A little while ago I talked about how to get more time to travel. For the keen traveller who plans early, getting a month off to travel shouldn’t be too much of a hardship. You may even be able to take off for several months between contracts, or on a “sabbatical” program.

If you’re new to long term travel, you may be wondering how to manage your home life while you’re not home. After all, bills still need to be paid, pets taken care of, plants watered, mail picked up, and so on. This article gives you the low-down.

Bills and payments

Set up automatic payments for all your recurring bills (mortgage, phone, cable, internet, and so on) either through a credit card or a checking account. If you have a credit card that gives you travel points or cash back, that should be your first choice. (If you don’t get one!). The providers that do not accept credit card payment can be set up through the bank account.

If you cannot set up an automated payment because the payee only accepts cheques (e.g. rent), write post-dated cheques to cover the period you will be away.

While travelling, use the reward credit card exclusively. This means that you will have only one credit card bill to pay every month. Register with the credit card company so that you can pay it online. Make sure you tell that company that you will be travelling and in which countries you will be using your card so that they don’t freeze it as a security measure.

Also ensure that you can access online all the accounts that you will be using during your trip (from debit or credit cards). This way you can check your balances and make sure that everything is in order (and that you don’t over-withdraw).

Simplifying bill payments

Tax return

If your trip overlaps the filing period for your yearly tax return, don’t panic. Tax returns can easily be filed online nowadays. Many companies provide tax software that you can download (some for a fee), but I much prefer using SimpleTax.ca, a free web application that you can access from anywhere that’s connected to the internet. If you’re not in Canada, search online to see if something similar exists for your country.

Before you leave, gather as much information as possible, even if you haven’t received your slips yet. You can find out your total yearly income and tax withheld from your last paycheck of the year (or make an estimate – you can always correct it later). You can compile your medical expenses, charity donations, retirement fund contributions, etc. Save all this information in a file somewhere on your laptop, mobile device, USB key (or even a piece of paper) and take it with you.

I don’t know about other countries, but in Canada, you must file before the deadline if you owe the government money or you will be charged a penalty fee and some interest on your unpaid taxes. I learned the hard way that it is important to file on time, even if you don’t have all the information yet, or your numbers are not completely accurate. You can make corrections later.

Snail mail

If your physical mailbox keeps filling up with junk mail and flyers, stick a “no flyers” note to it. In the condo building where I live, having a red sticker dot in the mail slot solved my junk mail problem.

Next, convert all your bills and statements to electronic delivery. This way you can see them while you travel and they won’t clog your physical mailbox. Suspend your newspapers and magazines delivery. This could be a good time to cancel all the subscriptions you don’t really care about anymore.

Once you have reduced your snail mail to a minimum, you can ask a friend or neighbour to pick it up once every few weeks. I get so little snail mail these days, that my tiny mail slot only needs clearing every month or so.


If you have pets, you will need a dedicated person to visit them every day. If you don’t have a friend or neighbour willing to do this (possibly as a service exchange, or for a fee), you can use one of several house-sitting websites to find the perfect house and pet-sitter.

It may seem strange to trust your property and animal friends to a perfect stranger, but with the internet this service is becoming more and more common place. I use the TrustedHousesitters website to find assignments where I stay in other people’s houses and take care of their cats while they’re travelling. You can also use it to find house-sitters. The most popular sitters have photos, video, and many glowing references in their profile. They have had a police check (and can prove it). You can start a conversation online and then talk to them on the phone, asking all of your questions. You can ask them to send you regular updates with photos of your pets.

Usually, you do not pay a house-sitter. They are often travellers themselves and get free accommodation in your home in exchange for their sitting service.

Pet care

If you would like somebody to come once or twice a day to care for your pet without living in your home, ask your veterinarian or pet store for recommendations, or google “cat sitting”, “dog sitting”, or “pet care” plus the name of your city, to find local sitters. Some companies also offer boarding services for pets.

House plants, garden care, outdoor maintenance

Here again, you can use a friend, relative, neighbour or house-sitter. Make sure that the person is comfortable with the tasks. No everyone knows how to use a snow blower, or feel comfortable on a tractor mower. If the person has never done a certain task before, show them the procedure or leave clear written instructions

People in residential neighbourhoods often use local teenagers to mow the grass or shovel the snow. You can also use professional services but this will cost more.

If you don’t use a house-sitter, and you don’t live in a care-free condo unit with concierge, leave a copy of your house keys with a trusted friend, in case you lose or have yours stolen during your trip. If the house will be empty for several weeks or months, it’s a good idea to have this person come in once in a while and make the house look occupied.

As a condo owner, I still leave my keys with someone and ask her to check my unit once a month to make sure everything is all right.

Outdoor maintenance

Home insurance

You may want to verify what happens to your home insurance if your home is left empty for 30 days or more. Home insurance policies may become void if the house sits empty for over a month. (I’m just discovering this now, after leaving my apartment empty for months at a time several years in a row. Yikes!)

If your absence will be 30 days or more, ask your insurance agent if you need a vacancy permit (vacancy clause rider). This will increase your monthly premiums somewhat during the time you’re away, but will insure continuing coverage during the period the house is unoccupied.

If you leave your house empty in winter and frozen pipes burst and cause water damage, your insurer probably won’t pay either, even if you’ve been gone less than 30 days. It’s a good idea to turn off the water even in warm weather, and even if you’re only going to be away for a short time.

Of course having a house-sitter also gets around the home insurance issue.

If you follow these steps for putting your home life on auto-pilot, there is no reason why you can’t travel for several months without worries and enjoy your time abroad!

Did I forget anything? Let me know in the comments.


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