So you’ve somehow survived the apocalypse. Capitalism has collapsed, and all that money you had in your savings account is useless now (or, if you were deep in debt prior to the end of the world, congratulations! You won’t have to worry about that anymore). Resources are dwindling, and your only means of survival depend on the barter system. Lucky for you, I’ve watched all the Mad Max movies— and the subsequent rip-offs like Waterworld and Turbo Kid— and played countless hours of Fallout: New Vegas to give you the best tips for trading, no matter what apocalyptic situation you find yourself in. Whether the world has turned into a deserted wasteland or was completely flooded once the polar ice caps melted, this guide will outline how to get the items you will need to live comfortably enough, without causing too much suffering (unless that’s your thing. In that case, please refer to my guide on How to Rule the Wasteland with an Iron Fist).
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First things first, you will need to identify the things you need to survive day to day. That includes food, water and possibly shelter. Depending on how vast the wasteland is, you might need something to help you get from Point A to Point B quickly (unless you like to take long walks that can last for days at a time). You can use a modded car, which means you’ll need gasoline to keep it moving. If there’s no more gasoline, you can use a bicycle, which means you’ll need tools to keep it in shape. Or you can ride a horse (if they’re not extinct), but that’s another mouth to feed and keep hydrated. If the world is flooded, then you’ll need a boat, as well as material to make a sail or something you can use as a paddle.
Finally, you’ll need a weapon and armor to defend yourself from raiders, cannibals, or mutants, depending if the world was destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. Guns are great for long-range attacks, but ammunition is hard to come by. Your best option is to carry a sharp or blunt object on you at all times. Keep your eyes open for things you can use to modify your weapon to make it more deadly. As for armor, you’ll need something light yet strong. Also, the more dangerous and intimidating you look, the less likely people will want to mess with you (Stay tuned for my article on apocalypse fashion tips later this month).
Now that you know your bare necessities, you need to know what you can offer. To find items to trade, you have to be scavenging constantly. Look for anything: scrap metal, batteries, tools, broken technology, medical supplies, etc. Just because you don’t have any use for it, doesn’t mean someone else won’t. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Look everywhere: abandoned buildings, deserted camps, random corpses you find in the wasteland. I strongly advise against robbing or killing anyone for their stuff. Word travels fast, and you must remain as neutral as possible so that you can trade with as many people as possible.
If you have nothing to trade, but have all your limbs and no debilitating mutations, you can offer services like manual labor or protection. However, it’s important that if you willingly offer your body for work in exchange for goods, that you make it a one-time deal and keep moving after. People will take advantage of a long-term contract, and next thing you know, you’re their slave, performing back-breaking labor every day for a small amount of food and mediocre accommodations.
Some wanderers require information or directions or general knowledge, so it helps to be in the know; eavesdrop on conversations for the latest gossip, and keep a mental map (or if you have access to paper, make your own). If you know how to read, look for books from the Old World, or any messages left behind by travelers. Be sure to present yourself as the only person who really knows what’s going on, in order to charge a high price.
Who Is Your Trader?
For the best deals, try to establish a sense of camaraderie with whoever you’re trading with. But don’t get too friendly, you’re here to do business. Try to get an idea of who they are as a person. Do you think they like alcohol or cigarettes or other drugs? You can get almost anything out of someone looking for their next fix. Do they look as if they haven’t gotten off in years? A pornographic magazine can do wonders for someone who has spent many nights alone (even a Sears catalogue will do if they’re lonely enough). Do you think they’re nostalgic for the Old World, before disaster hit? You can appeal to their nostalgia by offering a comic book or an empty cereal box or whatever colorful item you found that you have no use for. Or maybe they’re younger and have no reference to what the Old World looked like. You can take advantage of their naivety by presenting any Old World item as more practical than it actually is. Act like this dusty piece of junk will save their life. Do they put a lot of effort into their appearance? Appeal to their vanity with makeup, pieces of clothing or jewelry.
Most outposts have shops with resident traders. These people are professional barterers. They have made a living off of people’s desperation. They know every trick in the book. They probably read this guide before you did. They’ll likely have an excess of whatever you’re selling, so save your harder-to-find items for these outposts. Keep a straight face when browsing their wares. If they notice you’re excited about one of their items, they might use that against you. When haggling with a pro trader, you have to set the bar high with your demands. That way, when you work your way down to a compromise, you walk away with the best deal possible. If ever a trade is not going your way, announce that you will take your business elsewhere and slowly walk away. The trader will either sweeten the deal or tell you good riddance. Keep your options open. You can always return, but wait a day or two and bring something new to the table, as to not give the appearance that you’re coming back with your tail between your legs.
As Much As You Can Carry
As a wanderer/scavenger, you will need a something to hold all your stuff. If you have a car, you can store a lot of things in the trunk or the backseat. But you must be prepared to carry all that yourself in the event you run out of gas or get a flat tire or total your ride in the middle of nowhere. You’re gonna need a bag when traveling on foot. A burlap sack will work for a few trips, but they can easily fall apart. Your best option is to try to find a quality backpack from the Old World, something with lots of pockets and hooks. You might need to trade your way to a decent bag.
When scavenging for items, keep in mind that you’ll have to walk for miles before you find anyone to trade with. You don’t want to be dragging around a heavy bag. It will slow you down and make you a target for raiders. Take only what you think you’ll need. If you’re bag is already heavy as it is, but you come across something that’s too good to leave behind, try burying it or hiding it in a place you can easily find when you return to that location with a lighter load.
In some cases, people will try to restore some semblance of Old World capitalism by coming up with some sort of currency, like bottle caps or seashells. This might be acceptable in some camps, but it’s probably not widely recognized across the wasteland. It’s best to cut out the middleman and only agree to item-for-item trades.
If for some reason the world is still standing at the time you’re reading this (honestly, how can it be? At the rate we were going, the apocalypse should have happened months ago!), it’s never too early to start stocking up for the apocalypse. You ever watch that show Doomsday Preppers? Buy that underground bunker. Hoard all the canned goods. Get used to drinking your own urine. But most of all, start practicing your haggling skills today. At the boardroom, at the grocery store checkout, at the dinner table, anywhere! People might call you crazy, but you’ll be the one who’s laughing once the bombs drops / when all the computers crash / when the cities drown / when the deadly pandemic wipes everyone out.
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