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I want to start off by saying that disappearing is far harder now than it was a few decades ago. Before the internet was widely available, digital cameras and inexpensive smartphones tracking and tracing someone were nearly impossible unless you were very dedicated or had access to high-tech official gear.
In order to understand just what you can do to make yourself harder to find or trace, you need to realize the extent daily actions are tracked through various systems.
How To Disappear (As Much As Possible) and Deal With the Consequences
Bank and credit cards
If you use any electronic means to pay for something, you can be assumed to be in a certain area. Some banks advise to let them know if you intend on traveling so they will know not to flag transactions. Even my small-town bank has a way to file a travel report online. I think it is very invasive to feel like you need to let your bank know if you go on a trip just so you can be assured they don’t block your transactions. It shows that they are watching every purchase you make.
Banking records make you easier to find so if you really want to disappear you will need to use cash or have money stashed in accounts that are hard to trace.
If you decide to “disappear” one of the first things the police will do when you are considered missing is to put a trace out to see if you have used any of your banking or credit card accounts or if it appears someone else has stolen, then and is using them. Regardless, every transaction is recorded.
Cars and trucks have low jacks
Cars and trucks have GPS trackers in them. This is why a car can be found so easily if it needs to be repossessed due to non-payment. If people really want to track you and you have a car, they could do it that way. You really cannot own a car if you want to remain as anonymous as possible. Older antique and vintage cars may not have any tracking devices in them but there are not that many cars left from the era of a car just being a car and not a series of sophisticated computer interfaces.
Cars and trucks can even be disabled remotely which is pretty frightening.
Cell phones and computers listen and track
If you have a smartphone, then you should know that Google knows exactly where you are at any given time. I know that when I get back from town, my phone is asking me how all the locations were that I shopped at. This is openly admitting that they are tracking movements all the time. They make no apologies about asking you for a review of the place they tracked you to.
It is not a coincidence that if you have a conversation with someone else near your phone or computer, you will get targeted advertising of things you discussed. If we mention a piece of farm equipment, both Matt and I will get ads for them later on. It is very creepy and honestly is not the best used of advertising dollars. If you buy a sprayer in town, then you certainly don’t need a sprayer advertised on your phone or comp but since your banking and conversations are not as private as you would like, you get ads for things you have already bought and might not buy again for a long time.
Consider having accounts and property in a company name rather than your own.
Shell companies or companies owning property rather than individuals is one way to keep things private. I can go on any county tax record site and discover who lives where or at least where they own property. If the name on a deed is a company, it can be impossible to tell who owns it without really digging into it a lot.
While I will not say that someone would not be able to trace a property or bank account back to you, what I am talking about will add an extra layer of security and privacy. The more layers of security you have the easier it is to keep a low profile.
Avoid cameras whenever possible
Cameras are everywhere so this is a very difficult thing to do. At the same time you can attempt to avoid areas where you know a lot of cameras are in place. If you have to be in an area with lots of cameras, then wear hats and glasses that make it harder to identify you. This can only offer you so much concealment but it does make it harder.
Some cameras are not as good as you might expect. Cheap security cameras only offer a certain level of resolution. Other factors such as a dirty lens or a poor internet connection can effect overall video quality sometimes but that is not something you want to rely on.
Wear clothing that doesn’t stand out
Basic colors and clothing styles are best if you want to blend in. This can depend on where you are living at the time or it may be something you have to vary a lot depending on the situations you face. If you are trying to blend into an area where a lot of the guys are wearing business suits for example, you would want to as well. In a regular neighborhood, jeans and t-shirt may be how to go. Be observant and learn to change your wardrobe as needed.
Consider your hairstyle or any features that may stand out like tattoos, piercings, or prominent birthmarks
If I was trying to blend in or disappear, I would take extra care to cover up my tattoos. Bright hair colors or unique styles are asking for people to notice which is the last thing you want if you are trying to disappear. If you have any facial or noticeable piercings, you can get clear retainers if you don’t want to give them up permanently.
Some heavy makeup like that made by Dermablend can cover up birthmarks, scars, and even very large tattoos if needed. Otherwise you can wear clothing that covers up identifying marks. That is not always realistic though so something made for major cover up may be worth purchasing.
You might consider changing your hair color to something that is not uncommon yet different from your natural color. Wigs or other hair pieces are other options. If worn properly, no one will ever know.
Do not own a car or other form of transportation that requires a license, permit, or insurance.
Bicycles and public transportation are a few options for those trying to disappear. Motorized vehicles require a paper trail of permits and insurance that make it impossible to hide. Of course you could register a car as being owned by a company or LLC rather than you directly. Regardless, if you really want to disappear, a privately owned car is going to make it easier for others to figure out who you are and where you get your mail.
Disappearing is going to require a lot of walking, taking cabs, or riding subways and buses. Remember that public transit has a lot of cameras so try not to look towards any that you know are in place.
Bicycles may not be a totally private mode of transportation in some areas. In towns near where I live they are thinking about making it the law that all bicycles have license plates on them. Of course there is a fee involved too. My point is that some transporation methods may be more private and hard to trace in some areas than others.
Plenty of people say that they are taking a break from social media from time to time. You may want to do this too but at some point you are going to have to get rid of your profile entirely. If people are really used to seeing updates and pictures from you then you may want to be more gradual with the process. Start out by posting only every so often. If someone says something you can just say that you have a lot going on with work or school or some other excuse that everyone uses.
If you have a decent size social media following, then you may want to announce why you are leaving. With so many people getting fed up with it, no one will be that surprised if you announce that it is a time sucker, there are too many weirdos, ect. Now is actually a great time to bow out because people are really getting sick of the censorship, trolling, and stalker types that frequent it.
Keeping a low profile is important and helps with privacy even if you don’t want to disappear for the most part.
I write a lot and so there are all kinds of people that know a bit about my husband and I but that is out in the world of the internet, not where we actually live. Out of our small county of roughly 56,000 people, hardly anyone knows us. Part of this is because neither of us went to high school here and we do not have kids in school, nor do we work in town. If you live in the small town you went to high school in then good luck keeping as low a profile as you might like.
While my Dad and his whole family are from the area, I was born somewhere else and then moved here at 16. When people do meet me and find out who my people are they are surprised because they didn’t know anything about me until that point.
We don’t go out to restaurants or major events in town.
I have lived on this mountain continuously for nearly 12 years with my husband. Before that we spent two years in Alaska. When we moved here just a handful of people even knew we staying on our property.
All that “staying away” is not for everyone but for us it works out even if it is a bit much sometimes. The fact is that so many people our age really don’t have the same interest as us and people are so divided about politics that you cannot have a basic conversation even if you make an effort to avoid sensative or volatile subject matter. People just seem to want to be rude to each other.
We stay busy all the time and without disappearing somewhat we would never have had the time, energy, or money to do the things that you see me write about in posts, including building a house.
Do not use cell phones unless it is a “burner phone”.
It is best to stay off the phone unless really necessary but make sure to use a cheap burner phone and occasionally toss it for a new one, depending on the level of scrutiny you might feel you are under.
I know that it is hard for some to imagine not using a cell phone but the truth is that if you want to disappear, then you need to get used to the idea of ditching a traditional cell phone. A prepaid cheap cell phone that you can use cards bought with cash to add minutes to your phone can make it harder to trace and very difficult to figure out who is actually operating and using the phone.
Consider using pay phones when and where you can find them. I know they are rare but places like bus stations and near airports still have some pay phones. If you are trying to be super careful, be sure to not use the same one too frequently.
Withdraw all your money from your bank over a time period. Doing so all at once may look suspicious.
Small amounts of money are not as noticeable. Withdrawing $5,000 or more at a time regularly may seem strange at some banks. Doing so once and then not for a while could work because plenty of people pay in cash for used cars or farm equipment so a larger withdrawal is not immediately a cause for concern.
You will need a safe place to store cash or multiple places. This is up to you. A lot of people just hide their money wherever they are living at the time. Having a lot of cash on you or in your house can be comforting and nerve wracking at the same time.
Some people are more social than others either by choice or accident. Those that are naturally less social will have an easier time disappearing and cutting ties with people they know.
Disappearing is going to require leaving people behind and cutting them entirely out of your life. If you cannot do this or imagine doing this, then you need to consider if you really want to disappear. You cannot have contact with a bunch of people socially from your old life and you may want to avoid or at least limit the social reach you have when you are more settled into a new lifestyle.
Be prepared for someone to search for you.
There are very few people out there that could just disappear and not have anyone concerned enough to find out what happened to them. If you fall off the radar suddenly, then someone might point it out, especially if you don’t let relatives close to you know what you are doing or where you will generally be.
If you have kids or other very close relatives, chances are you really are not going to want to totally cut them out of your life or allow them to worry themselves sick over what happened to you.
Starting over is not easy but it can be done
Even if totally disappearing is not realistic or possible, it is totally possible to start your life over somewhere else and leave behind your old life. I know about this because from ages 12-16 I planned on leaving Washington State for North Carolina with my father. While I told a few friends good bye, I did not tell any family members that we were leaving. My brother knew, and that was it. We just got on the bus and left. I definitely had family members threaten to make me return when I finally called and told them I was in the Dakotas and had no intention of ever coming back to a place with no opportunity. When people want to control your life, you leaving can cause a lot of grief for them.
I had two bags, and that was it. I left everything in a house in Washington and never saw any of those belongings again. You have to let go and reinvent yourself sometimes, especially when you are young and need to get on a path that will be good for your long term future.
I got rid of a lot of photos and you should too if you want to start over.
There are photos of me from a long time ago but not many. I was never a big fan of being photographed all the time and my family did not take many pictures. I was a teenager in the 1990s before there were cell cameras everywhere. While I did not want to disappear entirely, I did think that getting rid of pics was a way to leave some memories behind. Getting rid of pics is harder now that everything is digital.
If you really intend on disappearing, you need to get rid of as many pics as possible and avoid new ones or at least new ones where your features are very distinguishable.
So is there anyway to really totally disappear?
To truly disappear and not just go into hiding to avoid certain people, you only have two options and they are pretty extreme ones.
The bottom line is that you will probably need some significant help if you wish to disappear. This help can be bought or you may be able to get someone close to you to help you start over. It can be good to have someone that is involved in the real world to be a needed link when some things need to happen or goods need to be acquired.
Choice 1 Destitution and homelessness
Have no attachments to anything. Choosing to live this way means living a very rough lifestyle. You may be able to earn some money doing odd jobs but that could be difficult at times because people are fearful of trusting strangers, especially those that are just drifting through a town or look like they are seeing some very hard times.
To survive like this you would need to be comfortable eating out of trash cans or similar. There will be times when it is hard to find food so you will probably steal some at the point you get hungry enough.
Most of the people that have disappeared sucessfully had significant help and support from others. One famous case that happened in our area was Eric Rudolph who spent 5 years on the run and hiding out in the mountains. The only reason he got caught was that the help he was getting suddenly was not there, and he was caught going through a trash can. Without the support of people that agreed with his beliefs, he would not have been able to remain one of America’s Most Wanted fugitives for so long. One must have a way to get basics like food and water without using any type of card or having a bank account.
Another case that made the national news where someone dropped out of society is that of “The North Pond Hermit“. Christopher Knight was just 19 years old when he took to the woods in 1986. He lived there by stealing food a lot over a 27 year time period before being caught. The secret was stealing small amounts of food and supplies at a time. Eventually, the thefts were more noticeable so a surveillance sensor was set up and that led to his arrest.
While it is believed that he survived mostly on scrounging and theft, I bet he had at least some help along the way or people feeling sorry for him at times. Regardless, without either stolen help or charity, he would not have been able to drop out of society for so long. He also chose to drop out in the 80s before society was plugged in to the internet all the time. He had hardly any online or digital footprint.
Save up $50K-$500K and get passports for you and your family that allow you to live abroad.
It has been a long time, but I have read of varying prices depending on the country you want to buy citizenship to. Of course this would mean leaving everything behind essentially. You may also want to consider that only some countries will let you take a dog or cat with you and the process may be quite difficult. One reason a lot of people are choosing to get a different passport is that it allows them to travel more easily to a lot of other countries and stay longer too.
Be careful when starting the process of buying a VISA. There are a lot of different factors that must be considered. This is a very expensive and serious purchase. You need to be clear on just how much you are paying for each member. Sometimes there are bargains if more than one person is applying. Different countries have varying perks and exchange programs and that can effect the cost. There may be other requirements that you have to take care of before a VISA is finally approved.
Even if you are a frequent traveler, some of that traveling is probably going to require that you stay in the country that issued your VISA for 10 days per year or something like that or your VISA may be revoked. Hopefully you are picking a country where you might actually enjoy spending some time but the truth is some of the cheapest VISAs are from countries that are not the most popular places to visit.
Living abroad is a big life change and you will either need to be independently wealthy or able to get a job overseas legally. Employment can make it hard to be totally anonymous but most people need a way to bring in some money. If you have always lived in one area, you may want to think about if you could really be happy or if your family can adjust well. Learning a new language can be hard but if you really want to do well abroad you will need to learn to speak other languages unless you just stick to a few places.
You may not be able to return so easily to your old life if you ever miss it.
It can be hard to impossible to return to a life that you went to a lot of trouble to leave behind. Just on a personal relationship level there will be people that are hurt or offended that you left them behind. I know that some people never forgave me for leaving suddenly as a teenager even if they understood on some level why I had to do it.
People will not trust you to not leave again and you will disturb something in them because it is honestly not that common for someone to be able to just cut ties with their old life and move on. Consider how many people are in terrible circumstances that they could leave but for some reason they do not. It is frightening and hard to leave it all behind and if someone knows you have done that, then you can seem cold and a bit frightening to them.
Truly disappearing is almost impossible in today’s modern and super connected world. There are some things you can do to keep a lower profile but to really start over or disappear requires shedding all aspects of your old life and keeping things to yourself.
Disappearing is not something that most people have it in them to do. It is simply too hard and requires either enormous resources such as being independently wealthy or living like someone that is destitute and never having any major attachments.
It is far more realistic for the average person to just keep a low profile. If you really want to make a big life change than I recommend doing what I did at 16 years old and starting over thousands of miles away where it is impossible to be bothered by those that were involved in your previous life.
At 36, I feel that I have lived two different lives. My life on the West Coast seems so detached but I sometimes think about it because it helps to think how far you have come when you are feeling a bit down. Besides those moments it seems like a distant dream.
Taking a lot of steps to be anonymous or disappear could be seen as suspicious
I feel that it is only fair to state that if there is ever any reason for you to be detained or questioned for anything at all, it will look suspicious if you seem to be taking many steps to protect your privacy or conceal your identity.
What do you do to protect your privacy? Have you ever completely started over? How did you distance yourself from people that were a part of your old life?
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org