If you’re heading off on holiday, you will want to travel with the peace of mind that your home is safe. One of the key things is to disguise the fact your property is vacant, as if burglars notice signs that suggest no-one is at home, they will see as an open invitation to try and get their hands on your prized possessions.
Here are some tips for leaving your house unoccupied to keep your home and your belongings secure.
1. Check your household insurance
Make sure you have the home insurance cover you need and that it remains valid while you are away. While buying an adequate level of cover for your possessions may seem obvious, are there any exclusions in your policy that could render it void if, for instance, you are away from home for more than a certain number of days? What about if you let a house-sitter live in your home to look after pets? Should you notify the insurer? Are you covered if a non-family member stays in your home?
2. Don’t leave your house looking unoccupied
Mow the lawn and trim hedges before you leave so that it doesn’t look like a meadow by the time you get back. Cancel milk, newspapers and any other regular deliveries.
Leave some curtains and blinds open – nothing reveals that a house is unoccupied so much as curtains drawn during the day, but make sure tell-tale signs you are away aren't visible (such as laundry left out to dry for days on end and wilting pot plants).
Ask a neighbour to remove free newspapers and post from your doormat if they can be seen through a glass panel or through the letterbox. Alternatively, you can sign up to Royal Mail’s Keepsafe service, which holds letters and parcels while you are away and delivers them once you return.
Ask your neighbour to water your pot plants, too. This won’t just keep them healthy for your return but will stop them appearing wilted and indicating an absent owner. Alternatively put them out of the way somewhere, such as a self-watering system in the bath.
Install a light on a timer switch that comes on in the evening. You can also get photosensitive bulbs that switch on when a certain level of darkness is reached. If you are using a light on a timer, don’t use it with a table lamp that can be viewed through a window – a dead giveaway.
Find out about Saga Home Insurance
3. Sign up to a Neighbourhood Watch scheme
Join or start a Neighbourhood Watch scheme, as these are a great way for communities to fight burglary.
Also bear in mind that some insurers may give you a discount if you are an active member. For more information, go to Ourwatch.org.uk.
Facebook can also be useful, with local community groups keeping neighbours alert to bogus callers and suspicious activity.
4. Lock up tools and ladders
Keep tools and ladders that can be used to break in locked away while you're on holiday. Burglars don't tend to carry tools around with them because if they get pulled over by police it will be difficult to explain why they might have a ladder and crow bar with them. Instead, they'll be on the lookout for items around property they are looking to target.
Read our guide to burglar-proofing your house
5. Keep your valuables safe
Keep valuables out of sight and don’t leave them where they can be seen through a window.
If you intend to conceal valuables in your home, avoid obvious hiding places such as your sock drawer, in a fake food can in the kitchen – burglars are wise to this trick – and in the freezer, unless you are prepared to wrap absolutely everything in foil to make your jewellery totally indistinguishable from your food.
Your best bet is not to leave anything you would hate to lose in the house at all, but if you must, then in order to save most of your treasure, your second-best bet is to distribute it around several locations that are difficult to reach, and leave a pile of money and some inexpensive items in a more obvious place.
Given that most burglars are opportunists and their motive is generally to get in, get something of value and then get out as fast as possible, your intruder might be encouraged to leave after finding your fake hoard rather than ripping the house apart in the hope of finding the real deal.
6. Don't tell everyone you're on holiday
Don’t tell people outside immediate friends and family that you are going away or for how long. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to show off your tan or tell your fisherman’s tales when you get back.
Certainly you should not brag about your upcoming holiday on social media such as Facebook or Twitter – you don’t know who can read your comments, or who they will tell.
7. Make use of home safety apps
A flashing alarm box on the front and back of your home provides a visual deterrent for thieves, and the noise will alert your neighbours in the event of a break-in.
If your alarm is old or unreliable, consider getting a new wireless system. They are quick and easy to install, and can be operated by remote control or even via an app on your mobile phone.
Need to know where to start? B&Q, Homebase and Argos have a good selection of burglar alarms, to name but three major stores. Be sure to choose a British standard approved alarm and always set it when leaving your home and at night.
There are now a number of smartphone apps which allow you to activate your home’s alarm system remotely, so consider downloading one of these.
Some will even allow you to monitor what’s going on in your home, or alert you to suspicious activity.
Read our guide to choosing a burglar alarm
8. Use security lights
The last thing a burglar wants is to be illuminated in a pool of light as he approaches your home. Security lights with motion sensors are essential for any part of your property that might be accessible, but especially the front, back and garage doors.
This also allows you to check no one is lurking in the shadows when you get home in the evening.
Make sure the light is angled so that it doesn’t intrude into neighbours’ windows or passing vehicles.
Solar-powered lights and lights that use rechargeable batteries are available if you want something short-notice or don't want to wire a light in. Read more about outdoor security lights.
9. Lock doors and windows securely
It might seem obvious, but it's still worth making sure doors and windows are locks, as unlocked doors and windows are still the main entry point for burglars. Most burglaries are opportunistic, so don’t tempt thieves into your home by leaving windows and doors open or even unlocked – and never leave a key in a ‘safe place’ like under the doormat, as thieves know where to look.
Many burglars will avoid smashing a window and will instead try to force the window frame itself, so make sure all windows in your home, both upstairs and downstairs, are fitted with at least one lock.
Keep side gates locked too.
10. Protect your home with CCTV
This may not be ideal for everyone, but CCTV cameras are another obvious deterrent for burglars, and in recent years they've become more and more affordable.
CCTV enables you to see exactly what is going on in and around your home, even when you are out. Cameras can be linked up to a TV or computer, as well as being connected to a router so you can view the images on your smartphone or tablet.
Even when you aren't on holiday CCTV can be particularly useful if you want to see who is at your door before answering, and avoids having to be near the door to look through a spyhole.
11. Protect yourself and your luggage
Make sure you have adequate travel insurance and that you have declared anything that could, if an insurer found out about it later invalidate your claim.
Don’t state your home address on the outside of your luggage. Put a note inside the lid in case of loss, or use a label with an alternative non-residential address, such as your place of work or social club, where you can be found if the case goes astray.
Use TSA standard locks on your luggage. These are either built in to the case on more expensive luggage brands, or you can buy TSA standard padlocks to attach to cheaper bags and holdalls. TSA locks can be opened by authorised persons at airports, particularly in America, using special tools, meaning your bags can be examined by security personnel without causing damage.
Enjoy your trip.
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