You've got the hotel reservations confirmed. That novel you've been dying to crack open is tucked into your carry-on bag. Everything is in line for a trip that's snag-free. But is your home going to be safe while you're on vacation?
Here are five tips to help ensure your home won't be robbed, vandalized, or simply neglected while you're sunning on a beach, camping under the stars, or touring cathedrals in Europe.
Tip #1: Look to the neighbors.
Is there a household on your block where one of the occupants works at home during the day or is a stay-at-home parent? Sometimes all your home needs is a pair of watchful eyes. Without asking this neighbor to water the plants or take out the dog or bring in the mail, simply ask this: Will you let me know if you see anything odd around my house while I am away? Provide him or her with your cell-phone number and a relative or close friend who might have an extra key to your house (this person will need to visit the home and investigate if, say, a front window is smashed or a tree falls onto your front porch). Now, while your neighbor is walking the dog or trimming bushes -- and knowing that you are out of town -- it might seem alarming when he or she spots an individual banging on your door and then peering into the windows. Is it a robbery about to happen or a sales call? You won't know if you don't designate a pair of eyes to investigate.
Tip #2: Don't advertise your vacation.
We all like to brag about our vacations, but it's best to save that news until you've returned and are sleeping in your own bed at night. While you might think that your 773 Facebook friends and 599 Twitter followers are your friends, you really don't know that. Also, if you publish a blog that's deeply personal -- and even if it's not -- don't let on that you are going to be taking a break from blogging. These days it's possible to pre-schedule posts in advance, with just a few clicks on your computer's keyboard and mouse. This way you can make it look like you are home -- even when you are not. As for Facebook and Twitter, try your best to stay off those social-media channels and relax while on vacation. Your connections may simply take your virtual absence as a sign that you are stressed and busy.
Tip #3: Leave some lights on.
My neighbors like to pull the shades down on every single one of their windows -- both floors, all sides of the house -- when they go out of town. That's how I know they are away. Don't be this obvious. Instead, ask the person who is watching your home -- feeding pets, watering plants, bringing in the mail, etc. -- to rotate which lights are switched on at night. One night, make it the master-bedroom lamp for a soft glow coming from that room. For another evening, ask your house sitter to turn on the overhead chandelier in the dining room. Keep the curtains parted at least two or three feet. With blinds, leave some throughout the house closed and others open. You can also take advantage of timing devices that can turn some lights on and off.
Tip #4: Stop all deliveries.
One tip that a house is vacant are the number of newspapers lying on the front porch or strewn across the sidewalk. You don't want that to be your situation -- and a reason for a roving burglar to pull up to your home during the day and loot your jewelry and electronics. Make sure you cancel your newspaper before you even start packing. Go the second step and notify the U.S. Postal Service that you are going to be out of town on certain dates. You then have two options: pick up the bundle of mail at the nearest post office after your return, or request that it be delivered in bulk on your first day back. I receive a lot of packages from UPS and FedEx (for wine clubs) and when I know I am going to be out of town, and not in the house to sign for them, I let my delivery guys know. Think about this: it saves them the hassle, too.
Tip #5: Install solar-powered lights.
Sometimes all it takes is a motion-sensor light to deter any weird activity on your property, whether it is a group of kids scuttling through the yard on a shortcut or a criminal scoping out the scene. Lights that are powered by the sun -- during the day they suck up the solar energy, which turns on after nightfall -- are inexpensive and don't require any electricity usage. Place one near the front door, the back door, the garage, and along the front and back sidewalks. If a potential robber is suddenly illuminated for all the neighbors to see, he or she might think twice about continuing down your sidewalk.
Got any other tips? Feel free to share in the comments section below.