As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, many people are turning their thoughts to a long-awaited trip away from home, where they have been sheltering, Zooming, studying, working and playing for more than a year now.

If you are considering a trip away from home, here are some answers to questions you should think about before you depart.

Q: We plan to be away from home for at least two weeks. What should we do to get our house ready?

A: Making your house look lived-in is very important. Consider investing in some simple timers you can plug a light into. Set the timers to go off at different times during the day.

Contact the post office and arrange to have your mail held until after you return. Make sure you don’t have any packages due to arrive after you depart.

If possible, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to stop by – a great job for a neighborhood teenager – every day to check on your house to make sure no mail, packages or newspapers have arrived, or that a sprinkler hasn’t sprung a leak.

Tell your immediate neighbors that you’ll be gone so they can let you know if a moving van shows up. (Don’t laugh, it has happened!)

If you employ a gardener, keep the service up while you’re out of town to ensure your house looks as tidy and lived in as possible.

Q: What about security?

A: Motion-sensing lights can be a big deterrent for burglars. You can buy them online or at a local home-improvement store. Many are solar-powered and can be mounted most anywhere.

Security cameras also can be very helpful, both as a deterrent and as evidence if a break-in occurs. They are a bit more work to install, but they certainly will give you peace of mind. There are many doorbell options – including Ring, which allows you to “answer” your door even when you’re not home.

Many police departments will do an occasional drive-by of your house if you notify them in advance.

Q: What about insurance?

A: If you are planning to be away for more than a month, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance company to make sure they don’t have a policy about “vacant” homes. Often you would need to be gone for more than 60 days for this to kick in, but it’s a good idea to check.

Q: What should I do to protect the physical house itself?

A: Keep your thermostat set at a reasonable “away” temperature, but don’t turn it off completely. It’s good to not let your house get too cold or too hot. Turn off the valves to your washer just in case they spring a leak while you’re gone.

Check all your window locks, and consider putting a rod in the slider tracks of any sliding doors. Move your cars into the garage if at all possible. It not possible, remove any valuables, especially garage door remote controls. Unplug your toaster, coffee pot, computers (not the modems), TVs, etc., in case there is a power surge. Adding a small padlock on any gates will help keep people out of your backyard.

Remember that many crimes are ones of opportunity, where a burglar spots a door, window or gate left unlocked, or newspapers piling up. Make sure your neighbors or house sitter know how to get in touch with you should something happen to your house while you are off enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Owen Halliday is a longtime Los Altos resident and manager of the Sereno office in downtown Los Altos. Email comments, questions and potential column topics to For more information, call 492-0062.