Before You Take Off for an Extended Trip, Do This
Tips on How to Make Sure Your Home is Safe When You’re Traveling
By Max Hartshorne
So you’ve finally decided to take that big trip, all the way around the world. While you’re out exploring the world and filling in your bucket list, here are some tips on how to prepare for a long period of time away from your home.
This is one of those things that depends on how long you’ll be gone. If it’s a full year or even as long as six months, you might just need to turn off your water right at the shut-off valve. Just turn it off and many things you might have had to worry about will be taken care of.
If you are going to be away for many months, it makes sense to ask a neighbor or a friend to stop by and turn on the water and run the faucets at least once a month.
If you don’t do this there is a chance that sewer gas can enter the house and fixtures can crack. Ask the same friend to flush the toilet and run the dishwasher empty when they come by.
Turn off your water at the source in the basement. For the hot water heater, if you don’t have the type that supplies hot water on demand, turn it to vacation mode. This means it will only run once in a while, but not attempt to keep a huge 55-gallon tank full of steaming hot water 24 hours a day.
One tip from Penny Pinchin’ Mom: Put antifreeze in your toilet (winter only). This is really important to prevent your toilet from freezing (in the instance where your furnace stops working. Turn off the water and then flush the toilet. That will drain the water out of the tank. Pour some marine antifreeze into the bowl (this is non-toxic). When you get home, turn the water back on and flush the tank and you’ll be back in business.
A good tip regardless of how long you’re going to be away is to pour a half a cup of bleach (chlorine) into the toilet bowl to avoid bacteria from growing in the bowl. The preventative measure make sense even for a week-long trip!
Setting up a timer to make it look like someone’s home is a no-brainer regardless of whether you’re leaving for a few days or a month. It’s so simple to do this, and if it makes a burglar pass by your house, that’s the point. But set a few lights to go on nightly to show activity and keep away people who might be casing a dark house that’s obviously empty.
Unplug small appliances and electronics.
Milk takes only about a week to smell really rancid. Same with hummus, tortillas, and fruit. So make sure you toss out any perishable foodstuffs and take them all out of the house to the garbage can when you are going to be gone.
Fruit flies quickly appear when food is left on the counter, so ditch even things like potatoes and onions, they’re cheap to replace and no one wants to come home to a science experiment.
Long term, you might be best off to totally clean and empty out the entire refrigerator and then unplug it, leaving the door open. But if you’re not sure about this, just remove all of the food and leave it running, but place some bottles of water on the shelves to keep it running efficiently.
Outside the House
"If you have a lawn you regularly mow, sorry, you’re not going to be able to get out of this one. Hire someone to come mow the lawn every few weeks and to keep the garden tidy. It’s a telltale sign that a house is empty when there is unkempt lawn with leaves everywhere and if you live in a place where fires are a risk, keeping the garden clean will also prevent bushfires from starting or spreading Ask the lawn mowing service to tidy up any fallen branches and remove leaves too, so it looks like someone who cares is still there."
Hold the Papers
If you subscribe to a local newspaper, be sure to cancel it or have them hold the newspapers for later delivery. Remember too, those free papers that sometimes get thrown on your driveway. Tell the publishers NOT to include your street address in their deliveries. A pile of newspapers is a dead giveaway that no one’s home.
Be careful about how you share the news of your departure on social media. Post to friends, but be wary of public posts that proclaim you’ve moved to Paris. I know you’re excited….but.
Pack your car for your fabulous journey INSIDE the garage. No reason to advertise that you’re about to depart. And don’t leave a message that anyone who calls your landline can hear saying you’re gone.
For your US Mail, you can either have the post office hold it all, or you can arrange for a forward. If you’re going somewhere across the ocean, however, will be cost prohibitive. There are a number of services you can contract with who will send you your mail either by scanning it and sending it by email or sending the actual paper mail.
If you are doing a home exchange, often part of the fun is being able to use the car in your new house abroad, and offering your renters the same thing. But if you’re planning on leaving the old jalopy in the driveway, ask that same nice neighbor who is helping turn on the water to take it out for a spin every month or so.
It’s amazing how fast brakes on cars rust, even a few months of sitting, with some rain will ruin your brakes. So get that car out and about every few weeks, and ask them to park it a bit differently from time to time.
Finally...and Most Important
Share your contact information abroad with a neighbor, and also write down the professionals you use...plumber, electrician, pool guy, dog walker etc. It might even make sense to talk to the local police and let them know where you’ll be, so they can schedule a patrol car to swing by during your absence.
Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.