A bit rushed, but convinced everything’s in order, you head out the door to begin your vacation.
But once your plane reaches cruising altitude, or your family truckster is 40 miles out, worries creep in: Will the furniture still be there when we get back? Will Fido be okay? Did I turn off the coffee pot?
If you want to worry less on your trip and increase the chances of finding your home the way you left it, run through this pre-flight checklist.
Don’t put out a virtual welcome mat.
We all like bragging about our trips, but refrain from discussing details on social networking sites before you go. “Every day in my networks, someone indicates that they’re looking forward to their trip. They’re even kind enough to indicate their dates of travel and mention that the entire family is going. Why not just post a sign up in the local jail letting the criminals know you’re going on vacation?” says private investigator Jeff Stein.
Too much information, specifically your home address, may be stored in your car’s GPS device. “If a thief were to steal your car, all he needs to do is turn on your GPS and push ‘Home,’” Stein says. “Since your car was parked at the airport or long term parking somewhere, he knows you’re not home,” he says. Further, the thief has the added luxury of opening your garage door with the remote built into your car, pulling into the garage, and loading up your own car with your stuff.
Take basic home security measures.
If you’re not quite ready to invest in an alarm system, take such lower-tech steps as “buying a device that plays the sound of an angry and protective watchdog when motion is detected,” Stein says, and no matter what, rig up timers that periodically switch on a few of your interior lights. And if you have a yard, he says, stow ladders or hefty garden tools that would save would-be house thieves the trouble of bringing their own equipment.
Unplug before you unwind.
Stein suggests unplugging as much as you can, including "the coffee pot, clock radios, TV’s, microwave and computers,” as well as unplugging the garage door opener, otherwise “it’s very easy for someone to purchase a universal remote garage door remote control and find the frequency that yours operates on,” he says.
Also consider shutting off your water, says productivity expert and frequent traveler Gayle LaSalle, especially “if you have a refrigerator with water and ice cubes on the door. While I was away, apparently the line to the refrigerator broke and I came home to a fully flooded kitchen. This resulted in a fairly large insurance claim and a very big inconvenience.”
Sit on it.
A house sitter, even one who visits occassionally, can help keep up appearances at home, notes former personal assistant and house sitter Suzanne Schilling. Get a referral rather than a random name from a message board, she says, and walk this person through details including “alarm systems, time of mail arrival, or any other system like sprinklers, trash collection, or street cleaners.” The fee, Schilling suggests, depends on “the duties and how long they’re staying and is unique to each situation,” and unless you’re dealing with a close friend, consider a contract.
If you’re not actively involving your neighbors in maintaining your home’s safety, at least let them know you’ll be away as well as if you’re having anyone check on your house while you're gone, suggests Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, co-founder and editor-in-chief of WeJustGotBack.com. And if you have an alarm system that isn’t tied into the police department, ask your neighbors to phone the police if they hear your alarm wailing, Stein says.
Don't forget about Fido and Fifi.
Unless you’re harboring a low-maintenance pet, a better option than an all-purpose house sitter might be a licensed, bonded, and insured pet sitter. Where might you find such a person? Check with your veterinarian’s office, says certified animal behavior consultant and author Darlene Arden. “He or she may have a veterinary technician who does pet sitting for extra income. This person is trained for emergencies,” Arden points out. Whomever you hire, LaSalle adds that it’s a good idea to “let your vet know you’re leaving and give permission to perform any needed emergency services should they be needed during your absence. And be sure the pet sitter knows this.”
House sitters are usually a “better choice for cat owners since cats usually don’t appreciate change,” Arden says, but where the debate really heats up is deciding between a sitter and a kennel. “The majority of the time, I hire a sitter,” says public relations media director and frequent traveler Angela Berardino. “It costs about the same as a kennel, but has the added benefit of making sure plants are watered and mail is collected. I've used kennels in the past, but found it was highly stressful to my dog.” Stein also reported a less-than-favorable kennel experience, but that’s not to say it’s the wrong choice, especially if your pet enjoys being around other animals.
If you’re considering a kennel, Arden says, ask these questions: “How much staff do they have? What hours are staffers there? Are there smoke detectors? Web cams? Are they unhappy if you want to check in to see how your pet is doing? What is their plan in case of unexpected illness? Are they bonded? Insured? Do the dogs get exercise each day? Do dogs and cats get individual attention each day? What sort of environmental enrichment is provided?” If you like what you hear and the kennel appears safe and clean, check its references, Arden says, and consider boarding your pet there for a day or two as a trial run before you go.
There’s one last little thing to consider before you leave home. “If you forget to take out the garbage once,” Berardino says, “you never forget it again.”