Illustration by Isabel Ryan.

Illustrations by Isabel Ryan.

There might come a time in your life when you have to subtly break out of your house—or someone else’s. Maybe you’ve decided in the middle of the night that you’d rather be sleeping in your own bed, but you don’t want to offend your gracious host. Or maybe you’ve got a friend who needs the comfort of your presence right now, but it’s past your curfew and you know your parents wouldn’t take too kindly to you brazenly walking out the front door at 3 AM. Maybe there’s a killer all-night party going down that, frankly, you just don’t want to miss.

For this and all your other escape-y needs, there are a few tips that can help get you out the door with a little less fanfare than you might want—that is, none at all, because we’re veritable masters of the furtive art of the sneak. Keep in mind that I’m not condoning any sort of shifty behavior here, but sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures—every scenario is different, and it’s important to always weigh the pros and cons of sneaking out before actually going ahead and doing it. That said, this is everything I know about hitting the road when you need to get the hell out of Dodge—very, very quietly.

There are three basic steps to every sneakout:

1. Planning.
2. Execution.
3. Return.

Each step demands its own attention to certain details, but the key is that they all work together.

1. Planning

This step is probably the most crucial—it’s even more important than actually sneaking out, because a good plan will ensure that you actually can sneak out undetected. This phase requires dedication, thought, and determination: With those things combined, your chances of success will jump approximately 1000 percent.

Know your escape route ahead of time—and research, research, research. Figure out the exact time you’ll be putting your plan into motion, whether anyone else will be home at that time and where they’ll be, and every step you’ll be taking to get from Point A to Point B. Are you going to be hopping out of a window in your bedroom? Going through the front or the back door? Are there any gates you’ll have to scale or creaky stairs you’ll have to brave? What pieces of furniture will you have to avoid bumping into? Is there an alarm system you’ll have to temporarily disable? What’s the exit point with the least people around at night? What’s the second-best breakout point if your first option doesn’t pan out? Having your trip and any detours mapped out in your head can help you keep your cool if you happen to get anxious down the line.

It’s important to prep for every possible scenario. If your plan’s going to take you out a window, make sure you’ve got a way to get back in after your adventure is over. If the window automatically locks after it’s closed, have an object you can use as a prop to shut down any chance that you might accidentally lock yourself out. And if there’s a screen on the window, pop it out of the frame—carefully!—before you depart. Have keys ready for any doors you might have to unlock—even if you leave one open, you never know if someone might wake up and lock it again. If you’ve got a pet that might blow your cover, have treats on hand as a distraction. If you’ve got to bring anything along with you on your quest—bottles of water, snacks, spare change, and the like—pack it all in an easy-access bag so you can grab ’n’ go later. Charge your phone so you won’t have to worry about a drained battery, and turn all audible alerts off. Remember: The goal here is to keep the plan—and you—moving seamlessly and silently.

This is only for the extreme sneaker, but: If you notice squeaky doors or other obstacles that might stand in the way or you completing a flawless escape, take measures to get rid of them. Noisy hinges can be silenced with some lubricant before go time—even common olive oil can work if you’re desperate—and will make for foolproof getaways.

When I say think ahead, I mean think ahead! Borrow a strategy from master chess players and think seven steps further into the future than you might assume you need to—you really should consider every possible situation. For instance, if you’re not sure if a particularly alert person in your household will hear something while you’re sneaking (despite all your precautions) and come check things out, you’ll need a plausible excuse.

If you usually stay up late while dressed in your everyday clothes, you can easily say that you got up to get a drink of water or late-night snack if it looks at all like you could have been heading to the kitchen or anywhere else you keep your munchies (and you can come up with similar excuses for other parts of the house, too—claiming that you forgot something simple is believable).

If you’re the kind of person who’s usually ready for bed and in their pajamas by eight o’clock every night, you’ll need to account for that in case you get caught. Pack your regular daytime clothes in your bag and, if you can, chuck it somewhere you know it won’t be found by anyone but you. Put on some thin, form-fitting clothes beneath your pajamas—think tank tops, leggings, or fitted tees. Then follow all the normal precautions until you’re outside—yes, in your pajamas—and change once you’re in the clear. If you’re caught on your way out, it just looks like you were following your regular bedtime routine as usual—and you can use any of the standard excuses without raising any alarms.

Just as you’ll need to have a plausible excuse at the ready just in case, you’ll also have to prep one if you happen to get caught returning from your late-night escapades. This sitch is a little harder to manage unless you routinely hang outside after hours, but in a pinch the old, “I thought there was something outside, and I had to see what it was.” (This is especially effective if you already have an established fear of creepy noises or things that go bump in the night.) Alternately, you could say that you needed a few minutes of fresh air. Not unimaginable!