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Preparing Our House for a Long Trip Away

In just a week, we’ll be on a 10 day vacation out of the country. So what are we going to do to prepare our home and personal finances for this extended period away?

Here’s just a quick list of things we’re doing, but feel free to add others if you think of any. We don’t have kids or pets, and our pool is luckily closed for the year, so there’s minimal external things to do for the house:

  • Put mail on hold. I was originally going to have our neighbors get the mail, but I found that I can enter a hold request through the US Postal Service website. I figure I’ll give it a shot this time to see if it’ll work for us in the future (and save our neighbors a laborious walk across the street each day). I am worried that entering the hold request required no personal verifications (not like the USPS should have our data anyway), so I’m not sure how it protects us from just anyone placing a hold on our mail.
  • Pay our bills: Luckily most of our bills are scheduled via online billpay or directly removed from our accounts through EFT. But some bills, like credit cards, are payable when they’re received so I’ll make sure we’re all paid up before we leave.
  • Shut off electronics: No reason to let our electronics drain power when they definitely won’t be in use. Since we can catch many of our shows online now, I’m not worried about taping anything (yeah, we STILL don’t have Tivo). Luckily we have most of our stuff on power strips, so I’ll just flip the switch for all our entertainment, computer and internet power-suckers (TV, VCR, internet modem/router, laptops, etc.)
  • Shut off/turn down the furnace: We have a programmable thermostat, but unfortunately since we’re coming back on a weekday, we can’t set it to come on just on that day. Therefore we need to be resigned that we’ll be walking into a chilly house when we get home. We’ll be turning the temp down to about 60 degrees, or even switching the furnace off completely at the breaker box. It won’t be cold enough here while we’re gone for the pipes to freeze. Just switching it all off means we don’t need to reprogram the thermostat, so maybe I’ll do that.
  • Turn down/shut off water heaters: We have two water heaters: one gas and one electric. For the gas heater, I’ll turn down the thermostat to low. For the electric one, we installed a timer, so I’ll just remove the “on” breaker so it won’t turn on while we’re gone. If you don’t have a timer installed, think about getting one, or just turn down the temperature on the thermostat (remember the previous setting though for when you get back).
  • Shut off the main water supply: In some homes, you can shut off the water using a knob in the basement or crawlspace. Thanks to my father-in-law, I learned that for our house, it’s easier to just turn off the water at the water meter directly. It’s buried in our front yard with an easy-to-remove cover. I just need some pliers to turn the knob. While I don’t think there’s any problem with doing this, I am aware that the knob is on the water company’s side of the line (before the water meter), but it’s much easier than climbing the whole length of the house in a dirty crawlspace (and then doing it again when we get back). Plus, it’s easier to shut off all the water than have to worry about each toilet, sink, etc. individually.
  • Shut off the gas: I may or may not do this one. Our stove is gas, and I would need to pull the whole thing out to get to the knob on the gas line. We’re not OCD enough to worry whether we “turned the iron off” when we leave the house (we don’t iron anyway), but we’ll see about this one.
  • Clean out the fridge: If you have leftovers that you can’t eat right now, stick them in the freezer. Otherwise toss them (or give them to your neighbors), but then remember to…
  • Take out the garbage: You don’t want anything getting rotten in your house over 10 days or else you’ll come home from a pleasant vacation to a house full of flies and stench. Take out the garbage, preferably on trash day so you don’t have the neighborhood wildlife tearing the bags to shreds. Also, if you have cut flowers in a vase of water, you may want to pour out the water and let the flowers dry up. Since I buy Stacie fresh flowers every few weeks, I know how the water can get stale and the flowers can start to get moldy.
  • Water the plants: I’m going to wait till the last minute to water them, but I’ve found our plants hold up very well over even 2 weeks without a fresh watering.
  • Make sure everything is locked up: Since we’re leaving during the cold months, our windows are already all closed and locked up, but we’ll make sure to double-check everything anyway.

While I considered just cutting the power to the whole house, I do have to consider our refrigerated and frozen food going bad. But it sure would be nice to have an electric bill for only 20 out of 30 days 🙂

What else do you recommend?

About the author

Clever Dude


  • We’re doing the same thing soon. I am making sure I have all my important data with me. You can also set up remote access to your computer, but our internet is not that reliable so I gave up on that. I guess I’ll just shut the power like you.

    Tell your neighbors you’ll be gone and to watch out for abnormal stuff.

    Call your credit card company and tell them you’ll be traveling and not to disable your card.

    Have fun!

  • Two things I do when I go away:

    1) turn a full, frozen ice cube tray upside down in a freezer bag. This way, if your home loses power for any reason, you’ll know if the power was out long enough for the food in your freezer to thaw (if you come home to a frozen mess of water instead of cubes in their tray).

    2) speaking of food – when you come home, you’ll want to unpack and relax and not deal with dinner arrangements. Have something in the freezer that you can look forward to having for dinner on your 1st (and maybe leftovers the 2nd) night you’re back. I usually make a tray of lasanga or something like that and put it in the freezer. Take that out when you get home and you won’t be tempted to just order take-out that first day home.

    Have a wonderful trip! Please post tons of photos for those us who probably will never have the opportunity to see the Holy Land. 🙂

  • Jon’s note about alerting your credit cards is something I always do (don’t forget to tell your bank also in case you want to use a debit card for any reason). And I will definitely agree with Susan about having food in the house. We’ve avoided many a meltdown after lengthy trips by having food at the house for when we return home. I’d also suggest having trail mix, granola bars, or other snacks that will keep if the power goes out to your fridge and freezer.

    I’d make sure to backup your computer, etc., before you leave. Whenever I’m traveling overseas, I make sure to scan in my itinerary, my passport, DL, hotel information abroad, and the toll-free numbers for all my cards (labeled with the last 4 digits of each card). I make this into one PDF and upload it to my web site (not published, just stored in the files) in case I need to access it while traveling. Depending on the trip, I also email this PDF to someone else that I can reach if I can’t get internet access.

  • Make copies of your passports and leave them with someone you trust (and a safe spot while you are traveling). If anything happens to your passports, copies will help expedite the process at the nearest embassy. In addition to notifying my Credit Card companies that I am traveling (and where to expect my card to be), I get their numbers that you can call from overseas (some banks will allow you to call collect, but you need to find that out) in case of emergency and have account numbers written down. Also, make sure someone at home has your itinerary- just in case. And take the address and phone numbers of the embassies as well.

  • Last year we went to Cancun for a week and before we left we went out and bought one of those 24 hour electronic timers. We used it to power two lamps near windows for a few hours at night while we were gone. This way. It appeared someone was always home.

    Also, leave your fans on low. Otherwise, when you get home, you will have a very stale smell in your house that will not go away for days. Besides, it only cost a few pennies a day to run your ceiling fan.

  • Not sure if you subscribe to a newspaper or not but make sure they temporarily stop your subscription so you don’t have a yard full of newspapers saying “Hey, no one is home here”.

  • Is it cool to turn off the gas coming in to the house at the meter? We’re going to go out of town for a couple weeks. We just discovered a tiny gas leak in the line to the fireplace, but I don’t have time to get a plumber out here to fix it. Turning off the gas should just stop everything, so we can worry about it when we get back home, right? Is there any kind of problem if you don’t tell the gas co. you’re doing that?

  • My husband is retiring in a few weeks and we plan on spending the winter in Arizona. Here in B.C. we do get below freezing temps so I was concerned about our water pipes.
    I am so glad I found your web page, and I want to thank you for posting the helpful hints. Those were all very helpful hints.Now I know what I have to do. Shutting off the water and setting the gas water heater to vacation will be one of the last things I do before leaving.
    Someone mentioned turning an ice cube tray upside down, to determine if the hydro had been off for any length of time. this is also a great hint.

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