Coming home from a great trip can be a huge letdown. You’re probably tired, work may have piled up, and your bank account may have taken a bit of a hit. And bags of dirty laundry don’t compare to cocktails at sunset — even for me.
Ease the transition back to reality with these 19 steps to prep your house for a vacation. They can even save you a bit of cash and make you feel glad that you’re back home.
One note: I split my time between two small places in different parts of the country, so some of these considerations are for long-term departures; others are smart for any length of trip. Regardless, it becomes easy with a routine. As you adventure more, you’ll find you can zip through the chores without a list, and even work as a team with others in your household.
Ways to Prep Your House for a Vacation
A Few Weeks Out
1) Arrange for lawn care and snow removal. Nothing says “We’re gone…come break into our home” like amber waves of grain in your front yard or snow without a footprint in sight. Hire a service or a reliable teen to come by and keep up with the basic maintenance, including pulling weeds and picking up trash if it’s a very long trip.
2) Deal with the mail. I didn’t say pause the mail, because every time I’ve tried, it’s been a major ordeal. Sometimes it isn’t redelivered. Sometimes it continues to be delivered. Sometimes it disappears forever. I get it — the U.S. Postal Service is extremely underfunded and overworked. But tinkering with your mail service could be like trying to change course in a freight train — it’s hard to stop and hard to restart, and it’s often messy. If at all possible, ask a friend to pick up your mail every few days, or consider paying to have it forwarded to your destination.
3) Pick your person. It’s ideal to have a person or a family nearby to lean on for the inevitable needs that arise, especially if you’ll be gone for a long time. You might be able to swap monitoring duties if they travel like you do, though a souvenir or snack from your destination is still thoughtful. If not, offer to pay them (or slip them a gift card if they refuse). Make sure that you have their contact information handy during your trip, and that they have yours along the way.
If you have pets, you also could try a service like Trusted Housesitters, a platform where you can find someone to stay in your place and care for both your house and your pet at the same time.
A Few Days Out
4) Clean out the fridge. I find myself eating some weird combinations before a trip. I loathe food waste, so I try to organize my final meals at home around what needs to be eaten or tossed. If it has snack potential, I’ll pack it for my trip. I can sometimes foist fresh produce on my daughter or friends. But what I can’t consume, I toss or empty and recycle before I take out the trash (see below). And while it’s not a necessary step to prep your house for a vacation, this is an easy time to clean out the refrigerator and pantry.
5) Make a grocery delivery list. When I’m on a trip, all thoughts of what’s in my pantry or refrigerator are gone like Girl Scout cookies outside a weed shop. So I prep a list of food that I’ll need when I return and take it with me so that I can order a delivery to coincide with when I’ll get home.
6) Clean the house. In my book, there’s nothing more defeating than coming home after a long flight or drive with a ton of grubby stuff and walking into a dirty house. If your budget allows, hire a housecleaning service to come in while you’re gone, so that even the debris of packing is whisked away. If not, give it a once over before you go so that it feels and smells fresh when you return.
Shortly Before You Go
7) Finish the laundry. Set yourself up with clean towels and sheets, too. One of life’s little luxuries is coming home after a trip, getting a shower and going to bed in clean sheets. Especially if you’ve been on an adventure in which a bed and hot running water weren’t available. Honestly, those are some of the most sybaritic moments of my life. If you can, leave the washer door propped open slightly after you’re done so that moisture doesn’t build up inside.
8) Run the dishwasher. This is a key step to prep your house for a vacation. In college, I saw what happens to dishes that sit for a few weeks. (Thanks, roommates.) And again, after you empty it, leave the door cracked ever so slightly if you can, so that moisture and mildew aren’t fermenting in there.
9) Unplug. Many devices are energy vampires, meaning they draw juice even when they’re turned off, as long as they remain plugged in. Walk through your house and unplug as much as possible — don’t forget the coffeepot after you’ve made a mug for the morning.
10) Adjust the thermostat. We swapped out our old thermostat for a Nest thermostat, which automatically switches from our daily settings to an eco mode when it fails to detect movement after a period of time. I can also adjust it back to our daily settings before we get home using an app on my phone. Short of that, turn your thermostat up or down, depending on the season, to save energy. Most HVAC experts online recommend keeping your home within 55–85 degrees to minimize the potential for damage while you’re away.
11) Empty the trash and recycling. If possible, put the cans out by the curb as well, so that things don’t start to smell inside. Enlist a neighbor or your person to pull them back to the house after the trash is picked up, so that they don’t signal your absence.
12) Close curtains. Be strategic about this. I’m sure our neighbors notice that I close and open the curtains every day. And because we live in a very densely populated area of multi-story units, people can see directly into our house when the curtains are open in the evening, even if the lights aren’t on. (The street lamps are still pretty bright.) I close the curtains over the large windows that get the most sun and wind, but leave open curtains on some smaller windows.
13) Plug a lamp or two into a timer. This helps give the appearance of being home as well. Use a timer on two or more lamps in different parts of the house at different times each day. (If a stranger watches closely enough to notice a pattern, then they probably are gonna cause creepy problems for you anyway, and I’m sorry that they’re your neighbor.)
14) Water the plants. Obviously this step to prep your house only goes so far, and then your plants dry up again. Extend the time that they can thrive by getting them healthy before you go with some fertilizer; moving them out of the brightest, hottest windows (but making sure they still get ample sun — remember your curtain strategy); and adding some self-watering spikes to let them sip as needed.
15) Check windows and locks. We also replaced our regular lock system with a Ring system for keyless entry. This way we can let in a trusted friend or service providers remotely. It can really pay off if you have an emergency, as we did one winter when our pipes froze. Be sure all windows and doors are locked and give them a tug — our windows don’t lock without a slam, even if they look closed. This led to a lot of dirt and debris in my bathroom one winter when a window was cracked ever so slightly.
16) Adjust the water heater. If it’s truly a long trip and you have a traditional tank water heater, adjust the temperature down a few degrees. This will save energy and dollars while you’re gone.
While You’re Away
17) Spot check. It’s nice if your person can go into your house once a week, at least, to water the plants, drop off the mail and make sure that nothing is burning or leaking.
18) Flush and flow. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period — more than three weeks — ask them to also walk through the house and flush the toilets and run water down the sinks for a minute. Standing water or evaporated water can cause a host of problems. Don’t forget the garbage disposal — ours refused to ever spin again after sitting still for three months, and we had to replace it.
19) Start the car. Ask your person to also move your car once in a while, even if it’s in a garage. Here again, parts that don’t move often enough tend to seize up. Backing it out and turning around is enough to keep the oil flowing.
This list may sound like a lot. But we’ve learned the hard way that repairing a floor and a ceiling because of burst pipes, tracking missing bills or installing a new garbage disposal is a lot more. And once you get the routine down, these steps to prep your house for a vacation will be like a bell to Pavlov’s dog, signaling the start of another grand travel experience.
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