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Traveling to a vacation destination can be a stressful experience. You must book your flights, hotel, activities, and travel insurance. You need to make sure your pets are looked after, pack, coordinate with family, and then finally go to the airport to actually begin the journey.
While the travel industry is recovering from the pandemic, minds have turned toward traveling for the holidays. With Thanksgiving and Christmas fast approaching, and now that restrictions on movement have been lifted, we need to start planning upcoming trips.
We also need to consider what we leave behind. Our homes might be locked up when they leave, but that doesn't mean they are secure.
However, if there is somewhere technology shines, it's reducing the stress of going away, with modern Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices now allowing you to check your home security, no matter where you are in the world.
Here are some top tips for keeping your home secure while you travel.
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:
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 it online. But if you can't wait, before you share those in-flight cloud photos, family in far-flung places, pictures from the airport bar, or destination snapshots, make sure your social media accounts are locked down (even temporarily), so only your friends, family, and trusted associates can view your updates and see where you are.
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 1 out of 12 reported burglary cases, the victims had previously shared information related to their holiday on social media.
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 having the device invaluable when I am both at home and away.
A video doorbell, such as those offered by Ring, Eufy, 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.
In this way, you're never not at home.
Also: The best video doorbells: Ring, Nest, Arlo, Logitech, and Eufy compared
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 carbon dioxide or smoke, and can be programmed to automatically trigger an alarm and alert emergency services when you are not at home. You can also often sign up for professional monitoring subscriptions, which watch your home at all hours every day and will alert law enforcement if a home invasion takes place.
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. Even if your video doorbell runs out of battery or your camera loses its connection while you're traveling, the warning is still there.
Also: What are the best home security systems and do they require Wi-Fi?
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 its weight and difficulty to open (assuming the passcode isn't 12345) can be problematic for thieves.
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.
Also: The best Wi-Fi routers
As we said at the start, 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.
If you have pets needing care, you will have to decide between having someone come to visit them at home or boarding your pets. 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.
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.
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.