Murphy’s Law for travelers: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong while you’re on vacation—which is arguably the worst time a household calamity can strike. Coming home from your honeymoon, African safari or Mediterranean cruise can be gloomy. But returning from a memorable journey and learning something has gone seriously wrong at home can be downright devastating.
How to Keep Your Home Safe While Away
To make matters worse, a house or apartment left empty while its owners are traveling is a tempting target for criminals. We don’t want to scare you—or leave you fearing for your treasured belongings while basking on a Caribbean beach. But it’s imperative that every traveler take certain key steps to keep his or her home safe and sound while seeing the world. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you keep your home safe from power surges, broken pipes, home invasions, and more while you’re away.
Ask a Friend to Help
A simple, albeit crucial, way to gain peace of mind while traveling is to ask a friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your house while you’re away. First, bribe your friend with some freshly baked cookies or cupcakes. Next, ask him or her to drive by your home once every day or so and check on the place. Give this person a key so that he or she can bring your mail in, feed your cat, water your plants, rake your leaves, etc. If you don’t have a garage, you may also want to give this person a key to your car—you never know when your vehicle may need to be moved. He or she should also have your contact information and a copy of your itinerary in case of emergencies.
Do you have more than one person visiting your house while you’re away? If so, tell them about each other! If the neighbor you asked to keep an eye on your abode calls the police on your elderly cat sitter, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Don’t Tip Off Criminals on the Web
In a world where it seems everyone is blabbing about their business on social media, it’s important to stop and think: Who exactly is reading this stuff? The anonymity of the internet can encourage us to share personal information without fully realizing that there may be hundreds of complete strangers receiving our daily musings. Would you announce to a crowd that you will be leaving your house unattended for two weeks this month? If not, then you should think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on social media—especially if that information is visible to internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). And take heart: You can always post your vacation pics after you return.
Be careful what you say on your voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home—they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.
Do Tip Off the Police
Consider notifying the police if you’re going on vacation. No need to let the cops know about a weekend getaway, but do call them if you’re leaving town for longer than a week or two. It’s possible the police may go out of their way to drive by your house while on patrol, especially if you live in a small town. If you have a security alarm, leave a house key and the code with someone you trust, and provide the police and alarm company with their name and phone number. You may also want to contact your local neighborhood watch program if there’s one in your area.
Curtains Closed—or Open?
Before you leave for vacation, you may decide to close your curtains to prevent people from peering inside your home to see whether you’re there. However, closed curtains also stop those who aim to help—the police, your neighbors or friends—from seeing inside your house. So what’s your best bet? Leave your curtains exactly as you usually keep them when you’re home, since noticeable changes could hint that you’re not around anymore—especially if your curtains are uncharacteristically left closed for two weeks. Move expensive items, like jewelry or computers, out of plain sight if they’re visible from the window. Store small valuables and important documents in a home safe.
The Lights Are on But No One’s Home
Don’t leave your lights on at home throughout your entire vacation in an effort to make it look like someone is in the house. Your electric bill will end up more costly than your mortgage, and house lights blazing throughout the night might look a bit suspicious.
Instead, purchase a light switch timer that can turn your lights on and off automatically according to a programmed schedule. Criminals keeping an eye on your house will notice lights flipping on and off, and will probably assume someone is doing the flipping. Amazon offers a number of such products, including this one from Honeywell and this one from Enerlites.
Stop Your Mail
Either place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers (we also recommend this in our Ultimate Checklist for Traveling Abroad), or arrange to have a friend or neighbor pick up your mail while you’re away. Otherwise, a week’s worth of papers piled on your front step could signal to criminals that this particular homeowner is out of town. It’s easy to put your mail on hold at USPS.com. If you’re not going to be away for more than a night or two, but you’re concerned about the security of your mail, consider upgrading to a locking security mailbox.
Put That in Your Pipe
If you live in a cold region of the world and your pipes are in danger of freezing during winter, you have another compelling reason to leave a house key with a friend while you’re traveling. Ask your friend to stop by and check your faucets. If he or she turns on a faucet and only a few drops of water come out, your pipes may be frozen.
Take other precautions like making sure your pipes are properly insulated and keeping your heat on while you’re away—a smart thermostat can help efficiently maintain a minimum temperature in your home without overspending. Show your key-bearing companion the location of the water main shut-off in case a pipe breaks.
Pull the Plug
Unplug your television, computer, toaster oven, and other appliances to protect them from power surges. This will help you save power as well; many appliances draw energy even when they’re turned off.
Remove Your Spare Key
That plastic rock isn’t fooling anyone. If a criminal figures out you’re away on vacation, it’s likely that he or she will check your porch for a spare key. So reach under the mat, into the mailbox, above the door frame, or into the flower pot and remove your spare key before you leave on your vacation. If you must leave a spare key outside your house, put it in a well-hidden secure portable lock box.
Use a Monitoring Doorbell System
A video doorbell system like the Ring Doorbell allows you to see, hear, and speak to visitors from anywhere in the world via your smart phone. As soon as motion is detected at your door, an alert notification is sent to your phone ensuring constant surveillance wherever your device is installed.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 8 Packable Things That Could Save Your Life
- 12 Life-Saving Travel Hacks for Your Next Trip
- 6 Ways to Feel Like You’re on Vacation at Home
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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