Twelve Good Things To Do Before You Leave for Your Trip
It would be so great if we could all hire a house-sitter to keep a watchful eye, but as far as I know, most of the reliable ones cost just about what my traveling food budget might be so I think I'll just take my chances on coming home to a stale apartment at the end of my trip and pray that my kitchen has not turned to ash.
Step #1: UNPLUG
By far the best thing you can do for yourself. You not only can you diminish the chance of any funky electrical disasters (at least derived from your apartment), but you also save energy (money!). Even the tiniest red light on your VCR or alarm clock can send the meter reader spinning.
Step #2: OUT WITH THE TRASH (EVEN THE FRIDGE)
Take out every garbage sack out of every room from your bathroom to your kitchen-slash-den and toss out what's already rotten or on the verge of rottendom in your fridge. Trash sitting for two weeks in a small apartment is a perfect opportunity for neighbors to complain to your landlord about a nose-disturbance.
Step #3: RECRUIT WATCHFUL NEIGHBORS
If your neighbors aren't out to get you, let them know you'd appreciate it if they called 911 if there was any suspicious activity in or around your apartment or house when you're gone. Let them be your eyes and ears while you're gone, as long as they are not burglars themselves.
Step #4: EMPTY OUT STILL WATER
This step takes the "out with the trash" rule further than most people might think of doing. Especially if you're leaving cats behind for a couple of days, empty out any vases or containers of water. Water damage is bad news especially in older apartments or homes. On the same note, if you have any fish tanks on tables or counters, put them on the floor under a desk if possible to maximize their life expectancy if an earthquake hits.
Step #5: MAKE SURE OVEN AND STOVE ARE OFF
This should seem obvious enough, but people have done it when they're in a hurry to catch the red-eye and didn't even have time to eat the TV dinner in the oven before leaving. Then poof!--TV dinner and home sweet home goes up in smoke.
Step #6: CANCEL NEWSPAPER AND MAIL
Burglars use stacks of newspapers and overflowing mailboxes as an indicator that no one's been home for a long time and your house or apartment is ripe for a stealin'! Call the paper company and turn in a stop mail form to the Post Office to keep your house from looking blatantly vacant.
Step #7: DOUBLE CHECK WINDOWS AND DOORS
People usually do this well, with the exception of bathroom windows and basement doors, so don't forget those. Lock 'em all! Most burglars are able to come into the home through an open door or window, so don't set yourself up.
Step #8: LOCK THE BIKE UP
Lock up your bike or let the air out of the tires, even if it's in your house/apartment, and especially if you use it regularly to get to work or to visit your friends. For some gals, a stolen mode of transport is the thing that ends up making things most difficult. Hell with the DVD player.
Step #9: TURN THE PHONE RINGER OFF
A phone ringing off the hook day and night is a telltale sign of absence. Have your machine pick up on a low volume (never say you're on vacation on the recording) or use call forwarding.
Step #10: CLOSE GAS & WATER TAPS
To prevent mini-tsunami floods or gas explosions, be sure to turn off the water and gas pipes. Usually there are knobs under the sink and under the toilets but if you're not sure about it, give your landlord or maintenance office a ringy. If you're a homeowner and you're not sure where things are, get a specialist (or at least a plumber) out to show you where everything is and label it for future reference. If your heat is run on electric, turn all of the controls down all the way.
Step #11: LEAVE GAS BOTTLES, PROPANE TANKS, AND GAS/OIL LAMPS OUTSIDE
These are mainly for camping experts who have every tool, device, and gas-powered equipment to rough it on a moments notice. Take it all out, girls. Garages don't count as "outside" but sheds do. If you live in an apartment, at least pack them in an enclosed container (ideally made of a futuristic heat-proof super metal) so if there's a fire or earthquake, your collection of flammables won't add to the fire.
Step #12: LEAVE A KEY WITH A FRIEND
The rule should be, leave a key with a relative, because they are less likely to betray you and milk you for all you're worth, but seldom are we lucky enough to live close to any (even extended) kin. Let alone mom and pops. So leave a key with someone who would give you their shirt off their back in case you lose your keys en route to China or you need them to send you a copy of your birth certificate and passport in Madrid.
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