ll forget about personal hygiene. I have a clean queen-sized bed which I find very comfortable to sleep in at night, and I also have several excellent books which I haven’t found the time to read yet. Why would I want to leave? Flood, fire, radioactivity, mutated bird flu or other scary diseases come to mind. Otherwise, I’m staying put. I’ll fortify my place with a barricade behind the door and boarded up windows with only narrow firing ports to see out of, but it’ll be safe and warm inside. With popcorn.
Bugging “out” limits you to how much stuff you can carry. This is why dedicated “preppers” inevitably have a BOV, or Bug Out Vehicle, usually a full sized 4×4 SUV like a Chevy Suburban, or a large pickup truck with a camper shell. They’ll invest a lot of money in the BOV, hoping that they will have time to stock it up with a lot of the stuff they keep in their homes before hitting the road to somewhere else. Okay, it’s definitely cool to be mobile. If rioters set my apartment complex on fire and I have to get out with whatever I can carry on my back, I’ll wish I had invested in a BOV too! But taking a vehicle with you wherever you go carries many of the same obligations as simply staying put. You have an obvious stash of supplies that other people will want to take from you, so you’ll have to make sure the vehicle is never unguarded. You’ll have to find sources of fresh water, and of course, gasoline or diesel fuel. A breakdown, a wreck, or just plain getting stuck in a ditch means either leaving your stash or “bugging in” at a spot you didn’t choose.
If you are forced to leave your residence, or your residence-on-wheels, you’ll be in as much of a desperate situation as that guy in the apocalyptic Hollywood movie. Your supplies will be limited to what you can carry with you, all day every day. Food, water, shelter, personal protection—it’s all on your shoulders now. If you are lucky you’ll have some well-equipped friends to coordinate with and help share the load. Try to find ways to carry more than you can put on your back—I hate to cite a movie, but Viggo Mortensen used shopping carts to good effect in “The Road,” and I’ve seen homeless people do the same thing in real life. I always thought a sturdy bicycle would make a good way to carry extra supplies; I stole the idea from the Viet Cong, who used them to carry tons and tons of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail through some pretty rough terrain.
The bottom line is that your supplies will be more bulky than you think, and you’ll go through them faster than you think. As a simulation experiment, pack up as much stuff as you can carry into your backpack, duffel or whatever you would use if you had to “bug out,” and then live out of it for as long as possible. Nobody has to know but you—go to work every day, take a shower every morning in your bathroom and so on, but stow EVERYTHING you use in that bag, including your toothbrush. Drink your fluids from canteens, water pouches, or bottled water you stowed in the bag. Eat only food that comes from what you originally put in the bag. See how long you can make it last before you desperately need resupply. Three days? Five days? A week? I bet you’ll be surprised; I know I was.