The Newbie’s Guide to Safeguarding Your Home While You’re On Vacation

The Newbie’s Guide to Safeguarding Your Home While You’re On Vacation


Congrats!  After making the decision to take your dream vacation, you’ve scrimped and saved and put off short-term gratification in order to make that dream come true.  But before you step outside that door, have you thought about safe proofing your home while you’re gone?

There are certain steps you should take to make sure that your home is safe and sound when you return home.  In no particular order:

  • Be sure that you lock all doors and windows.  Yes, it seems obvious, but many people fail to do just that.  Before you leave, go around the house and make sure that all doors are locked; that means any entry way that can give someone a way to enter your home.  You should actually turn the knob to confirm that it’s locked.  Lock all of the windows too, including the ones on upper floors.  You will be surprised at how thieves have been able to enter homes through windows on the upper level.  How?  Oftentimes, people leave their ladders outside their home and the criminals will use it while thanking you for making their job easier.  So, be sure to take your ladders or anything else the crook can get his/her hands on to gain entry to your home.
  • Do make sure that someone retrieves your mail while you are gone.  If you recruit a trusted neighbor or trusted family member to gather your parcels and mail while you’re on vacation, ask them to do it under cover of night.  While they are at it, have them remove anything that may have been delivered to your front porch as well as newspapers.  If possible have the newspaper service interrupted until you get back.   If someone is watching your home, it won’t be difficult to surmise that you’re not there when someone walks up to your mailbox, removes the mail and drives off.  Personally, I go online and arrange for my local post office to stop delivery the day that I leave and to restart delivery the day I return:

  • Buy a programmable light timer which will switch your overhead lights and lamps off and on periodically throughout the day.  They are pretty easy to use and can be timed to correspond with your usual schedule.  There is a version that you can use with appliances like televisions that will fool the budding criminal into thinking you are sitting right in front of your set.
  • If you are pretty diligent about lawn care, be sure to hire someone to cut your grass, etc.  Neglect screams that no one is home, so be sure to keep everything maintained as if you were at home.  I like to garden, so I make sure that I water all of my plants (indoor ones too) before I leave.  There’s nothing sadder than coming home to a yard full of dead flowers.

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  • One thing that baffles me is when people announce on their answering machine that they are on vacation or their email response announces that they are away on vacation.  You may as well wear a sign that says ROB ME!  There is no good reason to inform anyone regarding your plans unless it’s your security company (assuming that you have a monitoring service).   With few exceptions, keep that information under wraps and give only to those on a need to know basis.
  • As a precaution, pull out that video camera that you have packed in your luggage and walk through every room indicating any valuable items and be sure to get a great close up of said items.  Take your SD card or tape and store it in a safe place like a metal fireproof box where you keep your important papers.

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  • Reduce your electric bill by unplugging items that will not be in use while you are gone.  Of course, keep those lamps/lights and your tv and radio on standby for the timer, but unplug that computer or anything else that’s unnecessary.  For anything that does make the cut, be sure to protect them by plugging them into surge protectors in the event a nasty thunderstorm tries to claim them.
  • This has less to do with security than just peace of mind.  I try to clean the house thoroughly before I leave.  Why?  Because after a long trip away, I hate coming back to a filthy house.  It’s a psychological thing.

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  • Be sure to make sure that your pets are taken care of.  Arrange for boarding or you can kill two birds with one stone (in a manner of speaking) by having someone to housesit and take care of your pets.  This addresses the security issue and pet care.  A definite win-win providing that you really trust this person.  Otherwise, it could be your worse nightmare if you come home to a wrecked semblance of your former home and all of your neighbors now hate you.
  • Stop buying groceries up to a week before you leave, especially perishables.  It would be a shame to come back to a fridge full of spoiled food.  Remember to take any leftover trash outside at the very least so that your nose won’t be greeted by decayed food remnants when you get home.

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  • Reduce your heating bill by adjusting your thermostat to lower temps or conversely, your cooling bill by raising the thermostat depending on what time of the year it is when you take your trip.
  • I like to pack the car with our luggage the night before when it’s nice and dark.  When we get in the car to leave the next day, no one is the wiser about what our plans are.

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  • Invest in motion controlled outdoor lighting.  It’s been my experience that thieves scatter like roaches when the spotlight is on them.  Make it difficult for them to violate your property by installing motion detectors.  It will be a sure tip-off for any trusted neighbor who is aware of your absence.
  • If you are inclined to keep a spare set of keys hidden on your property, try to find the most inconspicuous place to do so.  It’s surprising how many people still put them underneath a welcome mat or some out of place rock close by the steps.  At least make the thief break a sweat before the cops come to take them away.

What things do you typically do before setting sail on your vacation?

Renee King is an Atlanta, GA based administrative assistant by day who spends most of her waking hours plotting the next excursion to anyplace outside of her zip code.  She wants to teach those who think that traveling is some unobtainable dalliance for the rich and famous or the well connected, that it is not true.

If you have never traveled before or want to learn tips on how to see the world for as little as possible, subscribe to her RSS Feed for inspiration, reviews and trip reports that will help you to sample the world by traveling at a fraction of the price!





Renee King
[email protected]
  • Kelly
    Posted at 16:21h, 07 March Reply

    Good tips! I really liked the video tape suggestion… so smart! I also have someone collect my mail, and I give them the key so they can come in and out and make sure no one has broken in!

    • Renee
      Posted at 19:46h, 07 March Reply

      That’s a good idea, Kelly. Even if they can’t stay for extended periods of time, just having someone to keep tabs on everything is great.

  • Christy
    Posted at 16:42h, 07 March Reply

    All great tips! We use a light timer too. I may need to look into a motion sensor for the outside light though.

    • Renee
      Posted at 19:48h, 07 March Reply

      I love mine. It’s handy to have when you pull into your dark driveway….my vision isn’t that great anyway so it’s nice to be able to see how to make it to my front door. ;-D

  • Jeremy B
    Posted at 18:22h, 07 March Reply

    Renee, here is another important one – don’t post your vacation plans on Facebook. Finding your status updates isn’t as hard as you think. I have a number of friends get the FB accounts hacked. Same happened to me in November. For some people, not everyone on FB is their “friend” so be careful what you post on social networking sites. It’s up to each person what they choose to do but sites like Facebook can lead to break ins as people will know you are not home.

    • Renee
      Posted at 19:50h, 07 March Reply

      It’s amazing how people put all of their private information out there for the world to see. I don’t understand why they let their guards down like that.

  • Gray
    Posted at 21:26h, 07 March Reply

    Good tips, Renee! I do most of these things, too. My parents have a key to my house, so no need to leave one where the wrong person can find it. I don’t do the light timer thing. I don’t worry too much about someone breaking into my house, though; I live in an upstairs condo unit, and I know it would be very risky for someone to try to get in here and take stuff without any of my neighbors seeing them. Plus, I really have nothing worth stealing. They’d be sadly disappointed if they went to all that trouble for what I’ve got! 🙂

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:46h, 08 March Reply

      Awww….you’d be surprised. One of the main things people have been busted for in my neck of the woods is copper wire….yes….copper wire….mostly from abandoned homes, but sometimes from homes with owners who are on vacation. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.

  • Grace
    Posted at 23:41h, 07 March Reply

    I think people rarely think about these things because they are busy packing or trying to get out of the house as soon as possible. I agree with Jeremy- don’t post your plans on FB or Twitter. Also, some of my techie friends suggested installing web accessed security cameras for peace of mind…they really work!

  • Cathy Sweeney
    Posted at 00:40h, 08 March Reply

    All great tips. I’m so glad you mentioned being cautious and packing the car up privately. Since we have an attached garage, I just keep the garage door closed until everything is in the car. No need to take unnecessary chances. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ayngelina
    Posted at 08:58h, 08 March Reply

    Great tips, Renee, I never thought about packing in the dark but it makes a lot of sense.

  • Jillian
    Posted at 13:23h, 08 March Reply

    Great tips! Timers and motion sensors are so important! It’s a really easy (& cheap) way to make people think you’re home. Also, be careful about talking about your plans- while backpacking we overheard so many people talking about how much money they were carrying, where they stashed it, etc… all the hostel lobby! Not smart!

    • Renee
      Posted at 13:49h, 08 March Reply

      I couldn’t agree more, Jillian. I don’t understand why people do things like that. It’s as if they are giving someone a roadmap or a how-to of how to rob them.

  • inka
    Posted at 13:53h, 08 March Reply

    It’s true what you say: people still leave their spare key under the welcome mat. Here is another tip of what not to do: when you travel by air or train, do not label your luggage with your address. Trained ‘spotters’ are around to suss out empty houses.

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:43h, 08 March Reply

      That’s a good one, Inka….it’s meant to be a handy way of getting your luggage back to you…now the thieves use it as their personal gps.

  • Michael Figueiredo
    Posted at 17:05h, 08 March Reply

    Great list, Renee! I do most of these things too. I love coming home to a clean house as well 🙂

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:27h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks, Michael…..It’s a nice feeling isn’t it?

  • Andrea
    Posted at 19:23h, 08 March Reply

    Excellent tips! Some of these things are easy to forget when you’re packing for and excited about a trip.

    LOVE your header for the blog, by the way – excellent graphic =)

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:23h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks, Andrea….I decided that I needed a change and the previous incarnation was too graphic heavy. The new header was just what I needed.

  • Jason
    Posted at 00:42h, 09 March Reply

    Yo Renee,
    Nice post and I like the new look!

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:21h, 09 March Reply

      Thanks, Jason! I couldn’t be more pleased with how the new banner turned out!

  • Jeremy
    Posted at 11:52h, 11 March Reply

    The video idea is perfect. Everyone should have their valuables recorded or photographed for insurance reasons and this is another good reason to do it!

  • Marin Sedita
    Posted at 03:09h, 21 May Reply

    I swear your blog is the best!!! I love it, thanks for postin’

  • BillyB
    Posted at 22:29h, 08 March Reply

    I agree with using house sitters especially if you have pets. One of the main concerns of people going on vacation is what to do with your pets if you cant take them with you. Dog boarding or pet kennels can be expensive and the poor animals pine for the sights and smells of their own home and familiar faces. Thats where house sitters solve the problem. There are websites where you can find people to house sit free in exchange for free accommodation. What better way is there to keep your pets happy and for you to enjoy a relaxing vacation?

  • Ed Aguilar
    Posted at 17:49h, 27 September Reply

    Great article, Rene. Unfortunately, most people don’t even consider their garage door when it comes to home security. The garage door can be a very vulnerable access point for a thief. So if you will be going out of town, it’s best to secure it such as with bracing. Every little thing helps.

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