12 Street Survival Skills that Could Save Your Life

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12 Street Survival Skills that Could Save Your Life

What would you do if you found yourself in Center City, Philadelphia around 12:30am? I would burst through the doors of a restaurant I worked at rushing to catch the last subway train at 12:45am on a nightly basis.

Growing up on the streets outside of Philly and spending a lot of time in the city teaches you a lot in your formative years. You see some crazy things with your own eyes. Not on Twitter or the nightly news.

You don’t get a manual for street survival skills. Instead, you either see people thrust into bad situations or you yourself come face to face with them. From there you begin to develop and share your techniques for surviving in an urban environment.

Now imagine life in Philly post collapse. It’s a dangerous enough environment now, your life could come down to your street survival skills!

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1. Location, Location, Location

Spending time in Center City was not much of a threat, in all honesty. However, I parked my car in West Philly and in the early 2000’s things were bad there. I would get off the EL at about 1am in West Philly and try to be a ghost on the way to my car.

The most important survival skill on the streets is understanding which streets you are on! Are you in a neighborhood like Kensington where people die every single day, whether from guns or drugs? Some areas are so much more dangerous than others and those should be avoided at all costs.

2. Learn the “Rules” and Then Learn the Rules

There are lots of people, lots of stores, lots of groups in cities. There are rules, unspoken rules, and of course laws. There are bars where you can drink underage, clubs that let you in underage, stores that sell illegal things but only if you know how to ask for them.

You should know and respect the laws of the city but also know the rules as these can keep you out of trouble or get you into even more trouble. It depends on how you use the knowledge.

If we are talking about a society that has fallen apart then you will have another set of rules to absorb. You will likely have tributes to be paid in certain areas you travel to and other pitfalls to avoid. If you are going to play the game, then you must know the rules.

3. Do Not Engage

There are dangerous places, dangerous rules, and then of course there are people. They come in all shapes in sizes when you are on the busy streets. Sometimes they even holler out at you. The homeless might holler for money, a group might call out to you from a park, there are many opportunities for interaction.

You will have a very limited time to decide what your next move is. Always err on the side of silence. Just don’t engage unless you feel good about where you are and what’s about to go down. Dropping a dollar into a homeless guy’s hands is fine but approaching three men in a parking lot could very well be the end of you.

Keep your distance. Keep moving away from the problem and pretend you heard nothing. In 99.9% of cases, they will move on to the next fast approaching target.

4. Duck into a Store

If you see a problem on the streets that you cannot avoid or maybe someone shady has locked eyes with you from a distance and is headed your way, you can always duck into a restaurant or store. Time is not on the side of the street criminal. They are looking for quick and easy targets.

No one is going to wait outside a restaurant for an hour to rob you. It’s just not how these guy’s work.

In a collapse you aren’t going to have a swanky bistro to duck into, but you can still look for groups of people to either disappear into or to ask for help.

5. Become Invisible

If you grow up in a mean town with mean kids, then you learn the grey man skillset long before you read about it on any blog. A hood that allows you to hide your head, hair and to some degree your face can make you nearly invisible in a crowd.

If you are not flashing nice shoes, pants, or other desirable items then you will likely disappear amongst the backdrop of the urban environment. The more cautious types might even avoid you! It is not as hard as you think to become invisible. The more people there are on the street the easier it is. Also, If the less distinguishable to clothing you wear the better.

If you can mimic the speed of life in that area, you will also blend in much better. Cities can be fast paced environments and moving with the speed of the crowd is a good idea. Subsequently moving fast through a more relaxed town or city is going to draw attention to you.

6. Know How to Hurt, When All Else Fails

Martial arts and self-defense often come down to disciplines that you choose. At the core of it all you are learning how to hurt someone, so they don’t hurt you. No matter what you choose to learn or choose to carry just be sure that you can hurt someone quickly and effectively.

The element of surprise always makes it worse on your attacker so consider that. There is a great wide world of knives, sprays, firearms, and weapons but your fists, elbows and knees can be just as effective. Have the fitness to carry out the kind of punishment that is necessary to keep an attacker off of you.

7. Learn Alternate Routes

I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times that I avoided trouble by cutting over a street, going through an alley, or avoiding an area altogether. There are many ways to reach your destination in urban environments.

You can travel streets, sidewalks, and even through other people’s property. That part might invite trouble, too, but it is better than getting robbed or beat up.

You gotta know more than one way to ingress and egress on the streets. Knowing to fight is good and all but you are not invincible. You are gonna take damage. Don’t for a second assume you can take a couple guys down either.

Remember, in a collapse you might not get rushed to a hospital. Instead, that cut in your abdomen might just get infected and kill you slowly and painfully. If you can avoid conflict, do it.

8. Running/Endurance

Cruising Walnut Street in Center City, Philly I saw tons of well-dressed men and women who were wearing impossible shoes. Women in 3 inch high heels and men in those shiny smooth bottomed dress shoes.

These types of shoes are good for two things. Looking good and assuring that you cannot run away from anything.

Remember, there is a limited amount of effort and time that bad guys are going to pursue in the streets. This is why not engaging them as you walk by will often force them to shift their sights on someone else.  If they decide to follow you or even worse chase you, then being able to outpace them and keep up that pace will also force them to give up.

Physical fitness is very important. It’s not just about heart health or looking good in the mirror. You could very well find yourself in a situation where you must run for your life!

9. Learn the Art of Deception

Sun Tzu said, “All of warfare is deceptions.”

This may not jive well with all our readers, but I can tell you that sometimes you just gotta lie to get out of a bad scene. If you are attentive then you will see things lining up. This intuition can even show up in day to day life. 

In a fallen world those who can deceive for their own good are going to have power. A little deception can go a very long way.

10. Timing is Everything

Every city is a different animal from 7-12am then it is from 12-7pm and most major cities become werewolves from 8pm-2am. The time you choose to spend in an urban environment can dramatically change the experience you have.

Get there and get out after a good lunch. It’s also much cheaper to eat in nice restaurants for lunch and the food is largely the same as dinner!

In the post collapse world, the lunch special will hardly be your concern. Still, there will be better times to move than others. The early morning will likely still be the safest time to get around.

11. Seeing Downstream

In highly populated areas where crime occurs, you will learn to see downstream. In crowds of people, you tend to see those right in front of you, but you can also pay attention to what’s happening in the direction you are headed.

On crowded streets you start to practice your own version of pedestrian defensive walking. I want to see the “crash” before it happens so I can avoid it. This could be anything from an argument to a full-blown robbery.

12. Intuition

You might not expect it but one of the most powerful skills you can develop is your intuition. Your spider sense is a lot more powerful than you think. If you think that something doesn’t feel right, then you are probably right about it. There is no harm in getting out of there just to be safe.

Remember deception in a fallen world. An injured woman or child could be used as bait to pull you into an alley. It might only be that still small voice in your head that saves your life..


Whether you are surviving the streets this week or after the world falls apart, having street smarts goes a long way. Of course, the risks are much higher in a world without rule of law but there are some American cities, here and now, that might be just as dangerous.

The creeping collapse is what we are all facing. This is what makes it so difficult. It might turn out that there is no grand event. There may be no crash of the stock market, no mushroom cloud in the distance. There may be no great event that changes the world forever.

Instead, we might just continue this nauseating slide into an unrecognizable and horrendous world filled with rabid throngs of humanity. Like T.S Elliot said, “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.”

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