How do I temporarily escape civilization?
March 2, 2008 12:22 PM   Subscribe

How do I temporarily escape civilization?

Odd semi-philosophical, semi-practical question.

I am a rather asocial and misanthropic individual. What are ideal locations, from the ridiculously cheap (a couple hundred bucks at most) to the extreme (sky's the limit), to get away from civilization from anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks? I am incredibly disgusted with civilization in general right now.

(I have already considered doing neuroscience research after I get my PhD - I'm a neuroscience student - in Antarctica for a few years. This is already on my to-do list.)
posted by kldickson to Human Relations (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Cheapest: stay home. Don't watch TV. Don't answer the door. Unplug your modem.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:24 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yeah. Is there anything in particular you want to do with your time away from civilization (e.g. enjoy the wilderness)? Or any connection that's particularly hard for you to break? Otherwise any room will do.
posted by winston at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2008

Do a little more research on Antarctica before you commit. You may have to share a room, the walls are paper-thin (so you may be awakened in the middle of the night by your neighbor who's trying to get in a few minutes of conversation with his girlfriend before the satellite sets...every night...for months), and alcoholism is endemic in some subsets of the population. It doesn't sound to me like a place where someone wishing to escape civilization would feel happy. Sure, you only have phone for half the day...but email works 24/7. My fiance has been there three times and while he had many adjectives to describe the experience, I don't think he ever thought of it as "getting away from civilization."

I'd probably try to do some of the more obscure, lengthy trails in Yosemite if I were you. Backpacking alone seems like it would be awesome for someone like you.
posted by crinklebat at 12:34 PM on March 2, 2008

Cabin, woods. Somewhere pretty temperate so you don't have to worry too much about snow.

You'll need a garden of course, and you'll want to stock up a lot on basics like rice and flour. Make sure it's somewhere you can go hunting and/or fishing (unless you're a vegetarian). Planned carefully enough, I imagine you could get along without having to see other people for the better part of a year at a time.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2008

You have done the research into the Antarctic programs, right? It's all roommates and being stuck with the same people when you do a winter-over, and so on.

That being said, if we're talking temperate areas in the US, camping is a great way to be cheap and somewhat asocial, if you pick your site correctly. During a dig in central Missouri, I was amazingly isolated when I wasn't on site or out with people from the dig; I wasn't camping, but our dig leader was, at a state park. We were in a town of less than 100 people. There was nothing to do. We couldn't even do laundry without driving half an hour into a major town. I always said that if I ever needed to finish a novel, I'd bunk back down in Arrow Rock.

There are other random state parks in the middle of nowhere that, depending on your time of year, will be warm enough and isolated enough, especially during the middle of a week.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:39 PM on March 2, 2008

Antarctica is exactly the opposite of what you want. The stations there are more akin to a space station that is completely dependent on civilization for its survival -- food, heat, hi-tech machinery, etc. Applicants are psychologically screened for the ability to live in cramped, stressful quarters with other for long periods of time and work well in teams. Psychological breakdowns under these conditions are not uncommon. It is not a place for an asocial, misanthropic individual.
posted by JackFlash at 12:42 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you sail?
posted by nicwolff at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2008

If you're in California and in good hiking shape then the back side of the Sierras is an excellent & cheap getaway for a week or 3.

I went with a friend's group back in 2002 and discovered a part of the world I didn't even know existed, kinda like a secret level in SMB.

There are no services and no motor vehicles once you're past the trailhead. Just you, your group (if you have one), your supplies, your wilderness survival skills, and fellow hikers should you meet any.
posted by panamax at 12:53 PM on March 2, 2008

Learn to sail and then crew on yachts. Once you have the experience and the capital, buy your own yacht, and sail into the solitary sunset (and perhaps thence to a lonely death at sea).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:00 PM on March 2, 2008

Lie in bed, it's free.
posted by fire&wings at 1:03 PM on March 2, 2008

Boundary Waters Canoe Area & Wilderness, in northern Minnesota, is my favorite place in the world. Tons of lakes, no motors allowed. You'll need a permit, which you get a few months in advance. You'll go days without even seeing another human.
posted by anomie at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Mountaineering. If you're near mountains, take a class with a group like the Mountaineers. Never have I felt farther from civilization. The initial expense to buy equipment is significant ($2000?), but once you have the gear it's remarkably cheap. Of course, if you're learning you'll have to be around a few other people... but not around civilization.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2008

Here is the story of Dick Proenneke, a man who spent 35 years alone in the wilderness. You could make a pilgrimage to his cabin.

Also, there was an episode of the Discovery channel's hit series "I shouldn't be alive" where a guy got dropped off on an island near New Zealand, and the boat swung back around and picked him up a couple weeks later. The episode I'm referring to is trapped under a boulder. Needless to say, if you decide to do such a thing, watch out for boulders.
posted by proj08 at 1:41 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Getting a fairly cheap cabin with some mod cons somewhere in the US should be doable for say 20-30K US. Try New Mexico, Arizona or Montana or somewhere and find some place that is about 1-2 hours drive from a town.

Possibly you could find such a place to share somewhere out there. There has to be something that you could go out to and have a 'Walden' experience.
posted by sien at 2:26 PM on March 2, 2008

Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. You'll manage to only touch civilization every few days and then only as long as you care to.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:44 PM on March 2, 2008

Ted Kaczynski is out of jail and looking for a new place to live?

Joking aside, cabins are where it's at if you want minimal contact with other people. Assuming you are in the US, pretty much every state (possibly excepting the most densely populated eastern states like New Jersey) has plenty of rural areas where land is cheap, local government is minimal, and there are plenty of people weirder than you so you won't stand out.

The short-term equivalent is backpacking (the kind where you hike and carry a tent, not the kind where you stay in a grubby hostel with 34 drunk Europeans on bunkbeds). The upmarket equivalent of that involves renting expensive and out of the way accommodations; the New York Times travel section reviews that sort of thing every so often. In between a tent and a place with catered five-star food is the option of renting remote cabins/yurts/etc, sometimes public and sometimes private. Here is a review of one; there are countless similar options in the US and around the world.

Alternatively, consider a short term visit to a monastery; quite a few are set up for visitors seeking some quiet time combined with spiritual reflection. You can even choose your religious flavor -- Zen, Catholic, etc.
posted by Forktine at 4:31 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

10 days in silence devoted to seeing things how they really are = a vipassana meditation retreat. there are centers all over the world and typically the cost is a donation.
posted by hazel at 4:48 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had to uninstall it or I would never get anything done.

Oh wait, I thought you meant Civilization.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:52 PM on March 2, 2008 [6 favorites]

I'm in total agreement on Antarctica being a bad idea for getting away from civilization. I lived in Houston a few years ago, and I signed up for a research cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula to get a break from my 4 million neighbors climbing over each other.

Essentially I traded that for a month and a half crammed in with 50 people climbing over each other on a 94 meter icebreaker. Beautiful scenery, great experience, but it's exactly the opposite of what you want.
posted by cr_joe at 6:06 PM on March 2, 2008

Yeah, you need to be a pretty social person to survive a research cruise or camp.

For total isolation just go to Anchorage and hire a bush pilot to drop you off at some lake for the summer. Bring food and remember to tell at least one other pilot when to pick you up in case the first one crashes in the meantime. Be warned: if you do something incredibly stupid and die they'll make a dumb movie about you, probably defeating the purpose of the entire trip re renouncing civilisation.
posted by fshgrl at 8:40 PM on March 2, 2008

Since this question is pretty expansive if it just means, "where should I go camping for 4-20 days anywhere on earth for any cost?" I think we have to take a philosophical approach to the question. How does the OP escape civilization?

Civilization is defined as "a society in an advanced state of social development (e.g., with complex legal and political and religious organizations)." So, what does it mean to be away from civilization? I'd say you must be not just spatially removed, but also removed from everything society provides, including the means of survival (food, etc.) and the rule of law.

So, backpacking is right out. Start by throwing out your sleeping bag, and anything else you packed that was produced by a complex distribution of labor. That wool sweater your sister made for you? That might be okay to keep. It's debatable, since her leisure time was probably facilitated by the burrito store down the street. But this isn't going to be perfect.

Okay, so, wearing your sweater, now what? Go forage in a wilderness area? Oh no. As Thomas Birch points out in his essay "The Incarceration of Wildness: Wilderness Areas As Prisons," "To create legal entities such as wilderness areas is to attempt to bring the law to wildness...through making a place for wildness within the imperial order...The place that is made is the prison, or the asylum." Designated wilderness areas are not away from civilization, they are where civilization has imprisoned wildness. Since this applies to any other space specially designated for the Other, so you can't go knocking at a native reservation either.

So, for spatial "away-ness," what you really need is a place where no system of law has jurisdiction. Outer space would be best, but here on earth, the best you can probably hope for is a place with overlapping, shared, or contested jurisdiction. International waters or Antarctica are the first two that come to mind.

But the problem with both of those is that you're going to need a boat, or (at least with your current state of knowledge) a complicated social support network. Remember, your subsistence cannot be based on a division of labor. No buying any food or staying at any hotels, no diesel boat, and your travel group cannot get more organized than a feudal chiefdom (hunting and gathering or pastoralism also being fine). Once you've got a camp cook and a scientist, I'd say you are in violation.

Being outside the rule of law may be the hardest. Definitely do not get a permit for your trip, that's a start. Don't carry any government-issued ID. But to really be outside of civilization, try to forget all laws you know. Live according to your own morals or dog-eat-dog lack thereof.

Now, since it's hard to maximize one of these without reducing others, this isn't going to be perfect. I see it as a series of tradeoffs and recommend you try to maximize the total of the three (geographic, subsistence / social organization, legal), without going below a certain basic level in each area. A few options are starting to rise to the top:

* The clear winner would be for you to go on the open ocean in a boat you made yourself from a tree you illegally poached. Stealing the boat might be okay, too (lower on the subsistence scale, higher on the illegality scale). An even more extreme tradeoff in this same category would be for you to ride on the vigilante ship, the Sea Shepherd. You'd get even lower points for subsistence, but such high points for extra-territorial and extra-legal activity, that it might be okay. Still, you'd be constantly interacting with the shipping and whaling industries, so I still give the prize to your handmade-but-technically-illegal wooden canoe.

* My original idea was for you to join a semi-organized group of rebels -- something like FARC. They are doing illegal things, in contested territory, in a subsistence or feudal way. But as a rebel group, they live to oppose the law, making them in one way essentially connected to it. Plus, they survive almost entirely by mooching off civilization. That may not qualify. But if you decided to go hunt and gather food in a FARC-controlled jungle, that would definitely qualify.

* A final honorable mention is the Chernobyl Zone. "The zone is partly excluded from the regular civil rule," but since "it is controlled by the Administration of the Alienation Zone within Ukraine's Ministry of Emergencies and Affairs of Population Protection..." it does violate the jurisdiction criteria. However, since your very presence there will be illegal, that somehow redeems it for me -- it was designated a place of no people, not for a place for people to pretend to get away from civilization as a process of restoring their productivity. Plus, the very insanity of the idea seems to put it even one step further from civilized thought. (The landmine-strewn Korean DMZ has similar benefits.)

The final thing to note is that your own ability to get away is probably predicated on your saved income. Quite a civilizing factor, that bank account tying you back to a complex financial system. Before you go, you should probably give it away. I take Paypal and will be happy to help you out with that. :)
posted by salvia at 11:36 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Clever, salvia, but a bit too dismissive of philosophical anarchism.

If we owe our obedience to the government by virtue of some form of contract, just cease to assent to the contract!*

* Ceasing to assent will entail most of the lameness that salvia mentioned.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:46 PM on March 3, 2008

Go visit this lady:

Actually you could stay just about anywhere within a 100 mile radius of her and have very few people near you!! Gorgeous scenery.
posted by Gooberoo at 10:49 AM on March 6, 2008

That link again:

(Hmm, why is the link text not showing????)
posted by Gooberoo at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2008

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