The Ultimate Pre-Vacation Checklist for Your Entire House

Whether you're away for just a weekend or an entire month—we got you.

August 12, 2021
Photo by Oscar Wong/Getty Images

If summer 2020—and, let’s face it, half of summer 2021—was about staying local, the rest of the northern hemisphere’s season in the sun could be about traveling. All of those earmarked, daydreamed trips to Italy, Mexico, or even just upstate New York are now finally doable, and we’re gauging how we feel about it all. We’re casually checking the expiration dates on our passports and spending plenty of on-the-clock hours finding great deals on flights and hotels, so the planning part, at least, can start.

But what about our homes? Those shelters that kept us safe from all of the unknowns of the past 17 months deserve more than a curt wave when we finally decide to jet out the front door. There are things to prepare it for, no matter how long you might be away. We don’t need to remind you that a pile of uncollected mail is one of the main ways potential burglars know that no one is at home.

The possibility of coming home to an empty jewelry box after a weeks-long safari through Kenya isn’t, of course, the only outcome to consider. (The plants! What about the plants?!) Below, find our list of each and every thing to do and prepare for in the time leading up to your next great adventure—aside from remembering to pack that novel you’ve been meaning to read all year.

A Weekend Trip

Even if the only thing you can fit in right now is a quick getaway over a long weekend, there are still a few things to take care of. For just a few days away, we recommend taking these steps to give you peace of mind to relax on your much-deserved mini break.

  • If your pets are able to stay home on their own, arrange for someone to drop by and refill water and food bowls and attend to any, er, bathroom needs.
  • Do your dishes (or put away what’s been cleaned by the dishwasher) so that future you doesn’t have to come home to a mess.
  • Make sure all the lights are turned off, the oven isn’t on, and that the curling iron is unplugged. Doing a once-over of every room to make sure electronics and appliances won’t haunt you later on is always a good idea.
  • Close and lock every window, plus the front and back door. Even second-floor windows can be a determined thief’s way in. If you have sliding doors, put a piece of plywood or a metal pole in the track that the doors run on to prevent them from opening should a slick thief get the better of your locks.

A Week Away

Extending a trip from just a few days to a full week away actually sounds luxurious. And yes, this is us supporting your use of those vacation days that have been piling up all this time. But before you venture out for a full 168 hours away from home, take a peek at the list above, and then add on the one below.

  • Take out the trash. Even if there are only a few scraps in the bottom of the bin, they can create a rank stench by the time you get home, and can attract critters while you’re away, too.
  • While you’re at it, go through the fridge and eat your way through things that are nearing their expiration or transfer them to the freezer if they’re salvageable. Worst case: Dispose of them. The last thing you’ll want when you get home from a vacation is to be hit in the face with the smell of rotten food.
  • Give your plants a good watering and spritz their leaves so they have plenty of hydration while you’re away. If you’re worried about them going dry, consider one of these easy ideas to keep them thriving.
  • Give your lawn, if you have one, a quick mow just before you head out of town during the summer—especially if it’s been a few weeks since the last time the grass was trimmed. Nothing says “nobody’s home” like an overgrown lawn.
  • Unplug small appliances like your coffee maker and toaster since they use energy even when they’re not in use. Plus, if there’s a power outage while you’re gone, the fewer things that are plugged in, the smaller the chance of a surge when the lights go back on.
  • If you subscribe to a daily newspaper, put a pause on it so they don’t start to stack up on your doorstep.
  • Close the bedroom, bathroom, and other doors inside your house before you head out to prevent a fire from spreading quickly. If something terrible happened, a fire would burn much slower through a home with closed doors, leaving the fire department with more time to get to and put out your house fire.

A Month’s Stay (we’re so jealous)

Whether you’re backpacking through Europe or finding a comfortable beach chair and calling it a month, several weeks away from your home means considerable thought should be put into what you’re leaving behind unattended.

  • Ask the post office to hold your mail for you until you get home so that it doesn’t start to bulge out of your mailbox in the time you’re away. Or ask a nearby friend or trusted neighbor to collect the mail and any packages that might end up on your doorstep.
  • If you have a driveway, ask that helpful neighbor to park their car in it occasionally so that it looks like someone’s home. If you have a garage, park your own car in there to keep it safe.
  • Buy a couple of timers and hook them up to indoor and outdoor lights and to a TV (or buy one of those handy lights that mimics the flickering of a TV). You can also turn lights on and off from a smart home app, should your home be connected to one. Lights keep burglars away since they create the illusion that someone is home.
  • If you have an alarm, leave a key and the code with that very same (and now busy) neighbor, just in case. If not, and if you plan on keeping it that way, buy a pack of warning signs to stick in the front yard or display in the window, or even a dummy camera that’s actually not hooked up to anything, but looks like it is.
  • If you’re going away during the winter, remember to set your thermostat to a low, but not too low, temperature so that the interior stays warm-ish but you don’t end up paying a heat bill just for your house plants. If it’s super cold outside, it’s worth draining your pipes, too. It can be as easy as flipping a switch on your hot water heater or circuit breaker.
  • If you’re away during the summer, keep your thermostat set to about 10 degrees below the outside temperature so your electric bill stays within reason and so it’s not too stifling when you return.
  • Remember to take a look at all bills—like the electric and heating we just mentioned above—and important financial due dates for the time you’ll be away, and set up automatic payments to avoid late fees. While you’re at it, let your bank know that you’ll be away so your card doesn’t get declined at the swim-up bar.
  • Take your plant parenting one step further and consider an automatic waterer so they stay thriving in your absence.
  • If you have valuables that will be at home without you, it’s worth ordering a small safe to keep everything, well, safe.
  • Check the batteries in your smoke and CO2 alarms. Should they need to go off while you’re away (just a precaution!), emergency services will be notified.
  • While we’re checking batteries, see if your smart locks, smart home security systems, and other smart devices that need batteries or a charge are good to go, and set them to notify you if there’s movement inside or outside your home.

What's on your pre-vacation checklist? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by: Ariel Scotti

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remargaret August 13, 2021
Agreed with nearly all points, strongly disagree that you should cool your empty house for an entire month while you’re away just to avoid the half hour it takes to cool a stuffy house when you return. If you’re giving advice, please make it environmentally responsible.
dhaycock August 18, 2021
I agree with your comment. A better recommendation would have been to install a smart thermostat (ecobee, nest, etc.) so that you can control the thermostat remotely and it will adjust to the home being empty. On top of that, you can remotely cool your home upon landing at your home airport or when you're 30-45 minutes out if driving.
emily August 12, 2021
As the other commenter mentioned, I like to have fresh sheets when I come home. In addition, I try to make sure the laundry hamper is empty and the bathroom is clean - I always get home needing to use the restroom and then dump the contents of my suitcase in the laundry so I want those things to be as streamlined as possible! I also try to leave something yummy in the fridge (or a frozen meal, if I'm gone a long time) so I don't come home to just canned beans and stale crackers. But that can also be solved by simply ordering takeout or scheduling a grocery delivery for the morning after you arrive home!
Girlfromipanema August 12, 2021
One thing I love to do before leaving for a long trip ( I read this in a blog somewhere, don't recall which one) is to put fresh sheets on the beds so you come home to a freshly made bed. After a long day of travel this has always been a great welcome home.
Arati M. August 12, 2021
I love this so much! Nothing like coming home to fresh sheets!!