Oh, the excitement of the countdown to your departure on a big trip! Your head is filled with all the research you've done, the things you want to see and do, the anticipation of new discoveries. But have you considered how to prep your home before leaving on vacation?
There are so many things to tend to before leaving on any trip, but especially on longer journeys. For a short getaway, you can basically lock the door and go. For a longer trip, you will want to take care of a few things both for peace of mind while you're away and ease of re-entry when you return.
If you're a solo traveler who also lives alone, not only is the trip planning all up to you, but ensuring the security of home is as well.
This topic arose in one of our recent Solo Traveler Virtual Meetups as a reader in Australia was preparing to head out on a long-term trip and asked the group for advice. (If you'd like to receive invitations to our monthly meetups, sign up for our newsletter.)
You don't want to be worrying about home when you're out exploring the world, so let us help you with a comprehensive checklist of things to do to prep your home before your next vacation.
Table of Contents
Tips for the Safety and Security of Your Home
In the course of writing this article, I was introduced to “burglary tourism”, a term that was new to me. People travel to other countries, break into homes and steal valuables, then sell them or mail them back to their home countries. Apparently, this has spread throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. One more reason to make sure to prep your home before vacation so you do not appear to be away!
✔ Secure valuables. Further to my mention of burglary tourism, you might want to consider putting valuable jewelry, important documents, or cash in a safe or even off-site in a safe deposit box.
✔ Lock and cover windows and doors. And not just the exterior doors – also lock any adjoining doors, say, between the house and garage, as well as any pet doors. Close curtains and blinds and make sure all windows are locked. If you have sliding doors, place a bar into the track for extra security.
✔ Make it look like you're home. Set programmable light timers on all floors, approximating your usual schedule: bedroom lights on at the time you usually get up and off when you go to bed, outdoor lights on whatever your normal schedule would be, living room lights in the evening, etc.
✔ Leave a car in the driveway. If you live in a house and have a driveway, you might think about parking your car there. Leave a set of keys with your neighbour in case there's a need to move it. Logically, one might put the car in the garage while away for an extended period, but leaving it out may signal that someone is home. Alternatively, if you have a neighbour with more than one car, or someone who could use a parking spot, have them park in your driveway while you're away – they'll be coming and going and it will make your place seem lived-in.
✔ Consider getting a house sitter. Engaging a house sitter can solve a number of problems. See Successful Solo House Sitting Tips for Travelers and Homeowners for more.
- Your house will be lived in while you're gone, which makes it less attractive to burglars. It also means someone will know immediately if something goes wrong with heating/cooling, water, electricity, or any appliances.
- If you have pets, they can be cared for in the comfort of their own home.
- A house sitter can water your houseplants.
- There will be someone to collect your mail and accept deliveries.
- You can negotiate terms such as yard maintenance, thus avoiding hiring other people to cut grass, shovel snow, or water flowers and gardens.
✔ A home exchange might be an option. If it happens to fit the style of travel you're doing, a home exchange can be a great option as well. If you're not planning to stay in one place over the course of your trip, bear in mind that home exchanges don't have to be simultaneous. You can have someone stay in your home this time around and you can stay in someone else's home on a future trip.
✔ Engage your home alarm system. If you have an alarm system, don't forget to turn it on as you leave for the airport. If you don't have one, you might want to consider installing one before your trip. Here are reviews of a number of smart home security systems from PC Magazine.
✔ Check your home insurance policy. Be aware of how often your home insurance requires your house or apartment to be checked in your absence. Mine is every three days. Whatever yours is, have a neighbour do a walk-through on a regular basis. For added reassurance, you might consider hiring someone to do this who will keep records of each visit and cover a checklist of items. You'll also want someone to check in the wake of any power outages or extreme weather events. And of course, don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you leave!
✔ Have someone take care of your outdoor space. Arrange for grass to be cut or snow to be shoveled, leaves raked or plants watered, so it won't be obvious that your home is vacant. In a condo or apartment, have someone check for packages and mail, flyers, or notes to be cleared from in front of your door. If you have outdoor furniture in your yard or on your balcony, secure it or store it away in case of storms or high winds.
✔ Don't leave a key under the mat. Or under a fake rock, or above the door frame, or beneath a planter. You're not fooling anyone and it's the first place a burglar would look.
✔ Pull the plug on electronics. Unplug anything that won't require power while you're away. In addition to saving you money, there will be less to worry about if there's a power outage or electrical issue.
✔ Put services on hold while you're away. If you're going to be away for more than a month, put a hold on your internet and cable services. Unless you're going to be using them while traveling, suspend your streaming services as well. There's no point paying for something you won't be using.
✔ Arrange for the payment of bills while you're away. The easiest way to do this is to have your bills sent to you via email and then pay them online. Be sure you have a VPN activated before doing any financial transactions while using Wi-Fi. Additionally, you can set up automatic pre-authorized payments for your recurring bills to ensure you never incur late fees.
✔ Suspend subscription deliveries. Don't forget to cancel any regularly delivered items such as produce baskets, meal prep kits, newspapers, or anything else that is delivered to your home and will end up sitting in front of your door, indicating your absence. Why pay for something you won't be able to enjoy?
Prep Your Home for Your Return from Vacation
✔ Clear out garbage, recycling, and compost. This may sound obvious, but it's easy to forget in the mad dash to the airport. My neighbour will tell you that more than once, I have sent frantic texts begging her to run upstairs and take out my countertop compost bin. Empty the refrigerator of anything with a shorter lifespan than your trip. You don't want to come home to the smell of sour milk.
✔ Program heating and cooling. Will it be hot or cold at home while you're away? Dry or humid? Set or program your heating, air conditioning, or humidity control devices both for while your home is empty and for when you return. You may not want to cool your home while you're away, but you don't want to return to a sauna-like atmosphere either. Think it through both for energy conservation and for the impact on your home of high/low humidity or temperatures.
✔ Arrange for care of your houseplants. You don't want to come home to dried out ferns and dead flowers. Unless your plants are the kind that thrive in the desert, you'll want to either have someone come in to water them or send them on a vacation of their own and have a friend care for them in their home.
✔ Don't just empty the fridge. Make sure to empty the washing machine, dryer, kitchen sink and dishwasher. It will not be pleasant to return to eggs caked on your breakfast dishes or the mouldy smell of neglected wet laundry!
✔ Make your bed. I'll be the first to admit that this is the last thing on my mind when I am in the chaos of leaving for the airport. But you will thank me when you return from a long trip and crawl into your own bed with fresh sheets.
✔ Make an advance date with your cleaner. If you use a cleaning service, arrange for them to clean your home a day or two before you return. Even if you leave it clean, depending how long you've been gone, things may have gotten dusty or you may have had people coming and going to take care of things in your absence.
Take the time to prep your home for vacation so you will have fewer worries on the road and a smoother transition when you return.