If you plan to travel over the holiday season, you’re in good company. In 2015, AAA reported that nearly 100 million Americans—nearly one-third of the population—packed their bags and spent the holidays at least 50 miles from home.
While some of you will be singing “Jingle Bells” in paradise, it's more likely you’ll be taking a road trip to a relative’s house. No matter where you venture, being away from home and out of your routine can expose you and your unattended home to theft and more. Protect yourself from some worst-case scenarios by keeping these 17 tips in mind.
Prepare your watch crew
Before you leave, you’ll want to enlist at least a couple of watchful friends or family members to keep an eye on your place. Ask anyone who lives within viewing distance of your abode, if possible, along with a backup in case your friend or family member suddenly can’t. This small effort may prevent you coming home to an unpleasant surprise, such as a ransacked house and a telltale broken basement pane. Here’s a checklist to help you get your friend or family member up to speed:
- Set the routine: If this isn’t a pet-sitting situation where someone needs to enter the house daily, have them keep an eye on the exterior, both front and back. Give them a key so they can enter and do a walk-through at least once while you're away. If they discover a broken or opened door or window, they should not enter the home and instead call law enforcement immediately.
- Share your itinerary: They will more than likely text you if they need to reach you, butut you should still email the rundown of your travel plans, including departure and arrival dates, flight numbers and times, and a contact number where you’ll be staying. After all, a backup is always good in case something happens to your phone (or your ability to charge it).
- Take care of deliveries: Don’t forget to have something done about your mail. If your neighbor can collect it daily, that's an easy way to keep tabs on your place. Otherwise, simply request that the postal service hold it for you. This is the holiday season, of course, so leave instructions for all packages.
- Don't forget snow removal: Nothing screams “No one’s home!” like a driveway heaping with untouched snow. Hire someone to come by and remove the snow, and ask a neighbor to pull up and turn around in your driveway from time to time, just to leave tracks.
Prepare your home
Your home is probably your biggest investment. If your travel plans last longer than a few days, this checklist can help protect it when you are off celebrating the holidays.
- Lights: What’s the easiest way to deter a burglar? Make him doubt that he’s working with an empty house. Invest in a set of timers for your TV room and bedrooms and set them to switch on lamps at various time. (A lamp and timer setup in your bathroom adds a nice realistic touch.) Also leave a radio tuned to a talk radio station—the sound of voices coming from inside could help deter a burglar.
- Thermostat: If you have a pet-free house, you can go ahead and lower the temperature to 55 degrees Fahrenheit, which is warm enough to keep things from freezing, but cool enough to give your furnace and energy usage a break. In the hustle to get out the door, however, this money and energy-saving step could easily be overlooked. If you don’t have a smart thermostat, set a reminder on your phone.
- Water: Should a pipe burst or even leak while you’re gone, it could slowly empty water right into your basement and damage appliances, furniture and much more. Turn off the water main in your home before you leave and drain the pipes by flushing the toilets and turning on the faucets. Also turn your water heater down to “vacation mode” so you aren’t spending money on keeping water warm when you’re not around.
- Electronics: Unplug everything that will not be in use while you’re away, including your washer and dryer, television, computer, toaster and coffee maker. Appliances can suck energy when they’re plugged in and not in use.
Prepare for the journey
Aside from your clothes and gifts, your packing list should include some additional items and documents so you’re ready for anything.
For example, print out itineraries and other key travel information. Even though what you need may be just a swipe and tap away on your phone, it’s not wise to rely on your device for everything. After all, it could get lost or you could lose battery power—and, as we all know, some places just have lousy service or connections.
- Check in: Whether you’re meeting someone at the airport or driving to your in-laws' place, let them know when you expect to arrive and which route you’re taking.
- Flight reservation/receipt: This information should include your airline, flight times and the flight number.
- Hotel information: Bring a printout of your reservation, which should include the hotel’s address and phone number. Make sure you print off the directions to the hotel as well.
- Hosts and companions: If you’re staying at someone’s home, print the address and phone number, along with driving directions.
- Identification: Whether you're flying or driving, it's worthwhile to check your ID. Does it need renewing or updating? If it's expired, that could prevent you from boarding your plane.
- Prepare for paradise: If you’re traveling abroad, the list of documents you will need is even more extensive. Make two copies of your passport, visa, travel insurance and vaccine certification.
- Car rental confirmation: Like your flight reservation, carry a printout of your receipt with you so you can easily find your way to the correct counter.
- Battery backup: Along with a phone charger for your car, make sure you have a power bank, which is a portable battery you can charge ahead of time.
- Winter kit: If you are like most holiday travelers, you're driving at least 50 miles. Since a winter storm can hit with little warning, it's a good idea to round up a few items to store in your trunk should you get stranded or stuck. Consider a sleeping bag, fresh water, non-perishable snacks, boots, jumper cables, shovel, a plastic jug filled with sand or cat litter, and a red bandanna.
Whether you are flying or driving, a little care and preparation ahead of time will help you minimize the risk of something going awry and free you up to make the holidays magical and bright.