Signs it may be Time to Bugout

Traffic heading out of a city
Traffic heading out of a city

One of my kids called me the other day to ask if she should bug out to our place in the mountains because of the Ukraine situation. I didn’t laugh because I was glad she was taking it seriously, but I explained Russian soldiers invading a country 5,000 miles away was probably not an immediate threat to her health and safety.

That brings up the question, when should she, or you, bug out? Here are a few suggestions:

If Nuclear Weapons are Used

This may be pretty obvious, but if some country or terrorist group uses nuclear weapons, I think that would be a reason to immediately head towards your retreat, especially if you live in a target location or downwind of one. Upon arrival, I’d unload my gear at the retreat and then head out and try to acquire additional supplies in the general area. While I love Sam’s Club and Costco, you can do plenty of stocking up at the local grocery store, Walmart, dollar store and hardware or general store.

I think there would be a limited period in which a fast-thinking prepper could grab their go bag, pack up a few things, hop in their car, fill the gas tank, and leave before everyone else gets the same idea. Because of their normalcy bias, many people won’t leave their homes until they see news coverage or hear on social media that friends and family are. At that point, panic will set in and it will be too late.

I have a hard time believing any nuclear exchange will be limited to one or two bombs. I think the only reason we used only two nukes in World War II was because that was all we had. If country A deploys nukes against Country B, I expect Country B or an ally would respond. Even if nukes are used far away from the United States, I think there would still be fallout, both radioactive fallout carried over the U.S. by the weather, and social, economic and military fallout. If nuclear devices get tossed around, that’s a good time to be in a secure location.

I would throw an EMP event or an emergency at a nearby nuclear power plant under this same heading: Immediate bugging out.

Banking Holiday/Financial Freeze

If the government declares a banking holiday, halts stock trading and closes the bourses, and/or freezes financial transactions for no obvious reason, I would consider that a serious warning sign. I’d recommend heading towards your retreat no later than the afternoon or night of the second day of this shutdown.

They shut down banks and much of the country after 9/11, but that was for obvious reasons. I would not worry as much about a closure made for a known reason. A halt for reasons not fully disclosed or because of a cyberattack would be a greater concern.

If people cannot access their money, use their credit cards, send a Venmo payment, buy food with their credit or EBT card, or otherwise conduct a non-cash transaction, there is going to be build up to an explosion of anger. Not a good time to be in a densely populated area.

Lengthy Unexplained Power Outages

Likewise, a lengthy, unexplained power outage that appears to cover a broad area would make me consider getting out of Dodge. It’s understandable when there is a hurricane or an ice storm and power is out for days; but an unexplained outage raises my antennas and makes me wonder what’s going on and can it be fixed?

Runaway Inflation

If there comes a time when inflation has eaten away at your salary until it is so meager you can’t afford food, then it is time to either bug in or bug out. I’d say go where you have the most supplies, you can produce some income, and you have the best shot at producing your own food.

If we reach hyperinflation, where stores adjust prices daily and a cup of coffee or a bottle of Pepsi costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, then you should try to live using barter, crypto, or silver instead of devalued dollars. If living at your retreat means lower expenses and space to grow a garden, then head there and do what you can while you can still afford to fill the car with gas.

The key to getting through a period of hyperinflation is to eat enough to stay alive and healthy, wherever, and however you can; pay your property taxes so you do not lose any property you own outright; pay off your loans with highly devalued dollars, and hang on until inflation dies down or the currency is replaced by something more sable. That scenario may mean selling or trading some of your silver, gold, crypto or bullets, but try to keep some for after the crisis so you can start over.

Signs of A Financial Collapse

While you will should be able to see hyperinflation coming, and feel it every time you make a purchase, that might not be the case with a financial collapse. For example, few foresaw the collapse of the subprime market and the failure of Lehman Brothers.

I would also worry if the United States Government shut down for weeks because Congress cannot agree on a spending bill. It is also a blaring warning if the country defaults on debts because ran out of money and cannot borrow more. If the U.S. dollar is replaced as the global currency, then you know our system is in trouble.

Another warning sign would be when big businesses and services that we all rely on shut down for financial reasons. If a well-known airline company, a large beverage company, a big manufacturer, and a pharmaceutical company, all members of the Fortune 500, all close, cease operations or declare bankruptcy within a few weeks, then something is going on with the underlying system and it will trickle down to the consumer level before long. You need to be prepped and out of town before that happens.

When people lose faith in the dollar and its value crashes compared to other currencies, it’s time to buy gold and silver, bug out, and batten down the hatches. If you can weather the storm easier at your retreat, or if you think it is safer there, then by all means, bug out.

Riots, Looting and Violence

Riots and looting often start in large cities and spread to smaller cities over a few days. If they head your way, it might be a good idea to leave before they arrive. Today’s mayors and city councils rarely have the stones to arrest protestors and let the police stop riots. As a result, they can devolve into looting and arson, resulting in the loss of multiple buildings and lives. While no one wants to lose all their stuff to rioter or a fire, if you bug out ahead of time, you can at least preserve your life.

For years, my parents would leave their city on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death because they didn’t want to be there for the annual protests that could turn into riots. Smart thinking or an overabundance of caution? I don’t know, but I remember seeing armed soldiers sitting in their jeeps at the gas stations in our neighborhood, so my parents were not the only ones preparing. Perhaps that should be another sign to bug out: when National Guardsmen protect gas stations.

Any Potential TEOTWAWKI Event

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It should go without saying that any disaster that threatens your life is a reason to bug out. Consider also any regional or larger disaster that might permanently change your way of life. It could be natural, it could be manmade; it doesn’t matter. The key is to be among the first to leave.

A Note on Retreats

I am well aware that most preppers do not have a retreat, meaning they do not own a piece of property tucked away in a remote location where they have cached gear and goods. I will bet, however, that most preppers have thought about where they would go if the SHTF, and they had to bug out. Maybe they plan to go to a friend or a relative’s house, like my daughter does. It could be a camping in a spot you’ve been to before. Maybe you plan to hook up your trailer and head for the hills. For this article, when I say “bug out to your retreat” I mean leave the city or suburbs and go to the location you have previously considered.

Also, keep in mind that there may be times when bugging in is better. If we are expecting nuclear fallout, an interior room in an apartment building will provide better protection than a tent in the woods. Use your best judgment.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like How to Handle Shortages and Outages in an Economic Collapse and How to Handle the Loss of Services, Including Police, Fire and EMS.


  1. We are about to be totally overcome by events, or “OBE”. So many pillars of our society are cracking under stress and about to break. Our “leaders” are no doubt , ushering it in on purpose.

    We can’t fight this, it’s too big and should’ve been taken on decades ago, but Americans were complacent and ungrateful. Can’t stop it now, just try and ride the wave as long as possible rather than get ripped under.

    Inflation is not getting fixed and has potential to run away. Our enemies are trying to get this to happen as it will destroy us.

    You thought we were divided now?????? Wait until inflation hits 20% (their numbers). They are suppressing and manipulating the numbers because they KNOW what the consequences WILL be.

    Buy metals and pray, it’s THAT time

  2. Small city in the Ozarks, about 10,000 population, an hours drive to the next city of that size. Live in a subdivision. Lots of rocky farm land around. Relative about an hours drive away in the mountains. Is it worth it to bug out. Too old to walk the trip, what to do?

    • Hi Virginia, assuming you mean to drive to the relative’s place in the mountain, I think it’s very doable. As long as you get a head start on hordes of people leaving from a larger city, like Little Rock or Springfield, you should be able to make it via car. The key is to be in the first wave of departures. If something happens and you think to yourself, “This could be the big one,” then grab your go bag and leave. Don’t second guess yourself or let the government’s “We have it under control” messaging convince you otherwise. If its a false alarm, then you show up and take your relative out to a surprise dinner and go back home a day or two later.

      So I think it is doable, but is it worth it? Only you can decide if it is worth it. If you have a strong support network at home and know most of your neighbors, a subdivision outside a small city might not be a bad place to weather the storm. Good luck and God bless.

      • Our home is right in the middle of the city, but city seems to be dwindling some. We have some of the illegal immigrants being bussed in. We are in the last years of our lives, and would rather just stay here, but certainly don’t want the trouble we see abounding.

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