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35 Ways to Prepare Your House for Holiday Vacation [+ Free Checklists]

Kaitlyn Pacheco
Written by Kaitlyn Pacheco
Updated December 9, 2021
mother and daughter packing a suitcase

Photo: Brothers91 / iStock / Getty Images

Here’s everything you can do to get your home ready for your holiday vacation

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From visiting relatives to sunny getaways, the winter holidays are a popular time of year for travel. However, realizing you’ve left a door unlocked or a faucet running in your haste to catch a flight can put a damper on your trip.

This guide to preparing your house for vacation will cover everything you need to do so you can focus your attention on enjoying a much-deserved holiday.

Learn all of the home security, home appliance, and house cleaning preparations you should make before taking your vacation. We’ve also included free printable checklists so no task is overlooked.

Read on and prepare to enjoy your winter vacation at ease.

2 Questions to Ask Before Going on Holiday Vacation

man pouring food in bowl for dog

Photo: LightFieldStudios / iStock / Getty Images

In the days and weeks before leaving, there are two key questions to ask yourself as you're preparing your home for vacation.

How Long Am I Going to Be Away From Home? 

The amount of time you plan to spend away from your house affects how much and what kind of preparations you should make.

For example, if you’re leaving for a week, you may want to mow your lawn before you go. If you’re leaving for a month or more, you may want to hire a professional landscaper to take care of your yard in your absence.

Do I Know Someone Staying in the Neighborhood for the Holidays?

If you have a close friend or neighbor remaining in the area, they can help you with certain responsibilities like receiving your mail, feeding your pets, or keeping a watchful eye on your home. If not, you will need to make other arrangements and may even want to consider hiring a house sitter.

Home Security Preparations for Holiday Vacation

young woman setting alarm on wall

Photo: Zinkevych / iStock / Getty Images

If the film “Home Alone” taught us anything, it’s that burglars love the holiday season. Just to be on the safe side, you can take some security preparations to protect your home while you’re away.

1. Take Care of Your Yard

An overgrown or unkempt lawn can be a sign that no one’s home. 

  • If you’re leaving for a week or so, you should trim your lawn and shrubbery before your trip. 

  • If you’re taking an extended vacation (a month or more), you may want to hire a local lawn care professional on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.

2. Shovel Your Driveway

In areas where it’s recently snowed, you’ll want to shovel your driveway before taking your vacation. A snowy driveway without footprints or tire tracks is another sign that no one is home.

  • If snow is expected in your area while you’re away on vacation, you may want to hire a snow removal service to schedule a visit to your home.

3. Lock Windows and Doors

This should be obvious, but you’ll want to make a pass around your house to make sure that all your windows are closed and locked, as well as any side or back doors. 

Be sure not to overlook pet doors—make sure they are covered and the locking mechanism is activated. Finally, lock the front door behind you as you leave for your trip.

4. Notify Your Neighbors

If any close neighbors are staying home for the holidays, you ought to notify them of your plans and if you’re expecting visitors (like a friend or house sitter). 

  • In case of an emergency or suspicious activity, they can call the proper authorities and/or notify you.

  • They may also be willing to assist you with house-sitting responsibilities like watering plants, collecting mail, or taking out trash bins. 

5. Close Blinds

Closing your home’s blinds will make it difficult for an unwanted visitor to assess whether or not your home is occupied. 

Since you’re preparing your house for winter vacation, this can insulate your windows from the outside cold so your heater won’t have to work as hard.  

6. Put Outdoor Lights on Timers

Schedule your outdoor lighting to illuminate the doorways and dark areas around your home. This makes your home appear occupied and can help your neighbors spot any suspicious activity outside the house.

  • Rather than running your electricity for an extended period, installing motion-activated lighting would allow you to use lighting as needed.

7. Set Indoor Lights on Timers

You could consider leaving a small light fixture or two on during your vacation, as it gives the appearance of someone being home. However, this may use more energy than necessary.

8. Arm Your Alarm System

Before leaving your home for your vacation, be sure to arm your alarm system. You can also get in touch with your provider to notify them of your travel plans and whether or not you’re expecting anyone at your house while you’re away.

9. Check Your Doorbell Camera

If you have a doorbell camera, make sure it’s operational and provides a clear, unobstructed view of people at your front door.

A doorbell camera can also help keep your packages safe when you’re not home.

10. Take the Spare Key, or Give It to a Neighbor

Most people are generally aware of common places to look for spare keys—under the welcome mat, above the door frame, under a potted plant, etc. 

Instead, give your spare key to a house sitter, friend, or neighbor in case of an emergency.

11. Put a Hold on Mail and Newspaper Delivery

Junk mail and newspapers can easily pile up when you're gone, signaling that your house is unattended. An easy solution is to put your mail and newspaper delivery on hold.

  • You can visit the U.S. Postal Service online to place a temporary hold on receiving any mail, or you can change your mail forwarding address to a friend or neighbor for a $1 charge.

12. Install Smart Home Technology

Home security checklist for holiday vacation

Download the Home Security Checklist Here

This requires advanced preparation, as it can take two to three weeks to have your home automated. However, hiring a local home automation company could be a worthwhile investment if you are taking an extended vacation or are planning to travel frequently. 

  • You could use smart home technology to remotely control and monitor your home’s security and appliance usage from your smart device.

Cleaning Your Home for Holiday Vacation

couple doing laundry together

Photo: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images

It may seem counterintuitive to clean your home when you’re about to leave, but it will help ease your transition from “vacation mode.” Take these steps to get your house in order so you can return home to a pleasant environment.

13. Use, Gift, or Toss Perishables in Your Refrigerator

Clear your refrigerator of what’s due to expire during your trip so you aren’t welcomed home by the smell of rotting food. To avoid wasting food, you can offer some to your neighbor. 

  • In the week prior to your vacation, you could challenge yourself to only eat home-cooked meals so you use all your groceries before you go. 

14. Clean the Garbage Disposal

Clearing out the garbage disposal will help prevent any unpleasant smells from building up during your vacation.

  • For added fragrance, you can mix in citrus fruit peels (like orange, lime, or lemon) while you’re running the disposal.

15. Take Out the Trash and Recycling

man throwing away garbage in dumpster

Photo: urbazon / iStock / Getty Images

You don’t want to leave your trash and recycling to stew in your home while you’re on vacation, nor do you want to attract pests or rodents.

  • Dispose of all the trash and recycling in your bathroom, kitchen, and garage bins. 

  • If your holiday travel is before pick-up day, try asking a neighbor to bring your receptacles to the curb and inside when they’re empty.

16. Run and Unload the Dishwasher

Any dirty dishes or silverware in the dishwasher might attract bugs or rodents if left sitting during your vacation. 

  • Run and unload the dishwasher so you can come home to a nice, clean set of dishware.

17. Check Your Washing Machine for Wet Clothes

Double-check your washing machine for any wet clothes, as they’ll likely be ruined if left to sit during your travels.

  • If you decided to wash your favorite ugly holiday sweater before traveling, you wouldn’t want to leave it behind to mildew. 

18. Inspect Your Garage for Critters

Check your garage for any pest infestations or smaller rodents. If you find any, you may be able to address the issue with over-the-counter products and by spraying insecticide in problem areas.

  • You may also want to consider hiring a pest control company to keep unwanted “guests” out of your home while you’re enjoying your vacation.

19. Wash and Change Your Bedding

Take some time to wash and dry your used bedding. Not only will this help prevent bacteria from growing, but you’ll also be glad to return home to a nicely made bed with fresh sheets after a long day of travel.

20. Wash and Dry Bathroom Towels

Mold and mildew could grow in your bathroom if you leave a wet bath towel behind. Toss your used bathroom towels in the washer with detergent, followed by a cycle in the dryer. Who doesn’t love coming home to fresh towels?

21. Wash All Your Dirty Clothes

Washing and drying all your worn and dirty clothes will minimize the number of chores you’ll have when you return from vacation. This will also prevent bacteria from growing on any clothes with sweat residue (such as from exercise) and will allow you to come home to a full wardrobe.

22. Vacuum Carpets and Sweep the Floors

When returning from vacation, you wouldn’t want to be greeted by messy floors and carpets. Vacuuming carpets and sweeping floors ahead of your vacation will ensure that your home is clean while you’re away and that your living areas will look great when you get back home.

23. Wipe Down Countertops

Wipe down your countertops to clear away any food crumbs or debris that could attract insects. This gives your kitchen a clean fragrance and welcoming look when you’re back home.

24. Clean Your Shower, Bathroom Sinks, and Toilet

Home cleaning checklist mockup printable sheet

Download the Home Cleaning Checklist Here

Mildew can build up and fester in these moisture-laden areas. Give these areas a deep scrub before you take your winter vacation so you can return to a clean and welcoming bathroom.

Preparing Home Appliances for Holiday Vacation

Although you’re taking a vacation, your home will still be working while you’re gone. Here are a few steps to take to minimize your house’s energy consumption and to mitigate the risk of potential damages while your home is unattended.

prep home for holiday vacation infographic

25. Unplug Household Electronics

Even if you’re not actively using electronic equipment, anything that’s plugged in continuously draws power. This “vampire energy” adds 10% to the average household’s energy bill. Even more shocking, the amount of energy wasted annually in the U.S. would be enough to power 11 million homes.

Unplugging your unused electronics (television, computer, lamps, and phone chargers) will not only save you from unnecessary expenses but also protect your home from potential power surges and fire hazards.

26. Unplug Smaller Kitchen Appliances

Make sure to unplug your toaster, coffee machine, blender, etc. so as not to pay for wasted energy and minimize the risk of having them damaged in a power surge.

27. Lower Your Thermostat

closeup of a person's hand adjusting the thermostat

Photo: RossHelen / iStock / Getty Images

It doesn’t make sense to pay to keep your home fully heated while you’re away on vacation. 51% of a household’s annual energy consumption is for space heating and air conditioning, so you can cut down on costs with one simple trick.

Rather than turning your heat off and risking freezing your pipes, adjust your thermostat to 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in cooler months to give your heating system a break.

  • Installing a smart thermostat would enable you to monitor your home’s temperature while you’re away. If the weather reaches extreme colds, you can remotely adjust the thermostat using a mobile app.

28. Securely Shut Off All Water Faucets

So you don’t leave water dripping for days or weeks while you’re away, take a few minutes to do a room-by-room inspection and make sure all your faucet handles are firmly shut.

29. Turn Down Your Hot Water Heater

Since you’re preparing your house for winter vacation, you can give your water heater a break while you’re away. You can save a bit on your utility bills by simply lowering the unit’s temperature.

  • If you have a gas heater, you can manually turn the temperature down. 

  • If you have an electric water heater, check to see if it has vacation settings (usually marked “VAC”) that maintain water at a lower temperature. 

30. Turn Off Your Water Valve

Whether you’re planning an extended winter vacation or merely visiting family for the holidays, it’s smart to shut off your main water supply line before leaving. 

Water remains in the pipes at full pressure while you’re away, so if a pipe bursts, water will flow continuously until the main is turned off. 

Turn off the water supply line so you don’t come home to a flooded basement or a swimming pool in the living room.

31. Test Your Smoke Alarms

Home appliance preparation checklist mockup printable sheet

Download the Home Appliance Preparation Checklist Here

Check your smoke alarms’ batteries and make sure your system is working properly.

If you have a smart smoke detector installed, you’ll receive alerts of smoke detection while you’re away.

Miscellaneous Home Preparations Before Holiday Vacations

woman watering plants in living room

Photo: AleksandarNakic / iStock / Getty Images

With your major home security, cleaning, and appliance tasks completed, here are a few other miscellaneous preparations to consider to truly have your home ready for vacation.

32. Water Your Houseplants

The level of care required varies by the plant type and the length of your trip, but be sure to water any indoor house plants at least once before leaving. 

  • For longer vacations or more delicate plants, plan to have a friend, neighbor, or house sitter take care of them as often as needed.

33. Board Pets or Hire a Pet Sitter

If you have a pet that requires daily feeding, walks outside, or medication, you may want to leave them in the care of a friend or neighbor while you’re on vacation.

34. Hide or Move Your Valuables

While you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, you can be extra careful and hide the valuables you’re leaving behind. It’s better safe than sorry, after all.

  • If you have a safe, that’s a great place to store anything precious while you’re on vacation.

  • If you have a well-decorated basement, you may want to consider moving anything valuable upstairs to protect against flooding.

35. Prepare and Freeze a Meal for Your Return

Misc. Home Preparation for Holiday Vacation mockup printable sheet

Download the Misc. Home Preparation Checklist Here

This is a gift to your future, post-vacation self. After disposing or making use of your perishable food, you likely won’t have much hearty food leftover in your home. 

  • If you return home at a late hour when grocery stores and restaurants are closed, you’ll be glad to be able to defrost a nice meal after your travels.

If you’d like professional assistance around the house while enjoying your vacation, check out these online resources to find the best home services in your area.

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