Stories & Features

Don't make it easy for burglars while you're on vacation

Image of woman skiing in fresh powder
Enjoy yourself while on vacation. Set up your home to deter burglars.

Use our checklist, from smart actions to smart products

Rob Klovance

It's time to meet three real people who can shed some light on the lows and highs of home security. I've changed their names for this story – in two cases to avoid embarrassment, and in the other case, for privacy.

Frank is a guy who had tens of thousands of dollars in personal items stolen from his Burnaby home in a brazen mid-week, mid-afternoon burglary that happened while he and his neighbours were at work. The kicker is that it happened twice, the second time coming after he'd done the thieves a favour by replacing everything from stereo equipment to North Face jackets.

No security system. No chance.

Diego, on the other hand, didn't lose anything other than his mind. He can now laugh at the memory of discovering that his teenage son, after forgetting to pack his house key, grabbed the extra key from the combination-coded lockbox outside the door... then put the key back into the lockbox without scrambling the combination.

And then there's Sarah, an early adopter of technology who is a burglar's nightmare. Here's a shortlist of what she uses to keep her home secure:

  • A smart lighting system that cleverly turns lights on and off after sunset at different times, to give the impression someone is home.
  • Motion-activated outdoor lights that turn on every time someone steps on the property.
  • A video doorbell that, through an app, alerts Sarah via her smartphone each time someone approaches the door.
  • Webcams in the home that not only give Sarah a picture of what's going on, but also provide info about air quality and humidity. If there's a water leak, she'll know about it.
Image of newspapers piled outside of a door
You may not subscribe to any newspapers, but the freebies and advertising brochures can still wind up on your doorstep. Get someone to check regularly and remove them while you're away.

10 basic things that can help keep your home secure

Here's a common sense checklist of what to do before you go away. And don't miss our broader winter vacations checklist, which offers advice on saving energy without letting pipes freeze.

  • Don't leave extra keys outside. OK, you know not to leave it under the mat. But virtually any place you hide a key can be solved by a burglar. So just don't do it. A 2014 study in the U.S. found that 6,000 burglaries happened that year because a burglar found a key.
  • Make sure there's no paper outside your door. Chances are that you don't get a newspaper delivered anymore. But what about flyers, delivery notices or brochures from house cleaners or realtors. Get a neighbour to check and remove the stuff.
  • Remove snow/cut the lawn. Nothing says "we're on vacation" like a snowdrift against your front door or a wheat field where your lawn used to be. Again, work something out with a friend or neighbour.
  • Don't close all your curtains. Instead, leave your home looking as natural as it usually is.
  • Alternate lighting at night. At the very least, ensure that at least one light is left on. But you should try to do better. If you own a timer for your lights, use it. The best options are to program several lights to simulate movement in the house, via wi-fi smart plugs or a smart lighting system.
  • Get a friend to visit a few times while you're away, or to even house sit. The best security is to have someone around.
  • Upgrade or replace any doors that can be easily broken. Desperate burglars don't bother with locks. If they can kick in a weak door, they'll do it, as they only need a couple minutes to quickly grab something they can quickly pawn off for a few bucks.
  • Be careful with social media. You're excited about going on your trip, and you love showing your friends images of that white sand beach or that bluebird day on the slopes. If you're going to talk about your vacation plans or your day-to-day adventures in real time, do it privately, with a group of friends and family you can trust. 5 social media tips while on vacation.
  • Lock away your valuables. Your 80-inch TV won't make the cut, but everything from jewelry to passports should go in a safety deposit box, a safe that can't be moved, or in a hiding place in your home that no burglar could figure out. No, not under the bed.
  • Set your alarm system, if you have one. A quality alarm system is simply your best defence against break-ins. Use it.

Rob Klovance is a writer-editor at