Technology has not only made the world feel smaller; it has also made it easier for us to find people and stay connected. However, despite the advancements in modern technology, dropping off the grid and disappearing is not as difficult as you might think. Nonetheless, it will still require some effort and a lot of commitment.
If you are thinking about pulling a Thoreau and suddenly feel the need to hide from the government, your family, your friends, and the weird neighbor next door, the following are some of the things you will have to do in order to achieve that.
Destroy Traces of the Old You
You cannot drop off the grid if you retain connections to your past. Before you go underground, you will need to purge yourself of all your old ties. Pass the point of no return: burn your certificates, documents, and photographs—anything that might connect your new world to the old you.
To move forward, you need to make a clean break. Don’t try to keep any souvenirs from your old life. They could come back to haunt you.
Get Rid of the Plastic
If you are serious about dropping off the grid, the last thing you want to do is to use your credit cards. Credit and debit cards leave a blazing electronic trail that law enforcement agencies can easily follow.
The world is a lot smaller than you think. Transactions can be tracked to the shop where you used the card, giving the cops a good idea of your last location. To prevent this, ditch the cards.
If you’re booking a flight out of the country, or buying books to learn more about your destination, make your payments with cash. Also avoid using any digital form of currency. This includes things like bitcoins, digital coupons, or flyer miles.
If you cannot pay for something in cash, then it is off-limits. You might be tempted to hang onto a card for possible emergencies. Don’t. Your goal should be to avoid doing anything that will connect you to your old life.
Staying off the grid is easier when it’s just you. Don’t try to run away with a large group; although it is possible, it will increase your possibility of being caught. The chances of getting discovered are even higher if you choose to disappear with a minor. This exposes you to the risk of being considered a child abductor and charged with child endangerment.
Be a lone wolf. Leaving your friends and family will hurt, but if you really need to disappear, then that is what you must do.
Slowly Gather Your Cash and Resources
Slowly, so as not to arouse suspicion, liquidate your assets into cash. Store your money in a secure location—a place within easy reach. In addition to cash, pack a bag containing all the items you are likely to need: warm clothes, a blanket, a sturdy pair of comfortable walking shoes, and a compass.
Again, do not pack anything that references your past. For instance, if you have an engraved watch with your name on it, don’t take it with you.
Disconnect from the Web
Two or three months before your “disappearance date,” gradually reduce your online footprint by spending less time on social media platforms. Instead of making posts on Facebook every day, cut it down to twice a week. Then cut this down even further.
The goal is to carefully ease yourself away from the online attention of your social community. This way, when you eventually stop posting altogether, no one will notice you are gone—even for months. Avoiding the Internet is an important part of disconnecting from your old life. If you cannot bring yourself to do this, you won’t get far.
In the weeks leading up to your departure, provide little bits of misinformation to the people around you. If you are planning to go south, talk fondly about how you have always wanted to travel up north. Download travel brochures for a city that you’re not visiting and talk often about that place.
Book an online ticket for a flight to a foreign country and conveniently “forget” to delete your browsing history. Sign up for a French class when you don’t intend to visit a Francophone city. Create as many false leads as you can. It will make it difficult for people to track you when you do disappear.
Pick a Good Location
Choose your new home carefully. It should be a place where you are unlikely to bump into anyone from your past. For this reason, you should avoid any city that you might have visited before.
A good tip is to pick a city that offers limited connection to the outside world. Somewhere you won’t draw too much attention if you pay for things with cash. But if you do decide to relocate to a large city, change your name and work under a false identity. Avoid getting involved in anything that may draw attention to you.
If you’re serious about dropping off the grid, there’s no room for half measures. Unless you’re committed, you’re almost certain to fail. Regardless of how extensive you think your efforts are, never take a break. It pays to be paranoid.
Some scenarios may require preparations that are more elaborate. For instance, if you are running from your family or your spouse, your attempt to disappear won’t be as difficult as if you’re trying to hide from the FBI. Understand your circumstances and be smart about what you’ll have to do to protect yourself and safeguard your past.
And finally, if you really plan to disappear, don’t forget to delete this page from your browsing history. In fact, unless you plan to reread it, you should go ahead and delete it right now.