Whether your vacation is a weekend jaunt, a three-month tour overseas, or somewhere in between, it’s always nice to return home. That is unless you have an unexpected and unwelcome surprise awaiting you. Nothing erases those lovely vacation memories faster than to encounter a disaster when you walk through your front door.

If you didn’t take time to prep your house before departing, you could be greeted by a break-in, flood, or an enormous air conditioning bill because you forgot about the thermostat. Most of these catastrophes are preventable if you prepare a few weeks before leaving. Don’t just make a list of what to pack; take steps to protect your biggest investment — your home — and put them into action.

House Home Roof

Set the Stage

Piled up newspapers and mail are clear signs to burglars that no one is inside, so contact your paper carrier and USPS to initiate stops on deliveries. Set timers on indoor and outdoor lights and sprinkler systems and make sure that your neighbors, credit card company, and alarm provider know your travel dates.

Check doors and windows to make sure they’re locked up tight, and leave some curtains or blinds slightly open. A dark house is another invitation for a break-in. Never, ever post vacation pictures on social media while you’re away, and don’t tell everyone about your upcoming trip. Instead, wait until you get back to share.

Making It Good to Be Back Home

Clean out your refrigerator, leave non-perishables in the pantry, and easy-to-prepare food in your freezer. You can make a quick stop on the way home for milk, juice, and bread to tide you over until you can make a larger grocery run. The day you leave, put fresh sheets on your beds, take out the trash, and give your house a quick clean. Don’t leave out any food, and spray for bugs — especially in the warmer months.

Smart Thermostats and Well Thought-Out Plans

Returning to a sweltering hot house because you left the thermostat high can make unpacking a nightmare. A cold house isn’t any more welcoming, and either way it takes time for the temperature to adjust. A smart thermostat solves this problem by regulating your home’s temperature while you are away. These devices use Wi-Fi to allow you to adjust the heating and cooling of your HVAC system and can be managed and tracked from anywhere through your smartphone.

Energy Star recommends smart thermostats because they effectively help reduce HVAC costs. Smart thermostats are also inexpensive and easily installed. If you don’t service your system regularly, consider doing so. Another way to save money while safeguarding your home is by unplugging appliances. Turning off your main water valve to prevent flooding or frozen pipes also falls into this category. Also, plan to test smoke detector and alarm batteries, and give a neighbor your emergency contact information.

When prepping for your vacation, you probably finish outstanding projects at work and ensure that your pets will be taken care of if they’re not joining you. Putting your home’s affairs in order for safety and comfort is equally important. A smooth transition coming home will make for longer lasting and better vacation memories. Plus, it’ll give you more time to post those pictures online.