I disappeared almost two decades ago. I did it to leave behind abusive so-called family and supposed friends. I had to take extreme measure to protect my physical health and wellbeing, my sanity, to reach goals, and experience personal growth and development.
I cringe at who I would be if I had remained in the company of people who were so cruel, and focused on holding me back. I moved to another town, lived there for a bit, and then moved to another state, without telling anyone.
I changed my appearance. I got colored contacts, a new haircut, grew a beard, and got a new wardrobe, a new job, and a new car that I paid cash for. I do not have a social media presence under my real name. I have numerous pen names and screen names.
My landline phone is unlisted. I do not have a cell phone or mobile device. I am opted out of people finders. If anyone tried googling me by my real name, they would find volumes of false information.
As I also have one neurotically determined family member stalking me from time to time (it has been six years since I have had her intrude on me), I never take the same route anywhere twice in a row, or I depart and arrive at different times.
I shred all documents with my name and address, or any other personal identifying information. I never respond to surveys of any kind, and I do not let anyone take my photo. I don’t talk about myself and keep to myself.
In this article, I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to completely disappear without a trace.
What are your motives for disappearing?
- A fresh start. Sometimes your life just needs a reset. Maybe you are single and have been stuck in a rut and are stagnate, personally and professionally. Disappearing is the ultimate way to break routine and experience personal growth.
- You want freedom and to get off the grid, or at least fly under the radar. Modern life, with a lack of privacy and bombardment with information through electronic devices can be overwhelming.
- You have abusive family or are in a domestic violence situation. GTFO (Get the Fuck Out) and GYOW (Go Your Own Way).
- You are trying to break the grip of addiction. You need to change associations. You can never have any contact with anyone you bought from sold to, used with, or handled money for if you want to be clean and sober.
- The wrong people are looking for you. This can go along with a history of addiction. You need to disappear for your own safety.
- Everything has gone to shit, there are people looking for you, and the police are way too busy with other matters to protect you.
Bad reasons for disappearing:
- You are deep in debt and creditors are hounding you. Being a deadbeat is a poor reason for disappearing. Talk to your creditors. People are generally reasonable when you pay them something rather than nothing. You need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.
- You are a fugitive from justice. Bad move. Do you want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder? Own up to whatever you did and take your consequences. Break any cycle of criminal behavior.
I am not advocating or suggesting any type of criminal behavior.
Can you actually disappear?
That may not be possible in today’s interconnected, transparent, privacy –gouged nosy-people world. The sacrifices you might have to make in terms of quality of life would be considerable.
The homeless can live off the grid, with no address, utilities, vehicle registration, insurance, or license, no social security card, or other identification.
However, they carry all their belongings in a backpack, and may live in a tent off a bike path, or behind a supermarket.
They are exposed to extremes of heat and cold, wind, rain, and snow; they are at risk from hostile homeless people, and drunken belligerent teens that delight in tormenting them. This is extreme. You have to weigh the tradeoffs.
I think a balance can be struck where quality of life would not have to be sacrificed. You can make it very difficult for anyone who is looking to find you.
It depends almost exclusively on their level of motivation, resources, and perseverance as to how successful they are.
My philosophy on the topic is the same as any form of self-defense, because disappearing can be a form of self-defense. You cannot defend against and prevail against all opponents, in all situations, and at all times. This is not realistic.
Train and prep with the intention that if anyone ever tries to kill you, it will be the most difficult thing they have ever done.
Along a similar line of thought, you can make finding you such an arduous, time consuming, expensive, and frustrating experience that the effort becomes more than it is worth.
Be determined that anyone looking for you will be repeatedly confounded, endlessly frustrated, and come up against numerous dead-ends and false leads.
How to Disappear
You must be totally committed to this in terms of action and mindset. Half-hearted efforts will result in failure, e.g., you will be found. Preparation is critical.
Step 1) Accept their will be gains and losses- aka change, and a lot of work and preparation.
Step 2) Select a place to go. Make it a major urban area.
Step 3) Do a gradual fade-away, not an actual here one day -gone the next disappearance. The former indicates intent and volition to family and friends, the latter suggests foul play and you will have law enforcement looking for you. You don’t want to be found, nor do you want police wasting time and resources on anyone but actual missing persons.
Step 4) Gradually withdraw money from your IRA, CDs, Money Market, savings and checking accounts, and close them out.
Incorporate yourself, so you can open an account under a corporate name at a different bank, hiding your identity.
Save money. Keep what you determine is a reasonable amount of cash on hand. Buy pre-paid debit cards. There are so many available for specific stores and businesses, many of which have branches nationwide.
There are also generic Mastercard and Visa pre-paid debit cards available that can be used anywhere.
Pay cash for all purchases, use money orders and pre-paid debit cards only when cash is not an option. Invest in tangible assets such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium.
Plant caches along your travel/ escape route. Keep cash, copies of documents, USB drives, keys, and other critical items for re-starting your life hidden away.
This is for another layer of personal security as you look for a new job, get a new car, or just-in case situations. Knowing you have some supplies tucked away can reduce anxiety.
Step 5) You will have to sell your home if you own one.
Step 6) You will have to break up with the gf/bf/lover. Do it well in advance. Be nice, not an asshole about it. Send the message this is truly about you, not them, though this has become a break-up cliché to let the other person down easy. Let them let you go instead of frantically searching for someone who has disappeared.
Step 7) Do not tell ANYBODY your intentions.
Step 8) Gradually disconnect from familiar places and people and fade away on social media. Make fewer postings. Do not respond to new friend requests or contacts. Close your social media accounts one at a time, over several months.
Step 9) Opt out of people finders.
Step 10) Shred, burn or otherwise destroy any photos of yourself.
Step 11) Quit your job with sufficient notice. When people ask where you are headed, aim them in the wrong direction. Smile and shake hands with everyone when you leave and thank your supervisor for everything.
Don’t make a big deal out of it. You are just changing jobs, which is the truth. Don’t act sketchy or dramatic like you are going on some sort of secret mission.
Step 12) Be certain your landlord is paid off. Shake hands and thank them for being a good landlord. This is not a big deal, people change apartments all the time; that is all you are doing. Collect your security deposit before you leave. If you own a home, you will have sold it by now.
Step 13) Just before you depart, or on the way, change your appearance. Men, shave your head or grow a ponytail. Shave your face or grow a beard. Lose the beard and keep the ‘stache.
Gain or lose weight. (Yes, I know the latter is easier said than done). Get new clothes which are different from what you normally would wear. Get colored contacts, or wear glasses. Ladies, get a new hairstyle, and/or change your hair color.
Pick a day and time and go.
On the way to your new life, sell your car for cash. Get a new, generic looking car. Pay cash. Get rid of your clothes and buy new clothes.
Once you get there: Assume people will be looking for you. Practice some tradecraft to stay gone.
1. Use an alias. Your alias can be a permutation of your name. If your full name is John Edward Smith, J.E. Smith can be your knew signature. Or go by Jon, Johnny, or Jonathan. If you don’t normally use your middle initial, start, or drop your middle initial if you do.
2. Get a PO box. Do not get anything but junk mail delivered to your home address.
3. Get a job which preferably pays cash. Day labor, bartending or dishwashing at a family owned bar or restaurant, or construction gigs or on-line freelance work are options.
To stay on the right side of the Law, you will have to pay taxes on your earnings. You can pay taxes through your corporate self -and make any under the table job legit.
Once again, I do not recommend any illegal activity. If you look like or act like a criminal, you will have people looking for you harder.
4. Start re-building your CV, using a permutation of your name, a PO box, and your new job. Start working toward new certifications or licensure.
5. Be aware of your facial expressions. Our facial expressions are consistent through our lifespan and can lead to someone recognizing you. Practice new facial expressions in front of a mirror until they are automatic.
6. Develop new hobbies and interests, and new habits.
7. Make new friends. Isolated loners get noticed. Anonymous people arouse curiosity.
8. Know what to say when people ask the natural, expected questions about your past. Be certain your past is boring and vague. Strive to bore people.
9. Paint your new car (A different color obviously).
10. Work to become unpredictable. Take different routes to and from home and work and leave and depart at different times.
11. Use cash for purchases as much as possible. Use your pre=paid debit cards when you can. If you use a debit card or use an ATM under your corporate account, do it remote as possible from your place of residence or work, and don’t shop or use the same ATM consistently.
12. Don’t stay put for too long. After a year or so, move again.
13. You cannot EVER go back for ANY reason. Your mother is dying? You can’t go back and say goodbye. Say goodbye to her in your heart. Your Uncle died and left you a million dollars? You can’t claim it.
Once you are gone, stay gone. If you make contact with your past life for any reason, you will be found. Disappearing for good requires total commitment. If you don’t have that level of commitment, then you are not ready.
14. Have fun doing this, especially if the stakes are not high- e.g.,, you are doing a reset. Take this seriously, but don’t make it so grim, or you will walk around looking grim and acting secretive, which will draw attention.
Don’t become the neighborhood weirdo. Weirdos are noticed. Once again, strive to bore people and blend in.
Disappearing is a project you have to prepare for and be totally committed to. It is a way to take power back, make yourself safer, and get a fresh start in your life.
But it will also mean sacrifices, and a good degree of discomfort. You must balance the need to disappear with quality of life. This will be an adventure and a challenge.