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Vacation Safety Tips: 16 Ways to Prepare Your Home Before Vacation

February 09, 2016

When you’re busy preparing to go on vacation, it can be easy to overlook basic steps that keep your home safe (and in many cases save you money) while you’re away. Consider the FBI’s 2014 report on burglary statistics: “Victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses in 2014. Overall, when the average value was applied to the estimated number of burglaries, the average dollar loss per burglary offense was $2,251.”

Some of these home preparation tips may seem cliché, but they are a small inconvenience compared to the thousands of dollars you could lose in a burglary. Take these steps to protect your home while you’re on vacation.

Home Preparation Tips

1. Arrange for someone you trust to check on things in your absence.
2. Keep the lawn mowed or driveway shoveled.
3. Have the post office hold your mail.
4. Have a neighbor take the trash to the end of the driveway.

Burglars will watch a house for telltale signs that you’re away on vacation. If you are gone for two weeks or more, the yard might start to look shaggy and unkempt (or the snow unshoveled), the newspapers will pile up on the front doorstep, vehicles won’t be coming and going, and your trash cans won’t be set out. These signs are a green flag to criminals looking to break into homes. To avoid making these mistakes, make sure you’ve scheduled someone to take care of the yard and have the post office hold your mail. Talk to a friend and have them stop over to check on the house. The peace of mind you feel knowing that a friend is overlooking your house is well worth the cupcakes or cookies you’ll offer them in exchange. 

5. Turn out the lights. 
6. Have one lamp on a timer.
7. Think about if your home is safer with the blinds open or closed.
8. Trim overgrown bushes.
9. Scatter your valuables.

Leaving a light on to make it look like someone is home is good, but having the same lights on in your house 24 hours a day for seven days straight can be costly, ineffective and an obvious sign that you’re away on vacation. Consider purchasing a light switch timer and scheduling various on/off times. Opinions differ about whether or not to close your blinds, but consider the general safety of your neighborhood before making this decision. If you’re at risk of neighbors or people on your street eyeing your valuables, then maybe it’s better to close your blinds. However, if your neighbors are more likely to peek in and check if they suspect something strange is happening, then considering leaving your blinds as you normally would. An unobstructed view inside the house could be helpful to neighbors or police checking for unusual activity.
Take a walk around the outside of your house before you leave and try to spot other obstructed views into your home. It’s not uncommon for burglars to use overgrown bushes as cover while they pry open a first-floor window or slip in a door. If someone does break in, don’t make it easy for them to find what they want. This goes beyond tips for leaving for vacation, but if you have valuable information or documents that aren’t in a safety deposit box, scatter them throughout the house in unconventional locations like kitchen cupboards, pantries, children’s rooms or the laundry room. 

10. Unplug appliances and electronics.
11. Set the thermostat accordingly. 

Did you know that items like TVs, toaster ovens and phone chargers continue to use electricity even when they’re not in use? To save on electric bills and protect your belongings from power surges, be sure to unplug unnecessary items before you leave on vacation. If you’re traveling in the summer and you don’t have pets in the home, it is safe to set your thermostat at 90 degrees, or turn it off completely, just remember to have a friend come over and set it at the normal temperature a day or so before you return. In the winter months, keep your thermostat set to at least 50 degrees to avoid freezing pipes. 

12. Purge your fridge of perishable foods.
13. Remove the spare key.

After saying goodbye to the Mexican sun or freshly-powdered mountains of Colorado, the last thing you want to come home to is a smelly kitchen. Be sure to dispose of milk, fruits and other perishables so your house will smell as good as it did when you left. Make sure your house sitter has a spare key and isn’t seen pulling out a hidden key each time they venture over. Unfortunately, the hide-a-key rock just doesn’t cut it anymore. The areas around your front door will be the first place intruders look to find your spare key, so it’s best to save yourself the trouble and give that spare key directly to the friend.

14. Lock up!
15. Post a Beware of Dog Sign.
16.  Do not post about your trip on social media until after the trip has passed.

Double checking that you locked all your windows and doors could mean the difference between a safe home and a break-in. If you have a home security system, make sure it’s armed. If you don’t have a security system, consider sticking a “Beware of Dog” sign in the window. Burglars are less likely to break in if they think they might be dealing with a dog.

Tipping off friends, acquaintances and strangers (depending on your privacy settings) about your upcoming vacation is comparable to trusting an intruder with "checking on" your house. Save your social media posting until after you've safely returned. 

Keeping Your Home Safe While You’re on Vacation

Before you head out, ask yourself these questions and decide what level of precaution you need to take before going on vacation.

1. How long am I going to be gone? 

The longer you will be away, the more preparation you need to do to keep your home safe.

2. Have there been burglaries in my neighborhood before? 

Burglars have a tendency to return the same residences or areas so if it’s common in your area, take extra precaution.

3. How well do I know my neighbors?

While a trusted group of people keeping an eye out for strange activity might not prevent a burglar, they may be able to notify the authorities and get help quickly. 

Finally, if the unexpected happens while you are away, your local Farm Bureau agent can help you get back on your feet.