Preparing Your Home for a Vacation
Every holiday now for the last few years we have traveled to go see family both for Thanksgiving and for Christmas. The first year our cats were accidentally locked in our bedroom for at least three days, we were freezing at our family’s home at night while we were trying to sleep, and we realized that Grammie didn’t make healthy food at all.
We learned a few lessons that year that we carried into the future when we traveled. The second year we almost ran out of gas trying to map out where the gas stations were and how often we would need gas, and we also got really sick eating some food from a gas station.
Last year, I think we worked out all of the kinks. We visit the same gas stations every time, we take just the right snacks, we prop open all doors at the house and have someone come visit every couple of days, and we buy or make healthy snacks ahead of time before we get to Grammie’s.
These aren’t the only lessons we’ve learned over the years, but I think you’ve got the point. I’m sure you’ve had your own. Preparing for traveling again this year, I have been forced to once again think through all of our traveling habits and routines. It’s a lot to think about Keeping Your Family Safe While Traveling, Protecting Your Home During the Holidays, and preparing your home for a vacation.
I thought I would make some of these routines a little easier for each of you by sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned with you. There’s no reason anyone else should make the same mistakes we have.
Do you travel or stay home for the holidays?
Clean Out the Fridge
One of the first things I consider when we are going out of town is the refrigerator. We’ve made the mistake of cleaning up, locking up, packing the car and going without giving the refrigerator a second thought. You already know what we came home to two weeks later... Granted, plenty of stuff sits in your refrigerator for a week or two while you are there without being touched and is just fine. Why should this be any different?
If you’re anything like us, you likely have a few vegetables rotting in the bottom of your vegetable drawer, your milk is about to expire and you have plenty of leftovers in the fridge on a daily basis. When you’re home it’s no big deal. You are moving things around in the fridge every day, you are making good use of your leftovers, and hopefully you’re wiping up messes and throwing out rotten food at least every few days to every week.
But What About When You're Gone
At least if something starts smelling really bad, you can immediately toss it out. Well, when you’re not home, there is no new air getting into your refrigerator and therefore everything rotting starts infiltrating all of your other items with the rotten smell and flavor. If something is leaking, not only is it ruining all of your other food, but the stain is setting the entire time you’re gone. Trust me. It is terrible to come home to a rotten mess in your refrigerator.
Do yourself and your family a favor and just clean out any rotten food, wipe down all surfaces, get rid of stuff that will go bad while you are gone, and treat yourself to a nice clean fridge when you get home from vacation. And don’t forget to pop your bread, fruit, and anything else on the counter into your refrigerator before you leave as well, so it doesn’t go bad on your countertop while you’re gone.
Take Out the Doggie Door
You may not have a dog. But if you have pets, make sure to consider them before leaving them behind at your house. Even if you just have fish, it’s a good idea to have someone stop by to make sure they are okay at least one time while you’re gone. We felt just terrible when we found our cats locked in the bedroom. The carpet was torn up, the bed was peed on, and they didn’t have access to food or water for at least a few days.
Make sure to leave plenty of food and water, long-term automatic feeders for fish or amphibians, a clean litterbox, etc. We have dogs, cats, fish, frogs, and a turtle to care for while we’re on vacation. We always take our puppies with us when we travel and so we also make sure to take out our doggie door from the slider (you could just shut it and seal it if it’s permanent). Not only does this keep strange animals out of our house while we are gone, but it keeps burglars from having a way in.
For those animals you are taking with you, make sure you consider their needs while you are traveling as well.
Unplug Anything Not Being Used
You may not realize this, but with all of the items you have plugged in to an outlet around your home, even the items you aren't using are drawing electricity and costing you money.
Although it's wise to do this any time, when you are not going to be there for a week or two, why let your computer, your TV, and all of your other appliances continue to cost you? It's just as easy to walk through and replug items in when you get home to save yourself some hard earned dough.
This isn't considering the potential fire danger an unwanted spark from one of your outlets may cause. The last thing you want is to come home to a burned down home. For your safety, that of your pets left behind, and all of your neighbors, just unplug everything while you're gone.
Protect Your Water Pipes
For many of us, we are traveling during the colder months for Thanksgiving and Christmas and our water pipes freezing is a very real concern. When the temperatures outside plummet into freezing, or even below freezing, temperatures, the water in the pipes all over your house can also freeze.
When this happens, the water in your pipes turns to ice, which can expand beyond what the pipes can hold. If this happens, the pipes will burst. For most, this means a watery mess that has to be cleaned, damaged floors, furniture, and sometimes even walls, and a hefty bill to repair everything. No one wants to return home to that kind of mess.
Snow Birds Leaving for the Winter
In our neighborhood, we have a phenomenon called "snow birds," where half, if not more than half, of those living in our neighborhood leave for warmer climates during the winter. They shut everything down, lock everything up, and close up their homes for about 6 months every year during the snowy months. My husband and I laugh because many of them post signs in their windows stating that the water and other utilities have been shut off in their homes. Therefore they are warning others not to try and use these in their homes.
If you are leaving for months, or like the snow birds in our neighborhood for the whole winter, calling in the water company to flush your pipes and turn your water completely off while you are gone is a smart option. If you're just leaving for a few days though, this drastic action may not be necessary, but you will still need to protect your water pipes.
What we do is to wrap all of our pipes tightly with towels and then tape them into place so they don’t fall off or come loose. In the past, we have even soaked the towels first to give the pipes a little extra protection. All that you need to be worried about is protecting them from the colder temperatures. There’s no reason that a watery mess has to be in your future.
Check out my article on Helpful Tips for Successfully Winterizing your Home. Whether you are home for the cold season, or visiting family for a few days to a few weeks, your home will need to be protected.
Turn Off Your Gas Pilot Lights
Another important area to consider before you leave is your gas. This may sound strange, but in our last house, our cats knew how to turn on the gas burners on our stove. There were many times when I would walk into the house after work and smell gas. The first time it scared me really bad, until I realized what was happening. From then on, I could go straight to the stove and turn the knobs back off, before then opening all of our windows to air the house out.
By leaving that pilot light lit while we were gone for the holidays, we were also leaving our home vulnerable to being filled with gas, which could pose an explosive problem for our home and a surely lethal problem for all of the little bodies that we left behind. But the stove isn’t the only pilot light you should be concerned with. In our current home, we also have a gas fireplace with a pilot light. The cats can’t get to this one, but this does leave an open flame going in the house while we are gone.
Do yourself, and your home, a favor when you leave for the holidays, and shut off any unnecessary pilot lights that you may have in your home. Not only will this save you some money on gas, but you also won’t have to worry about potential fire hazards from these items while you’re gone. If you are leaving for the entire winter, you may want to consider having the gas company come in to completely shut off your gas as well.
Turn Down Your Thermostat
Speaking of saving yourself some money while you are gone, there's no reason to pump an empty house full of heat if you’re not even going to be there to enjoy it. You may not want to turn everything off altogether, as this can pose a risk to the pipes inside your home, but you can at least lower your heat settings to 68 degrees or so to save a little money. This will keep your home sufficiently warm to keep it safe from the cold, and make it easier to heat up once you come back.
If you have pets staying home, like our cats do, they should be fine in the slightly colder temperatures. If you are leaving for much longer periods of time, like our snow birds do for the winter, you also might want to consider shutting off your heat/air conditioning altogether. But before you do this in super cold weather, talk to your utility company for tips on protecting the inside of your home for the winter.
Protect Your Home From Harm
Finally, as you are walking out the door, consider the safety of your home while you are not there. Have you locked all of your doors and windows? Have you turned on your security alarm? What measures have you put into place to ensure that your house doesn’t look abandoned and welcoming to burglars?
There are many easy precautions that you can take to make sure that your house is safe, which may be as easy as contacting your neighbor to watch over your home while you are gone. Check out my article on Tips for Protecting Your Home During the Holidays for great information on each area of home protecting and what you can do to make sure your home is safe from those that may want to do it harm when you’re away.
There’s no harm in taking a few extra precautions to protect your home and your family while you’re on vacation. And that will ensure that you return home to find everything just as you left it.
It sounds so easy just to pack up your car, load all of the kids in with plenty of snacks and activities and race away down the road to see Aunt Millie and Uncle Jim for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But what about your home? Ever have the nagging fear that you left a door unlocked, or left the oven on?
By preparing ahead of time, and putting some thought into a home protection to-do list before you leave, not only can you leave all of those worries behind knowing you’ve done all that you can, but you can know that your home will be fine when you can’t be there. I do this! I have a "pack the car" list and a "to-do before we leave" list.
The day before we left this last time, I made sure the fridge was clean, we propped open doors and lifted toilet seats for the cats, we reset the programmable thermostat to keep the house at about 68 degrees while we were gone, and started our packing.
Before we left the next morning, we turned off pilot lights, set out plenty of food and water for all of our little ones staying behind, closed and locked up the house tight, left one of our cars in the driveway, and even planned for a neighbor to come and check on the house while we were gone. Needless to say, there were no nagging thoughts about what might not have been done because we were prepared. (And it doesn’t hurt that we get regular texts from our neighbor saying that everything is okay.)
You can have this peace of mind while you are gone as well. Granted I can’t handle all of your stress during the holidays, but I can provide you with the tools to make sure all is well when you return home. Check out some of my other articles on winterizing, Keeping Your Family Safe While Traveling, great road trip games for your family, and even staying healthy this season.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness