Murphy’s Law for Travellers: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong while you’re on vacation.
Combine this the fact that the rate of break-ins soar at Christmas time, and you really do need to take all possible precautions to make sure that Santa is the only one sneaking under the Christmas tree this year. Coming home and discovering, not only your possessions gone, but all the presents under the tree as well, can be downright devastating.
But it’s not just limited to break-ins. Basic preventative measures (which take only minutes to complete) can work wonders to help you avoid power surges, broken pipes, home invasions and more.
1. Enlist the help of a Friend
A simple, albeit crucial, way to gain peace of mind while travelling is to ask a friend or neighbour to keep an eye on your house while you’re away; driving by your home once every day or so to check on the place. Give them a key so that they can bring the mail in, feed the cat, water your plants etc. If you don’t use a garage, you may also want to give them a key to your car — you never know when your vehicle may need to be moved. Give them your contact information and a copy of your itinerary in case of emergencies. If you have more than one person visiting your house whilst you’re away, tell them about each other just in case your watchful next-door neighbour ends up calling the police on your elderly cat sitter. And, don’t forget, when you return home, it’s pay back time! Thank you cards, a gift from your trip, home-baked muffins – whatever it takes to show your appreciation so they’ll do it again next time!
2. Don’t Tip Off Criminals on the Web
It’s tempting to post on Facebook or Twitter about your upcoming vacation, but don’t. Seriously. Don’t. Save it for when you return home from the trip. You need to stop and think: Who exactly is reading this stuff? The anonymity of the Internet can encourage us to share personal information without fully realizing that there may be hundreds of complete strangers receiving our daily musings. But before you say “I only share this information with my Facebook Friends”, here’s food for thought. Almost all burglaries initiated by Facebook vacation-posts are committed by so-called ‘Facebook friends’, or ‘Friends of friends’. Thieves are opportunistic and always pick the easy targets so be careful what you say on your answering machine or voice mail too. Callers don’t need to know that you’re not home — they just need to know that you can’t come to the phone right now.
3. Do Tip Off your local Police
Always notify the police if you’re going on vacation. Don’t bother them about a weekend getaway, but do call them if you’re leaving town for longer than a week. It’s possible the police may go out of their way to drive by your house whilst on patrol, especially if you live in a small town. If you have a security alarm, leave a house key and the code with someone you trust, and provide the police and alarm company with their name and phone number. You may also want to contact your local neighbourhood watch program if there’s one in your area. Organise someone to collect your mail, cancel the newspaper deliveries, connect a light or radio to a timer device.
4. Curtains – Closed or Open?
Before you leave for vacation, you may decide to close your curtains to prevent people from peering inside your home to see whether you’re there. However, closed curtains also stop those who aim to help — the police, your neighbours or friends — from seeing inside your house. Your best bet is to leave your curtains exactly as you usually keep them when you’re home, since noticeable changes could hint that you’re not around anymore — especially if your curtains are uncharacteristically left closed for two weeks. Nevertheless, move expensive items, like jewellery or that valuable medal collection, out of plain sight if they’re visible from the window. Security lights with infrared motion sensors are relatively inexpensive and should be placed at the most vulnerable points of entry – the garage, back and side doors.
5. Lights a’Blazing
Don’t leave your lights on at home throughout your entire vacation in an effort to make it look like someone is in the house. Your electric bill could end up more costly than your holiday, not to mention, it’s not very “green”. Plus, wouldn’t a house with lights blazing throughout the night might seem a bit odd to you? For experienced burglars, it pretty much screams WELCOME. Instead, purchase a light switch timer that can turn your lights on and off automatically according to a programmed schedule (you can get these from Bunnings) which will deter would-be burglars if they’re casing the neighbourhood for easy targets.
6. Stop Your Mail
Either place a “stop” order on mail and newspapers, or arrange to have a friend or neighbour pick up your mail while you’re away. Otherwise, a week’s worth of letters flowing out of your letterbox is a bit of a giveaway that no one’s home. It’s easy to put your mail on hold or redirect it to a different address; say, that of a relative or close friend. There’s really no excuse not to do this. Just go to your local post office or via the Australia Post website where you can place a “hold” or “redirect” order in a matter of minutes.
7. Prepare your Plumbing
If you are heading off on vacation for more than just a few days, you should probably shut off your water before leaving. If the weather is warm, you don’t need to do much else to your pipes, however, if it’s winter, you should drain your pipes to prevent them from freezing. Frozen pipes could burst, causing a major flood, and no one wants to come home from vacation to a watery house. Usually, the safest option is to ask your utility provider to shut off the water to your home from the street. If you don’t want to do this, shut off the main water supply to the house. Drain all of your pipes, beginning at the topmost floor of your home, working down.
8. Pull the Plug
Unplug your television, computer, toaster oven and other appliances to protect them from power surges. Do this to save power as well as many appliances use power even when they’re turned off. Don’t forget to unplug the phone line from your broadband modem. Even if there’s no power to any of the equipment, a surge down the phone line can take out the modem or computer.
9. Remove Your Spare Key
That plastic rock isn’t fooling anyone. Neither is the spot under the mat, in the mailbox, above the door frame or under the flower pot.
Ask your next-door neighbour to be the holder of the key.
However this gem of an idea just might work…