They may call them the dog days of summer, but for me August is the best part of the steamy season. The nights are just a tad cooler, those home grown tomatoes and cucumbers are finally ready to be enjoyed, and while there is that secret thrill of getting those school bus passes in the mail (for us parents, at least), there is still plenty of time to enjoy summer and all of its glorious opportunities. Which means that as the kids finally come home from sleep-away camp (a few shirts poorer but with an abundance of mystery socks of unknown origin), there is still time to squeeze in a family trip before bathing suits and flip flops give way to knapsacks and marble notebooks.
While there is no doubt that taking a vacation as a family can be an intimidating experience, especially if you are the one planning the itinerary and in charge of meals, it is literally the stuff that memories are made of. My own kids can happily recall annual family pilgrimages to Sesame Place, nutrient free breakfasts at a kosher Krispy Kreme outside Niagara Falls and hours of listening to books on tape while the miles flew by. Yet, there is nothing that can put a damper on the best of vacations like coming home and finding out that your house has been burglarized. So as you scour websites planning the perfect vacation, make sure you take the time to secure the homestead against unwanted intruders.
It should go without saying that you need to lock all doors and windows before you leave, but I’m going to say it anyway, because how many people do you know who literally check each and every window? As you make your final sweep through the house, inspect each door to make sure it is properly locked, because you never know which family member ran out to the back porch at the last minute for just one second to grab something and forgot to lock up after themselves. Got sliding glass doors? Either install a floor level lock that will prevent the door from sliding even if someone breaks the glass and manages to reach inside and unlock the door or take a page out of my father’s book and stick a piece of wood, a dowel, or anything else that fits into the track that runs along the bottom of the door so that the door can’t slide.
Resist the urge to share your vacation plans on social media such as Facebook or Twitter and by all means, do not give in to the impulse to check in from Disneyland or post pictures of yourself lying on the beach in Bermuda. If you really feel the need to share photographs of your vacation on Facebook so that all your friends can drool, go right ahead – after you get home. Posting a picture of yourself hundreds of miles away from home is like posting a gigantic flashing neon sign on your house that says “Nobody home. Come on in and take all our stuff!”
Take proper steps to make sure that your home doesn’t look unoccupied. Stop delivery of your mail and newspapers or, if you are overly neurotic like me and are worried that some postal or newspaper employee may be looking for the perfect house to rob, ask a neighbor to take in the mail, newspapers and any flyers or menus that get left by your door for you. Make sure your grass is kept mowed and if you are taking a vacation during snowfall season, have someone shovel your walk, plow your driveway and walk around on your property so that there are footprints left in the snow and your house looks inhabited. Got really good neighbors? Ask them to take in your garbage cans if the sanitation crew leaves them by the curb another telltale sign that screams “Hello!! We aren’t here but our valuable are!”
Other ways to make your house look lived in? Timers, timers, timers. Set as many timers as you can to turn lights on and off in your house at appropriate intervals. If you don’t normally leave all your shades down, then don’t do it now either. And now might be a good time to invest in some dawn to dusk lighting and/or motion sensor lighting outside your home, a great way to deter thieves 365 days a year, who unlike comedians, actors and singers abhor being in the spotlight. Got a burglar alarm? Turn it on before you leave home. There is nothing thieves like less than calling attention to themselves.
Want to keep track of what is going on at home even from miles away? Put your phone to work. After all, they don’t call them smart phones for nothing! Apps such as Presence, AirBean, Triggers, iCam and others can be used to monitor the goings on in your home by linking a webcam or even old smartphones to the app, turning your phone into a remote security system and giving you a ringside seat to the goings on in your humble abode.
A few other tips you might want to consider. Turn off all alarm clocks so passersby won’t hear them ringing for extended periods of time until they finally shut off on their own. Similarly, turn off the ringer to your phone and set the answering machine to answer after one or two rings so anyone outside won’t hear the phone ringing endlessly. If you have remote garage door openers, disconnect them so that would be thieves can’t open them using a universal opener and if you have an attached garage, by all means make sure that the connecting door to the house is locked. Don’t leave the important stuff home. If you have pricey jewelry, irreplaceable family heirlooms or essential documents, take the time to secure them in a safety deposit box and if you don’t have one, leave them with a trusted (and security conscious) friend or relative.
If you are flying somewhere on vacation, make sure not to leave a GPS in your car when you park it at the airport, because not only do thieves know you aren’t home if your car is at the airport, you are giving them detailed instructions how to get to your house, given that your address is likely stored somewhere in your GPS. Avoid using your home address on any tags that may be attached to your luggage since that information can lead thieves straight to your house. Similarly, don’t use your home phone number on those tags because it doesn’t take much effort to use a reverse phone directory to look up an address. Instead list a work address or a post office box and put down your cell phone number, which is much harder to track than a land line.
I know that taking care of all these details adds extra work to the already complex task of planning a vacation, but I guarantee you that the peace of mind you will have bought yourself knowing that you have done your best to keep your home safeguarded will be more than worth the effort.
So get to work, start planning that one of a kind vacation that your whole family will remember forever and don’t forget to bring me home some souvenirs!
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