If you have travel plans for the holidays, you’re not alone. The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is one of the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year, according to the Department of Transportation. “Although July and August are the peak months for break-ins, nearly 400,000 burglaries occur in the U.S. during November and December,” says Sarah Brown, a home security expert for SafeWise.
If you’ll be going away from home for the holidays, you want to make sure you're not left vulnerable to thieves and vandals. Here are a few tips for keeping your house safe and secure so you can enjoy a worry-free trip.
1. KEEP UP WITH MAINTENANCE.
Nothing tips off a potential thief more than snow in the driveway, overgrown bushes, and newspapers piling up. Ask a friend or neighbor to check in and bring the mail inside each day. “Most burglaries take place between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.," says Brown. "Having a friend stop by around those hours can be helpful, or having a dog can keep [burglars] away."
If you're coming up short on volunteers, you can put your mail and newspaper deliveries on hold while you’re on vacation.
2. LOCK UP.
“Almost 30 percent of burglars enter a home through an unlocked door or window," says Brown. "Double check you locked everything up before leaving. If you have automated locks, check up on them every so often or have alerts set to let you know when they are opened."
3. MAKE IT LOOK LIKE SOMEONE’S HOME.
You don’t have to go full-on Home Alone, but there are a few simple steps you can take to deter thieves. For starters, you can connect your lights to an outlet timer (you can get one on Amazon for $7) and schedule it to turn on and off during certain times of day. “Set your lights on a timer but make sure they turn off,” Brown says. “Lights that stay on all of the time alert burglars you’re gone.”
Smart home technology makes this even easier. Smart light switches and outlet plugs, like the Belkin Wemo, allow you to set them to an automated “away” mode that can throw potential thieves for a loop.
And if you have a landline phone, Brown adds that you should turn down its ringer so it isn’t obvious no one is picking up the phone.
4. SET UP A SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM.
“Having a monitored security system is one of the safest ways to leave your home if you are going away on vacation,” Brown says. “Monitored simply means that there is a security company on call at all times if your alarm goes off.”
If you're not prepared to invest in a monitored system just yet—or you are renting and don't have the owner's permission to do so—you can install a USB- or battery-powered camera in order to keep an eye on things while you're out via an app. You could mount one on the ceiling to get a view of your overall home or set one by the window to see what’s going on outside. Just keep in mind, Brown says, "If you choose to have an unmonitored security system, or a self-monitored system, you are in charge of calling the authorities yourself."
5. DON’T BROADCAST YOUR PLANS.
Think twice before bragging about your travel plans on social media—both before and after you take off. From Foursquare check-ins to Instagram tags, it’s easy for potential thieves to keep tabs on your whereabouts while you’re away.