How to Survive When You’re On the Run
With us today is Dale Highland, the protagonist of the new urban fantasy novel Embracing the Demon. Today, Dale will talk to us about how to survive when you’re on the run. Dale is something of an expert on the subject, having spent more than a decade of her life on the run under assumed identities.
Here’s the thing: at some point in your life, you may have to…disappear. There’s no shame in it. Maybe you just need to get a new start. Maybe you watched/read Into the Wild a few too many times and you’re trying to figure out a way to find yourself without the whole “starving to death in the Alaskan wilderness” thing. Maybe you had a violent blackout and unknowingly murdered your best friend’s prom date. Whatever. I’m not judging.
But in today’s society of hyper-surveillance and super-security, going off-the-grid is harder than ever. But not impossible. So I’m going to give you some tips on how to survive your time on the run.
1) Use cash for everything…but don’t be stupid about it.
So this one should be kind of obvious: debit and credit cards are very easy for the-powers-that-be to track down. What that means for you is that all of your transactions MUST be in cash. Most of you, however, probably don’t carry large sums of cash around. So here’s how I’d recommend doing this:
–Go to your local bank.
–Withdraw all the money out of your account.
–Go far, far away.
If going to the bank is not an option, go to an ATM and withdraw as much cash as you can. But then get away from there as quickly as possible.
A while back, I watched an episode of the NBC reality show Hunted, and I saw a couple withdraw cash from the ATM…at the bus station. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but when you think about it a little bit more it becomes problematic. Once the couple used their debit card, it pinged the hunters, and all the hunters had to do was go to the bus station and ask where the tall, skinny guy in the terrible wig and the pretty girl in the baseball cap were heading. Quite frankly, Greyhound employees are not paid enough to lie for you.
Once you get where you’re going, find a job that pays under the table. Small, local businesses are much more likely to be willing than bigger chains, so skip McDonalds entirely.
Carry cash on you at all times. I know you’re worried about getting robbed, but stick it in your undies if you have to. One of the cardinal rules of running is that you must always be prepared to run again.
2) Master of Disguise
The Hunted couple had the right idea by trying to disguise themselves. But their disguises were so terrible that they might as well just worn Groucho Marx glasses. Seriously? A gangly 6’8” guy with a prominent nose throws on a wig that looks like a cross between Edward Scissorhands and a dead alpaca, and he doesn’t realize he’s going to stick out more???
You have to be willing to cut or dye your hair, or at least invest in a wig that doesn’t look like you dismembered a mop. Also, makeup is going to be your new best friend. Those transformation makeup tutorials you’ve been watching on YouTube at 3am? They might just save your life.
Colored contact lenses are a great addition to any disguise. When someone comes looking for a woman with blue eyes, everyone who knows you will think your eyes are brown. If your eyes are too sensitive for the lenses, try non-prescription eyeglasses. No one’s going to be gazing deeply into your eyes with a piece of plastic in front of them!
3) Clothes maketh the (wo)man
Even the best makeup can’t change your height or build. That’s where clothes come in. Wearing bulky or heavy clothing can add weight to your frame. The right foundational garments (Spanx, anyone?) can give you the illusion of being smaller. Heels are an obvious choice to add height, but shoe lifts (yes, this is a thing) can do so more subtly.
Unfortunately—aside from very invasive, probably ill-advised surgery—there’s not much you can do to make yourself shorter. So that 6’8” guy from Hunted was probably screwed even without the terrible wig.
But remember that clothes not only act to disguise you. They are also a big part of your personality and identity. And that brings me to my next point.
4) Lean in to your new identity
Even when you’re on the run, you can’t avoid other people entirely (much as we would like to sometimes). Think about the kinds of questions people ask when they’re getting to know you. What’s your name? When’s your birthday? Where are you from? Where do you work? You need to know all these answers instinctively…and if you don’t, it’ll be a dead giveaway that you’re not who you say you are.
But that’s not all. Is your new identity that of a party girl from LA? A shy bookworm from Boston? A naïve farm girl from Iowa? This needs to factor into your disguise and your persona.
Don’t try an accent. Inevitably, you’ll meet someone from that city/country who will know without a doubt that you are not from Cornwall, and then you’ll have to kill him. (Just kidding.) (Sorta.)
Also, think long and hard about your new name. “John Doe” and “Jane Smith” just look like fake names. The Social Security popular name database will allow you to see what names were popular in your birth year—real or fake—but don’t let that limit you too much. Real people can and do get creative with their kids’ names. Just don’t make it too porny. “Fluffy Randolph” will not fly unless you’re working at a strip club.
Most importantly, do not contact anyone from your old life. It may be tempting to wish dear old Granny a happy 90th, but that’s the first place anyone would start to track you down.
5) City vs. Country?
When you’re on the run, one would think moving to the sticks would be the obvious choice. Not so much. Yes, it’s remote, but everyone knows everyone’s business. Seriously. When your name is fake, you do not want to go where everybody knows your name.
Living in a big city allows you more anonymity. City populations are more transient, and many people don’t even know their neighbors. The drawback is that you’re more likely to be under surveillance by security cameras—possibly ones with facial recognition technology. Sunglasses and hats can obscure them for now, but probably not for much longer. Still, you have to think about resources. No one is going to actively scan through every single face on a security video to match it against facial recognition software. So if you’ve followed my advice and gone somewhere far away from home, dove deep into your new identity, and you haven’t contacted anyone from your own life, there’s no reason to assume the powers that be would even be looking for you in the footage.
So there you have it. If you follow my guidelines, you can have a very happy and successful life on the run. Now just sit back, relax…and be prepared to bolt again when the heat gets too close.