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Securing the fort: How to prepare your home before a long-term trip

You’re on the road… again. No, this isn’t a popular country song; this is your life. Maybe you travel often for work, or make long-term trips to care for an ill family member. We all need to take vacations from time to time, but some people feel the tug of wanderlust and need to travel the world. Whether you are traveling extensively for work or pleasure, your time will be spent with a more sound mind if you know your world is safe and sound back home.

Did you know that most home burglaries happen during the day, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.? That’s because criminals know many people are away from home during those hours, usually at work or school. In the evenings, most people are at home, eating dinner or playing with their kids; night time comes with too many risks of getting caught. Knowing this fact and important stats about home invasions can help you start a plan for protecting your residence while you are away. Keep in mind that:

  • Home monitoring systems do prevent break-ins. If you’re away often or for long periods of time, put an alarm system in your house and a sign for it in your yard.
  • Most criminals come in through an unlocked door or open window. Be sure to check and double check all possible points of entry into your home.
  • Most crimes happen by people who live nearby. Don’t advertise to all your neighbors or on social media that you will be gone.
  • The average burglary happens in under 10 minutes and the first stop is usually the master bedroom. Keep your valuables in a safe or a safety deposit box at the bank. Make sure it will take longer than 10 minutes to find your most valuable possessions.
  • Very few burglaries result in an arrest. If a criminal knows you are away frequently, he or she may come back to share that knowledge. Hire a house sitter or keep your car in the driveway and have a friend come by and move it every few days.

Taking a Long-Term Trip

Preparing for backpacking trip

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You may be gone for a while, but it’s not a permanent move. If selling your home isn’t an option, you’ll need to keep it secure while you’re away. Not only will you need to keep your home safe, but you’ll want to make sure your utilities are stable and house maintenance is taken care of. Some tips for securing your home during a long-term trip include:

  • Forwarding your mail to your temporary location or stopping delivery (same goes for newspapers or magazine subscriptions).
  • Taking or giving away your plants, or making sure a friend will come by at least once a week to water them.
  • Hiring someone to care for your lawn, bushes and outdoor areas.
  • Emptying your refrigerator and cleaning out your pantry of food that could spoil or rot.
  • Setting your thermostat to 85 degrees and putting lights on a timer. This will keep your utility bill low and protect your belongings from heat, cold or mold.
  • If you’re renting your home and can end the lease, consider downsizing your belongings to a storage unit or a smaller apartment. You could also consider putting your home on rental sites like Air B&B or VBRO; just be sure you have someone trustworthy managing your property.
  • Eliminating all unnecessary bills — get rid of your Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Prime accounts — and cutting off anything you will not be using while you’re away.
  • Joining your community’s neighborhood watch or homeowner’s association. These people will likely be willing to watch your house, just as you can do the same for them when you’re back.
  • Not leaving a key hidden under a mat or in some other unsecure outdoor location. It’s never as secure as you think.
  • Disabling your automatic garage door so that it remains shut while you’re gone and unable to be opened except from the inside.

While not usually common, long-term trips happen for a variety of reason. You may have a parent or grandparent who is ill and needs temporary care. Perhaps you’re traveling overseas for a summer internship or work with an international client. Regardless of your reasons, make sure your home and belongings are secure so you can make sure you have a low-stress trip.

Working on Rotation or from the Road

computer and wine in hotel room

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If you’re in and out of your home traveling for work, your house and belongings will need to be prepped so it’s secure while you’re away and ready when you come back. If you’re away for just a week or two at a time, have a neighbor grab your mail. If your travels are more extensive, or your stops back home are brief, consider using a PO Box. There are other ways you can secure your home while working from the road, such as:

  • Think about the maintenance you can’t handle because of your work schedule. Whether you’re on the road or this week’s rotation includes overnights, hire help to take care of your lawn, housekeeping and other upkeep tasks.
  • If you don’t want to hire anyone, be sure to carve out time for maintenance before you leave, like mowing your lawn the day before you hit the road.
  • Make a checklist of items you should inspect before you leave each trip. Check your pool pump, turn down the water heater and clear out perishable refrigerator content.
  • Conduct a home inventory so you have a record of your valuables. Try to leave a car parked in your driveway, or ask a neighbor to park in your driveway one or two days while you’re gone.
  • Let a friend or close neighbor know when you’re away and ask them if they can drive by your house, water your plants or check your mail.
  • Set your thermostat and lights on a timer and unplug all unnecessary appliances.
  • Let your alarm company know your schedule so they can be alerted to times when you are away from your home.

Road Trip Preparing

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Working from the road means your attention is elsewhere. Plus, travel can be taxing, both physically and emotionally. That’s why making sure your home is secure can help reduce the stress and anxiety many people feel when they take off for long or frequent business trips, conferences, speaking engagements or working from other offices and locations. If you work rotations, like nurses or firefighters, the last thing you need is to come home to a robbery or a 24-hour plumbing leak.

When to Store, Sell or Purge

If you’re taking an extended vacation, working from across the country or helping care for a family member, you may want to consider purging your belongings so there is less maintenance to handle while you’re gone. If you need to downsize your living space, a climate-controlled storage unit can help protect your possessions until you have time to organize them for keep or giveaway. 

You can also consider giving or loaning items to friends and family in need. Could your cousin benefit from your dining room table? Would your best friend like to pick through your library? Purging some items can lessen the weight of home while you’re away. The less you leave behind unattended, the less you have to worry.

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