How to keep your home safe while on holiday

CCTV footage of a burglar breaking through a home window
There are numerous techniques that you can use to make sure your home doesn't look empty to burglars | Image: Shutterstock

According to CrimeStoppers, there’s a burglary every 40 seconds in the UK. That’s a lot of break-ins, so it’s no wonder many of us get that nagging, back-of-the-mind worry when we go away on holiday.

The good news is there are steps you can take to minimise the risk of uninvited guests entering your home while you’re enjoying a city break in Paris or sunning yourself on a Spanish beach.

1. Ensure everything is secure

Closing your windows and locking your doors may sound too obvious to mention, but this is the kind of slip-up that can be a gift to burglars. People were leaving doors and windows unlocked so often that a senior police officer triggered a minor media storm in 2016 when he criticised members of the public for being careless.

“If people leave doors or windows open there is an expectation the police will investigate,” Phil Kay of Leicestershire Police said. “I would far rather my officers were spending time preventing crime, protecting the public and focusing on other stuff.”

While the copper came under fire for these grumpy comments, his words do serve as a stark reminder to thoroughly check your home before heading off on holiday. Let’s face it: when you’re up at 5am to get to the airport on time, lugging suitcases to the car, and dealing with just-woken kids, it can be all too easy to forget to close the bathroom window.

2. Deal with the mail

Something as humdrum as your mail probably won’t be the number one priority in your mind in the run-up to a holiday. Yet, there’s nothing quite as inviting to a burglar as a heap of letters lying uncollected on your doormat (other than the aforementioned open bathroom window, of course). This can be a real issue, especially if you’re going on a long trip. Just think of how many letters might pile up while you’re on that month-long cruise of your dreams.

It almost goes without saying that you shouldn’t order anything that may arrive in your absence. But what about letters whose arrival you have no control over, from bills and bank statements to passionate missives from secret admirers? Fortunately, Royal Mail does have a very nifty contingency plan.

It’s a paid-for service called Keepsafe, which you can quickly set up online, and basically means Royal Mail will hold onto your mail until you get back. You simply enter the dates you’ll be away, and the Post Office will ensure you receive all your mail within two working days of your return.

3. Keep the lights on (sometimes)

It’s 9pm and every window of your house is dark. You may as well have a blinking neon sign telling passers-by that nobody is home. A possible solution is to keep a few lights on when you leave, but that’s not ideal. For one thing, it’ll eat up energy. For another, burglars scoping out the area may realise the lights have just been left on.

It could therefore be worth investing in smart bulbs that can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app or scheduled to switch on and off at designated times. It’s an easy way to ensure your house looks intimidatingly inhabited when you’re actually halfway across the world.

4. Make friends with the neighbours

If you’re not already pally with others on your street, you might want to get chatting in the lead-up to a holiday. After all, if you’re lucky enough to have neighbours that you trust, you may be able to hand them your keys, so they’ll have your back while you’re away. They could pop over daily to open and close your curtains, switch the lights on and off, and maybe even park their car in your driveway.

All this activity would go a long way to making your house as unattractive as possible to any prospective burglars mooching around in the area. And, if you ask really nicely, your neighbours can water your poor, ailing houseplants too.

5. Don’t broadcast your absence

Careless talk costs… well, not lives in this case, but potentially your laptop, television, and that family heirloom you always wanted to take to the Antiques Roadshow. Tempting as it is to brag about your holiday, it’s wise to keep mum while you’re away. That means holding fire on highly revealing social media posts if you can help it. Don’t worry, you can always post those Machu Picchu selfies and location-tagged photos of delicious local cuisine when you’re safely back on your own sofa.

And, if this all sounds over-cautious, it’s worth keeping in mind that – according to a study in 2018 – one in 12 Britons reported a burglary after posting about their holiday on social media.

6. Consider installing an alarm system

If you’re really serious about keeping your house as burglar-free as possible, it’s only natural to consider alarms. There are a few different categories to choose from. If you just want a simple deterrent that won’t blow a hole in your holiday budget, you can go for a wireless, bell-only system. This consists of motion sensors that you can install yourself and will sound the alarm if anyone comes within range.

Of course, such a system will only do so much. Some burglars may feel bold enough to carry on looting your house, betting on the fact that many neighbours and passers-by are more irritated than concerned by alarms (again, this is why being friends with the people next door can come in handy).

For added security when you’re away from home, you can opt for a monitored alarm system. This may need to be professionally installed and you’ll have to pay an ongoing subscription. But it does bring added peace of mind, as you’ll know that a monitoring centre will be notified if the alarm is triggered. Depending on the system, operatives may even call the police on your behalf. If you’re after pure peace of mind while you’re tucking into gelato in Rome, it might be worth the outlay.