You might be surprised to learn that packing our clothes and gear in the Airstream for a six month trip is far easier than the tasks involved in leaving the house. Packing and loading is a matter of following a checklist and can be accomplished in roughly two days. Prepping the house to sit empty takes more effort, and planning starts a few months out.
Here, we will share what we do to get ready, in the hopes it may assist you in planning your own extended trip. Our preparations focus on personal affairs involving legal transactions, finance, and medical concerns, and cover house related services, security, and safety issues.
Last year, being an election year meant that we had to ensure our voter registration and absentee ballot information was in place before we left in June. This year, our driver licenses expire while we are gone, and so we opted to get it taken care of early, and avoid trying to convince Pennsylvania to send our IDs to Wyoming. My military ID also needed updating, and between fewer bases handling retiree services and COVID reducing available appointments, getting the card was harder than in years past. So be sure to check if any of your legal affairs will require in-person attention and try to get it taken care of before you hit the road.
A lot of us do our banking on-line now and pay our bills electronically. Generally a time saver and autopay can bring peace of mind. However, I noticed that our main bill-paying credit card will expire while we are in transit. Which means that the replacement card would have to chase us in the mail, and we would have to update all the accounts using the old card while we are the road. Arranging for a new card earlier will let us take care of all that before we head out. We’ll also let the bank know where we are about to travel so that our unusual purchase locations won’t trigger a freeze.
I also check the dates of other things expiring or coming due during our trip dates, such as vehicle registration, inspection, or insurance. Largely so I can get the paperwork printed off at home and avoid trying to find a copy center for access to a printer in a new town.
The last bit of banking related tasks are to make sure I have enough checks to last the trip (some places just don’t want credit cards) so I make sure to have a batch printed in plenty of time before departure. And do I need to pick up a few rolls of quarters for laundromats along the way.
You would think this would be the easy one to take care of — getting prescription refills before your adventure. But this one trips me up in new ways each voyage.
The first year we embarked on a trip around the country, not staying in one location longer than a week. My insurance company refused to allow me to fill prescriptions from local pharmacies while on the trip, insisting that I had to get them from their mail order service or they would not reimburse me. The mail order service did have a policy for allowing early refills, requiring a hard-copy signed letter mailed to their headquarters stating why you needed that service, ie. travel away from home during specific dates. It took three months (I am not kidding!) but we made it happen and the meds arrived the day before we left.
The next year a prescription was going to expire while we were gone. So I had to schedule an appointment to see the doc before we left so that a new prescription could be written. Because we stayed in Grand Teton for a season, I could have refills mailed and forgo the mother-may-I letter.
My advice would be to avoid saving the medical related tasks for last. You might need more time to sort things out than you think.
I use a “bullet journal” for organizing my calendar. In addition to noting family birthdays and holidays, I find it very useful to track things like when the cars need to be inspected or registered, when the Airstream tires will hit the five year mark for replacement, when my passport expires, etc.
Come the new year, we contact a landscape company early to be sure to get on their summer mowing program. It can be tough to find a company with room in their schedule if you wait. Our town takes grass height very seriously, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of their ruler! Depending on the timing of the trip, we also have them take care of fall leaf disposal, and have a provision that if it snows before we get home, they can keep us in compliance with the town and have the sidewalks cleared within 24 hours.
Check your house or any signs of pests so there is time to deal with them. One year we saw what we thought were carpenter bees setting up shop in our eaves, and called in an expert. It was a different kind of insect, but equally or more damaging, so we are grateful we caught the invasion before we gave them the run of the house for 6 months!
Mail is the trickiest service to arrange to our liking. One year the post office agreed to hold our mail despite the fact that we were gone two weeks past their official limit. That had to be arranged in person, the online form would not allow it. Another year a dear friend volunteered to receive our mail forwarded to her house and sent on anything that looked important. Both worked well, but relied on the kindness of others.
Knowing that we would be living in Moose for the season this year, we anticipated securing a box at the local post office and having our mail forwarded there. Not so fast! I can sign up online for a mailbox in Moose, however I am not given a box number until I show up, in person, with two forms of ID. Which means that until I arrive in Moose, my mail cannot be forwarded and will continue to arrive at the house. USPS wants 2 weeks notice to begin forwarding mail, which I cannot provide until we are in Moose. A rather frustrating and silly circumstance. Maybe we will have to investigate the RVer mail forwarding services next year. Or maybe just rent the Moose box for a full year!
We started thinking about security for the house even before we bought our Airstream! Did we want a subscription service? What was involved in a DIY system? Over the years we’ve lived in 14 homes, some with professional security systems. We didn’t have great luck with the professional systems, so we decided to install a system that we could watch and control from our phones. There are several cameras located inside and outside our property that monitor motion and sounds and send us alerts that we can customize. A smoke detector will also trigger an alert on our phones that we can take action on if necessary. So far, it has proved to be the perfect solution for us.
Our local police department provides residents with a home check service which we take advantage of. We let them know when and where we will be, and a list of who is allowed on the property and for what reason. Our security cameras alerted us to a person in view — and it was our local officers making the rounds checking the house. Very comforting all the way around!
We also do the normal steps of putting lights on timers, stopping the paper, and making arrangements for mail. We let trusted neighbors know our plans and how to contact us if anything looks out of the ordinary. This year we’ve hired a college student to walk through the house every few weeks just to have eyes-on, catch any flyers put in the door, and generally make sure nothing needs our attention.
For any vehicles left behind in the driveway, we remove the GPS from the dash and anything else that might tempt a thief. A fuel additive is put in the gas tank and a tire gets chocked. The car that sits under a bird’s favorite tree gets a cover.
We do leave the power on at the house for security system cameras and alerts via internet to continue to operate. However, I unplug expensive electronics such as televisions and sewing machines, even if they are plugged into a surge suppressor. It reduces the parasite loads and is safer if the house takes a power surge. We turn off water to some appliances such as the refrigerator. Wanna guess why?!
Security lights with motion sensors are active.
Smoke detectors get fresh batteries.
Anything that might blow around in a storm is secured. Chimes come inside so they don’t annoy our neighbors in wind storms … or trigger security camera alerts every time they swing!
Outdoor hoses are disconnected and insulated covers are installed over the spigots to protect against pipes freezing. Even if we get home before our neighborhood gets nights below freezing, it is one less thing I need to do when we get back.
On the day of departure, part of my leave-the-house ritual of verifying windows are locked and shades drawn, is to close all the doors to interior rooms, which is shown to slow fires and if done when people are home asleep helps save lives.
Just before we lock the door …
The final tasks in leaving the house are partly comforting ritual. In anticipation of how tired and happy we will be when we return home in six months, I try to pre-stage a welcome gift to ourselves, like relaxing in a well appointed hotel room. A simple dinner waiting in the freezer, fluffy towels in the bath, and clean sheets ready on the bed (under a dust cover) setting the scene for a relaxing first night home.
After culling the pantry for foods to take there are usually a few items I hate to throw out, but I don’t have room for. Military families know this very well — and have a tradition of donating grocery staples and treats that they cannot take with them to their neighbors. We have been on both the receiving and dispersing side of this food sharing ritual over the years. Traveling with our Airstream has revived this tradition in our lives. What a great excuse for a quick visit to see a friend and neighbor before we climb into the truck and head out!