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13 Steps to Prevent Catastrophes at Home While You’re Traveling

Keep your house safe, save money on bills, and return in comfort with our handy checklist.

With all the elements and excitement that come with travel, it’s easy to overlook the basics. But your house and all its contents (and probably your most valuable possessions) require careful consideration too. No matter how short the trip, things can go wrong back home. They could be as small as leaving the AC on and racking up an eye-watering bill, or as big as skilled thieves breaking and entering, destroying a small business, or making off with irreplaceable personal treasures. After a long journey home, all anyone really wants is to rest and be soothed by their familiarities. For the best possible chance of that happening, we’ve compiled a checklist of 13 steps to keeping your favorite place safe, efficient, and darn right inviting. Drop your bags and say “Ahh! There’s no place like home”.

1 OF 13

Finish or Trash the Perishables

Three days out from the trip, take stock of what you have in the fridge and try to incorporate anything perishable, like meat, eggs, vegetables, and cheese, into your meal plan. Anything due to expire while you’re away needs to go, and it should be consumed rather than wasted. Leaving this till the last day means good food ends up in the trash, as the decay will end up fuming up the fridge if it’s kept.

2 OF 13

Have a Ready Meal in the Freezer

You may book a flight that returns in the morning, giving you time to do groceries and cook, but cancellations or delays can happen, resulting in a late-night need for a quick and easy pre-packaged meal. Have something healthy waiting in the freezer; you’ll need good nutrition after a likely indulgent vacation or unhealthy airport and plane food. The same goes for long-life snacks, like nuts, dried fruit, and rice cakes.

3 OF 13

Close and Lock All Your Windows and Doors

American households are rather lax with door locking, especially in the Northwest, where 46% leave theirs unlocked. This is the easiest way for thieves to enter your home—it’s a no-brainer that they will try turning knobs and handles before breakage. The night before, make sure all exits are secured, and do it again before you leave, just in case someone in the family opens a window overnight.


4 OF 13

Leave the Spare Key With Someone You Trust

If it’s usually under the doormat, take it out now. That’s the next thing a burglar will check before breaking in. Instead, leave it with a trusted family member or neighbor, someone who can check in either every week or just in the event of an emergency. If you prefer to keep the key, do tell a good neighbor you’ll be away and to text you if they see anything suspicious.

5 OF 13

Keep the Plants Hydrated

For travelers without a friend to pop by and water the plants, fear not, your greens may still survive your tour of the world. If you’re away for up to a week, a deep watering right before you step out should be sufficient. For anything more, there are several tactics to try depending on the plant species. For example, lining a tray with water and rocks, and then placing your planter over it will help increase humidity, as will keeping them in a naturally-lit bathroom.

6 OF 13

Take Out the Trash

If you forget to take out the trash before a vacation, expect to return home to some foul odors. Even vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower contain sulfur, a chemical with a naturally bad stench. And let’s not even get into what a chicken carcass emits after a week in the can. Take the bag out, and sanitize the bottom of the bin before you replace a new lining.

7 OF 13

Wipe Down the Kitchen and Vacuum Each Room

Not only is it nice to come back to a clean home, but any crumbs or spillage can attract pests. You’ll avoid a rodent or bug infestation if you do a clean-up before the trip. If there is no time to do the whole house, at least prioritize the kitchen, dining room, or anywhere food is consumed. Use an antibacterial wipe and check under furniture for anything that might have rolled in.

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You Can Clean the Toilet But Remember to Flush it

Most of us want our toilets to smell as fresh as possible when we return, but pouring and leaving strong bleach for a prolonged time can corrode your toilet bowl and this can give off poisonous gases. The best thing to do is to scrub your toilet the night before, flushing it a few times to rinse off any chemicals. It should remain odorless by the time you’re back.

9 OF 13

Unplug Your Appliances

Our homes are full of electrical devices in standby mode—the Department of Energy reports that 10% of a household’s electric bill comes from this phantom energy usage. Unplug everything (except the refrigerator, of course) if you’re away for long periods, and save both energy and money. Doing so also protects your devices against power surges and any electric malfunctions that can result in fire.

10 OF 13

Adjust the AC and Boiler Settings

AC is the biggest drainer of energy so it’s best to turn it off whenever you go out. If you’re in a particularly hot and humid climate where condensation or mold can form, adjust it to meet a similar temperature to the outside to keep running costs low. Likewise, turning off your boiler will save energy plus reduce the risk of leaks. However, if it’s cold where you live and you want to keep the pipes from freezing, leave it on or set it for shorter times.

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Reschedule or Redirect Any Orders

Nothing says “I’m away” more than a doorway full of packages. It’s not only a giveaway that nobody’s home, but you also risk the packages themselves being taken. 44 million Americans become victims of porch pirates within three months. Reschedule any pending deliveries, or if you urgently need them upon return, have them dropped off with a neighbor or an Amazon locker for safekeeping.


12 OF 13

Ask Your Pet Sitter to Move Things Around

If you’ve enlisted help with feeding, walking, and checking in on your fur babies, ask the sitter to give you a hand and make your home look lived in. This can also deter burglary. Have them pick up mail from the doorway and place it in a box, open and draw some curtains, and move a couple of things around. This takes no time at all and it’s unlikely you’ll be charged a fee for the extra work. If you’re in an area where thieves regularly operate, it’s worth the ask.

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Finally, Change Your Sheets

Your future you will thank the now you for the pure joy of jumping into fresh sheets after a long journey home. Change them before you leave, and while you’re at it, lay out some clean clothes if you have work the next day. The goal is to return back to normality with as little effort as possible.