Unless you're a seasoned business traveler or have an abnormally low resting heart rate, leaving for a trip can feel like escaping Armageddon. You're wrapping up last-minute work tasks and racing to finish packing — all on top of your day-to-day demands. This final countdown to departure is a critical window that will define your getting-home experience.
Do you want to return to comfort and calm? Or will you find a disaster zone?
Cue the pre-trip, house prep checklist.
"It will be different for everyone, but I highly recommend that people have a list — just like a packing list — on their phone or printed out," says Rachel Rosenthal, founder of a professional organizing firm in Bethesda, Md. "It makes it less chaotic and you can be more organized about being able to leave."
You don't have to be a professional organizer to make or execute such a list. These are basic tasks you likely already do (or wish you did) before you leave to travel. The key is taking a minute to make the list, and considering it as essential as grabbing your phone, wallet and keys.
The end result? A softer landing when you get back home. Here's what to put on your checklist.
1. TELL A FRIEND, FAMILY MEMBER OR NEIGHBOR YOU'RE LEAVING
Pick a point-of-contact to keep an eye on things while you're gone, and make sure they have access to your place.
For Luis Vargas, founder and chief executive officer of the travel company Modern Adventure, that's his Portland, Ore., neighbors.
"They have a spare key, so they have the ability to check on the house, potentially water the plants, checking for packages," he says.
Yannis Moati, travel expert and CEO of HotelsByDay, will often see if a friend, family member or acquaintance wants to stay at his New York apartment while he's away for similar safekeeping.
2. SET UP SIMPLE SECURITY TECH
You don't have to turn your place into Fort Knox, but you may want to buy a few gadgets beyond an alarm system to protect your home while you're traveling. Like a mechanical timer (about $7 online) that can turn your lights on and off at programmed times to make it appear as if you're still at home. Rosenthal recommends setting a few on lamps to go on and off in the evenings.
"Nowadays it's relatively inexpensive to have a camera system at your front door, even potentially in your house, that gives you peace of mind," Vargas says.
Moati also swears by an indoor camera to watch for other disasters if his apartment is not occupied. About a year ago, his upstairs neighbor had water problems that caused his kitchen to flood. He's since invested in a camera that also monitors for gas leaks and pollution.
3. IF YOU'RE BE GONE AWHILE, HOLD YOUR MAIL
For long stints away, take a few minutes to stop your mail online to avoid a pileup.
"If you just go to USPS.com, you can put your mail on hold for a length of time," Vargas says.
You may still want to tell a friend or neighbor to watch for rogue package deliveries that arrive from a corporate carrier.
4. FOOL POTENTIAL BURGLARS
Vargas' low-tech security tip is to park his car in his driveway instead of in the garage, another signal to potential intruders that someone could be home. Rosenthal's move is to make her blinds look lived-in: not wide open or fully shut.
"They're just adjusted a little bit lower than they normally are, but still having light come in so that looks like someone might still be living there," she says.
In the case a break-in does occur while you're traveling, don't keep your valuables in obvious places.
"Usually my jewelry is all organized in one place, but I scatter them throughout the house [when I travel]," Rosenthal says.
If you're forgetful, or in case of emergency, you may want to tell a trusted loved one where you hide your prized possessions.
5. THROW ON FRESH SHEETS
One of the nicest things you can do for your future self is making a hotel-fresh bed with clean sheets for your return. It's not the biggest deal in the world, but it's a luxurious touch.
Plus, "you don't usually want to get back into a dirty bed when you come home," Rosenthal says.
6. CLEAN OUT THE FRIDGE (BUT NOT TOO MUCH)
Head to your kitchen and look for any items that could spoil while you're away, particularly animal products and produce. That milk might last for a weekend trip, but not your two-week vacation.
"Be very thoughtful about your perishables," Vargas says. "It's definitely not a pro move to leave your refrigerator unchecked and come home to smelly things."
For food and drinks too precious to toss, Vargas makes a box to give to his neighbors.
Don't completely empty your fridge, though. Having some items in there helps it run more efficiently. Moati left his empty for an extended period away and it was broken when he returned. "I think it froze to death," he says.
Top off your purge by doing a sweep or vacuum of the kitchen (heavy on the area around the fridge) to keep pests away from the allure of crumbs.
7. CHECK FOR FIRE HAZARDS
One of Rosenthal's checklist tasks is to unplug a bunch of her appliances and electronics and to make sure her lights and stove are off.
To avoid that dreaded "did I turn the oven off?" panic on your way to the airport, make an inventory of your fire hazards (Iron? Hair straightener? Candles? Turkey deep-fryer?).
8. RUN THE DISHWASHER
Don't give dirty dishes the chance to turn into a science experiment — run your dishwasher before you leave. Bonus points if you unload it, too, but the main point is to avoid a slimy, smelly scene.
Treat your laundry the same way. If you have a pile of rank laundry, take care of it before you leave. But a hamper of lightly stained clothes waiting for your return won't hurt.
9. DO ONE LAST LAP
You're packed and feeling organized. Now do a final sweep of your place. Look for running toilets and faucets, stray dishes covered in crumbs, fresh flowers in vases — any items that will turn on you while you're gone. Adjust your thermostat with your energy bill in mind, and set any alarms you have.
Rosenthal's final above-and-beyond task is to make a list of groceries her household will need when they return, so she doesn't have to stress about it that day.
10. ON YOUR WAY OUT, TAKE OUT THE TRASH AND RECYCLING
Have your bag(s) of trash and recyclables ready by your door to take out on your way out. No one wants to come home to a place that smells like festering garbage.
And with that last drop, your checklist is complete.