How to prep in short-term locations
More and more people are living in temporary or mobile locations as the economy continues to falter. As the moratoriums on evictions end, the United States could soon see a wave of homelessness the likes of which has not occurred since the Dustbowl. People will be seeking shelter in temporary locations, in their vehicles, in RVs, and in campers. Many will not be leaving their homes by choice, but due to dire economic circumstances.
While you’re in for a shocking change if a nomadic lifestyle is suddenly thrust upon you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still be prepared.
I deliberately chose to be a nomad myself. After my youngest daughter left the nest, I decided to sell or give away most of my things and set out to live a nomadic lifestyle. Over the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to briefly live in Greece, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, and Mexico, and I have visited Kosovo, Albania, Austria, Canada, Bosnia, and Croatia, as well as many states in the US. My goal has always been to see the world and immerse myself in other cultures. Despite Covid shutting down many options, I’ve still been able to embrace my wandering spirit and am currently in a sublet in Mexico.
And this has a lot of folks asking me, “Have you given up on prepping?”
You can still prep in temporary locations.
It seems that every interview I do and in at least a couple of emails a day, someone asks me whether I still practice what I preach – preparedness. The answer is absolutely YES.
Prepping looks a lot different when you are in a temporary location or living in an RV/van but it can – and should – still be done.
One very important factor in living a nomadic lifestyle is that if you pay attention, you can avoid a lot of problems. If you live in your RV and you hear that a hurricane or a massive ice storm is coming in a few days, there’s a strong possibility that you can drive to a different location and avoid it altogether. If I was living in Europe when Covid hit, I could have relocated to a different country rapidly with more tolerable lockdown measures or, as I did, return to the US and stay with one of my kids to help her with the bills when she was unable to work. Location independence can really work in your favor.
As mentioned, I’m currently in Mexico, not because I’m trying to avoid a situation in the US, but because it’s very affordable and I get to stay in a place that is relatively warm right on the beach, something I could never afford if I was in the US. Since I’m here for about six months, I have more food stashed away than I would if I was only planning to be here for 4-6 weeks. But even if I was staying a shorter period of time, I’d have enough on hand to keep myself and my pets fed and hydrated for a minimum of one month.
How do you prep when you live in a temporary location?
You prep in a temporary location much like you would in a stationary location, except you pay more attention to space and transportability.
Depending upon space, money, and the length of your stay, your options may be rather different than what you’d choose if you lived in a home with a large pantry or storage room. I find that the fact my expenses are far lower than in the US allows me to donate food that I haven’t eaten without feeling like I just blew a whole bunch of money. For example, here in Mexico, a can of vegetables costs the equivalent of 12 cents US on sale.
When I was traveling around Europe from one country to another, I did not have a vehicle, so everything had to fit in my luggage. Items I always had with me were those little packets of just-add-water soup and oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, and other lightweight, uncrushable items. With those and a water filter, I could keep myself fed for a few days without heading out to the grocery store. Is that an ideal diet? Of course not! But the point here is to have things on hand regardless of your situation.
Now that I have a place I’ll be staying at for a few months, as well as a vehicle, I have some larger, heavier items. I also bought an inexpensive dehydrator that is running nearly all the time because the fresh produce here is so incredible and I can’t get through my weekly farmer’s market basket before things spoil.
Keep in mind that when living nomadically, you may not have access to the same kind of gear that you would in a temporary location. I don’t have my Mr. Buddy heater, a generator, a Big Berkey, a pressure canner, or buckets and buckets of emergency food. However, I’ve devised workarounds for the things I need and I believe it’s made me a far more adaptable person.
Gear substitutes for mobile preppers
Here are some things I don’t have and what I use instead.
Camp stove: When I went to Selco’s Urban Survival Course in Croatia, I discovered that a lot of those little stoves are not what they’re cracked up to be. It’s very easy to create a makeshift camp stove if you only need to boil water with it. You can find two bricks or two rocks of a similar size, build a little fire between them on a fireproof surface, and set your cooking vessel on top of your rocks/bricks.
I have a cement balcony at my current location and two concrete blocks sitting innocuously on the end of it that could be quickly pressed into duty. Because I’m near the beach there isn’t a whole lot of wood, so I grabbed one bundle of wood sold for firepits from the grocery store and shoved it in the closet to keep it dry. Between that and dry plant material, I can easily build a fire and boil water right on my little patio. Other places I’ve stayed have had more access to wood or other materials I could burn so there, I didn’t need to buy a little bundle of wood.
Heater: The lows here are really not that cold – I think the coldest evening we had got down to 43. Central heating is extremely rare here in coastal Mexico. People use either electric space heaters or propane heaters similar to a Mr. Buddy with a tank the size of the ones you use for your barbecue.
I opted to spend this winter without heat and see if I could toughen up a little. Most days here in the winter range from low 50s to high 60s, so it’s not extreme. I just layer my clothing and use the dryer and oven in the mornings to take off the evening chill. I open the curtains on the southeast side of the house for solar gain and by early afternoon it’s sometimes so warm I need to open a window to cool things down a little. The floors here are tile, so slippers or shoes are a must to keep my feet warm.
On really cold days or during power outages, I take the layering further with fingerless gloves, a stocking hat pulled down over my ears, and I go into my bedroom and shut the door. I get under the covers and snuggle up with my two dogs and we stay cozy that way. When I had Covid, I did borrow an electric space heater from a neighbor because of the chills and fever.
Gravity-fed water filtration device: I’m not going to lug a Big Berkey around with me because it simply takes up far too much space in my vehicle. I have numerous portable options, such as a Sawyer Mini, a Lifestraw, and a Lifestraw water bottle. The one I use the most is the water bottle because I can take it anywhere and it doesn’t scream “prepper.” It just makes me look environmentally friendly.
I also store water. Here in Mexico, the big 5-gallon jugs are popular and they only cost a couple of dollars. I keep 30 gallons on hand and when I empty one jug, I refill it with tap water for my dogs. I also have other beverages on hand, as well as little drink packets. One thing that a lot of preppers don’t realize is that filtered water doesn’t necessarily taste like it came from a fresh mountain stream. Some powdered lemonade mix can help cover a less pleasant flavor.
Generator: I’ve written many times that instead of investing in expensive generators, I prep low-tech, and this has not changed being on the road.
I have a solar charger that is enough to power my laptop and my phone, as well as a portable charger that’s good for a few phone recharges. I can also recharge my devices using the USB ports in my Jeep (and I keep extra fuel on hand.)
Aside from this, I have a few different flashlights, a headlamp in both my backpack and my vehicle, an assortment of batteries, cooling cloths (these came in handy when my Jeep nearly overheated in the desert), a winter rated sleeping bag, and some winter cold weather gear even though I’m in a southern climate. As they recently learned in Texas, you never know when unusual weather might strike, and being prepared for those extremes can be as minor as keeping you comfortable or as major as keeping you alive.
When I’m not traveling in my vehicle, my kit is even smaller. You can check it out here.
What’s in my nomad pantry?
Now that we have the gadgets covered, what about food? When you are nomadic or living in a short-term location, you probably won’t have the same ability to stash away a year’s worth of supplies. I focus on at least a month and I pay attention to my surroundings.
Back when Covid struck the US, I rebuilt a food supply with a couple of trips to the store and about $500. Was it the same supply I would have had back when I had kids at home and a fixed location? Definitely not. I relied on food that didn’t require long cooking times and items I could acquire quickly. Because I did my shopping about a month before the shelves were emptied in the US, I had plenty of options and was able to get a good variety without major limitations. If I noticed an emerging crisis where I was and could not avoid it, I would stock up quickly. Remember, one of the most important parts of being a prepper is your awareness that puts you ahead of the crowd.
I have two different types of food supplies – items for consumption or back up while I’m in transit and items that I stock up on during my stay.
My In-Transit Pantry
When I’m moving more often or traveling lightly, my pantry looks different. I have the following as the basis of my mobile pantry.
- Flavored instant oatmeal packets
- Almond or coconut milk (shelf-stable)
- Dry soup mix
- Noodle bowls
- Dried fruit
- Peanut butter
- Granola bars
- Instant coffee packets
- Sugar packets
I can carry all of the above items in my luggage with no issues whatsoever. They’re lightweight, small, and easily portable. Aside from the crackers, none of these things are easily crushed by your other gear, either.
The quality you purchase of the above items depends upon your location and your budget. In some areas, you might be able to easily access organic versions, and in others, you may be looking at Mr. Noodle and Peanut M&Ms. Obviously, this is not a diet to sustain you for a long time, especially if you’re expending a lot of calories, but it would get you through a few days to a week. Your mileage may vary.
My Short-Term Location Pantry
When I arrive at an Airbnb or rental, I sometimes have a meal from the items above on the first night before I go out and search for heartier fare. Once I’m settled in, then I add perishables like fresh produce, bread, and meat. As well, if I’m going to be there for more than a few days, I pick up some inexpensive shelf-stable items at those locations that are too heavy or too fragile to carry around, like some of the items in the list below.
While living in Mexico, the area where I’m staying went “Red” (they have color codes for the level of coronavirus restrictions.). I went to the store the first day and stocked up on a few additional items because here they have checkpoints where you’re asked about your destination, and I was not confident enough in my Spanish to relish such an interaction. So, I’ve gone more than a month on my supplies here without another trip to the store and didn’t feel that I was deprived, although I probably would have chosen different food if going to stores had been viable.
My pantry here is similar to the quick pantry I bought during my covid quarantine prep, just with Mexican versions of the foods.
- Canned goods
- Pouches of refried beans
- Peanut butter
- Cookies or chocolate (If I can’t leave my condo, I need some joy in my life)
- Long-lasting produce like potatoes, onions, carrots, squash, and cabbage
- Meat and veggies for the freezer
- Seasonings to make everything taste better
- Almond milk tetras
Keep in mind that these items do not make up the majority of my diet. These are the things that I have put aside in case I have to hunker down – which certainly paid off here during the lockdown. I still visit the farmstand and bakery weekly and dine out to enjoy the local cuisine. Depending on your situation, you might hit the grocery store to supplement your basic supplies.
It’s all about being adaptable.
One of my major takeaways from my nomadic lifestyle is that adaptability and the willingness to be flexible are essential. And if these traits are essential just traveling, imagine how much more so they are when you’re going through difficult times.
While most folks prefer a full spice rack, a wealth of kitchen implements, and a giant storage room, the reality is that it might not be possible for everyone, particularly as the economy continues to wreak havoc on personal finances and the supply chain continues to erode. As I wrote earlier this year that prepping would look a lot different than before.
There are big changes ahead for many people and surviving may look different than you expected it to. Selco has written about leaving everything behind to survive. Fabian has written about the survival lessons to be learned from the homeless and from the Great Depression. Hopefully, we won’t see anything as extreme as these examples, but just know that even if the way things go is different than you had planned, you can still be adaptable, prepared, and resilient.