16 Essential Tasks to Prepare Your Home Before Vacation

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Going on vacation should be a break from your worries, not something that adds to them. That’s why it’s worth taking the time to prepare your home before vacation by making it unattractive to pests and burglars, and safe from floods or fire. I’ve found it’s much easier to relax and enjoy time away when I know there won’t be anything unpleasant awaiting our return. So, if you’ve got a get-away planned, here’s my list of things to do before you go on vacation, so your place is still home sweet home when you return.

1. Do Some Pre-Vacation Cleaning

Spending some time cleaning before you leave on vacation means you won’t return to a foul-smelling home overrun by pests and mold. If you don’t have time for a whole home tidy, at least do the following:

  • Wash the dirty dishes or run the dishwasher.
  • Clear off and wipe the kitchen counters.
  • Empty your fridge of any perishables that may spoil while you’re away.
  • Use baking soda and vinegar on your bathroom and kitchen drains and your garbage disposal to prevent odors and keep fruit flies from breeding while you’re gone.
  • Clean and flush all the toilets so you don’t come home to any surprises.
  • Change your sheets and towels, so they don’t mildew or breed dust mites in your absence.
  • Empty every wastebasket and take out the trash, so it doesn’t rot and stink up your home.

It sounds like a lot of work when you’re already busy making sure everyone is ready to go, but coming home to a clean house makes doing all that vacation laundry a little more bearable.

2. Check Entry Points

Always double-check every window and door in your home before going on vacation to make sure they’re shut tight and securely latched. This not only protects your home from burglars but also safeguards against weather damage. Test every window and door, even the ones you don’t use very often. More than once when I’ve done this to prepare for our vacation, I’ve found upstairs windows that we’d shut but not locked. If I hadn’t checked before we left, a good rainstorm would’ve caused problems.

3. Use Timers on Lights

To give the impression your home is occupied when you’re away, put a lamp or two on each floor of your home on a timer. You can do this with TVs or radios as well. We used to set the downstairs lights and TV to go off and the upstairs bedroom lamp to turn on at the same time, so it looked like someone was going to bed. Now, smart home devices make this easier. Some even have vacation modes which will turn things on and off randomly.

4. Activate or Fake a Security System

Whether real or faked, a home security system can deter burglars. For those with a system, make sure your alarm company is aware of your vacation and has your contact information. For those without a security system, you can create the illusion of one by displaying fake security stickers near your home’s entrances. Or do what a clever friend of mine does and leave a very large pet bowl where it’s visible from the front of your house. Thieves will assume you have a guard dog and move on.

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5. Be Smart About Hiding Keys

Leaving your home’s spare key in a predictable spot makes you vulnerable to burglary. Avoid putting a key under the welcome mat or a potted plant, and on top of outdoor light fixtures. Think of other unlikely places that aren’t necessarily convenient, like in the bottom of a BBQ grill, attached to the pool sweeper with a magnet, or nailed inside the hollow of a tree. The key will still be accessible in an emergency, but hurried burglars won’t bother searching for it.

6. Park in the Garage

One sure sign that a homeowner is gone on vacation is a vehicle in the driveway that never moves. This is such a giveaway that savvy burglars will draw a small line of chalk on the back tires of a car, then watch it over several days for signs of movement. If you usually park in your garage, continue to do so, and lock the garage door. If you usually park in your driveway, ask a neighbor to move your vehicles regularly or even to park theirs in your drive while you’re gone.

7. Pay Your Bills

Make sure your utility, sewer, cell phone, insurance, and mortgage payments are current before you leave for vacation to protect your credit and prevent interrupted service. But also consider contacting landline, cable, and internet providers to pause your service if you won’t need it while you’re gone. (Don’t do this if your security system or smart home lights rely on the internet.)

8. Suspend Deliveries Before Vacation

Piles of boxes or a full mailbox are obvious signals of an unoccupied home. Prepare for vacation by stopping online shopping a week to 10 days before you go, so you don’t receive deliveries in your absence. Put your mail on hold with the post office, and suspend any newspaper or other subscription deliveries in your absence, too.

9. Adjust Your Thermostat

Don’t completely turn off your heating or cooling while you’re on holiday. Just adjust them slightly and you’ll still save money. In the summer, set your thermostat for 85°F and the AC will still keep pets and plants safe while you’re gone on vacation. In the winter, don’t lower your home’s heat past 55°F or you’ll risk frozen pipes.

10. Unplug Electronics

Unplugging electronics before vacation can help save energy, protect your devices, and reduce the risk of electrical fires. Things like TVs, game consoles, phone chargers, computers, and toasters still draw a small amount of electricity when not in use. Disconnecting them helps conserve energy, and protects them from damage if there’s a power surge in your absence. Unplugging devices also reduces the possibility of an electrical fire from a short while you’re gone. Leave the refrigerator and freezer plugged in so your nonperishables stay safe, but turn the settings up slightly since you won’t be there opening it to let the chill out.

11. Manage Your Water Heater

Water heaters continue to use energy to maintain a set temperature, even when no one is home taking showers. Prepare your home before vacation by turning your water heater down. Many have a specific vacation mode setting which cuts energy use to 20% of normal, or you can turn it to “Pilot Only” while you’re away in the summer. In the winter, lower your water heater just to 100°F to avoid frozen pipes while you’re away.

12. Prevent Washing Machine Leaks

Your washing machine’s valves are open all the time, but water only flows into the tub when the controller tells it to. This creates a risk of leaks while you’re gone on vacation, since a failed controller or gasket lets the water flow with no one there to stop it. Protect your home from unexpected leaks while you’re on vacation by reaching behind your washing machine to turn the water valves off. This is especially important for older appliances. We skipped this step once with an old washer and came home to several inches of standing water and a costly mess.

13. Keep Your Yard Tended

A snow-covered driveway in the winter or an overgrown lawn in the summer are signs the owner is gone on vacation. Arrange for snow-removal or lawn-mowing while you’re gone — you can often hire a neighborhood teen to handle this if you don’t have a service. Leave your irrigation schedule unchanged, so dried out or brown grass doesn’t give away your absence.

14. Water Your Plants

Give your houseplants and outdoor container plants a thorough soaking before you leave. If you’ll be gone for longer than a week, look into automatic waterers or make your own wick system to water your plants. Placing outdoor plants in cachepots can also keep them from drying out quickly. Again, a trusted neighbor can be a big help keeping your foliage thriving while you’re gone.

15. Be Discreet on Social Media

Even internet-savvy people forget to check their privacy settings for check-ins and posts. It takes only one person creeping your profile to find out you’re gone and target your home. Wait until you’ve returned from vacation to post your pics, just to be safe.

16. Leave Quietly

Parents often prepare for long drives by having their kids burn off energy, but your neighbors aren’t the only ones who might see them running laps around the house. Construction or repair crews, delivery people, and folks who cruise around looking for break-in opportunities may notice, too. To avoid calling attention, pack your car in a closed garage. Before you leave for vacation, have the kids burn off excess energy by doing laps up and down stairs in your home.

It may sound like a lot of effort, but these are mostly common sense steps to make your place look occupied and conserve energy while preventing water and electrical damage when you’re gone. So, take the time to prepare your home for vacation before you leave, and you’ll come home to a clean, comfortable environment that extends your relaxation vibe.

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