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. A house or apartment left empty while its owners are traveling is a tempting target for criminals. It’s imperative that every traveler take certain key steps to keep their home safe and sound while seeing the world. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you avoid power surges, broken pipes, home invasions and more. Before hitting the road, here are some suggestions to help keep you safe while you’re gone. By helping secure your home, you’ll enjoy your vacation even more.
• Set your home security system before leaving
If you don’t have a system, consider investing in one. In addition to helping protect your home, it might earn you a discount on your homeowners insurance.
• Stop your newspapers and mail
Nothing says “homeowner on vacation” more clearly than piles of newspapers on the step, and magazines and letters bulging through the mailbox. Either place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers 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.
• Trim trees and shrubs near doors and windows
Make it difficult for would-be thieves to hide near your home.
• Keep your lawn mowed
Arrange to keep your grass cut, so it appears someone is home.
• Put a password on your computer
These days, burglars don’t just break in to steal a television; many of them are sophisticated enough to hack your computer and gain access to your financial accounts. Before going on vacation, you may want to disable your automatic login and put a password on your system for when your computer is turned on.
• Ask a friend or neighbor 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. 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, water your plants, rake your leaves, etc. If you don’t use 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!
• Don’t tip off criminals on the web
In a world where it seems everyone is blabbing about their business on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, 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 December? If not, then you should think twice about posting your detailed vacation plans on Twitter or Facebook — especially if that information is visible to Internet users other than your friends and family (and it probably is). Be careful what you say on your answering machine or 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. 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.
• What to do with your curtains
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.
• Adjusting your lights
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, of course, leaving the lights on is not exactly “green” behavior. Plus, house lights blazing throughout the night might look a bit odd. 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.
• Don’t forget about pipes
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 or keeping your heat on while you’re away. 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. Do this to save power as well. According to the Consumer Energy Center, many appliances use power 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.