In June 2010, the travel industry and vacationers alike were considerably shaken when Royal Caribbean Cruise Vacation Planner Bethsaida Sandoval was arrested for furnishing her husband with home addresses and itineraries of people booked on Royal Caribbean cruises which the pair then used to burglarize the cruisers' homes while they were at sea. This case sounds as if it was straight out of a Hollywood movie, but in actuality, burglars often employ advanced methods in the plying of their craft, such as gauging a home's occupancy by leaving a take-out menu on the door to see how long it takes for it to be removed and casing neighborhoods to learn residents' routines.

The week or two leading up to your vacation is a hectic time of planning and preparation. There's laundry to finish, packing to do, household bills that must be paid before you leave, making arrangements for your pets and so on. Whether you're embarking on a weekend getaway or two weeks in Tahiti, one essential task to include in your pre-departure routine is securing your home. Here are a few tips to make your home less attractive to thieves:

Enlist outside help

  • Leave a key to your house with a relative or trusted friend or neighbor so that they can check on things while you're gone. They can also bring in your mail and newspapers in lieu of stopping them, pick up delivered packages or flyers left at your door, and put out the garbage if necessary. If you don't park your car in your garage or don't have a garage, it can be a good idea to leave them the key to your car in the event it needs to be moved. Provide them with your itinerary and emergency contact information as well.
  • Ask a neighbor to park in your driveway or in front your house periodically to give the appearance of activity at the home.
  • In some towns you can notify the police department that you're going away and officers will drive by your home periodically during their regular patrols.
  • Don't allow your lawn to become overgrown while you're out of town as this will also advertise your absence. If you’re traveling during the winter, arrange to have your walkway and driveway shoveled if it should snow while you're away.

Make a few simple tweaks around the house

  • Leave window treatments such as curtains and blinds in their normal everyday positions. Any sudden changes can raise a red flag to anyone regularly canvassing the neighborhood.
  • Use automatic light-switch timers on several lights around the house and on a radio to make your home seem lived-in.
  • Don't leave garage door openers in vehicles that will be parked outside while you're gone. For detailed garage security tips click here.
  • Before leaving your home, physically check that each and every window and door is closed and locked, including the door that leads from the garage into your house, basement windows, second-floor windows and balcony entrances. According to the FBI, while indeed 59.7 percent of burglaries involved forcible entry, 33.9 percent were unlawful entries without force. In other words, the thief walked right in through a door that was left unlocked or slipped through an open or unlatched window.
  • If you have any sliding glass doors, screw three pan-head sheet metal screws into the top track above the door to prevent the door from being lifted off the track. Additionally, wedge a metal or wooden rod into the floor track when the door is closed and locked to prevent the door from being pried open.
  • Place a stop order on your mail and newspaper delivery because nothing screams "We're out of town" louder than piled up newspapers on your front steps and a mailbox that's busting at the seams.

Don’t let technology and social media betray you

  • Never modify your answering machine message to reflect the fact that you're on vacation.
  • Don't announce your upcoming travel plans on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and refrain from posting "live from" updates during your trip making it crystal clear to anyone paying attention that you're away.
  • If you have a land line, lower your telephone ringer volume and set your voicemail to pick up on the first or second ring so as not to signify that no one is home to answer the phone.
  • Use caution when discussing impending travel plans in public places such as restaurants or your local supermarket.  You never know who may be listening. On that note, your children—especially teenagers—should exercise discretion as well regarding family travel plans. A good deal of petty theft and vandalism is committed by teenagers, some of whom may go to school with yours.
  • According to reports, many of the homes burglarized by Sandoval and her husband were equipped with alarm systems that were simply not turned on. If you have an alarm system, use it!
  • If you have a smartphone, there are apps and home security technologies available that let you monitor your home from afar. Click here for more information.

Click here for an in-depth 16 page booklet from the National Sheriff's Association on how to protect your home from burglaries.

This is a guest post by Deidre from Dania Beach, FL

16 Ways to Prevent Burglary While You're Away on Vacation