Are you leaving soon for an exchange program abroad? Or a long work assignment out of town? Or maybe your dream trip bumming around the ski slopes in the West? Leaving your apartment for longer than a few days is always more work than you’d think and it requires some effort to carry it out.
I know whereof I speak: I write this from a cruise ship currently heading from Guatemala to Mexico, as part of a weeks-long excursion to South and Central America. I’ve been having a blast, but the lead-up, well, it was an ordeal. There was the trip planning itself, of course, although I enjoyed that part because it involved a certain amount of anticipatory daydreaming of life in the tropics.
More tedious—and also much easier for me to push aside and even to flat-out forget—were matters on the home front, all those things I needed to do to make sure I still had a functioning, standing apartment when I returned. So here’s the checklist I wish I’d had, the list of things to keep in mind to ensure you don’t return home to any unpleasantness after you’ve been away for an extended period.
Make a plan to pay your bills. This is especially important for your rent, but don’t forget utilities, car payments, student loans, or any of those checks that you have to write every thirty days. Most banks offer online bill pay, with the option of scheduling payments in advance. Set it up before you embark on your journey, so that you don’t have to worry about it while you’re away. Or, if that isn’t an option, write out a check and put it in an addressed, stamped envelope, and ask a trustworthy friend to mail it on a particular day well in advance of the due date. Send the your friend a nice postcard from your trip with gentle reminder—not that he or she actually needs it, of course.
Hold your mail. A mailbox literally overflowing with mail is a great way to show enterprising thieves that you’re not home, and also an excellent way to feel a general sense of disorganization and chaos upon your arrival. Avoid this fate by having the postal service hold your mail, which you can then pick up at your post office or have them deliver in one massive load when you return. It’s easy to set this up by going to the Hold Mail Service page over at the US Postal Service web site. If you subscribe to the newspaper or have any other scheduled deliveries (e.g. medical supplies), be sure to contact customer service to find out your options for holding or forwarding.
Notify your landlord that you’ll be gone. It’s common courtesy to let your landlord know that you’ll be away. Even better, provide your cell phone number or a family member’s contact information, or some other way to reach you if needed. You never know when water pipes will freeze or something else will come up. And if there are any major repairs or painting that needs to be done, this would be a great time for the landlord to do so.
Remember to lock your doors and windows. Ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your unit and let you and your landlord know if anything is amiss. Also, don’t tempt thieves by leaving things like computers, jewelry, or other pricey objects in plain view from the outside, especially if you live in a unit on the ground floor or in a basement.
Put a light or two on a timer to help give the appearance that the apartment is still in use. It’s a small thing, but easy enough to do, and the added bit of security will also provide peace of mind when you’re on the road.
Remember your pets and plants. Obviously, you’ll need to do more for your cat than simply opening a huge bag of food and piling it on the floor. Make arrangements with a trusted friend or neighbor—and don’t forget to bring him or her a small token of gratitude from your travels. Likewise, if you have plants other than the cactus or plastic varieties, have someone stop by your apartment to water them as appropriate.
Set the thermostat back. Turn the air conditioner off, and your computer and your television, and all of those other appliances and gizmos that don’t need to be on. Even if you’re not using actively using them, they’re still drawing a small amount of power if they’re plugged in.
If you have time, tidy up your apartment and wash your sheets and towels so that you’ll come back to the most inviting, cozy, comfortable conditions.
Empty out the refrigerator and take out the garbage and recycling. Fact: You really—really, really—don’t want to come back to overwhelming food odors.
Finally, do make sure you do have some non-perishable food in the cupboards. When you get home after your long trip, the last thing you’ll want to do is head back out to the grocery store or the local take-out joint. At the very least, have some canned soup or some tortillas—something, anything, to fill your stomach before you shake off the dust of the road and head to bed for some well-deserved rest.