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Traveling to a vacation destination can be a stressful experience. You must book your flights, hotel, activities, and travel insurance; make sure your pets are looked after, pack, deal with family, and then go to the airport to actually begin the journey.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made travel, for work or pleasure, even more, complicated due to the respiratory disease surging again, a lack of airport and hospitality staff, and flight cancellations.
Furthermore, your home might be locked up when you leave, but that doesn't mean it is secure. However, If there is somewhere technology shines, it's reducing the stress of going away -- and modern Internet of Things (IoT) & connected devices now allow you to check your home security, no matter where you are in the world.
Below are ZDNet's top tips for keeping your home secure while you travel.
How to make your home appear occupied with scheduling
Ensuring your home looks business as usual is key to preventing potential criminals from noticing that it is not occupied.
Before you go away, consider this: What makes a home appear empty to you?
One of the leading indicators is when the lights are out and remain that way for an extended time period. However, this is very easy to fix thanks to connected technologies:
Smart lights: Smart lights, such as the Philips Hue range, are more energy-efficient and also offer a range of colors and ambient settings for your home and office. When it comes to security, smart lighting ranges can also play a part, as they are internet-connected and can be controlled remotely and scheduled to turn on and off at specific times.
Voice assistants and smart hubs: Voice assistants and smart hubs are excellent remote tools for controlling your home devices while you're traveling. You can set specific routines to play music lists, turn on indoor and outdoor lights, control your television set, and more.
Smart timers: A budget-friendly option to change your existing light switches and appliance outlets are smart timer plugs. These outlets can be programmed to turn a device on and off at different times depending on your preferences; for example, you could choose to turn a lamp in your lounge on at 5:30 pm and off at 10:30 pm.
TV mimics: You can purchase TV simulators, such as FakeTV, that make it appear a television is on in a lounge or upstairs room when appropriately placed in your home. These gadgets use colored LED lights in random patterns to mimic a TV and can be set on a timer -- perfect for when you are away for the evening or longer.
You could also consider cheap, timer-based LED lights if you want to save money and don't want to turn your main lights on. For example, I have an LED fairy light hanging curtain in my lounge set on a timer to automatically turn on for a few hours in the evening when it becomes dark outside.
It's only natural to be excited at the prospect of traveling. However, we tend to overshare online -- especially on social networks -- and advertising that you are going away does not help your home security.
The best practice is to at least wait until after your trip to share about it online. But if you can't wait, before you share those in-flight cloud photos, pictures from the airport bar, or destination snapshots, make sure your social media accounts are locked down (even temporarily), so only your friends and family can view your updates.
It's incredible just how much information is available about us online, and it doesn't take much effort to put the pieces together. If you post that you're away and your physical address has been previously leaked online, for example, you're lighting a beacon for a potential home invasion.
A 2018 study of UK holidaymakers found that in one out of 12 reported burglary cases, the victims had previously shared information related to their holiday on social media.
Install a video doorbell
When I first purchased a Ring video doorbell years ago, I wondered whether or not a smart video doorbell was overkill. Do you really need a doorbell with a camera and audio feeds?
However, now I'm now on my third-generation device, and I find it invaluable when I am both at home and away.
A video doorbell, such as those offered by Ring, Google Nest, Netatmo, and Arlo, allows you to communicate with visitors, whether friends, family, or delivery staff, when you're out of the house.
Furthermore, they can deter less savory individuals from scouting out your home, and as motion alerts will be sent to your phone, you can take real-time recordings (that could potentially be used as evidence), and you could even scare them away by talking to them directly.
You don't always need a fully-rigged smart security system to protect your home while you are traveling. A few key pieces can be enough to keep your home secure when you're away -- such as a window motion sensor, a video-equipped doorbell, and a camera or two for indoor and outdoor spaces.
These devices can be connected to a centralized hub, linked to your Wi-Fi, or can act independently. Home security cameras, such as the Nest, Blink, Arlo, and Wyze ranges, contain motion sensors that trigger an alert on your phone when movement is detected, allowing you to check in and make sure everything is alright at home. Motion sensors placed in the home can also warn you if there is movement in a weak spot, such as at a window or door.
If you have a large home and an office, you might want to consider investing in a full security system to prevent or combat intrusions while you're traveling. While more expensive as an initial outlay, home systems can monitor doorways and windows, detect co2 or smoke, and can be programmed to automatically trigger an alarm and alert emergency services when you are not at home.
In the cases of video doorbells, smart security cameras, and full security systems, you will usually receive stickers as freebies that make visitors aware that you have a security system in place. You can stick them on windows or door panels, and so even if your video doorbell runs out of battery or your camera loses its connection while you're traveling, the warning is still there.
If you aren't able to transport your valuables elsewhere for the time you're away, consider investing in a safe. You can use a safe to store valuable documents, jewelry, laptops, and more -- and their weight and difficulty to open (assuming the passcode isn't 12345) can be problematic for thieves.
Schedule background noise
Just as you can schedule your lights to turn on and off at your discretion, you can also use your voice assistants, including Google Home and Amazon Echo, to play music automatically. By setting routines, you can program your device to play playlists or a radio station at a set time or based on a particular action.
For example, you could set your lights to turn on at 6:30 pm, trigger a playlist, and program everything to turn off at 10:30 pm. You could also change these times depending on the day, adding some variation that makes it appear someone is at home.
If you're relying on connected technologies, apps, and cameras, they need their hubs and hardware to have a stable connection to the internet. On occasion, routers -- especially if they are traditional models and not mesh options -- will bottleneck, impacting these connections and potentially cutting them entirely.
Something you should do just before you leave is simply to turn your router off and on again to refresh existing connections and reduce the chance of your IoT devices losing connectivity while you're away.
As we said at the start of our guide, outside appearances matter more than you might think when it comes to keeping your home secure. A property that looks unkempt or abandoned might attract the wrong sort of attention, so before you leave, have a walk around and tidy up if you have the time.
If you're using gadgets or accessories to self-water plants, keep them hidden, as their use indicates no one is home. Make sure you're not going to have deliveries left on the porch and either cancel them or make other arrangements, and do a final check of your door and window locks.
Enlist a pet sitter or house sitter
If you have pets needing care, you will have to decide between having someone come to visit them at home or boarding your pet(s). The first option may be a bit more expensive but it also means your house will be looked after with regular check-ins, too.
No pets? House sitters can still benefit you by taking care of any plants, bringing in mail, and alerting you to any surprise issues in or around your property that may crop up while you're away.
Ask a neighbor
If you're lucky enough to live next to decent neighbors, ask them to keep an eye on your property and give them your phone number in case there are any problems.
Lend out your driveway
A driveway in use, if you have one, is a major indicator that someone is at home. If you're going to be traveling for an extended time period, you should consider either allowing someone to use your driveway to keep up appearances or even earning some cash by renting it out instead.
Services such as JustPark and Spacer connect you to people who need to rent out parking spaces and driveways on short and long-term agreements.
As a final tip, make it a habit to check your home insurance every so often. Should the worst happen and you are burgled, you want to make sure that any valuables left in the property -- including electronics and jewelry -- are covered and, you can claim for them.