Going somewhere? What to do before you leave…or else!

Have you ever come home from vacation to an unfortunate surprise in your house? One of my friends recently returned to find an expired squirrel in her living room. The poor thing had apparently climbed in through a cracked window, then couldn’t find its way out again. So sad. And also so gross, because she had been gone for two months!

Before we go on vacation, I run down a checklist of “to-do’s.” I find it makes the process easier, and I am less likely to forget anything (like making sure to shut all the windows). Here’s my list – do you have a similar one?


1. Unplug appliances.

I love doing this! It’s so fun to unplug everything and know that we are saving money AND being energy-efficient. Why pay for electricity that you’re not using?

2. Open doors between rooms.

Keep all your doors open – including closet doors. That way the air can circulate and nothing will get musty.

3. Put lights on timers.

If you’re gone for a long time, consider asking a friend to come over and switch up the timers every once in a while.

4. Let your alarm company know you’ll be away.

If your alarm company knows you aren’t home, they usually won’t waste a step by trying to call you before they dispatch the police. It’s also a great idea to designate a trusted friend or neighbor as an alternate point of contact.

5. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors.

So there won’t be any annoying beeping if the battery runs low. People outside can hear that, you know.

6. Adjust your thermostat.

I admit that I don’t know much about this one, because we don’t need air conditioning here in the SF Bay Area, and it never gets cold enough for anything to freeze. However, if you live in a place where it gets very hot or very cold, I’m sure you know what to do here.

7. Close your windows.

Alas, poor squirrel.

8. Check that your doors are locked.

A no-brainer, but do it anyway.


1. Put your mail on hold.

You can easily do this online. I even do it when we will be out of town for the weekend.

2. Get help from a neighbor.

Ask a neighbor or a friend to check on your house every few days to make sure that nothing is amiss, or that you don’t have packages on your porch, free newspapers on your driveway or random flyers sticking out of your mailbox.

3. Hire a gardener.

If you’ll be away for an extended period of time, you might want to think about hiring a gardener to tidy up the yard in your absence. You don’t have to tell them you’ll be out of town – just schedule and pay in advance.

4. Don’t leave your car parked in one spot.

If your car is parked outside, arrange for a friend or neighbor to drive every so often so it looks like it is being used.


1. Empty the dishwasher and leave it open.

Yucky things can grow in a closed dishwasher.

2. Clean your garbage disposal.

My favorite trick is to let the disposal run for a minute or so as you slowly pour white vinegar and water into it. This ensures that it will smell fresh and clean when you return.

3. Empty your fridge…sort of.

Did you know that your refrigerator will run more efficiently when it’s not completely empty? Once you’ve cleaned out all the perishables, fill the empty space with juice containers, empty soda bottles, or gallon jugs filled with water.

Alternatively, you can clear everything out, open the door, and unplug the fridge.


1. Turn it off?

Consider turning the water off altogether (at the main shut-off valve). If you’ll be gone longer than six weeks, you might want to have a friend come over to run faucets and flush toilets every so often.

2. Turn it down?

Since you won’t be using any hot water, you can save energy by turning your water heater down.

  • For an electric water heater: turn the temperature dial down a few degrees.
  • For a natural gas water heater: turn it down to “low” or to “vacation mode.”

3. Keep it fresh.

Adding 1/2 cup of Borax to each toilet bowl should prevent the ring that might occur from standing water. DO NOT add bleach to your toilet – this is terrible for the environment!

4. Check it.

Take a field trip around your house to make sure that there are no leaky faucets inside or dripping pipes outside. Also run your sprinkler system to make sure it’s not spraying wildly or leaking.


What do you do before you leave on vacation? Do you have anything to add to this list? Have any unfortunate events happened at your home in your absence (I hope not!)?




  1. We do all those things, but wanted to add we are especially diligent about turning off the household water. We know of two people that came home from a trip to flooded houses.

    That was enough for us.

  2. We had a strange thing that used to happen at our house (when we were home) that led us to add a pre-vacation step. Several times during thunderstorms, we had lightning trigger our electric garage doors to open. Ever since then, before we leave, my husband turns off the breaker for the garage doors so they can’t be tripped this way.

  3. If you don’t turn your water off all together at least turn off the faucets for your washing machine. The hoses can burst and flood your home. Turning off the main water valve is best however.

    We usually leave a radio on to try and deter someone from breaking in. I don’t know if it works but it’s cheap insurance.

  4. Points Pixie says

    Anne – Yikes! Yes, that is enough for me, too!

    VH – Weird! Good tip, thank you.

    DaninSTL – Good idea about the washing machine hoses. I also sometimes leave a radio on.

  5. Our Police liaison recommends putting a screwdriver through your garage door tracks so the random “clicker” driving by will be unsuccessful. A friend of mine leaves a dummy purse laying around so that, if someone does break in, he will have something to take.

  6. Have a neighbor take out your garbage cans on trash removal day and put them away after the sanitation workers finish on the street, as nothing says “I’m not home” more than a house with no trash can activity.

    Speaking of trash, you may be able to place your mail on hold — but you may not be able to stop your friendly circular delivery person from dropping one of those unwanted advertisements in your driveway, on your front door, or outside of your mailbox. Have a neighbor keep an eye out for this and remove the unwanted and unsolicited “debris.”

    If you have a driveway, invite a neighbor or a friend to use it while you are gone to give the impression of activity at your home while you are away.

    If a delivery is expected while you are gone, either postpone it or arrange with a neighbor to receive it.

    Not that it is really necessary, but I unplug the modem and router for my Internet service. This saves energy and resets the connection so that you may have a fresh connection when you return.

    If a deep freeze is expected while you are away, ensure that an outside spigot is on a slow drip to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting — preventing a possible disaster.

    Finally, do not spread too much pixie dust around the house. I have no idea why — just do not do it.

  7. Kareninfl says

    I back up everything on my computer to a portable hard drive, take it to the bank and put it in my safety deposit box. If anything happens to my computer, like a fire, it’s stolen or crashes, etc., I won’t lose all my data like pictures, home videos, PDF files, tax returns, etc.

  8. Points Pixie says

    P T – More good tips, thank you for sharing!

    Brian – YES to the trash tips!

    But I have to disagree about the pixie dust – I find that it keeps bad guys away. 😉

    Kareninfl – GREAT idea.

  9. These are some great tips that I definitely need to pay attention to when I leave town. Never thought of most of them, but now I don’t see how I could go without doing it.

  10. resantaga says

    Turn off AND unplug your computers and peripherals.

  11. Leave some open books or
    Newspapers around to give the impression that someone’s home

  12. Wow. Heh. Well, I do travel a bunch, but can’t say I have a list or do much of this. Guess I’m odd man out on this one. Most of the time, someone else is home. And usually I’m not gone long. I do the mail hold, but only so my po box lady doesn’t get mad at me for letting it get full.

    oh well, actually my thing is to clean. I hate coming home to a dirty/messy house.

    strangest thing I’ve come home to when traveling, shattered sliding glass door. That’s when I lived on the golf course and had just moved in to a condo. Freaked me out, worried about the bugs & critters that could’ve come in. Ick.

  13. kiddienurse says

    All are great tips…however, I’ve read that keeping your freezer full helps it run more efficiently but the opposite is true of the refrigerator. It runs better with less in it. have seen that several different places. Just passing that on…


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