13 Mistakes You Make Every Time You Leave for Vacation

Don’t pack your bags and head off on holiday just yet! Take these steps to protect your home and property before you hit the road.
Glenda Taylor Avatar
happy father and young sons loading up trunk of open van preparing to go on vacation


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Vacations should be a time for relaxation. Unfortunately, leaving your home unattended while you pack up for long periods of time can allow maintenance crises to unfold unseen, and your absence might even welcome burglars. The FBI estimates that homeowners lost about $3 billion to burglary in 2019, with losses averaging $2,661 per offense.

Before you hit the road, there are a few preventative measures you can take to prevent these vacation disasters from striking in the first place. Instead of worrying about your home’s safety and security while you travel, avoid repeating these common mistakes that can ruin your trip and compromise your return destination.

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1. Announcing Your Vacation on Social Media

couple poses for selfie while on vacation in front of city landscape

When you divulge details of your upcoming vacation on social media, you’re basically announcing to the world that your house will be empty. Wait until you return home before you share the joy of soaking up the sun in the Bahamas. Once you’re safely back home, you can post highlights on Facebook and Instagram knowing that would-be intruders aren’t targeting your vacant property.

2. Forgetting to Secure Doors and Windows

hand putting key in lock of wooden door to lock it

In the hustle of leaving for vacation, it’s easy to forget to double-check the locks. Leaving just one window or door unsecured can be an open invitation for robbers to walk right into your home. Add this precaution to your pre-departure checklist, so you don’t have to rush to latch your locks at the last minute, or get a sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize what you missed later on. Remember to also remove and secure any door keys you have stashed outside—professional burglars know all the common hiding places.

3. Not Asking Someone to Watch Your House

granddaughter hugging grandparents standing in doorway of open plan kitchen with suitcases for trip

When planning an extended trip, call in favor with a family member, close friend, or trusted neighbor to check on your house while you’re away. Give that person a list of tasks that need attention, such as watering the garden or bringing in the mail, and have them also inspect your appliances and locks. You don’t want to come home to a flooded basement or busted refrigerator (complete with spoiled food). Most importantly, make sure this person knows the best ways to reach you in case of an emergency.

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4. Neglecting to Adjust the Thermostat

close up of hand adjusting thermostat on wall

Keeping your home at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher when you’re gone on a winter trip is essentially throwing away money. Adjust your thermostat to about 50 degrees before leaving—more than warm enough to keep your belongings from freezing, but cool enough to save money on heating bills. If you have a sink along an exterior wall of your house, open the cabinet doors under the basin to keep the pipes from freezing.

The same logic applies to extended summer vacations, especially in warm, humid climates. You can turn up the thermostat to as high as 78 degrees to lower your cooling costs. This temperature should still keep your house and belongings safe, but you may find it a little stuffy when you return. If your home is prone to excessive humidity, consider leaving a dehumidifier running, and have your designated helper periodically empty out the moisture it collects.

5. Leaving Your Pets at Home

dog curled up in colorful blanket

It’s true that Fluffy and Fido would probably feel more comfortable at home than at a kennel. But if your four-legged friends suffer from separation anxiety, you could come home to a chewed-up sofa or shredded curtains. Consider boarding cats and dogs at the vet or another accredited boarding location instead of relying on a friend to feed and walk them.

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6. Forgoing Smart Security Measures

A young couple, a man and a woman, are setting up a security camera for home surveillance in their apartment

You don’t have to invest in an expensive home security system to keep an eye on your property while on vacation. Instead, deter would-be burglars by making your home appear occupied with Wi-Fi-enabled smart light bulbs, which can run on a daily schedule and be controlled with a smartphone from any location.

You can also install a video doorbell to monitor package deliveries and unexpected visitors. Any worries you might have about what’s going on inside your home can be alleviated with one or more affordable wireless indoor security cameras. Like smart bulbs, you can use your phone to check motion-activated clips and live camera feeds from both. Finally, installing one of the best home security systems, like one from ADT or SimpliSafe, can keep your mind at ease while you enjoy your trip.

7. Letting Your Home Appear Empty

mail box stuffed full of mail

Any potential thieves staking out your neighborhood will be looking for signs of an empty home. A half dozen newspapers in front of your house or an overstuffed mailbox clearly communicate that nobody is around. Have USPS hold your mail, put a pause on your newspaper delivery, and ask a neighbor or your chosen helper to put out and wheel away your empty trash cans on garbage pickup day while you’re gone. Consider also asking your helper to park in your driveway when they stop by to make your home look inhabited in the daytime.

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8. Not Lowering Your Water Heater’s Temperature

man adjusts boiler

If you don’t have a house sitter, turn off the water at the main valve where it enters your house before you leave for an extended period of time. Your plumbing most likely won’t spring a spontaneous leak during your absence, but it’s not worth the gamble.

The U.S. Department of Energy reports that by setting your hot water heater temperature too high, you could risk “$36 to $61 annually in standby heat losses.” That’s a good reason to also turn your water heater regulator to vacation (VAC) mode before you leave. If it doesn’t have a VAC mode, just switch it to the lowest setting—and remember to turn it back up as soon as you get home.

9. Leaving Food Behind to Rot

rotting fruit and moldy bread in basket

Rotten food isn’t as serious as theft or property damage, but coming home to the overwhelming stench of moldy leftovers is no way to end your vacation. Fruits and vegetables in the fridge and on the counter will continue to decay while you’re out, potentially attracting flies, maggots, and other unwanted pests in the kitchen. Give away fresh produce if you’ll be absent longer than a week, and toss out any leftovers and dairy products in the refrigerator in advance.

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10. Keeping Electronics Plugged In

chrome toaster in corner of kitchen counter plugged into outlet with tiled backsplash

Don’t forget to turn off and unplug your computer, toaster, coffeemaker, Christmas tree lights, and other nonessential electronics before going on vacation. If a power surge or thunderstorm strikes when you’re away, sensitive electronics and appliances not protected by a surge protector can suffer damage. Of course, electronics that are not plugged in don’t use energy, so you’ll also save money on your electric bill.

11. Parking the Car Outdoors

large grey house with driveway and two cars parked in open garage doors

If you have a garage, utilize it while on vacation. Leaving vehicles in the driveway or parked on the street can expose them to potential accidents and break-ins, not to mention the elements. The last thing you want to welcome you home is hail damage or fallen branches on your car after a storm. Before you leave for vacation, make sure you park your car in the garage and lock the garage door properly. It’s also a good practice to keep car keys in a secure spot indoors, such as a locking drawer, cabinet, or safe.

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12. Overlooking the Garbage Disposal and Toilets

overhead view of white ceramic toilet flushing

There are a couple of additional plumbing considerations to keep in mind before departing for vacation: Cleaning your garbage disposal with vinegar and baking soda will ensure that foul kitchen odors don’t welcome you home. Second, you should also check that all the toilets in the house have been flushed before leaving for an extended period of time. As simple as it seems, you won’t want to come back to a toilet in need of a deep cleaning or, in a worst-case scenario, repairs.

13. Failing to Protect Your Plants

watering plants in raised bed

Whether your yard has a garden or a few potted plants, time away from your green thumb could have serious consequences for the home’s greenery. Before heading out for vacation, make sure you water your plants well, pull weeds, and recruit a neighbor to care for the garden while you’re gone. In summer months, container plants may also need to be moved to a shadier area so they aren’t too exposed to the sun throughout the day.