Bugging Out vs. Sheltering in Place — How to Decide

Bugging Out vs. Sheltering in place

Stay or go?

Catastrophe is imminent. The choice is binary. There are pros and cons on each side, but there’s so little time (and maybe even less information) to make a decision.

Neither is really convenient, but which choice means making it safely to the other side and which one means suffering?

How do you decide? 

Man wiggling eyebrows, "Decisions, decisions" GIF

Sheltering in Place vs Bugging Out — Definitions 

First off, let’s define these two terms.  

If you shelter in place, you remain in your current location and do not evacuate. You may be given a shelter in place order by authorities. Most people shelter in place at home, but sometimes they must take shelter at work, at school, or even in the closest building.

Bugging out means leaving your home for the duration of the disaster, aka evacuating. It also means losing your ever-loving mind, but the two definitions aren’t always simultaneous. Depending on the disaster, you might evacuate to the local school, community center, subway station, or your out of town designated meeting place.

Bumper to bumper traffic on a freeway
Witness Atlantic hurricane season! Cars clog the roads after evacuation orders are issued by local and state government officials. This photo is of Floridians fleeing Hurricane Ian in late September 2022. (source)

Advantages of Sheltering in Place

Most people prefer to shelter in place. The pros are easy to see, despite the added danger!

No Extra Expenses 

Evacuating is so expensive that people without enough resources will ignore even mandatory evacuation orders. Sheltering in place is effectively free, by comparison. Buying essential supplies like food, water, and flashlight batteries doesn’t make a huge dent in the budget. And other gear like a first aid kit, waterproof apparel, and power tools are usually on hand even in homes that don’t have a disaster plan.

Familiar Surroundings

As we all know, leaving your house sucks. Traffic is a pain. People are rude. Leaving your house during a disaster can be even worse, if you spend your time away wondering what’s happening to your beloved homestead. In familiar surroundings, you feel like you can take on anything. The homefield advantage just makes us feel better. Home is our territory, and when the danger is high, our old lizard brain snaps into action.

Known Cohort

Making your way through the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go… where everybody knows your name. Need I say more? If you know and trust everyone on your block, it’s hard to leave, even if you know it’s the safer choice. Familiar faces calm us the same way the homefield advantage does.

First aid kit, water, and canned food
The right gear can go a long way. (source

Advantages of Bugging Out

You Will Survive Intact

Evacuating can definitely be the safer choice. Whether you’re escaping a storm or a combat zone, leaving might reduce your chances of being hurt. Assuming you don’t die in a car accident on the way to your destination, taking your body to a safer place is a great way to avoid being maimed or killed.

Aid Will Reach You Sooner

Medical aid, food, and supplies will be available sooner at a location outside of the danger zone. Access to medical professionals, warm food, and potable water is always within reach if you have escaped the disaster area. This is especially important for people who have medical concerns or small children.

You’ll Avoid Mental Trauma

You know what’s scary? Listening to the sounds of a disaster that could kill you. It’s scary for adults, and it can be traumatic for kids. Nothing is worth putting your kids through unnecessary trauma. Witnessing a Cat 3 hurricane, an F4 twister, or a sudden wildfire would be unforgettable in the worst way. Reducing your family’s future therapy bills is a great reason to bug out.

Rule of Thumb

Adults can also be traumatized! Avoiding needless trauma is great self-care.

Which One Is Preferable? 

That’s the million-dollar question. Plenty of people who had the chance to evacuate before disasters, but didn’t, have regretted their decision. Plenty of people who spent their time and money evacuating, only to learn that the disaster missed their town completely, also regretted their decision.

Deciding whether to bug out or shelter in place is a very personal choice. The number of people in your family and their ages will play a big role in your decision, as will your bank account.

  • Elderly people who aren’t prepared to travel alone would likely prefer to shelter in place, but it might be safer for them to go to a community shelter where they will have assistance. Same goes for those who have disabilities or medical complications.
  • Families with no children might prefer to ride out most disasters at home. Young and middle-aged adults are better equipped than other age groups to withstand the immediate dangers, as well as the lengthy isolation or clean-up that could follow. Their resilience can make them foolhardy, though. If you’re in this group, examine whether you’re sheltering in place because the danger is low, or because you believe you’re invincible.
  • Families with children might find evacuating to be a major pain in the butt, but it’s likely the best choice in the end. That trauma is never worth it.

Whatever you do, form a consensus with your family and act quickly. Evacuation may require a full day of travel if the roads are full of other evacuees. We’ll be bugging out whenever voluntary evacuation is even mentioned; we’ve just heard way too many shelter-in-place horror stories.


REMEMBER! You should never ignore a mandatory evacuation order. Evacuate immediately if you are told to evacuate by authorities.

Additional Resources

If you think it’s likely you’d choose to shelter in place through a disaster, you should have the right items in your Stay Bag. Check out our disaster guides to better understand what you’d be up against if you needed to shelter at home.

Read more about emergency kit preparation here:

Best of luck making your Stay Bags, friends! We’ll be toasting you with our own spoonfuls of peanut butter from our comfy safe rooms when the bombs drop. May your chemical toilets always smell fresh, and may the wind be always at your back.

Empty toilet roll that says "Don't panic"
No need to panic; you’ve got all the supplies you need!

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Writer, editor, and professional joker with an environmental science background. Like most trivia nerds, she's an ardent admirer of Only Connect competitors, but more at home on the QI field.

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