Avoid Repetition When Scavenging
Keep the setting fresh and moving without sinking into a repetition of events. Raiding a gas station or grocery store for supplies will be fun and suspenseful the first few times, but after that the players will have a pretty good idea what to expect and begin to lose interest.
The best way to keep them from getting bored is to make sure there’s never such a thing as “just another store” when they need to scavenge for supplies. Mix up weather, terrain, the state of the building and other threats, from a pack of wild dogs to structural damage threatening to dump part of the first floor into the basement. If each looting encounter differs enough, everyone will maintain interest.
Gloss over unimportant scavenging and only focus on the events if they directly matter to the adventure at hand or would be otherwise unique and different from the norm. If you know there are no zombies, bandits, or other threats inside the gas station, there’s really no sense role-playing through the encounter. Just summarize what they got from the looting and move on with the adventure to keep pacing and excitement high.
Unless the PCs are orphans with the personalities of dead fish, they’ll likely have family and friends they’re worried about. In the beginning of the game during character creation, ask every player to list 4-6 people they consider important family or friends. This gives characters a great chance to connect to each other, and provides plenty of adventure hook opportunities.
Are Safe Zones Safe?
Safe havens, safe zones – whatever they wish to be called – the enemy free areas are often either a destination or stop over point the group deals with at some point. Use these for adventure opportunities.
Other survivors can generate interesting encounters. They might take offense at the player group heading for “their rightful sanctuary.” They might also be trying to loot the same store for needed supplies.
Give the safe zone a limited capacity. Perhaps the safe haven has just enough supplies for X amount of people. What will the PCs do about any extra NPCs in their group there isn’t room for?
Also worth considering is if this safe zone is already occupied by other unsavory or intolerant types unwilling to let the group join them, despite there being enough room or supplies.