Run Away From Home

Have you ever wanted to run away? That's a big step in life. You may need some time to think about whether you want to "run" or not. There are many reasons why young people would want to run away from home–some of them good, and some of them not so good. Remember to think of the bad things that can happen. Probably the most important thing for young people to understand is that running away is lot harder, and a lot less glamorous, than you may think. There are cold, sleepless nights; there is danger and hunger; there's a general sense of being lost and not really knowing where you need to go. That being said, there may be legitimate reasons for wanting to run away. Read this article in order to help you weigh the consequences, and get a head start if you end up deciding that's the right call for you.


Weighing the Pros and Cons

  1. Stop and think about your possible actions. Why do you want to run away? Is there a really good reason to run away, or are you just bored or tired with your situation? There's a difference between running away for a good reason (you're in physical danger) and running away for a bad reason (you just got in a small fight with your parents). Don't make a hasty decision in the heat of anger; you might regret it later.
  2. Think about all the people you might be affecting by running away. Humans are social. We bond together out of need and necessity, but also because we gain satisfaction from being close to one another. Try to think about the people who will be seriously affected by your decision. You owe it to them. You may not know it, but they think about you all the time.
    • Think about your parents. Though it may not always seem like it, your parents love you deeply. They see themselves in you, and they want a better future for you than they want for themselves. Fights and disagreements happen with parents; their love for you never changes.
    • Think about the rest of your family. Your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers—all of them have a relationship that's deeper than just a friendship. It's very possible that your family will feel hurt and responsible for you running away, even if they had nothing to do with it.
    • Think about your friends. Your friends are the lifeblood of your social circle. They laugh with you, they make you feel better when you're down, they sometimes even think of you like a brother or sister. Running away probably means leaving them behind.
    • Think of other mentor figures. Maybe it's a teacher; maybe it's a friend of your mother's. Many of us have mentors who look after us. They want to see us succeed and be safe. Your decision will undoubtedly have an effect on them.
  3. Understand that in many cases, running away from home is illegal. Although most states won't punish minors (someone under the age of 18) for running away from home, several states consider it illegal. In Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming, running away from home is a status offense, meaning that it's against the law if you are under 18.[1]
    • However, if your parents or guardians have tried to hurt you, you should get away and this is perfectly legal - but you have to do it in the right way. Tell a teacher or other trusted adult or call the police. Make sure you have a place to stay for a night or two before you do this, so you don't have to go anywhere weird.
    • You may worry that foster care will be worse than being with your parents, even if they hurt you, but it is better to risk it. You may even be able to stay with another family member or friend if you work this out in advance.
    • Even if you do run away in a state that doesn't have laws against it, you could still find yourself in court. Over 30 states consider children who chronically run away from their homes "Child in Need of Supervision” or CHINS, a process which is designed to help children lead better lives. Still, minors who are in the CHINS process may face fines, suspended privileges, and mandatory drug screenings.[1]
  4. Talk to someone about your plans to run away. Consider calling 1-800-786-2929 (1-800-RUN-AWAY) or going to to talk about your situation and all the options you have.
  5. Address the motivation for wanting to run away, if possible. There are many reasons why a child would want to run away. Addressing the reason why could help you solve the problem before it gets so bad that you feel forced to run away. Here are some statistics:
    • 47% of runaway youth described having a significant problem with one or both of their parents. Is there another adult who might give you advice about how to work the problem out with your parents? If not, consider calling Child Protective Services.
    • More than 50% of runaway youth in shelters said that their parents told them to leave or knew they were leaving but didn't care. If your parents ask you to leave or tell you they don't care about you leaving, call or visit Child Protective Services. It's not betraying your parents to want to find someone who cares about you. You deserve that.
    • 80% of runaway and homeless girls reported physical and sexual abuse. If you are the victim of physical or sexual abuse, find an adult who you can confide in (it may be your parents, it may not be) and visit the police to file a report.
  6. Write a list of all the pros and cons of running away. Often, putting your thoughts down on paper has a soothing effect, making things more clear in the process. Here are some possible pros and cons of running away.
    • The pros:
      • Possible freedom from neglect, abuse (verbal, physical, or sexual), and/or harassment
      • Opportunities to travel, see new places, and meet new people
      • Increased freedom and the possibility of maturity and personal growth, no matter how hard it gets.
      • Development of self-reliance, a sense of being able to do things by, and entirely for, yourself.
    • The cons:
      • Increased likelihood of spending nights outdoors, on the streets, under bridges or overhangs, or even on top of roofs
      • Increased likelihood of depression, isolation, and powerlessness (32% of runaway youth have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.)
      • Increased likelihood of violence, drugs, disease, and prostitution on the streets.
      • Feeling like you have no one to talk to, like no one cares, or like the things you do don't make a difference.
  7. Give your emotions one week to cool off before making any big decisions. Often, we let our emotions make decisions for us when we think we're being rational. This can be a good thing, but sometimes it's bad, because we trick ourselves into thinking that we're being rational. To let your emotions cool off and really give yourself time to think about your possible life-changing decision, wait a week before doing anything. Reach out to people you can trust and perhaps talk it over with them. After a week, your rational brain will probably have had time to make a decision. This is different for each case, and so you should weigh the consequences for running away if your parents were to find you. Some parents get mad at you, instead of trying to help you. 

Starting Off

  1. Plan ahead. Think of what you will do if any part of your plan goes wrong, and Making Excuses for everything. Here are some things that you always need to consider:
    • What will you do if you get sick?
    • What will you do if you are caught?
    • What will you eat?
    • How will you maintain good hygiene?
    • How will you stay off the streets and out of harm's way?
  2. Try to find a safe place to stay with someone you can trust. If you have someone who's helping you run away, and can stay with them at least for a little while, you're pretty much set. However, if that's not a possibility, where will you take shelter?
  3. Pack up a bag with some essentials. Travel light; bring only the bare essentials. Now is not the time to set a record for pounds carried. Bring food, money, extra changes of clothing, a jacket or coat in case it gets cold, clothes with pockets, a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and anything else you will need. If you don't want to be recognized, take with you only the clothes you wear least often. Some other things that might be useful in your quest:
    • Utility knife
    • Maps
    • Umbrella
    • Combination lock
    • Blanket
    • A Jacket
  4. Try to bring some of your allowance, but don't take enough to get you noticed. Maybe $10 for a bus or other transportation, and $50 just in case. If you plan to steal the money, find a place where you can get it fast without being spotted by your parents.
    • If you have a credit card, definitely take that, as it's much harder to steal and use, and you can cancel it at any time. Be prepared for your parents to possibly cancel it, however, when they find out that you've run away. Don't use it as your only source of money. Also, using a credit/debit card can give away your hiding place. The bank can track down your card, and see what stores and shops you've been to. Also the same with cell phones; they can track your location. You need to be aware of these things, and use them wisely.
  5. Wait until you have the right opportunity to make a run for it. Make sure you have plenty of time to get away before anyone notices you're gone. Try making your move as soon as you get to school in the morning, or as soon as everyone in your home leaves and you know they won't be coming back for a long time. When you do book it, make it snappy. The last thing you want is for anyone in the neighborhood to notice you leaving.
  6. Find a method of transportation. You will likely want to have a quick and easy way of getting around. The city bus is your best bet, or a long-distance traveling bus if you're leaving the town/city.

Long-Term Strategies for Survival

  1. Make up a story. You'll have to accept that at some point, someone is going to want to know where you came from, or what you are doing. You're probably going to need to do some thinking about this. Think of something reasonable and realistic, but don't say you ran away.
    • Keep it simple. You'll want to remember it everywhere you go because word gets out quite fast in this world about anything, so you should probably keep your story the same all throughout your life as a runaway, just to avoid arousing suspicion. Avoid inconsistencies by thinking out the details ahead of time.
    • If you are really serious about running away permanently, change your name. Have fun with it, but don't choose anything too wacky. But think about it, something common would probably be best because it'll be harder to remember, and your main aim is not to become too well-known.
  2. Live near large grocery stores or candy stores. These places will usually have food samples open to the public which you can snack on, though make sure you take a cart with you and try to look like you have a purpose; don't hang around. Also, you can use the public bathrooms to wash yourself and do your business.
    • It's not glamorous, but you can always go dumpster-diving at the back of large grocery stores. You'll be seriously surprised about what people throw away. The more you dumpster-dive, the more your system will get used to food that's past its prime. In the beginning, it might be quite uncomfortable, but it should get better.
  3. Find shelter if you haven't. If you don't have a place to stay, you'll have to find shelter elsewhere. Try finding a reasonably safe spot under a bridge, in an alcove, in an abandoned building somewhere, or perhaps in a public building that stays open 24/7. If these don't work out, try looking for the nearest homeless shelter, and check their availability.
    • If you just need a place to stay in order to pass the time, public libraries, churches, college buildings, airports, and train stations are all possible options. These places are safe, while generally having enough people about to make it easy for you to go unnoticed.
    • In the winter months, you may want to try to find a building with an elevator if you are in a downtown area. Try climbing the stairs next to an elevator shaft all the way to the top. You may find a room that is nice and warm, that not too many people go into.
    • Stay away from the woods or the desert. These places are generally very rural, and make it easier for other people to victimize you. As romantic as it may seem, it's really hard to make a living off of the land nowadays, especially if you know nothing about plant and animal species. Try to find places with other people around; they're usually safer.
  4. You'll probably begin to need money at some point, so learn how to panhandle. Panhandling is asking other people for money. There's not much pride in it, and many people will flat-out ignore you, but with the right strategies, you could be quite successful, and maybe even get enough to save some money.
    • Choose the right location. Find a busy place where people walk, such as outside a mall area, a convenience store, or a place where people come out with change. Ask patrons for money after they come out of the store, not before. Alternatively, ask drivers for money on a busy intersection. Make sure you're on the left side of the car, where the driver's side is.
    • Smile, and ask people for change politely and softly. You won't get very much money if you look mean or frustrated or unhappy. When someone does give you money, thank them with a smile and a friendly remark.
  5. Don't use the foreign accent ploy. Some people find faking a foreign accent tempting, but this is typically a bad idea. A foreign accent draws attention to yourself. People will want to know more about you and your culture, when you should really be trying to be as invisible as possible. Moreover, faking an accent is extremely difficult; it doesn't matter how good you think your foreign accent is, it matters how much everyone else does.
  6. Maintain yourself. This part is by far the hardest, particularly maintaining a healthy diet and a good hygiene. Hospitals are known to keep exceptionally clean restrooms, and offer good privacy. Here are some other tips that you can use to keep your hygiene high even if your spirits are low:
    • Use bathrooms in big grocery stores. There's not much privacy, but there's very little foot traffic. (Think about it: how often do you use the restroom in a grocery store?) You'll probably be able to give yourself a nice little hand-bath here and use some of the free soap provided.
    • Use generic sex-lube for shaving and straightening out hair. It sounds weird, but it works. Put a dab of lube on your skin and work it in gently with a bit of water. Shave up, being careful to wash the razor out immediately. If you need to straighten or tame your hair in the morning, a little bit works wonders, and it doesn't look noticeable afterwards.
    • Shower at public-swimming pools, as well as colleges and universities. If you pretend to be a student, colleges often won't ask you to show your ID. This won't work all the time, but it's worth the try, especially if you trick a regular into believing you belong there.
  7. Decide what happens when you run out of food. Come up with a plan, and if you run out of suitable options, consider returning home, or if you're really true about running away, try to start a new life. Get a job, some shelter (no matter how bad, all you need is protection from the weather), and some friends in your new city or town.
  8. Control any desperation productively. When you're down on your luck and you have nowhere else to turn, you can begin to feel pretty desperate. Try to control that emotion instead of letting it push you to do rash things. Get some good food into your stomach, even if it means spending every penny you have. Take a deep breath, even if it feels like wasting time. Think back to a time when you felt powerful and resourceful, ready to take on the world. Control your desperation by controlling your attitude. There is no problem that can't be tackled by a little bit of imagination and pluck.

Protecting Yourself from Harm

  1. Avoid hitchhiking. Keep in mind, if you do decide to hitchhike, that there are drivers that will do some bad things to you. They could abandon you or even hurt you. However, on the flip-side, there are also really nice people out there who would gladly take you with them. It's all about reading the driver and making a decision.
    • Try to hitch rides with a nice lady, a family with several children, or a car with passengers. They will probably want to ask you where you are going, or what you are doing, so have a nice little lie handy. Do not tell them that you ran away from home, and say as little to them as possible.
    • If a sketchy or scary looking person offers to give you a ride, ask them where they're going first. When they answer, tell them you're going to a different place, preferably far away. If they say that they can take you there, politely refuse and cut off communication after that. Wait for them to drive off.
  2. Protect yourself. If you are in a big city with many people, know that there are likely people who could pose a threat to you. Bring something with which you can defend yourself, such as pepper spray. Being aware of dangers and avoiding them is usually better than having to confront them, however.
    • Walk away from people who pose a threat to you. Stand upright and tall, and keep your composure, but don't argue or aggravate them. Try to get to a public, well-lit area where there are a lot of people. There's usually strength in numbers.
  3. Don't get pulled into prostitution. Don't let anyone do anything to you that you are uncomfortable with and if you get desperate enough that you feel you need to resort to this, seek help. Local charities and churches will help you without asking too many questions.
    • Prostitution is a common outcome of running away. Actually, a 1998 study showed that 43% of runaways, both boys and girls, were forced into prostitution after leaving home. That's almost half.[2]
    • Because of the high chance of prostitution and also because of the poor sanitation conditions, runaways are significantly more likely to get HIV/AIDS. Be very careful.
  4. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Homeless youth are significantly more likely to fall into drug and/or alcohol use. This can lead to diseases like HIV/AIDS or even death from overdose. This is just aside from the other side effects of drug and/or alcohol use. Be careful and do not use drugs, no matter how bad you feel.
  5. Try to avoid getting arrested. Homeless people are much more likely to be arrested, usually for being a nuisance, loitering, or trespassing. You want to avoid having to spend a lot of time in jail, so be careful where you go and how you look and act.
  6. Be careful around the other homeless people. Many people are homeless because they just hit some hard times and these people can be perfectly wonderful. But there are also a lot of homeless people that are very desperate, or mentally unstable. Especially in the US, where mental health care is notoriously inadequate, many mentally ill people end up on the streets. These people can be dangerous and may attack you for no reason. Try to avoid being around other homeless people to keep yourself safe.


  • Talk to yourself. Do you really have to run away? Don't take and harsh decisions in hurry. There are other options for young people.
  • Visit or call 1-800-786-2929 (1-800-RUN-AWAY) to talk about your specific situation and options you have. If your situation is abusive, dysfunctional, related to substance issues, related to your relationship or anything else, it's good to have someone to talk to before going on your own.
  • Ask yourself: Is there someone else you can stay with, such as a trusted grandparent, instead of running away?
  • Wear a cap or something that reasonably covers your head/face when traveling on a train because the CCTV footage in the local train station will be checked.
  • On the other hand, do not stay in a place where your parents or the police will know to look for you. Your boyfriend/girlfriend's, family members' and close friends' houses are the first places they are going to check.
  • This should be fairly obvious, but avoid places where you could be seen by someone that knows who you are and could in turn report you to the police. This is why you must try to get a safe distance from home.
  • Don't freak out if you appear on the news. If you are a missing person chances are there will be a news bulletin about you. If you see yourself on the news in a public place, calmly exit the shop/other place that has a tv.
  • Don't tell your friends that you're running away. They might tell your parents.Unless they are loyal and are going to help you run away.
  • Also, try not to wear anything that someone might recognize you in. For example, if you always wear a Bears cap, don't wear it!
  • If you carry your things in a backpack, then you will look like an average kid going to school to adults.
  • If you're low on food, go to a supermarket and inconspicuously go to an isle. Grab some food and head to the bathrooms to eat. Throw all boxes and wrappers out. Then leave unnoticed, preferably with a large group. Never go to the same store twice, as the employees will notice you.
  • Be polite, but don't get particularly friendly with anyone or they'll want to know all about you.
  • If you do decide to run away permanently however, you should probably try to change yourself. Think of this as a "fresh start." Changing your name is a good start. A new hairstyle and new makeup will differentiate you from your past self. Try new clothes as well.
  • Bring something to do when you decided to run away. You might get bored.
  • Stay somewhere where you know your parents and the authorities aren't likely to find you, such as a trustworthy acquaintance or a friend that your family doesn't know about.
  • This is vital, do not update your social media! Don't add any new friends on your old account. Just leave it, but don't get rid of it, you know, just in case. Make a new account for your fake name if you feel the need to, but remember it is risky!
  • You can use public washrooms in malls and shops, and you can tend to your hygienic needs in public pool or gym changing rooms.
  • Leave a note so your parents know you weren't kidnapped. Don't give away too much information, though!
  • You may want to try rotating homes between friends. Start off somewhere where no one will look for you, then after a bit, or when another person notifies you, leave that place and stay with a different person. However, you will need floor plans of each house you stay at to determine the best route out in case of emergency. You also have to be sure that you do NOT leave anything behind that could clue in authorities.
  • If you have good skills in the wilderness, you could try packing a tent and start living there for a while. This is not a good permanent solution, however.
  • If/When you get found, be honest with the reason for why you left.
  • You could just pack one set of clothes and just stay away for one night. Your parents will get the message and you will avoid the dangers of leaving for good.
  • Running away usually isn't the answer, but it's safer to stay at a friends house then to sleep on the streets.
  • Remember that, regardless of how successful you are in running away, you will likely end up returning home eventually.
  • Avoid places where you might like to spend all your time. A restaurant or arcade you enjoy is somewhere authorities will check.
  • Always be on the lookout! Even if you don't know it then, people may know your face if you've been gone a while. Keep watch, try to find a group of friends and runaways. It sounds impossible, but there are a few unknown full empty buildings around. Not all of them are safe, so be careful!
  • Don't bring too much, as it will weigh you down. However, maybe bring two or three outfits. If you always wear the same thing, it will be much easier to track you down. Anyone who has seen you will say, "Oh yeah, the teenager with brown hair? The one wearing a pink t-shirt and jeans? She went that way" (or whatever your physical description is). If some people say "The girl wearing red?" and some say, "The girl wearing blue?" then you will be a lot harder to find.
  • Do not forget to bring food or water!
  • Take a friend if possible it helps keep sanity and keeps you safe.
  • Bring spare clothes. You don't want to be scummy. Particularly jeans, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks, shoes, and spare food if you have any. Never hitchhike because you don't know them and it's really risky.
  • If you truly don't want to be found, sometimes it may help to look like the opposite sex. A female would find it easier to wear something a male would wear. A male dressing like a female can be difficult but it can be achieved if you have the right clothing. Appearance changes will make a difference if you are trying to evade being spotted.
  • Make sure you stay low-key and draw as little attention to yourself as possible.
  • Bring non-perishable foods that you can eat in small portions over time. Foods which are packed in cans such as corn, peas, or beans are good foods to bring.
  • Check if there's a food bank or pantry in your town or city. Food banks give free food to people.
  • Bring some kind of weapon, but ONLY use it if needed.


  • Exercise common sense. By running away, you can face the risk of getting caught, mugged, raped, or murdered. It is something you might regret for the rest of your life.
  • Bring something that you are good at so you can get a job.
  • If you are punished and don't think it's fair, just think about what you did and how many times you did it. Also remember the good times you've had with your family. You may forgive them and not run away at all.
  • Do not bring your cell phone (unless you can change your number, or the SIM card), debit or credit cards with you, as these can be used to trace your location. If you need to make call to someone, borrow a phone or use a payphone. If you need to purchase something, always pay with cash.
  • Be careful if you hide out at another person's home, because your hosts can be charged with harboring a runaway.
  • Be prepared for when you run out of food and money, because there will be a time when that happens, and you may have to resort to grocery store food samples, public bathrooms, and bed store mattresses, if that's even possible.
  • Last but not least, running away from home can cause more grief to your parents and siblings than you can ever imagine.
  • Think seriously about it. Don't just run away for fun.
  • Leaving behind family that loves you is the hardest part, so be sure that you are (if you insist on running away) in fact doing so for the right reason and not just because you want attention.
  • Don't bring a friend or anyone you knew. The added stress is not worth it and if things go bad between the two of you the friend could rat you out. Or even claim kidnapping.
  • Don't run away just because the situation is bad at home right now. Think about it, if it has a chance of getting better in time there is no reason for running away. But if there's not, do what you think is best.

Things You'll Need

  • Medication/bandages (bring meds for sickness only)
  • Coat
  • Money ($50 or more)
  • Food (non-perishable). If you bring some fruit or bread make sure to eat it in the first two weeks.
  • Clothing (multiple)
  • Water (keep the bottle to refill, you can fill it up whenever you come by a stream or water fountain to save money)
  • Flashlight (with an extra pair of batteries)
  • Matches/lighters
  • Blankets
  • A pocket knife
  • Deodorant (not essential but good to have)
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Some water to start off your day
  • Toilet paper
  • Cell phone (preferably prepaid).
  • Entertainment (a book, a handheld game console, or a laptop with a place to charge it.) If you do decide to bring something electronic, make sure you always keep it with you so it doesn't get stolen.
  • A note to those you've left
  • A map

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Sources and Citations