So it’s vacation time and you can’t wait to ship off to another land, kick back or explore something new. You pack your bags as you daydream about your next adventure. You’re excited that you’ll finally get the chance to breathe and forget about all the sometimes stressful reality of your usual routine.
But before you can temporarily renounce your daily responsibilities, you know you got some things to take care of. You want to feel reassured that the moment you return home, everything remained just the way you left it. Leaving your home can be scary.
Our houses are home to our valuables, keepsakes and memories. It’s frightening to think that anyone could steal anything while you’re gone. It’s worrisome to think you could have left the coffee pot on. There’s a lot to think about when you’re getting ready to skip town. Your home’s security is probably only a part of your long to-do list and you might feel as if you could forget something when you walk out the door.
But don’t you worry: We’ve got the perfect checklist for you so you can dot all your “i’s” and cross all your “t’s”. Here’s everything you need to know to protect your home while traveling.
Disclaimer: This Security Baron Guide does not provide medical advice. The content provided here is informational in nature and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for speaking with a physician/medical professional and should not be relied upon solely for ensuring your safety. If you think you are having an emergency, please call your local emergency services.
Why You Need To Take Precautions
Keeping your house safe while you’re away isn’t as simple as locking the front door. You need to make sure that every entrance of the building — windows, back doors, skylights — is locked and secure to make sure you don’t have any intruders.
There are about 2.5 million burglaries a year in the U.S. and 66% of those are home break-ins, according to data from the FBI. So it is important to be vigilant even when you’re not around.
You also need to check that your home maintenance is in order to avoid any unnecessary property damage and costs. You don’t want to leave a space heater on and jack up your electricity bill. You also don’t want to let an unnoticed faucet or pipe leak flood your home. Negligence could cost you thousands of dollars so it’s vital that you avoid trouble where you can.
Common Mistakes People Make When They Leave for Vacation
When homeowners are too quick to head off on their trip, they can fail to properly protect their house. For example, they might:
- Forget to secure all the windows and doors: This is easy to do if you have a large house. Making sure that every potential entry point is closed can feel time-consuming and a bit bothersome. But remember, it only takes one opening for an intruder to get in.
- Fail to turn down the thermostat: Again, you’ll have to pay an unnecessarily high energy bill if this happens.
- Leave appliances plugged in: Appliances that are plugged in still use energy even if they are not used. And if there is ever a power surge, these appliances could get irreparably damaged.
- Ignore potential water issues: Since pipe leakages aren’t the most common problem when people go on vacation, many homeowners don’t think water issues would ever be a real concern. But unfortunately floods have occurred. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Tell everyone on social media when and where they are going: While it seems natural to share your excitement with all of your friends and family on the internet, people do this without taking the time to consider the consequences. You don’t want potential burglars to know the exact dates of when they can strike.
With so many things to worry about, it’s really easy to forget some key checkpoints on the way out the house. So let’s get into everything you should do to avoid all of these common mistakes.
Home Security Tips for the Traveler
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the tips you need to secure your home when you’re away. Let’s get started!
Lock All Doors and Windows
This cannot be stressed enough. Skilled burglars will take advantage of any door or window that’s unlocked. Walk all around the house to check everything. Toggle the windows and doors to make sure they are secure. If this seems like too much of a pain, you might want to consider getting a smart home security system to do it for you, which leads me to my next point…
Buy a Smart Home Security System
According to FBI crime data, homes that don’t have security systems are 300% more likely to be burglarized. However, smart home security is a booming industry, with the home security device market projected to reach $7.9 billion by 2021, according to a report from market intelligence agency Zion. Now, home owners now have access to so many DIY options to easily secure their houses. People can now keep track of their homes anywhere they have their mobile device, data or access to Wi-Fi. These “Internet of Things”, or IoT security devices can be a game changer when protecting both your home and peace of mind.
If you’re going to a place that doesn’t have the best data network coverage, or you simply don’t want to think about watching over your house, there are professionally monitored systems which will alert the cops when there’s a serious breach.
Whether you are going DIY or not, here are the smart gadgets that you need to look out for to make sure you got a solid home security system:
- Indoor and outdoor cameras: How can you feel assured of your home’s safety if you can’t see what’s going on? When you can’t have someone keep an eye on your house 24/7, these cameras come in handy. Most smart home cameras come with an app that allows you to login to a livestream of your home from wherever you are. Some cameras even have motion sensors that can send notifications to your phone any time there’s new activity. Check out our security camera reviews to see which are the best in the market.
- Alarms: Alarms are great for scaring away burglars and alerting others that something might be wrong. Smart alarms and smart home security cameras in particular make a pretty mean team when they work together. Sometimes alarms can be set off for reasons you don’t want to call the police about — like a pet running in front of a motion sensor. But if you have access to a security camera, you’ll have a means of seeing whether or not the trigger is worth addressing. In fact, studies have shown that smart home alarm systems have significantly decreased the rates of false alarms and now allow police to work more effectively, according to a report from the Dayton, Ohio police department.
- Doorbells: Smart home doorbells are great because they also come equipped with cameras. This way you can track who (or what) is coming to your doorstep while you are gone.
- Locks: If you’re running out the house and you’re not sure if you locked the doors or not, having a smart lock will put you at ease. You’ll be able to check your phone, check the status and lock you doors right then and there if needed. Plus, you might want a neighbor of yours to come over and feed your fish. If you don’t want to give your neighbor the spare key, you’ll be able to lock and unlock the door whenever he or she needs to get in the house.
- Smart hub with voice assistant: It’s super convenient to have a smart home system that’s all integrated with one hub. That way you can command Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to do the work for you. Imagine: You’re walking out the door and all you have to say is, “Alexa, arm security system.” You can rest assured that every lock and alarm has been activated without you lifting a finger.
- Environmental sensors: With smart smoke and CO alarms, you’ll know right away when there’s a fire or any carbon monoxide leak. Smart home thermostats and air quality monitors can also help you track and control the temperature in your home just in case you left without turning your heaters or air conditioning off.
Advertise Your Security System
So it’s one thing if you have a security system. It’s another thing when you let the world know about it. Intruders will be less likely to approach your house if they see video surveillance stickers and signs everywhere.
If you don’t actually have a security system yet (although we advise you get one), you might want to consider putting up signs anyway. You could trick burglars into thinking you have one installed, but a smart burglar will notice when you’re bluffing.
Contact Your Alarm Company
If you have a professionally monitored security system, tell your company that you are going to be out of town. Once you do that, their customer service agents will help you make sure your alarm system is set up and that all of your sensors and alarms are working properly. If they are monitoring your house, they can also look out for any suspicious behavior and notify you when needed.
Check Batteries for Safety Devices
If your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms don’t have any juice, they are useless to you. So peruse around and check that none of your alarms are beeping. Have fresh batteries ready just in case you have to swap the old ones out.
Keep Valuables Out of Sight
It’s important that you don’t leave any prized possessions out in the open — especially not near any windows. If a burglar sees them, they might be more tempted to break in. So check that things like TVs, high-priced electronics, jewelry, wallets and loose cash are out of sight. If you have a safe, put your things in there. If you don’t park your car in the garage, make sure there’s nothing on the seats that people might be tempted to steal.
Close the Blinds
This is an easy way to stop people from peeping into your home. Closing your blinds also might indicate that you are home and you’d like privacy — thus deterring intruders. But if you frequently close your blinds when you are away, you might not want to shroud all of your windows. If burglars know you are not home, they’ll be more inclined to attempt a break-in.
Remove Hidden or Spare Keys
Many of us have that hidden keys just in case we lose the ones we are currently using, or maybe we hide them outside so that a friend can get into the house. The truth is, hiding your keys is a risky behavior whether you’re on vacation or not. So if you have a hidden key in a flower pot, under some rock in the garden or under a doormat, consider putting that key somewhere safe inside the house or think about buying a portable lock box. That way you can secure the key with your own combination and you can rest assured that you’ll always have that backup.
Install Outdoor Sensor Lights
Many burglars like to sneak around in the dark so that they can avoid the eyes of nosy neighbors or patrolling authorities. Having sensor lights can scare away certain burglars who prefer to do their work at night. However, we will note that most burglaries actually occur during the daytime when people are away at work or at school, according to an article from NPR. Burglars can move much more efficiently when they are able to see what they are doing. So while outdoor sensor lights are not the strongest defense against burglary, it can help in some cases.
Park Cars in the Garage and Disconnect Your Garage Door
To avoid any car theft or break ins, it’s best to keep your vehicle in the garage if you have one. Also be aware that some intruders can hijack your garage door system for easy entry into your home, so your safest bets are to disconnect the garage door or disable the electric opener. If you don’t think that’s enough, you can put a padlock on the overhead latch or put a bolt through a hole in the track of the door. That way garage door break ins will be nearly impossible.
Remove GPS Tracking Devices
If you decide to park your car at an airport parking lot, make sure to remove any portable GPS devices. A thief could easily get a hold of one, press the “Home” button and make their way straight to your unoccupied home.
How to Make It Look Like Someone’s Home
Making sure your house is all locked up and secure is one of the most crucial things you can do to guard your home against burglaries. But there are a whole bunch of other strategies to shoe those nasty intruders away. Research from the United States Department of Justice shows that only 27.6% burglaries occur while someone is at home, which means that thieves are not likely to strike when you or someone else is in the house. So what can we do to protect our houses even more? Make it look like someone is home! Let’s go over what you need to do to make it look like you never left for vacation in the first place.
Install Light Timers to Keep the Lights on When Needed
Keeping the lights on 24/7 is not as effective as you might think. Most people in their regular daily lives do not leave their lights on all of the time. Doing so might indicate that you haven’t been home for a while and you just forgot to turn off your lights, or that you’re keeping them on purposefully to make it seem like you’re home. Whichever reason, keeping your lights on all the time is probably not going to prevent any burglaries.
Instead, consider installing light timers or buying smart bulbs. This way you can program your lights to mimic typical human activity around the house. Have the lights turn on and off in different rooms at various times of the night. That will make it look like someone is moving around the house.
Mow the Lawn/Plow the Snow
We ask you to mow the lawn not for aesthetic reason, but because an overgrown lawn is a surefire sign that you’ve been gone for a long time. Consider trimming any bushes and hedges as well. If you’re tight on time, hire a friend or a neighbor to do it while you are away. Now, if you don’t mow the lawn or garden frequently, this won’t be a major concern. In fact, you shouldn’t mow the lawn at all. Let the grass grow. The idea here is to keep your lawn the way you would keep it on an average day so you don’t send any red flags. If it’s winter and you live in a place that gets snow, you might want to plow your driveway. Again, this will show that there’s been some activity in and around the home.
Hold Mail and Pause Newspaper Subscriptions
When your mail, newspapers and magazines start piling up outside your door, criminals know you have left the building. Pause all of your subscriptions and mail until you return or have a neighbor pick up your mail for you.
Keep a Low Profile on Social Media
We know it’s tempting, but don’t post vacation photos while you are on your trip. Sure, it’s fun to share photos of you and your kids at Disney World. But if you’re posting them as you’re walking around Epcot, you’re letting the world know that your house is empty. Also make sure to turn off all location alerts on your social media so people can’t track your whereabouts.
House Maintenance Checks
While your home’s security is important, you also want to prevent any potential energy leaks or property damage. Imagine yourself returning from a week of sunbathing on the beach to find a ridiculously high utility bill or a flood in your basement. A huge bummer, right? Here’s what you need to do to prevent any costly boo boos:
Unplug Unnecessary Appliances
When you unplug unnecessary appliances like toasters, speakers, laptops and televisions, you will actually save some dollars on your electricity bill. More importantly, unplugging these devices will reduce the risk of electrical fires and any damages that can occur during power surges.
Program Your Thermostat and Water Heaters
If you have a smart thermostat (or at least a programmable one) you can make sure you’re not wasting energy on heating and cooling. You probably don’t want the heaters or the AC on all the time when your gone, but you also want to make sure your house isn’t to cold or hot. If you live in an area that can get as cold as 19℉, then there’s a chance your pipes could freeze and burst. If your home is too hot (say for example during a heatwave), hardwood floors and furniture can warp or crack; molds and mildew can start to grow and your home can become even more of a breeding ground for dust mites.
Programming your thermostat will make sure the atmosphere in your home is just right, while keeping your utility bill within reason. If you have a smart thermostat, even better! You’ll be able to control your heating and cooling systems from anywhere. Programmable water heaters are also useful, too. If you put them on vacation mode, they’ll be able to keep the water at a temperature where your pipes won’t freeze.
Turn Off the Water Supply
Sometimes we are not always aware of what’s going on with our plumbing. And who can blame us when most of our pipes are underground or hiding behind walls? We can’t usually see when a pipe is about to burst. In order for you to reduce any plumbing concerns while you’re gone, it’s best to turn off the water main. If you don’t want to shut the water for your automatic yard sprinkler, consider just turning it off for your toilets, sinks, bathtubs and other tap ware. This way you’ll reduce the risk of any water scares when you come home.
Clean Storm Drains and Gutters
When your drains and gutters are clogged, your house is at a higher risk for flooding. If a storm rolls through, the water can accumulate, soak the ground near your house and leak into your basement. So if your drains and gutters are full of leaves and debris, put on some rubber gloves and get to cleaning! Your cellar will thank you for it.
Empty Garbage Cans and Clean the Fridge
Walking into a home with the smell of rotten food isn’t the most welcoming experience in the world. It’s not pleasant cleaning out the garbage or clearing the fridge when things have gone bad. Take care of that before you go on your trip so you can save yourself from all the nose-pinching chores.
Water the Plants
If you love having plants around the house, make sure that your green buddies have enough sustenance to last you through the time you’re gone. It would be quite heartbreaking to find them dead on your return. If you have plants that need frequent watering and care, consider asking a friend to check up on them when needed.
Recruit Your Friends and Family to Help to With Everything Else
The key to home security while on vacation is making sure that your home is in good hands. In a sense, that might be your hands checking up on your smart home security devices through all of your mobile apps. But there’s nothing like having actually human eyes, hands and eyes to take care of your house while your away. If you want to recruit a neighbor or a relative to help you out, here are somethings you should think about:
- Leave emergency contact information: It’s important for your friends and family to know how to get in touch with you just in case they see something suspicious going on in or around the house.
- Ask them to pet sit: You might think it’s okay to leave your dog at home and have your neighbor check on them here and there, but animals like dogs can get anxious when they are alone for too long. To deal with their anxiety, they can ruin furniture, clothes and potentially even harm themselves. Ask your neighbor if they would be willing to stay over at the house and give your pet company. If you don’t have a dog, tell them to feed your fish or cat.
- Tell them how to take care of your plants: Having a green thumb takes knowledge and skill. Write down specific instructions on how to water your plants so your neighbor doesn’t accidentally drown one to death.
- Ask them if they are willing to take care of some chores: Many times when we are leaving for vacation, we are trying to rush out the house to catch our flight. If you don’t have time to tidy the home before you go, ask a good friend to mow the lawn or plow the snow. Ask them if they are willing to help clear out your fridge or garbage cans. If you have a friend who is open to doing this, you have a very good friend indeed.
How to Deal with the Aftermath of Burglary or Property Damage
We recognize that even with the best preventative measures in place, bad things can happen. A burglar could ransack your home. An electrical fire could destroy your property. It’s vital that you are prepared for the worst and know that you can recover from any situation.
Before you leave the house make sure you:
- Get familiar with your insurance policy: Your homeowners insurance may cover you for flooding and fires. But does it cover you for burglaries and break ins? Some policies include dwelling and personal property coverages to help pay for any repairs or replacement for stolen items. The more knowledgeable you are about your insurance, the easier it will be to file a claim and get better support. Studying your policy will also help you decide if you need to change your insurance to fit your needs.
- Create a home inventory: Having a home inventory will speed up your insurance claims in the event of a disaster. Take pictures or video of all of the valuables you have in your home — electronics, furniture, appliances — and document them in an Excel sheet or online tool with their estimated worth. This might be time consuming, but it will make sure you got everything covered in your claim.
If you find that your home has been burglarized:
- Call the the authorities: Get the police on the case immediately. Don’t enter the home until they have arrived and checked that the house is safe. You don’t know if the burglar is still inside so it’s best to stay with a neighbor until your home is clear of danger.
- Make sure your pets are safe: When the cops tell you it’s okay to enter your house, look to see if your pets are okay. Sometimes when there is a break in, they run away or hide out somewhere in the home. If you find your pet is still in the house, take them to a safe place free of glass or broken material that can hurt their paws.
- Cancel your debit and credit cards: If you for some reason left any debit and credit cards at home and you can’t find them, call your bank ASAP.
- Figure out how the burglar got in and improve your security system: You may have had a blindspot in your home security system that you were not aware of. If the cops can give you a tip as to how the robbery happened perhaps you can improve your homes security. If the burglar might’ve stolen the spare keys, change all of the locks as soon as you can.
- Tell your neighbors: Thieves tend to strike multiple times in the same neighborhood so alert people in your area so they are prepared.
In the case of a flood:
- Turn off the electricity: Water and electricity don’t mix. Protect yourself from getting electrocuted and cut off the power.
- Stop the flow of water: Shut off the water main and repair burst pipes as soon as you can.
- Remove and dry the water: You might to hire a water removal service to clean up your home. But if the flood is manageable, you could bail the water with a pail, suck up the remainder with a wet vacuum and clear the air of excess humidity with a dehumidifier.
- Throw out material that is susceptible for mold: Flooring, drywall, and insulation can be breeding beds for mold. Call a professional clean-up crew that can help you dispose and replace water damaged materials.
- Find a place to stay: It’s unsafe to try to stay in a house that experienced a major fire. Sleepover at a relative’s place until you figure out your next steps.
- Tell the police to keep an eye on your home: Vacant homes can be attractive spots for squatters and looters. You can also hire someone to board up your house.
- Don’t enter the home until the fire department and insurers tell you it’s safe: You do not want to enter a house with a compromised structure. It’s dangerous and if your insurance agent finds out, they can make deductions on your coverage.
- Don’t turn on the utilities until you get the “okay”: Turning on the utilities too soon could cause more damage.
For more information on how to recuperate from a house fire, read our extensive feature on the keys to fire safety.
With all of these events, you want to make sure that when you call your insurance agent, you have your your home inventory and a list of all of the damaged or stolen items on hand. That will lessen the burden of filing an insurance claim.
If you are having trouble dealing with whatever tragedy has occurred in your home:
- Talk with a therapist: These events tend to bring up a lot of anger, depression and anxiety for many people. It’s natural to want to talk about it and figure out how to processes everything that happened. Don’t be afraid to seek out some professional help so that you can heal from emotional trauma.
- Join a support group: There are many groups online and in-person that can help you navigate through what you’ve been going through.
Vacationing With Peace of Mind
The whole reason we go on vacation in the first place is to cast all of these worries aside and live our best lives, right? The way we do that is to make sure our home is safe and secure before we ship off, and that’s entirely doable. Proper home security may take time, patience and the willingness to invest in the right tools, but it’s all worth it to maintain your peace of mind wherever you go. So lock up, tidy up and recruit your neighbors for a helping hand, because it’s time for you to sit back and enjoy your ride.