Bugging out and towing things-
Following on my "Katrina lessons learned" threads, I've been involved in Hurricane Rita relief efforts as well. I've run down to the disaster areas a few times, and seen for myself just how difficult it is to evacuate a family, with essential possessions, using only one's primary vehicle. There is also the problem of finding accommodation along the way, and if relying on government-run shelters, what does one do with one's vehicle? There's usually no place to park it at or near the shelter.
I've come up with a few basic ideas for bug-out trailers and equipment for a couple, or a family, that can be implemented by anyone, given a reasonable expenditure of money (depending on budget) and a bit of forethought. I'll post them in three different categories, depending on expense.
1. The Economy Model.
Buy a small trailer, the kind used to carry a ride-on lawnmower, or something like that. For example, our local Wal-Mart sells these sometimes for about $600-$700, each capable of handling several hundred pounds of cargo. A trailer like this, even fully loaded, won't weigh more than about a thousand pounds, or half a ton, and can be towed by even a compact car. On the trailer, load some Rubbermaid boxes containing food, clothing and personal effects. Add a decent tent (size will depend on the number in your group, but you can get a very large tent, accommodating up to a dozen people, for a very reasonable price if you shop around - see, for example, Springbar, and check out their wall tents as well as more popular models). Ease of use in setting-up the tent is important - you don't want something that will take half-an-hour and six people to set up, and you also want something reasonably weather-proof, in case a storm comes through. Then, add sleeping-bags, camping mattresses, and other necessities, and you're as ready as you can be.
An important tip: buy two large tarpaulins. One should be laid on the trailer bed, the cargo loaded onto it, and then the ends drawn up to the top of the cargo and secured. The second tarpaulin is then laid over the cargo and secured to the sides and/or bed of the trailer. This provides top and bottom protection for the cargo against rain, snow, mud, etc.
I think that for under $2,000, including the cost of the trailer, towing hitch, and all supplies mentioned above, you could be pretty well prepared for a week or more away from home. If you shop around and buy a used trailer, etc., the overall cost could fall to $1,000 or so. Of course, one can buy a fully enclosed cargo trailer (as rented by U-haul, for example), but they tend to be expensive... in fact, for the same price as a cargo trailer, one can buy a new camper trailer (see Option 2 below), which is probably a better bug-out choice.
One disadvantage to this approach is that in colder climates, it won't work very well (unless you buy a tent that can accommodate a stove, and then you have to either carry or find firewood, etc.). Also, you may have difficulty finding a place to safely erect your tent (i.e. too many people, no open or public land available, etc.). However, on a tight budget, this is way better than nothing!
2. The Camper Model.
This is similar to the economy model, but instead of using a trailer as a cargo device, it uses a camping pop-up trailer. These are available new for anywhere from $4,000 to well over $10,000, depending on what you want (and often for rather less when purchased used). Many are soft-sided, with canvas fold-out beds; others are hard-sided (e.g. the excellent Aliner range - I used to own one of these, and was very impressed). These trailers will sleep anything from two to six people, depending on size and configuration, and will also act as a cargo hauler, where you can load them with food, water, sleeping-bags, etc. prior to departure. They're often easier to set up than tents, and can be collapsed and moving within a few minutes if necessary.
These trailers are typically heavier than utility trailers, and so would need a mid-size car, minivan or light pickup as a minimum towing vehicle. However, they seldom run more than 2,500 to 3,000 pounds, so any of these vehicles should cope.
These trailers are also typically suitable for three-season use only (winter is hard in anything canvas-shelled), unless you're using something like the Aliner with its solid aluminum construction. However, they can be erected almost anywhere, even along the road, unlike a tent, which requires relatively clear ground (you don't worry about sticks and stones under your bed with a camping trailer! ).
3. The Deluxe Model.
This uses a proper travel trailer, as opposed to a pop-up camper or utility trailer. One doesn't need a particularly big unit: trailers as small as 13ft., such as the Scamp or Casita models, are light enough to tow behind a mid-size car with ease. Larger ones range up to 30 feet, although the big stuff needs a really big towing vehicle, of course. I've towed an 18ft. travel trailer with a Pontiac Montana minivan, which is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds, and found it no particular problem. For those with pickup trucks, a truck-bed camper unit might be an alternative (although this obviously reduces the amount of cargo you can load in addition to the camper, unless you tow a utility trailer as in Option 1 to increase your storage capacity).
Such a trailer gives you very weatherproof accommodation and storage space, cooking facilities, toilet and shower, etc. It also has battery-operated lights, and can accommodate generator power if you can lug one along with you (it's easy to load one in a pickup bed, for example). You can typically store well over 1,000 pounds of cargo in the trailer, and more in your towing vehicle.
I think this is the way to go for serious bugging-out, as you can live for a month or more in such a trailer, and have secure storage for important documents and other items. It's also a four-season option, with the addition of a furnace or heater, and can run an air-conditioner in summer if power is available. You do have to invest more money in such a vehicle, and have a towing vehicle capable of handling the load, but then, you pay for what you get! You also have to consider the greatly increased gas consumption by the towing vehicle... my Montana minivan typically gets 26+ mpg on the highway at 70, but when towing the aforementioned 18ft. trailer (cruising at 60 in 3rd gear, rather than overdrive, to spare the gearbox), it drops to no more than 11½ mpg! Carrying extra fuel becomes very important, as you may not find gas stations with supplies in a bug-out situation.
This is obviously the most expensive solution, as the trailer and the towing vehicle must be matched. However, buying a used trailer is often much cheaper (eBay is your friend! ), and one's total budget can be held below $15,000 or so for both vehicles with careful purchasing and being willing to wait for the right deal.
So, there are my thoughts. I've chosen to go with the third option, after what I've experienced with Katrina and Rita. I'm also limited by physical disability, so that some of the lower-end options (requiring more physical exertion) would be a bit beyond me.
What would you choose?