Managing things at home during an extended trip

This item appears on page 32 of the February 2019 issue.

When you're away from home for more than 30 days on travel outside of the US, how do you handle your mail, and what arrangements do you make to pay bills, watch the house, etc.? Bill Hutchinson of Signal Hill, California, wanted ITN subscribers to write in on that subject, and several did. A few of their letters appear below, and more will be printed in next month's issue.


So what are the issues with traveling for extended periods of time, and how do you handle them? I had the same questions before my wife, Bonnie, and I took our first extended trip, a 4-month around-the-world cruise in 2012.

• The first issue is the United States Postal Service. Since the USPS will not hold your mail for more than 30 days [without additional authorization — Editor]*, you need to have your mail forwarded to someone else or to another address for the duration of the trip.

To have your mail forwarded, go to usps.com/manage/forward.htm and follow the instructions. Select "Temporary" if you will NOT be gone over six months, and then complete the form. A $1 charge to your credit or debit card is required to verify your ID.

You will receive a confirming email, then two letters from USPS. The first letter is to confirm that the request to forward your mail is correct, and the second indicates the old and new addresses, the start and stop dates and your confirmation number.

You're now all set up… or so you would think. What we have found on just about all of our trips is that we still would receive the mail at our home address, regardless. So set the start date about a week before you plan to depart to ensure the process is working correctly. If you receive mail within that week, immediately take the USPS letter with your confirmation number (second letter) to the post office and show it to the supervisor; this usually gets the job done.

• As for bills, we have several set up to be paid automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT). For bills that cannot be paid that way, I write and date the checks before we depart, place them in stamped, addressed envelopes and note thereon the date each is to be mailed. I have someone mail these for me while we're away.

• Another major issue is life-sustaining medications, i.e., blood-pressure meds. Prescriptions are normally written for, at most, 90 days, but some trips are longer than that. Some insurance companies will allow an extra 90 days' supply to be authorized for travel but only once a year.

• Since 4-month around-the-world cruises generally depart early in the year, you won't be back home until after the federal income tax deadline. Before you depart on the cruise, submit form 4868 to get an automatic 6-month extension.

Regarding state personal and corporate taxes, for California residents (like us), there is no requirement to submit an automatic-extension form to the California Franchise Tax Board. After getting back from an extended trip, California residents just submit their state tax returns at the time they submit their federal tax forms.

Before returning home, California residents DO need to pay any property taxes due. People living in other states should check when their property taxes are due.

• You will need someone to watch your house, water the lawn and plants, dispose of handbills left at your house, visit the post office box and mail out checks, etc. Fortunately, in our case, our daughter lives a few blocks away from us and handles all these details.

Here are other items to consider before you go:

• Obtain medical evacuation and trip-cancellation/interruption insurance**.

• Visit a physician or travel clinic to get any required shots.

• Sign up for international cell phone plans.

• Notify your credit cards' banks of your foreign-travel plans.

• Remember to STOP the newspaper. Do not just put it on vacation hold.

• Check or replace the batteries for your watch, travel clock and camera.

• Put valuable jewelry, extra credit cards and cash, etc., in a bank safe-deposit box.

• Unplug unnecessary appliances.

Skip Carpenter
Coronado, CA

*ITN was told by a USPS employee that some post offices will hold mail for longer than 30 days, but the traveler first needs to talk to the carrier supervisor at his local post office to see if the supervisor will agree to authorize it. A new 30-day Vacation Hold Authorization card may need to be turned in just prior to each successive 30 days' hold.

**A reminder — For anyone with a preexisting medical condition who wishes to purchase a travel insurance plan with a preexisting-condition waiver, it must be purchased within a specified time period (such as within two weeks or even two days) after making the first payment for the trip.



USPS generally holds your mail only for 30 days. A solution for an extended trip was suggested to me by a postal employee, and it worked!

This was about four years ago, when I was going to be in New Zealand for 90 days. After clearing it with my mail carrier and the local post office, I filled out one "hold mail" card for the first 30 days, then one for the next 30 days and another for the next 30. I submitted all three cards at once at my local post office.

As soon as I got back from my trip, I picked up my mail at the post office. Courtesy and connections work!

Ask your local postal people before trying that, though.

By the way, a hold-mail request now can be submitted online.*

Brigid Duffy
Kansas City, MO

*For someone requesting USPS Hold Mail Service online (https://holdmail.usps.com/holdmail), mail will be held for a maximum of 30 days.



Since I took early retirement so I could travel, virtually all of my trips have been at least two months long. The longest was a 10-month around-the-world trip in 2004. Back then, I was using Internet caf├ęs and having my travel photos copied to CDs, whereas now I travel with an iPad and smartphone.

Almost all of my regular bills are paid automatically by my bank. The exceptions are my lawn service and my credit cards. I mail my lawn service a set of post-dated checks before I leave. I check my bank and credit card accounts periodically on the road and pay my credit card bills online when they're due. I use a VPN (virtual private network), Witopia (www.witopia.com), on my iPad, so I don't have to worry about Wi-Fi security.

I used to stop newspaper delivery, but since that failed to stop the periodic arrival of freebies, I canceled the physical paper altogether and rely on digital access.

I am fortunate to have good friends. I forward my mail to them while I am gone and am handed a box of it when I return. My friend does keep an eye out for things like jury summonses that actually need replies. Failing a friend, a mailbox drop might work. The UPS Store says that it will hold mail.*

The same friend also stops by my house every couple of weeks to check that everything is OK and to start my car. My next-door neighbor has my other friend's contact information in case he notices anything wrong.

Kathy Wilhelm
Cary, NC

*For someone to have mail held at a UPS Store (www.theupsstore.com), she first must rent a mailbox at the store. To then have mail held is an additional cost. ITN was told by a clerk at a UPS Store in Sacramento, California, that, at least in their case, they would hold mail for as long as the mail hold was paid for. Each store is individually owned and operated, so costs vary.



When I am gone for 30 days or longer, I am fortunate to have a neighbor pick up my mail.

When I have bills to be paid by check — very few — I just send them an extra $50 or $100 with the last bill to cover the next bill. Works for me!

Caryl Mikrut
Plainield, IL



I used to travel for business for at least five months every year. I would have someone pick up my mail each week and sort out bills, etc., to be sent to me in an envelope — with "hold for arrival date" written on it — to be mailed to my next scheduled location (often a Hilton hotel or a friend's home) at least 10 days in advance of my arrival.

I carried a checkbook with me.

It never failed.

This method did take advance planning and knowing, exactly, your travel plans.

Hope C. Hatch
Rockland, ME



I have been gone for more than two months on multiple occasions.

• For paying bills, I do not use automatic bill payments. (I'm not saying this is a bad idea; some experts recommend it.) I have someone I trust and who is responsible pay my bills.

I make a list of the bills I expect each month and when they are due. I photocopy previous bills so that they're easy to recognize. I also sign enough blank checks (and a couple extra) to cover any bills.

• I have the post office hold my mail and authorize a friend to pick it up. (This is a small post office in a rural area.) About every two weeks is sufficient. To check for problems, I have some way to communicate with this person while I'm traveling.

Also, if the friend doesn't have power of attorney, I let the post office know who does so that unexpected emergencies can possibly be taken care of.

• I travel with cash (US dollars), travelers' checks (most recently in Ireland in fall 2018), debit cards and multiple ATM cards. I avoid using credit cards while traveling so that my bill payer doesn't have to try to figure out whether I have made a particular purchase or not. I use credit cards only for emergencies and to buy an airline ticket home.

• I put my home lights and TV on timers.

• Before I leave, I use up any perishables in the fridge, which I leave running with things like ketchup, beer, etc., still in it. Also, since I live in Minnesota, which has very cold winters, I turn off the water heater and shut off the water to the house.

• I have a home monitor for heat and electricity. It's the Sensaphone 1104 from Sensaphone Remote Monitoring Solutions (Aston, PA; 877/978-1746, www.sensaphone.com). It's even hooked up to my freezer.

If the electricity goes out for a certain amount of time or if the temperature is out of range, the unit can call up to four phone numbers to alert me. If I want to check on conditions in my home, I call a number, let it ring a certain number of times, then call back within a certain number of seconds, after which I can check all the stations by voice — so this can be done even from a landline; no smartphone needed.

Sensaphone can also monitor motion detectors, doors, windows, smoke detectors, etc.

• While I'm gone, I have someone cut the grass or clear the snow so the place looks lived in.

• I do not use social media. I tell as few people as possible I will be gone, and I explain to the people I do tell to not tell other people, for security reasons.

Pete
Minnesota



When I retired 11 years ago, my wife, Carol, and I started taking overseas trips in 2- to 3-month intervals, and we have done so every year since. Here is how we do it.

• We pay all our bills with online banking. In most cases, such as with utilities, we let the billing party withdraw the money from our bank account or charge a credit card. For small vendors, like our landscaper, we have our bank send them a recurring monthly payment.

I write, on average, one check per month. I review my bank account and credit card accounts weekly using a laptop.

• We hire a neighborhood high schooler to come to our house daily to water some outside plants and pick up the mail. We pay for this, and we have plenty of volunteers. She is instructed to throw away obvious junk mail and not to open any mail.

The high schooler does not get a key. We ask her parents to just look at the house, especially the lawn, as often as possible.

Our daughter-in-law picks up the mail from the home of our teenaged helper every two weeks. She opens any mail she feels may be urgent. She emails us about those bills, and we leave some signed checks with her.

• We give keys to the house to two adult neighbors and our son, who lives in the area, just in case of emergency. The neighbors all know to call our son, if necessary.

• Before we leave, I look at my past checks to see which unusual bills were paid during the same period the year before. I review my Google calendar for that period to see if I need to schedule any doctor appointments, order any meds or do anything else while we are gone.

This has worked very well over the years. We had one case where the city changed the automatic billing procedure for paying water bills and our water got turned off. Our son dealt with that.

We take other precautions, like leaving lights on automatic timers in the front and back of the house. We also ask one of the neighborhood teenagers, who has a car which he parks in the street, to park in our driveway when we are gone. We let all our neighbors know when we leave.

Jim Gray
Upland, CA