Why You Should Keep a Penny in the Freezer & Other Ways to Keep Your Home Safe While You’re Away

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How to keep your home safe while you're away

How do you keep your home safe when you’re on vacation? This is the checklist of tips and hacks I use when I’m gone for more than a day or two. They’re designed to fool potential burglars into thinking someone is home, let you know whether the power failed while you were busy sipping Margaritas, and increase the chance you return to a home that is in the same shape it was when you left.

Up to One Month Before Your Vacation

1. Put the Mail on a Vacation Hold

Piled-up mail on the porch and stuffed in the mailbox is a sure sign that no one is home. Avoid that by taking advantage of the free mail hold service offered by the US Post Office. I use it every time I leave town.

Just go online, create an account and check to see if the service is offered in your area. If it is, choose the date you want the mail hold to start and the date you want it to end. Then decide whether you want your mail carrier to deliver the accumulated mail at the end of the hold period or you want to pick it up yourself from the post office.

That’s it. You’ll get a confirmation number and an email confirming the mail hold. You can edit the mail hold start and end dates as needed — I have gone online to extend my hold mail end date several times when my trips were extended for one reason or another.

You can do this up to 30 days in advance. So do it now and save yourself one more thing to think about in the days before you head off on a family vacation.

If you want to know what you’re missing while you’re gone, take it a step further and sign up for “informed delivery” and USPS will send you an email each day with photos of the pieces of mail arriving that day.

Why you should keep a penny in the freezer.

2. Put a Penny in the Freezer

Why should you keep a penny in the freezer? Because unpredictable weather, severe storms and the resulting power outages can happen while you’re off enjoying a Margarita on the beach. If the power comes back on, you might never know. And the food that was in the freezer could have thawed, gone bad and re-froze.

If you have a penny in the freezer, you’ll know if there was a storm or power failure while you were gone that lasted long enough to thaw the food.

How it Works

1. Freeze a small container of water. The water level should be about half the width of an ice cube.

2. Place the penny on top of the container of ice.

3. After you return home, check the container. If there was a prolonged power outage while you were off enjoying your family vacation, the ice would have melted. How will you know? The penny will now be at the bottom of the container with the ice on top.

If you return home to find the penny frozen at the bottom of the ice container, you’ll know to check the food before feeding it to your family.

3. Install a Video Doorbell

We’ve all seen videos that show the wonder of a Ring Doorbell capturing a neighborhood crime. Having one while you’re on vacation is the key to peace of mind. The video doorbell connects to your phone and sends instant notifications when someone is at the door. You’ll be able to talk back and forth; some even allow you to unlock the door.

This feature is especially helpful if you have someone coming over to walk the dog or feed the cats. If a package gets delivered, you can ask a neighbor to pick it up. Plus, if there’s a suspicious person at your door, you’ll know right away. You can take a photo of that person, and if need be, call the police.

4. Consider a Home Security Company

Contracting with a home security company such as Vivint ups your whole security game. You can get security packages that include indoor and outdoor cameras, 24/7 monitoring and smart security systems you can oversee via an app that lets you control your lights, check on your porch, adjust the temperature and close the garage door from anywhere.

If you have a home security system, it’s a good idea to let the company know you’ll be out of town. That way they can alert the authorities right away if the alarms go off, rather than calling you first to be sure it wasn’t a false alarm.

5. Put Lights On A Timer

Buy a couple of timers that will turn a few lamps on and off throughout the evening.

You can opt to leave a light or two burning 24 hours a day, but if someone is watching the house, they won’t be fooled into thinking someone is home. That requires different lights that turn on and off just as they would if someone actually was at home.

a kitchen -- keep your home safe by unplugging appliances when you travelu are on vacation.
Keep your home safe while you’re gone by unplugging appliances. Photo credit: Pixabay

Right Before You Leave

6. Tend to the Appliances

Refrigerator: Consume or discard any perishables before you leave. No one wants to come home to the smell of spoiled milk.

Garbage Disposal: Run a cycle to clean the unit and prevent odors from any food buildup hiding beneath the drain. Add a cup of vinegar to your rinse for an extra-deep clean.

Washer: Leave the lid/door open to let the basin dry completely. Chances are you’ll have plenty of laundry to do upon your return, so you’ll want the washer to be empty and fresh. And don’t forget to disconnect or turn off the unit’s water supply.

7. Park a Car in the Driveway

If you have a driveway, don’t leave it empty.

If you don’t have a second car, ask the neighbors if they would like to use it while you’re gone. That’s what my next-door neighbors used to do when they were off on one of their many adventures. We never had a driveway, so we loved the chance to park there and have a shorter trip to the door on grocery day!

SheBuysTravel Tip: Just remember to lock the car you leave in the driveway and keep any valuables out of sight.

8. Hide the Valuables

It won’t matter how tightly you’ve locked up the house if you leave a laptop or other valuables sitting out in plain sight. It can prove too tempting for someone who will break that window and take them.

9. Remove Hidden Keys

If you keep a hidden key outside, put it away while you’re on vacation. You’re not the only one that hides a key outside for emergencies and that fake rock won’t fool an experienced thief.

10. Unplug Everything

Before you walk out the door, unplug everything, including your washer, microwave and coffee maker to conserve energy. And, of course, turn off and unplug the iron.

If you have any worries about a potential flood, consider disconnecting the water supply to your appliances as well, particularly if you’re planning a very long family vacation.

While You’re on Vacation

11. Have the Lawn Mowed or Driveways Shoveled

Like having a car parked in the driveway, a neatly mowed lawn and shoveled sidewalks make your house appear lived in while you’re gone. An overgrown lawn is a sure sign that nobody is around.

If you don’t have a regular service, hire a neighborhood kid to mow the lawn or shovel the walks.

12. Avoid Posting On Social Media

This is advice I have trouble following myself. If I didn’t put those vacation photos on Instagram and Facebook, was I really on vacation? But every security expert will tell you: When you post that sunset picture from the beach in Hawaii, it’s like taking out a billboard telling the world you aren’t home.

Wait until you get home to post those droll-worthy pix.

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of SheBuysTravel.com. She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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16 responses


  1. OMG – never heard of the penny trick for the freezer before but such an awesome tip! Thank you!

  2. 3.5

  3. 1.5

  4. YOU HAVE GREAT TIPS FOR TRAVEL AND LEAVING HOME. THANKJ YOU.

  5. Ay, this is great tip. I’m procrastinating a lot of important work right now, but I’ll use this. hi nad

  6. I really like the penny tip that you mentioned here! Will definitely try it out when I go on a vacation next time!

  7. 4.5

  8. 4.5

  9. 5

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  11. Place a shut off valve in your washer and keep it in the off position when not in use. I do that. Replace your hoses with hoses with steel wrapped outer coating. I had mine blow during a wash.l..

  12. Great tips. As someone who travels frequently I really appreciates these tips. Thanks for sharing.

  13. We live where the power goes out all the time – especially in the winter. I am totally going to steal this tip!

  14. Love this tip! I’m gonna do it.

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