A family vacation is always something to look forward to, but it also requires a fair amount of planning. Before you hit the road, sea, or air, there are a few essential things to do to ensure that your home will be secure while you’re gone. Start planning by creating a checklist of the crucial things you need to prepare before your travel day arrives. With a few simple tips and some thinking ahead, you can stay on top of your home’s security for a fun vacation and peace of mind.
How to keep your house safe and secure while you’re gone
Before you go, there are some crucial things to do to keep your home safe. Make a checklist, and make sure you complete all of the tasks by the day before leaving.
Inform the right people you’re leaving. Police in certain areas will drive by your home if you let them know you’re out of town. Call your local police, and ask them to keep a watchful eye on your property. Inform the neighbors you’re leaving, and exchange phone numbers just in case there’s an emergency while you’re gone.
Keep mum on social media. Don’t tell people on social media that you’re going on vacation. Keep your status private until you return.
Install a security system. Consider installing a quality security system you can monitor while you’re away. Look for high-definition security cameras, a doorbell camera, and alarms that will alert you to any suspicious activity. Some of the best home security systems are relatively affordable and are well worth the cost of protection and peace of mind.
Install security lighting: A well-lit home is a protected home, so be sure you have plenty of bright outdoor lighting around the house’s front and back. Motion-activated smart lights are a good deterrent for criminals. Program your outdoor lights to come on at a particular time so that people think there’s someone there at night. Put your indoor lights on a timer so that they only turn on during certain hours to save on your electrical bill.
Use your safety deposit box. If you have a lot of valuables, consider leaving them in a safety deposit box to avoid the possibility of theft.
Hand out spare keys: Give a friend or relative a spare key in case your house sitter gets locked out, or the police need access. Make sure you lock the deadbolt and all exterior doors, including the garage door.
Get the yard in shape. Do a few simple yard decluttering tasks before you leave so that your home looks great when you come back. Mow the lawn, rake the leaves, or hire someone to come and cut the grass and check on the yard while you’re gone. Put your patio furniture away — store it in the garage or shed if you can. If not, cover your furniture with a weather-resistant cover to protect it. Stack chairs and place outdoor furniture together in a corner near the house to blow away or get stolen.
Program the thermostat. Consider installing a smart thermostat that you can program while you’re on vacation. Set the thermostat to a reasonable temperature, so your HVAC system isn’t running constantly. The ideal temperature for an empty home is about 50-55 degrees in the winter and 85-90
Shut down the house. Before you leave, unplug the TV, computer, and small appliances — anything you don’t need to be plugged in while you’re gone. Use surge protectors for anything you must leave plugged in. Ensure that all doors and windows are locked, and close curtains and blinds so people can’t see inside. Check your smoke alarm and batteries and the batteries of other security devices, or just add new batteries to ensure they’re fresh.
Additional preparation for extended vacations
If you’re planning a long time away, there are some extra things you should do to ensure home safety:
Clean or replace air filters. Replace your HVAC air filter before you leave, so the system runs smoothly while you’re gone.
Forward your mail. When leaving long-term, it’s best to have your mail forwarded to a safe location. It can be to your hotel or the home of a trusted friend or family member.
Take care of the cars. Store your car in the garage while you’re gone. Give it a little TLC to get it through its idle period — get an oil and filter change, fill the tank, and top off the antifreeze.
Find someone to clean the house. If you’re concerned about dust and grime accumulating while you’re gone, consider hiring a reliable housekeeping company or professional cleaning service to do weekly or bi-weekly cleanings.
Mind the plumbing. If you’re leaving for an extended trip, turn off the main water supply, and drain all faucets until they run dry. Empty the toilet tanks and bowls, and pour a cup of bleach into the toilet bowl to prevent mold or ugly rings from forming.
Finding a house sitter
You might want to hire a house sitter to watch your home while you’re away. Enlist a friend or family member’s help to do the house sitting if you have people you know and trust nearby. If not, use an online referral service so that the house sitter is fully vetted and trustworthy. Here are a few tips to ensure that your house sitter will be comfortable and well-informed about what needs to be done:
Write down instructions for essential tasks. If you have houseplants, leave clear written instructions for watering, fertilizing, and sunlight, so the house sitter knows precisely how to care for them. Likewise, make sure the house sitter knows exactly what to do to take care of your pets. Write down instructions for feeding, and if you have a dog, let the sitter know when and where they like to walk. Leave plenty of pet food on the kitchen counter so it’s easy to find and include some extra cash they can use to buy more food if it runs low. For smaller pets like birds or hamsters, make sure you leave clear instructions on feeding them and cleaning their cages.
Leave contact information. Give the sitter your travel itinerary, your phone number, and the numbers of close family or friends they can call if there’s a problem.
Provide certain information. If you have a temperamental garage door, a coded entry, or anything else the sitter should know to make the job easier and less stressful, write it down.
Tell the sitter to help themself to what’s in the kitchen. It’s best to leave an empty fridge and freezer behind, but instead of tossing it, you can leave some things behind and tell the house sitter they’re welcome to eat whatever they want from the refrigerator and pantry, so it doesn’t go to waste.
Prepare for the trip
Once you’ve got most of the details checked off your list and it’s getting close to zero-hour, start getting into the mindset of traveling. Here’s what you should start working on the week before you leave.
Go easy on grocery buying. Don’t over-buy groceries before you leave for vacation. Try to keep your food purchases minimal, so you don’t end up having to throw a lot of it away before you go. About a week before you leave, write down a meal plan and only buy the groceries you need. If you subscribe to any grocery delivery services, see if you can temporarily put them on pause. Now is a great time to declutter the fridge and freezer. Look for items that are expired or that have freezer burn and toss them. If there’s good food that you won’t eat before you go, consider giving it to a friend or family member, or let the house sitter eat it, so it doesn’t go wrong while you’re gone.
Plan transportation to the airport. Decide if you’re going to drive your car to the airport and park it, or if you’re going to use a driving service to pick you up and drop you off. Remember that airports charge you by the day to leave your car, so calling for a ride is likely the least expensive option.
Pause delivery services and mail. Temporarily stop all home delivery services and mail so that it doesn’t pile up on your doorstep. The US Postal Service has a section online where you can temporarily pause mail delivery until you return.
Prepare for different weather conditions. Make a list before you start packing, and keep things as minimal as possible, so you’re not weighed down by too much clothing and too many accessories. Here are some tips to help you pack and prepare for various weather conditions:
Cold weather. Pack at least a few extra items of clothing in case the weather gets cold at your destination. Bring a fleece jacket or hoodie for layering during chilly weather, so you stay insulated and comfortable. If you’re leaving a cold climate behind, winterize your plumbing to prevent the pipes from freezing and possibly bursting while you’re away. Look for drafts, and seal them before you leave to keep your home warm.
Hot weather. When traveling during hot seasons or in hot climates, always pack sunscreen and warm-weather clothing like tank tops, shorts, and a swimsuit. To prep, your home, remove all trash and have your home professionally treated for pests. If you’re going on a long trip, hire someone to mow the lawn while you’re away.
Humid weather. Dress in lightweight, breathable clothing when traveling in humid weather to keep you cool and comfortable. Prepare your home by programming the thermostat to a reasonable temperature, so you don’t return to a stuffy house. If someone is house-sitting for you, ask them to open the windows when they’re there to improve airflow and help keep your home aired out.
Rainy weather. Pack a lightweight raincoat or jacket if you’re traveling to a rainy climate. A pair of packable rain boots are also helpful. You can buy an umbrella when you arrive since they’re relatively easy to find at most stores. Prep your home by making sure that all windows and doors are properly sealed to prevent leaks. Have your roof inspected before you go to confirm that it’s in good condition so you won’t have to worry about the possibility of a leak if there’s a heavy rainstorm.
Are you leaving the kids behind? If you’re planning a getaway without the kids, make sure that they understand why you’re going and that it’s only temporary. Make your kids feel secure, and inform them that it’s just a short time that you’ll be away. Choose a babysitter you trust while you’re gone, like a beloved friend or family member, that your children feel comfortable and safe until you return.
Are you bringing the kids along? Make a packing list for your kids’ luggage, so they have everything they need. Be sure to bring a few games, their favorite stuffed animal, and some coloring books or puzzles to keep them entertained. Bring lots of snacks, bottled water, a roll of paper towels, baby wipes, and all the chargers you need for their devices.
Prepping for business travel. If you’re planning business travel, your family will likely stay behind. There will be less planning required for a business trip since there should be someone at home to keep the house safe and maintained. Remember to pack essential business items, like your work phone, laptop, and professional attire, so you’ll be dressed appropriately for meetings and other work-related events during a business trip. Bring some street clothes, too, in case you want to dress down for a casual lunch or dinner. If the trip is leisurely, you can leave your work devices at home.
Business Travel Home Safety Tips: Since most business trips are paid for by your employer, you’ll likely have the entire itinerary already planned for you in advance. Schedule things like mail forwarding, housecleaning, and lawn care around the dates you plan to be away from home. If your family is staying put, they can house sit and take care of pets and plants for you. However, if you’re bringing them along, make sure you follow the same tips you would when leaving home empty on a leisure vacation to ensure that everything is safe and in place before you go.
Minimize travel stress. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before travel day. Use an eye mask and earplugs if you want to nap on the plane or train. Stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes, and eat a healthy breakfast so the day starts smoothly and you’re ready to roll.
Post-Vacation Home Recovery
When you return from your vacation, there are a few things you’ll need to attend to for a smooth transition back to everyday life at home. The first thing is to open the windows, even if it’s cold, to let the stale air out and bring fresh air in. Then:
Do a house check. Do a quick walkthrough of your house, make sure that the electricity is working, the water is running, and the house’s temperature is comfortable. You may need to run the faucets for a while and change the temperature on your thermostat so your home is comfortable again.
Unpack. Throw all of your clothing in the laundry when you return. Put toiletries back in the bathroom, and return medications to the medicine cabinet. Find a place for your souvenirs, and set aside gifts you brought home for your friends. Put your empty suitcases in the closet — clean each piece before you put it away, and pack smaller luggage items inside larger ones to save space.
Reinstate delivery services and mail. Reinstate your mail delivery as soon as possible, and cancel any forwarding instructions. Start up your subscription services back up, and if your neighbors were picking up the mail, retrieve it as soon as you can.
Clean, if it’s been a while. If you’ve been gone for an extended period of time, you’ll probably want to clean the house sooner than later. Dust ceiling fans, wipe down countertops, and vacuum and mop the floors when you return. Rinse out the sinks, tubs, showers, and flush the toilets.
Whether you’re heading out on a business trip or planning a fun family vacation, keep these tips in mind to keep your pets, plants, and property safe. You can leave town confident that you haven’t left anything behind or undone with careful preparation — you know the iron is unplugged, and the front door is locked. Start early so you can ease into the vacation mindset and leave home ready and relaxed.