We’re going to see what you would need to know if you decided to look for a place to relocate to.
Understanding what you actually want
First and foremost, you need to take your wants and needs into account. There is absolutely no point in picking out the finest survival retreat in the mountains if you will thrive in a city, or a small town, or a suburb and vice versa. Since I can’t possibly know what you want or need out of a survival retreat, instead let’s look at a list of positives and negatives surrounding some common location choices.
The Isolated Rural Retreat
Probably the most common ideal for preppers, this probably includes a few acres of land (5 at a minimum) and relatively few neighbors. You will be able to raise animals, grow crops and orchards, and generally operate independently without many prying eyes.
You can make your preparations more obvious in many ways without inciting comment. I have seen people in a rural setting break out the tractor and mound hills of earth to level out ground and build their own gun ranges with huge backstops without their neighbors even noticing. Since your home isn’t snugly next to others, you often have the luxury of doing what you feel is best on a practical level rather than needing to worry about what the neighbors might think.
Laws tend to be more lax, as is zoning. Many suburbs allow you to have small livestock (excepting loud animals like roosters) but you might find it difficult to sneak a dairy cow into your back yard. There is also a strong tendency to have lesser restrictions on owning and using firearms owing to the presence of vermin like raccoons and coyotes that savage valuable livestock.
The lifestyle tends to force a more sustainable mindset even in non-preppers. Since I live in an area that isn’t exactly a priority for the electrical company during statewide outages, many people around me have generators on standby to keep the heat/AC running during harsh weather. The freedom and open land available also encourages people to grow gardens, raise a few chickens, and generally have fun using the land they own even if its not really setup for long term use. People also view weapons as a necessary part of the household, particularly during bad winters or droughts when local carnivores can become desperate.
Away from immediate population centers full of needy people. Let’s face it, a community of under 5,000 people is probably much more able to sustain life than a community of several million. Depending on exactly where your retreat is, you may also be out of the way for natural migration patterns along interstates and highways which would isolate you further if things should go really bad.
Less help overall during any kind of emergency. Living in a low-population area puts you on the bottom of aid lists, charity focuses, and generally any kind of outside help if a major city or town is also hit. You also have fewer people nearby who will know if anyone is in trouble, which may leave you isolated for days in the event of a flood, earthquake, or tornado destroying buildings.
Dangerous locals. Although you do occasionally run across the moron who can’t figure out how to shoot at a proper backstop, the real danger can often come from drug dealers and addicts out in the sticks. Although cities are often vilified as the organizational centers for these types of thugs, they have branches in many rural areas to make their products and to hide it owing to the lesser chance of being spotted by the local sheriffs. Some people come to rural areas thinking to escape most major crimes, but that attitude can be dangerous since it causes them to let down their guard.
Doing more for yourself invites its own dangers. If a tree falls and blocks your driveway, you either pay lots of money or get out and chainsaw it yourself. If you get 6 feet of snow on your mile-long driveway it’s your job to get on a plow and clear it. If you raise animals it’s your job to manage potentially dangerous situations properly, such as an angry bull or excitable 400 pound hogs. All this presents dangers that could maim you even with prompt medical care, and it requires a sense of awareness in order to avoid serious harm.
There is a general lack of close community support. There are definitely exceptions, but in many cases you don’t have that forced interaction of just seeing your neighbors whenever they’re outside and so you don’t speak all that often. This means that the community as a whole is more separated than they might be in other circumstances, which may leave you alone in an emergency.
People may gravitate towards the rural areas in a disaster. People aren’t stupid, and they know that the concrete jungle of the city can’t grow enough food to support a massive population. Many people will fan out looking for food in the isolated rural areas as time goes on, though only your location will dictate how long it may take or how many will arrive at your doorstep.
Small Towns and Suburbs
Middling Population that is more spread out. Although your home may be right next to someone else’s, at least you don’t have hundreds of people stacked into apartment buildings. You balance out the isolation of the rural retreat and the extreme population density of the city. This can be helpful in building community since people are common and close enough that you are forced to interact, but far enough apart that you aren’t just one of thousands.
High on the list for aid and help from organizations. Lots of people and especially lots of customers in all those individual homes generally guarantees electrical services and other needed products will be faster in arriving than they would be for rural folk. You may even have a sufficient tax base for your local government to have emergency plans and supplies in place, though I would recommend checking that out before moving!
Less immediate crime pre-disaster, and a barrier after one begins. Suburbs definitely attract the criminal element and small towns are often organizational points for rural growers/producers, but you still have some separation from the truly nasty gang-controlled areas generally speaking. During a disaster, you may also have some time to flee if needed or to prepare last-minute defenses if you’re staying since the city folk will need time to flee before arriving at your town.
Less chance of building collapse or factory implosion causing damage during a disaster. Although some towns have taller grain silos or factories within their limits, many try to keep them at least a few miles away to reduce air pollution and noise complaints. Unlike the city where a skyscraper or apartment collapse could devastate whole areas, you will likely only have to contend with standard house sized buildings which cause less overall damage.
More tricky regulation compared to the rural areas. Towns and suburbs walk that middle ground between an almost total lack of animals and personal gardens in the city with the near total freedom in a rural area. As I mentioned before, many towns and suburbs are quite happy to let you have chickens or other smaller animals…so long as they aren’t too smelly for your neighbor. Or too loud. You may also be allowed to own a weapon, but not to actually discharge it except in the defense of life. It can be hard to know what you really are and aren’t permitted to do sometimes, which can be more paralyzing than an outright denial.
The neighbors. It all depends on who you get, but depending on the neighbors your prepping may be a great thing, of no concern, or the worst thing ever to happen. Some neighbors will be delighted to see you caring for a few cute little chickens and happy to have a fresh egg or two, while others will be chucking the book at you in an effort to cleanse their neighborhood of dirty animals. If you can find a community that seems more independent and live-and-let-live about these sorts of things this may be a nonexistent issue, but if not you may pull your hair out in frustration.
No forts and walls. A guy living rural could probably setup some dirt berms and dig some trenches without getting comments, but in a neighborhood people will begin to wonder what on earth you are doing. It will limit your defensive options somewhat since you have to keep up the aesthetics of the property as well as the practical stuff.
A target for mobs and rioting. Concentrations of individual homes all neatly stacked together are great for looting, since each house tends to have a full set of the usual TVs, computers, jewelry, cash. antiques etc. Sadly, the higher population in the area can also contribute to the size and scope of riots as well since some of the locals may get into the act too.
A general lack of preparedness in the population. Towns and suburbs aren’t known for their preparedness bent, and for good reason. The restrictions on the amount of available land, what you can own and plant, and the prompt disaster relief can leave many just waiting for help when any disaster arrives.
Obviously cities range in size, but at least consider a city large enough to support skyscrapers, major business headquarters, etc.
Vitally important, and probably benefits from Federal protection. Rarely are anything short of absolutely titanic disasters allowed to effect cities for longer than they need to. Cities are simply too valuable to leave burned out or destroyed, so any major efforts at restoration, funding, or aid will be concentrated there. If there’s anywhere where the Federal government will concentrate its military, political, and economic power it will be in a city.
A vast population, with smaller communities within that are tightly knit. The large population often fosters areas to take on a peculiar identity with a much smaller community dominating that area. Ethnic, religious, and political divides are common, but within them you will find a good deal of support. It is hard to say if it would hold if the city itself became unlivable, but the possibility is there.
Opportunities to learn varied skills. With so many people, you could learn welding, electrical and plumbing and find uses for it both now and after a disaster. The sheer number of people presents opportunities to the right kind of person who can take advantage of it.
Crime and strong gang presence. The drug cartels have a very strong presence in many cities, and they’ve been taking over many of the more localized gangs by coercion or by just killing them all outright. Unfortunately scum like this already live a life that is suited to the looting mindset and they have a loose and generally effective organizational system already in place. In the aftermath of a serious disaster they may elect to claim new territory, and with it all the people to serve as their cash cows.
Massive unsustainable population during extended disasters. The millions of people inside the city simply cannot be supported without constant outside input, and as a disaster drags on that support will dry up. Once it does, you will have millions of starving people fighting like rats in a cage for every scrap they can find before they flee. Assuming a disaster of that scale occurs, you would be in serious trouble.
Racial divides. Sadly those divides remain alive and well in many cities, and they are convenient sparks for riots even in our comfortable modern life. During disasters they can bring about small-scale warfare against hated groups.
Distrust from others outside of the city. Even if you were smart enough to get out of dodge before things went completely bonkers, many people outside the cities aren’t going to look at you in a friendly manner. The cities, as seats of wealth, government power, and a massive source of hungry people will not have a lot of favor with people you may meet. Being from a city will mark you as an outsider in many cases, which is not generally a good thing.
It can be hard to decide exactly where to relocate to, but I hope this has been helpful in making your decision!