Travel is as much a part of the winter holiday season as tinsel and twinkle lights – but if you’ve ever seen “Home Alone,” you know that an empty house during the holidays is a magnet for trouble.
Despite concerns about the Delta and Omicron variants out there, roughly 20% of adult Americans are planning to travel for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. If you’re among them, you need to take a few steps to keep burglars and other disasters at bay.
To make it easier, we’ve got your guide. Here are 10 things you should do before you depart:
1. Stop the Mail, the Newspaper and Deliveries
If you’re only going out of the area late on Christmas Eve and plan to be back the day after Christmas, this probably isn’t a necessity. If you plan on being gone longer, however, you definitely don’t want to skip this step.
When mail piles up, it’s like broadcasting a giant “vacant” sign over your property to thieves. Go online and stop any mail through the U.S. Postal Service from being delivered. If you still subscribe to a local newspaper, call their delivery center to request a hold. Make sure you also stop any automatic deliveries from Amazon or grocery stores you may normally receive.
2. Get a Smart Thermostat
Burglaries aren’t the only thing you need to worry about. A sudden cold snap could cause your pipes to freeze if you have the thermostat set too low. If you don’t already have a smart thermostat installed that you can program, you may want to invest in a model that you can control from your phone wherever you happen to be.
3. Unplug All the Electronics
A sudden winter storm could cause a power surge, and that could – at best – ruin some of your electronics. At worst, it could start a fire. Unplugging your computers, the coffeemaker, any tablets, routers, boosters, gaming systems and televisions not only shaves down the electric bill but could also save your home from destruction.
4. Add a Doorbell Monitoring System
Just like a smart thermostat, doorbell monitoring devices with video capabilities are cheap and easy to install. You can buy one that is motion-activated and set to alert your smartphone from afar. In turn, you can see and speak with anybody that happens to be at your door, creating the illusion that you’re still home.
This is particularly important if you’re worried about a break-in while you’re gone. A lot of would-be robbers will “test” what looks like an unoccupied house by ringing the doorbell, first, before they strike.
5. Keep Your Trash Inside
Even if you’re going to be gone on trash day, don’t roll those cans to the curb or stack those empty boxes outside. It’s better to let the trash pile up inside the garage until you get back. Otherwise, some keen-eyed thief may realize that you’ve opened your presents (and know what they are from the boxes) and probably aren’t home.
6. Get a Timer for the Lights
You know that your house is going to look empty without any lights on – but it’s going to look just as empty to anybody watching it if the same lights stay on all the time. Timers for the lights (especially ones that you can control from your phone) are a small investment to make when such a simple thing can make your home safer. Your holiday lights, your tree, living room, dining room and bedroom lights can all be used to make your house look occupied from the outside.
7. Pick Up That Spare Key
If you think that fake rock that’s designed to hold a spare house key is good enough to fool anybody, think again. Thieves are just as clever as you are, and they know all of the “discreet” key holders that are sold online and typical hiding spots that homeowners use. Make sure you tuck that spare house key into your pocket before you leave.
8. Leave Your Curtains Alone
This may sound counterintuitive, but don’t close your curtains or blinds to keep out prying eyes when you’re not home – unless you normally keep them closed. If you normally have your shutters half-closed and your drapes parted, closing everything up will practically advertise your absence to anybody watching.
9. Enlist a Friend or a Neighbor
Somebody you know is bound to be home for the holidays. For a suitable bribe (think holiday cookies or a basket full of snacks), they might be willing to come over and check on your house once or twice a day. (That’s a much better way to use your spare key, anyhow.)
This is particularly a good idea if you happen to have a cat, bird or fish that – unlike your dogs – you don’t want to board or take with you. Ask your neighbor to do a quick check of the property, scoop up any mail that got delivered despite your stop orders, salt the walks if there’s ice or snow, and feed the pets while you’re gone.
10. Stay Mum on Social Media
It’s almost second nature for people to post everything they do on social media, but even a simple post that says, “We’re off to Grandma’s!” may be all that someone needs to see to know that you’re not going to be home for a few days.
Keep your travel plans to yourself in the days leading up to the vacation, and don’t post status updates about your trip, either. Wait until you get home to update all your friends and family with all those glorious holiday pictures.