Australians have always had itchy feet. Whether backpacking on a budget or island-hopping through the Mediterranean, we’re always curious to see what’s over the hill.
The problem is, over the hill is a long way away. When we go, we’re often away for weeks or even months.
Despite the popularity of “staycations” and see-Australia-first trips, Aussies are still world travellers. But leaving the nest for weeks or months at time requires careful planning, so that it stays safe and in top condition while you’re away.
Here are some tips on what to do in the lead-up to your trip.
Apart from all the exciting travel plans and packing, leaving your home unoccupied for a long period needs more forethought than a weekend break. The last thing you want is to be in an idyllic spot, wondering if you left the iron on, or if that beef vindaloo’s still sitting at the bottom of the fridge. Start early and sail serenely out the door without a backward glance with help from a holiday countdown.
Three-four weeks before departure
Arrange pet care
This should be done well in advance of your trip. As good as some pet care facilities are, there’s nothing like individual care in a home.
Do ask around before you commit to one – you might be surprised who would love to “borrow” your furry companion.
Your darling might be staying with friends and it’s a good idea to acclimatise them both with a few visits beforehand. Leave a list of habits and idiosyncrasies, money for food and contingencies, a favourite toy and blanket, the vet’s contact number and your own.
This list can be given to other pet care facilities too, if they need to spend time there.
Sort your security
Home invasion statistics make for scary reading. Your most important pre-departure concern is security.
Read the hints below, and if you have back-to-base security, tell the company the dates you’ll be away and who has access to your home, with a first-call name and contact in case the alarm is activated.
TIP: A smoke detector beeping in an empty house is pointless. A smoke detection system can be linked to an alarm monitoring system, so check with your security company. Your insurance company might have conditions concerning unoccupied homes, so ring it to find out.
Get a house minder
A trusted friend or neighbour who’s happy to check on your home while you’re away is a godsend. Ask them to empty the mailbox, pick up free newspapers and generally act as caretaker while you’re off gallivanting.
Leave a copy of your itinerary, contact details and phone numbers of your power, water and maintenance providers. Give them your house and car keys, your alarm code and check they are willing to be first-call in case of alarm activation. Show them the location of the alarm control panel and the mains fuse box.
TIP: Don’t forget to bring back a special gift and offer to return the favour.
Two weeks before departure
Hit the pantry
Have a cooking weekend and use up open packets and other perishables. Invite friends to help and take dishes home, donate to someone needy or label and freeze.
Some processed foods would outlast a nuclear winter, but others deteriorate quite quickly. Cereals, nuts, spices, grains, biscuits and oils go stale, and flour and rice may become infested. Invest in some tight-sealing plastic containers or donate these items.
TIP: Refresh cockroach baits in the pantry and behind fridge.
Clean out your fridge
If you’re going to be away for a couple of months, there’s really no way around clearing out the fridge, so start donating all those jars and bottles now.
Some fridges have a useful “holiday mode” setting, which keeps the freezer running and the fresh food section off. If you have fridge and freezer items that you think will last your absence, invest in a mini-fridge or a small freezer and save power – and keep from having to restock them when you return.
Fix your fixtures
Attend to any maintenance issues you’ve put off, such as dripping taps or malfunctioning window or door locks. You don’t want to come home after a long trip to find that drip has become a leak that’s left you with a swimming pool in your kitchen.
Get in the garden
You might not be around to enjoy your home-grown vegies and herbs, so harvest what you have and set up a stall on a weekend afternoon, with ripe produce, plants and seedlings.
With perfect timing, your garden will burst into bloom while you’re not there to admire it, so let friends help themselves. Aged-care facilities and some hospitals welcome cut flowers.
One week before departure
Air out your clothes
Wardrobes undisturbed for long periods develop musty odours and even mould on leather items.
Organise your clothes so they’re not too tightly packed, and wash or dry clean any already-worn items. Put leather items out in the open, not closed up in baskets, drawers or plastic bags.
If humidity is a problem, consider getting a dehumidifier or packs of silica gel beads that suck moisture from the air. These need to be emptied or changed when fully saturated – ask your house checker to do this.
Hang a few insect-repelling strips between coat hangers and slip fragrance sachets or cedar balls into drawers. Do the same in your linen storage, with handy tips for a forage-free (and fragrant) linen cupboard.
TIP: For dehumidifying systems to work well, the area needs to be sealed, so shut wardrobe doors properly if you’re using one. Otherwise, leave them open to maximise circulation.
Get a plant-sitter
It’s sad to come home to a potted plant graveyard. Indoor plants can be temperamental about changes in light and their watering regime, so if you have a house minder, ask if they’ll also look after your potted posies. Poke a small note with watering dates into each container if you have lots of plants with different requirements, to let them know who needs what.
Clean the pool
If you already have pool maintenance in place, let the company know you’re away and ensure they have access to the pool in your absence. Ask them to winterise the pool and dial back visits until you return.
However, if keeping the pool clean is more of a home job, you might want to give it the royal treatment before you leave, and invest in a pool cover if you don’t already have one.
One day before departure
Sort out the washing
Deal with as much laundry as possible in the week prior to your departure. After the last load, declare the laundry closed and turn off water to the washing machine and power to the dryer. Seal washing powder containers and ensure no damp laundry has mysteriously appeared in washing baskets.
TIP: Hang last-minute wet towels to dry, don’t leave them in the washing basket. Yes, I know it sounds like common sense, but sometimes gremlins do it.
Stash the valuables
Find a hidey-hole for extra keys and small items of value. A false bottom on a drawer, tucked into shoes, wrapped in the freezer – really clever burglars won’t be fooled, but the feeble-minded ones will.
TIP: Tell your best friend where you’ve stashed the family jewels or spare keys, or leave yourself a cryptic note with a hint about where they are just in case you forget by the time you return.
One to two hours before departure
If you have changed sheets a day or so before you leave, they’ll be more or less clean and very welcome if you arrive home late at night, jet-lagged and badly in need of a clean and comfy bed to fall into. Turn on any lamps you have put on timers.
TIP: Timer switches for lamps aren’t expensive, so install them in several rooms with the dials turned to a couple of hours a night in different rooms.
Clean the kitchen
Empty the kettle, tea and coffee pots and pet water bowls, and wash any last-minute dishes. Take out the garbage and ask your house minder to dispose of it on collection day.
Turn off the hot water system and appliances at the wall. Empty the dishwasher and prop the door open to prevent odours developing.
Protect your power
Unless you have a high-quality power surge protector, power down computer equipment and remove plugs from the walls. Put a dust cover over printers, keyboards and other add-ons.
TIP: Internet and pay-TV can be temporarily suspended for a few months if you won’t be using them. Contact your providers before you leave.
Lock it down
Check all door and window locks – twice – and close the curtains and blinds. If you want to give the impression you are home, leave a couple of blinds up so a little light from timed lamps is visible at night, but not in spots where valuable items can be seen.
Your home should now happily survive without you while you’re off to faraway places. It’s time for you to head off for far-flung lands and enjoy your trip. Au revoir!