One of the most common pieces of home safety advice is to not tell anybody when you will be out of town, because then they will know when your home is empty and easier to steal from. It makes a lot of intuitive and logical sense. After all, nobody wants to work harder than they have to, even bad guys. Burgling is much easier when nobody’s home to raise an alarm or to notice if things are missing for days or more. However, like many bits of self-defense common wisdom that tell you to “just” do something so you’ll be safe, real life isn’t quite so simple. How does it break down? What can we do when it does? Let’s chat.
Because we live interconnected lives, there will always be people who will know or notice when our daily routines are disrupted. You may not tell your coworkers or friends you will be going out of town, but they’ll probably see that you aren’t in the office or available as you normally are for texting or a get-together. They’re probably not going to be the ones who would be directly involved in trying to steal from you (although you can’t always be certain), but you can’t control what they might mention off-handedly. There are also the people at the everyday periphery of your life, like the barista who makes your splurge coffee drink a couple times a week, the person who can often be found at the gym the same times you like to go, or the neighbor you see when you take out your trash or grab your mail. Even your social media friends and followers might notice something is up if your regular posting schedule is interrupted. If you are extremely disciplined and sneaky, you might be able to vary your routine enough that nobody would be able to tell when you aren’t doing your regular things, but most of us are social creatures of habit. It’s better to be honest with ourselves that folks will know that we’re out of town, then to pretend that we’re able to keep it a true secret.
Then, too, is the fact that travel and vacations are fun. We naturally will want to tell friends what we’re up to, and the neat things we’re looking forward to or are already seeing and doing, not to mention vent about any frustrations that might come up. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share our excitement, and the overwhelmingly vast majority of the time nothing goes wrong when we do. That fact is why this piece of advice is so problematic: we know from experience that we can often break the rule without consequence, so why not this next time too? Even when we are aware of the potential for a negative outcome, it seems more myth and fairy tale than reality, especially when we feel like we are in a trustworthy environment. So instead of trying to control the impulse to share and failing without guidelines, I’d suggesting being intentional about your sharing and putting parameters around what you say and who you say it to. For example, social media might not be the best idea, unless you are certain that your posts are locked down (which means definitely keep tropical vacation pics off your public Instagram and travel rants off your TikTok until you’re home). Group texts and private messages may be better, so long as you are certain of everyone who has access to the space. You should also consider specifically asking folks for their discretion until you’re home, each and every time you share while away.
Instead of relying on “security through obscurity” where you’re trying to protect your home by not letting anybody know you won’t be there, take measures to make your home difficult to burgle regardless of whether you’re away for a few hours or a few weeks. Start with technological measures, which have become increasingly affordable and easy to install and use. Doorbell cameras are a good start, and you can add other Internet-connected cameras with relatively low effort these days. Even if you don’t place them outside, you can use them inside to keep track of entrances and areas where you keep valuable possessions. You can also get locks that are controlled via an app or website. The more sophisticated versions will allow you to set up different codes for different people, and control when and how often they will work, so you know who’s coming in or out and are able to lock someone out entirely if they shouldn’t have access anymore. Alarm systems no longer always require a third-party subscription service, and can be configured to send alerts to you or another designated person via the Internet or a cell phone. They’re not the same as a monitored service that automatically sends police to your home, but you’ll be able to tell sooner if something is wrong and might need to be checked out. Though many Internet-connected security devices can introduce a different set of privacy and security concerns, their benefits may still outweigh their risks, especially if you take the time to ensure they are as technologically secure as possible by doing your research and setting strong passwords. And don’t forget old-fashioned timers for lights, TVs, and other electronics. A fully dark home for several days at a time is an indisputable tell, and it’s an easy one to fix.
Finally, you can leave your home behind for your trip and not leave it fully unoccupied. House sitters are not always expensive, especially if you have pets that need to be taken care of anyway, or you may be able to find a friend to do you the favor of staying at your home (perhaps in trade for you doing the same when they go somewhere fun). Even if it’s just someone coming by every day or two to pick up your mail and check on your doors, that will still give you a head start on discovering a problem rather than waiting until you’re home again. You will need to make sure that the person you choose is trustworthy, so that they aren’t themselves taking advantage of the fact that you aren’t there or letting unsavory people know about the opportunity. Otherwise, this can be the ideal solution to not only make your home less appealing to burglars, but also to feed your pets, water your plants, and be present to call you immediately in case of a more run-of-the-mill home emergency – like a broken window or a burst pipe – comes up. Because let’s face it, those are all more likely to need attention when you’re away than a possible burglary by someone who’s figured out you’re not home.