How To Secure Your House when You Leave On Vacation

Imagine you’re lounging on a sunny Caribbean beach or relaxing by the pool on your much-deserved break. The last thing you want is the worry of thieves breaking into your home, searching for money and valuables to ruin your peace of mind.

When you’re away, an unoccupied house becomes an easy target for burglars. According to FBI data, a burglary occurs every 15 seconds in the United States, with over $13 billion in personal property stolen annually.

But, by taking some simple steps to secure your home before you leave, you can ensure a more relaxed and enjoyable vacation, knowing your property is safe.

What motivates burglars?

A study by the University of North Carolina, titled “Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender’s Perspective,” surveyed nearly 500 convicted burglars to understand why they targeted homes. The study found that 88 percent of these burglars were driven by the need for drugs (51 percent) or money (37 percent).

When asked how they used the money gained from their crimes, 64 percent said it went towards buying drugs. Police departments in various Southern California cities report that the most commonly stolen items during home burglaries are cash, electronics, jewelry, firearms, and medications. Thieves also often take bills, personal documents, credit cards, and clothing.

How do burglars pick their targets?

how do burglars pick their targets

The UNC study found that 41 percent of burglars chose their targets on a whim, highlighting the impulsive nature of most burglaries. Only a small portion, about 12 percent, took the time to plan their crimes or gather information about potential targets. This information might be as simple as calling a phone number to see if anyone answers, indicating whether the house is occupied.

Homeowners often unknowingly signal their absence, making their properties attractive to burglars. Actions taken out of ignorance, poor planning, or carelessness can inadvertently alert would-be thieves that a house is unoccupied and vulnerable. In “Suburban Burglary: A Tale of Two Suburbs,” George F. Rengert and John Wasilchick describe how burglars often do not carefully select their targets but instead seize upon obvious opportunities.

An empty house with clear signs that its occupants are away, such as accumulated newspapers, windows tightly shut without air conditioning on a hot day, and dark interiors at night, becomes an enticing target.

These visible cues signal to burglars that a home is unoccupied and ripe for the picking. Simple mistakes like letting mail pile up or failing to set timers for lights can transform a home into a prime target for criminals on the lookout for easy opportunities. Therefore, it’s crucial for homeowners to be aware of these signs and take steps to mitigate them, ensuring their homes do not appear vacant and susceptible to burglary.

A few prevention suggestions to keep your house secure

The primary goal of burglary prevention is to discourage criminals by giving them reasons to bypass your home. Creating a deterrent environment is crucial: well-lit entrances, sturdy locks, strong doors, an alarm system (or even fake alarms and stickers), and signs warning of a dog can all help.

However, the key is to make your house appear occupied, creating the illusion of real activity even when you’re not there. Since most burglars are opportunistic and prefer to avoid confrontations, making your home look lived-in can be an effective deterrent.

To achieve this illusion, you can use a combination of tricks, technology, and simple precautions. Here are some essential tips:

Pack discreetly: Don’t load your suitcases in the driveway where everyone can see. Instead, pack your car in the garage to avoid signaling that you’re leaving.

Secure your home: Lock all doors and windows, including interior doors that have locks. Unplug your garage door opener and use a padlock to manually secure the garage door.

Stay off social media: Avoid announcing your vacation plans online. Share your experiences only after you’ve returned.

Hide your keys wisely: Don’t leave spare keys outside. Burglars know the usual hiding spots.

Manage mail and newspapers: If you’ll be away for a while, stop your mail and newspaper deliveries or ask a neighbor to collect them daily.

Protect valuables: Keep valuables out of sight. Lock them up or hide them in unexpected places.

Inform local authorities: Some police departments maintain a vacant house list where you can register your address so they know the house is empty. If you’re part of a Neighborhood Watch program, inform them so they can help monitor your property.

By implementing these strategies, you create a perception that your home is occupied and reduce the likelihood of it being targeted by burglars.

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Activity timers

To make it seem like someone is home, you can use timers on lights and radios. Set these timers to mimic the usual patterns of activity. For example, have lights turn on and off in the living room during the early evening, then switch to a random pattern of lights upstairs until late at night.

Additionally, you can attach a timer to a small radio placed near a window. Set it to a talk radio station so that voices can be heard from outside. Many smart home systems can automate these tasks, making it even easier to create the illusion of occupancy.

Cover the windows

To prevent criminals from peeking in and spotting valuables, keep the blinds closed on all downstairs windows. If you have Venetian blinds, angle them upward toward the ceiling. This way, you block the view inside while still letting in light.

Get a house sitter

To create a convincing “at home” illusion, nothing beats the real thing. Ask a trusted neighbor to spend a couple of hours in your home each evening. They can watch TV, leave lights on, and engage in routine activities, making it appear as though the family is home. You can even pay friends and family to do a little bit of house-sitting.

The invisible dog

Even if you don’t have a dog (or took yours on vacation), potential criminals don’t need to know that. You can use the threat of a big dog to your advantage by installing an electronic watchdog alarm that detects movement and emits barking sounds. Enhance this illusion with “beware of dog” signs on your gates, and place a dog bowl, toys, and a large dog collar or chain in your backyard.

The fake TV

You don’t need to use a real TV, which consumes electricity and wears out over time. Instead, a fake TV light with a photovoltaic timer can create the realistic illusion of a TV being on while your shades are down. Simply plug it in and aim it at a window, leaving the blinds partially open so the light can shine through. This device has a timer that activates at dusk and runs for six to nine hours. The alternating flashing lights perfectly mimic the flicker of a real television.

Park a car in the driveway

park a car in the driveway

Ensure that the car you leave in the driveway doesn’t appear abandoned or rarely used. Entrust the keys to a reliable neighbor and ask them to move it around every few days. Begin with a clean car, and avoid leaving valuables or the garage door opener inside. It’s acceptable to leave some food wrappers, scattered papers, and gym clothes or sports gear on the seats to give the impression that the car is regularly used.

Invest in security doorbells

A lot of folks nowadays use Wi-Fi-enabled doorbells like Ring, which offer direct communication when someone rings the bell. Even if you’re lounging on a distant beach, you can give the impression that you’re just upstairs when a potential intruder rings the bell (and many check first to see if anyone’s home). If someone suspicious rings the bell, answer it and say you’re occupied and can’t come to the door. If they’re up to no good, they’ll probably move along.

Invest in window bars and security films

Simply locking your windows might not provide adequate security, as window locks can be flimsy and easily broken. Instead, reinforce your windows by placing a PVC pipe or wooden dowel in the window channel. Even if the lock fails, the window will remain blocked from opening.

Additionally, consider applying a security film to your windows to prevent easy shattering. Burglars are deterred by loud noises, and breaking glass is a significant attention-grabber. Window security film makes it harder to break windows, resulting in more unwanted noise.

Merely locking your doors and hoping for the best while you’re away on vacation isn’t sufficient. With lenient penalties and prosecution policies in some states, and a disregard for the law among some individuals, it’s crucial for ordinary citizens to take proactive measures. By safeguarding your possessions and making your home appear occupied and secure, you can enjoy your vacation with greater peace of mind, knowing you’ve taken steps to deter potential burglars from exploiting your absence.

Additional tips to keep your house secure:

april banner 1In addition to making your home less appealing to potential intruders, it’s essential to put your house on autopilot when you’re away. Not only does this maintain your home’s systems, but it also ensures a stress-free return from your trip to a clean and welcoming house—an excellent gift for your future self.

For instance, leaving one or two ceiling fans on low helps circulate air, preventing any musty smells from developing. It’s also wise to provide emergency contacts with details of your whereabouts and a list of regular service providers who might visit while you’re gone.

Before leaving, wash out your kitchen sink to prevent any waste from causing odors. Running the disposer with vinegar and water can help, too. Turning off the main water supply to your house but leaving the one in your yard open can prevent costly damage from burst pipes.

Ensure your pool pump and equipment are running correctly by checking them before departure. Dispose of perishable food from the refrigerator and consider unplugging it if you’ll be away for an extended period to prevent mold.

Confirm that your smoke detectors have fresh batteries and are in working order. Adjusting your thermostat to maintain a constant temperature, depending on the season prevents your house from appearing vacant.

Adding chlorine to toilet bowls can prevent bacteria buildup, odors, and staining. Saran wrapping them further prevents sewer gases from entering your home. Lowering your water heater’s temperature or turning it off saves energy and money.

Lastly, unplug kitchen appliances, computers, TVs, and stereo systems to prevent them from using electricity unnecessarily and protect them from power surges.


Safeguarding your home while you’re away is essential for peace of mind and the security of your possessions. By implementing simple yet effective measures, such as reinforcing windows, creating the illusion of occupancy, and putting your house on autopilot, you can significantly reduce the risk of burglary and ensure a stress-free return from your trip.

Whether it’s using timers for lights and radios, securing windows with bars, or arranging for a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your property, every precaution taken contributes to a safer home.

Remember, the goal is not just to deter criminals but also to make your home a less appealing target. By proactively addressing security concerns and making use of available technology and resources, you can enjoy your time away with confidence, knowing you’ve done everything possible to protect your home and belongings.

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