SHTF blog – Modern Survival

How to Bug Out from a Congested City in Five Steps

Cities are getting heavily congested as our society grows and more people decide to live in the city. Some of the worst traffic in America includes cities like Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, Boston, Seattle, New York, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. People want to be where all the action’s at, which creates congestion and – for many – frustration.

traffic jam

Whether you live in the mentioned cities or not, in times of crisis, any city can quickly become congested. There’s nothing wrong with living in the city, of course. Many people either want to live in the city, have to live in the city, or simply can’t move out to the country.

Preppers tend to prefer rural areas, but you don’t have to live in the country in order to survive an emergency or disaster. If you live in the city, however, you have to be extra vigilant when it comes to bugging in and out.

Five Steps to Bugging Out in a Congested City

#1 – Stay Informed – As they say, the best offense is a strong defense. In this case, your defense would be foresight to see what’s coming before everyone else. You can do this by staying “in the know.” Twitter, HAM radio, NOAA weather radio, and generally paying attention will keep you well ahead of the game. If you know a natural disaster is on its way, you can choose to leave days before it arrives, instead of waiting until the last minute, like most people seem to do. Of course, there may still be congestion in certain areas of town, but we’ll go into how to plan for that.

#2 – Have a Plan – Knowing how to get ready for any disaster with your family is going to be critical. Sit down with them and hash out a bug in and bug out plan. When doing this, break out a physical map, or head to Google Maps and take an extremely close look at the city. Google Maps will even tell you when there’s heavy traffic and where that heavy traffic is. Technology should not be discounted. Having a “digital bug out bag” is always a good idea.

Having a plan will also help your family members know what they need to do in the event of an emergency. This would include establishing meeting points, communication options, etc. Having plans in place will allow you to get up and go when something goes down. There will be no need to plan at that moment – the plan is already done.

sillcock key
A sillcock key is a great tool for getting water when bugging out.

#3 – Know Your City – You should know your city inside and out. Really get to know every nook and cranny of it, especially if you live deep in a downtown area. I would highly suggest doing this through walking. Walking will give you a much more in-depth and detailed view of the buildings, people, and routes. Knowing your city could help you cache items along your route, find water by using your sillcock key, or find access to quick gas or other supplies. While it isn’t ideal to stop until you reach your final destination, sometimes you need to, and if you know your city, you’ll know the best places to stop, rest, or find supplies. 

#4 – Use Alternative Routes – Congestion may be centered in specific areas, usually on freeways and highways. In general, we want to avoid those areas. There are usually several different routes to get to and from places. A map will help, but the best way to find these alternative routes is to physically go out and look for them. A map will be helpful to mark the routes. However, by physically driving, biking, or walking the alternative routes, you’ll be able to see how busy they are during different times of the day and week, how quickly you can get there from your home, work, school, etc.

Keep in mind that alternate routes will most likely take longer to get to your final destination. This extra time should be accounted for in your plans. For instance, on a good day, with no traffic, it may take 30 minutes to get out of the city using alternative routes. So in an emergency or disaster, you may want to account for it taking twice as long. If it takes less time, that’s great! But account for more time. 

#5 – Use Alternative Vehicles – While a car is ideal, it may not be the absolute best option to bug out. Maybe you start out with your vehicle but end up having to abandon it because walking would be quicker, safer, and more ideal. It really depends on the situation. And this is coming from someone who has two small children and two dogs. Our Jeep is preferable for comfort, speed, and general mobility. However, we also understand that there may be things out of our control that would force us to abandon the vehicle.

My suggestion would be to have a tiered system. Start with the car, if you have to abandon it, move to bicycles. If you have to abandon those, move to your feet. If you live on an island, like Manhattan, you’ll want to consider your options for possibly having to cross the water in some way other than using the bridges.

Congested City Bug Out Summary

Bugging out from a congested city isn’t impossible. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to be safe. If that means bugging out days before a natural disaster strikes, then that’s what you need to do. Even if you think your home won’t be directly affected, trust your gut. Do what’s best for you and your family.

Morgan lives and travels full time in an RV with her husband, two daughters and two dogs. She is the owner and founder of Rogue Preparedness ( a website dedicated to emergency preparedness and survival skills.

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