Smart home holiday vacation checklist: Prep your house to be home alone


The appeal of the smart home is, in part, the management and monitoring that can happen while you’re out running errands or at work. Your smart home can perform just as well if you’re gone for days or even weeks, with the right setup.

If you’re hitting the road this holiday season, we have the tips you need to leave your smart home home alone with confidence. 

Read more: The best travel gifts | Best DIY home security systems to buy in 2021

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The new Amazon Smart Thermostat is currently our top pick for smart home climate control. 


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Thermostats

If you have a smart thermostat, most types will detect that you’re away and offer a way to change the thermostat remotely. After all, that’s probably why you bought the thing in the first place. It’s a nice perk when you’re out for a few hours or a workday.

For longer periods of time or for thermostats that include a vacation mode, it’s a good idea to check the threshold settings before an extended absence. These temperatures are the minimum and maximum your system will allow before it kicks in. To save energy, set them to a bit colder and warmer than you would if you were home.

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Sure, you can adjust the temperature remotely, but the whole idea here is to set it and go. So before you leave, set the temperature ranges on your thermostat so you can save money while keeping your home safe. 

Read more: Amazon Smart Thermostat review: A steal at $60

High and low temperature thresholds save the most energy when they are set closer to the outside temperature than you would probably prefer when at home. However, they should still be safe enough for your home. 

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If you have shades or window coverings, it’s best to lower them in your absence.


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Lights and shades

My parents always left the TV on when we were away so people would think we were home. I thought it was a weird game of pretend as a kid, but now as a homeowner it makes sense. Lighting isn’t a fail-safe protection against intruders, but having your lights or TV set to mimic human activity is a good start. Smart switches and schedules can do just that.

Read more: Our review of the Lutron Serena Remote Controlled Shades

A good rule of thumb is that outdoor lights should be on at night and off during the day, while indoor lights should go on and off in different rooms. If you have smart switches, consider creating a schedule based on time of day that replicates what you’d typically do while home. You can also set smart light bulbs to power on and off intermittently. 

If you have automated window shades, consider setting them to stay down while you’re away. Keeping lights on might deter crime, but leaving your shades open could turn your living room into a window display for a burglar.

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The Ring Alarm Pro is our top pick for DIY smart home security. 


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Cameras, doorbells and security systems

You have plenty of choices when it comes to both DIY smart home security systems and professionally monitored ones. While they do most of the work for you once they’re out of the box, it’s important to give them a quick status check before you leave. Security settings will differ depending on what products you have.

Regardless of brand, it’s a good idea to make sure all the integrated motion sensors, cameras, locks and doorbells have fresh or fully charged batteries and notifications correctly enabled to reach the right emergency contacts. 

Read more: Our review of the Ring Video Doorbell 4

When it comes to cameras and smart doorbells, be sure the lens is free of dirt, cobwebs or decor that might obstruct the view. If you’ve turned down motion sensitivity or set your camera to ignore motion in some areas around your home, now is a good time to put those features back to maximum vigilance. Finally, ensure all notification settings are set to notify the appropriate people at the appropriate times.

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Be sure detectors and sensors are powered up and ready to notify you in case of an incident. 


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Environment detectors

Leak, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors offer peace of mind every day, and even more so when you’re out of town. Making sure all of these have fresh batteries, a solid Wi-Fi connection, updated apps or firmware and correct notification settings is worth a few minutes of your time before you hit the road. 

Read more: Smoke detector placement guide: Where and how to install sensors

If your detectors aren’t connected to a live monitoring service, it’s even more important to get a notification sent to the right mobile device. That way, you can ask a friend or neighbor to check out any suspicious alerts.  

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The iRobot Roomba S9 is our favorite robot helper.


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Robot vacuums and other small appliances

There are several robot vacuum cleaners out there with some version of a scheduling option. If that’s a feature you use often, turn it off while you’re away. If no one’s home to make messes, the vacuum doesn’t need to run. Plus, if you’ve enhanced the sensitivity of the motion detector portion of your security system, a robot vacuum could trigger false alarms.

Read more: Our review of the iRobot Roomba S9 Plus vs. Neato Botvac D7 Connected

You’ll save battery life and wear and tear on your vacuum by making sure it isn’t running when it doesn’t need to. The same goes for other small appliances that might run on a smart schedule or with smart switches. Run through your list of managed devices to be sure everything is on or off accordingly. 

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The human element

Yes, smart homes are cool. They can do a lot for you on a daily basis, and they keep you connected to home when you’re hundreds of miles away. Still, smart homes aren’t perfect, and it’s a good idea to have one or two very trusted (and tech-savvy) humans keeping an eye on things.

Whether it’s sharing a camera feed, security code or plain ol’ house key, knowing someone could physically check on your home if anything looked suspicious will help you travel happier.



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Mum shares smart time-saving tip for families at Disney theme parks


A MUM of three has shared a time-saving tip for families heading to Disney theme parks while there are still Covid restrictions.

Holidaying in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has added an extra layer of stress for a lot of people going away.

A mum has shared a time-saving tip for families heading to Disneyland theme parks

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A mum has shared a time-saving tip for families heading to Disneyland theme parks

But Jennifer Leigh’s easy trick gives families ‘one less thing to worry about’ while racing round the park having fun.

Jennifer recently returned from a trip to Disney World, Florida with her kids, aged seven, 10 and 12.

All three kids needed face masks as Disney has a face covering rule for everyone aged six and over.

While they are mandatory in most places, face masks can be removed in some parts of the parks, such as outdoor selfie spots, as well as for eating and drinking.

This gives kids several opportunities to lose their mask.

Jennifer has advised any parents visiting a Disney park with their kids to attach a face mask to a lanyard and hang it around their child’s neck.

Kids then have easy access to their face mask when they need it and don’t have to faff around taking it out of a pocket or bag, saving time.

It is also a lot less likely to go missing.

Reflecting on her trip, Jennifer wrote on Facebook: “Things that helped: the lanyards for the masks.

“This might be a little detail but they helped a lot.

“Instead of having to put away the mask and get the mask out again the kids just wore them around their necks all day and it was one less thing to worry about.”

Jennifer also advised parents to carry a portable phone charger, poncho and bottled water.

Last week, Disney announced that guests aged five and over on a US Disney Cruise Line must be vaccinated from January 13, 2022.

This is likely to cause problems for Brit families booked on Disney cruises in the US, as children under 12 in the UK are not currently eligible for a vaccine.

Recently, a woman whose job is to plan Disney holidays for people revealed some of the most common mistakes when visiting the parks.

They included the worst time to visit, the types of tickets people buy and the meals they opt for once inside the parks.

Jennifer advises parents visiting a Disney park to attach a face mask to a lanyard and hang it around their child's neck

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Jennifer advises parents visiting a Disney park to attach a face mask to a lanyard and hang it around their child’s neck
Disney fan reveals hidden secret eating area in the parks without the crowds





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Environmentally smart ways to show gratitude during holidays


If you have plenty of food this Thanksgiving, you may want to express gratitude by avoiding food waste and sharing with those less fortunate. Unfortunately, sharing prepared food is not easy.

Food Share, a nonprofit food bank serving Ventura County, is unable to accept prepared food. 

“Food safety is our number one concern, and finding a local food pantry with the staff, refrigeration and other capabilities needed to handle prepared food may be difficult,” said Monica White, president and CEO of the nonprofit food bank.

Food Share specializes in packaged food and produce, feeding about 140,000 people a month. To help the hungry during the holidays it holds an annual CAN-tree Drive in which donors assemble canned food in the form of Christmas trees, each with hundreds of decorative cans.

This year’s drive, scheduled for Dec. 9-12, is at Figueroa Plaza in downtown Ventura. For details, see www.foodshare.com/cantree, or email the event organizer. Jennifer Caldwell, at jcaldwell@foodshare.com.

Rather than trying to share your Thanksgiving leftovers, you can avoid waste by sending food home with guests.

“Just beware of time and temperatures,” warns Graciela Garcia, who manages food inspections for the Ventura County Environmental Health Division. U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines say turkey should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours and no more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 F. 

Simply donating money to a hunger relief organization is often more practical. In addition to Food Share, local food-based charities include Food Forward, Spirit of Santa Paula, and Ventura County Rescue Mission.

Another environmentally smart way to express gratitude is to donate warm clothing to people in need. Ventura County Supervisors Matt LaVere and Carmen Ramirez recently organized a drive to collect warm clothing from employees at the county government center through December 17.

The clothing will go to the county’s Homeless One Stop program, which holds west county events that provide food, medical and employment assistance. To coordinate with the program for a donation drive at your workplace, contact Yolanda Huerta or James Boyd at 805-652-6694.

The Rotary Club of Ventura has drop-off sites countywide for donating winter clothes through its popular Coats for Kids program. The Crowne Plaza in Ventura cleans the donations, thanks to Danny Quintana, the hotel manager and a Rotarian.

The jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts are distributed by the Boys & Girls Clubs, Project Understanding, Casa Pacifica, the Union Rescue Mission, The Salvation Army, The Hope Center Project, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, local police departments and local churches.

Coats for Kids is neither just for coats nor just for kids. All sizes are accepted.

“Sometimes, entire families that would otherwise be cold in the winter receive warm clothing,” said Kristin Taylor, a travel agent and member of the Ventura Downtown Rotary, which coordinates the program.

However, donations from children are among the most important.

“When kids donate, even just something they have outgrown, it helps them realize the importance of giving,” Taylor said. Kids learn “there are people in our community who don’t have as much as you.”

For drop-off locations see https://bit.ly/CoatsForKid2017DropOffSpots.

Some locations are available only Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, others year round. The three most popular drop-off sites are the two Trader Joes in Ventura and Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura.

David Goldstein is an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency. He can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org



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How to prepare for your fall road trip | Travel Smart


If you’re planning on hitting the road with the family soon, there are some safety precautions you should consider before packing up the car.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — As some families ease their way back into traveling, many are choosing to take a road trip to see the fall foliage and enjoy each other’s company. 

“Family road trips are a great way to get the crew together, spend some quality time together,” Doni Lee Spiegel, public relations manager with AAA Central Penn, said.  

She also says this is the perfect time to pack up the car and head out with the family and have some fun this fall. 

“Maybe you’re traveling to see people you haven’t seen in a while, and this time of year, it’s great with the fall foliage and the weather is cool and crisp; it’s just a fun time to get out and have some new experiences,” Spiegel said.  

She shared some tips with FOX43 on how to prepare and stay safe on the road.  

First, she said to pack some extra materials that you wouldn’t normally travel with, like your health insurance card, vaccination card, extra masks, and hand sanitizer. She also said that if you’re on medication, be sure to pack an extra couple days worth so that you’re never without it. 

Second, Spiegel said you want to make sure your car is in great condition. She recommends taking your car to a mechanic before setting out on your trip. 

“Make sure your tires are in good shape and things like windshield wipers are good to go,” she said. “There’s a couple different things you can look for to prevent a headache down the road.” 

Spiegel also says it doesn’t hurt to make a necessities kit to keep in the car in case you’re in a pinch. She said to pack things like flashlights, extra batteries, and extra cell phone chargers. 

“If you’re stranded for a couple hours you want to make sure you have that (your cell phone) charged,” she said. “Things like snacks and waters especially if you’re traveling with elderly people or children, you may want to keep them occupied in case you have a breakdown.” 

So, if you’re planning on taking a fall road trip soon, make sure to plan ahead and be flexible in case you need to make a pitstop. 

“Just try to enjoy yourselves,” Spiegel said in conclusion. “It might not be the perfect trip, you might get a flat tire along the way, but at the end of the day you’re still with the people you love the most, so just make the best of it and have fun with it.” 

Download the FOX43 app here.



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People Are Sharing Smart Travel Tips For 26 Destinations


Travel can be intimidating, but if you do a little research about your destination — familiarizing yourself with the local customs, norms, and faux pas — it can be a whole lot less daunting.

So I combed through the subreddit r/travel and looked to the BuzzFeed Community to compile some helpful world travel tips. Here’s what world travelers want you to know before you take your next getaway. 



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Outrageous travel prices are here! How to be smart about your vacation and save money – Boston 25 News


BOSTON — With post-COVID-19 leisure travel roaring back, high prices, including plane tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars are here to stay, travel industry experts said.

“Prices are through the roof, and they probably will continue to be that way for a year or more,” said luxury travel advisor Lauren Kroger.

“All of a sudden, I think now that a lot of the population is vaccinated, we’re seeing an enormous amount of demand,” Kroger said.

“There’s a problem. These are all basically leisure travelers,” aviation analyst Jay Ratliff said.

He explained, pre-pandemic business travelers made up 70 percent of the airlines’ revenue.

“So if they’re not showing up, then the money that they were counting on is going to translate into higher domestic fares for us on the leisure side, and that’s what we’ve been seeing throughout the summer,” Ratliff said.

He expects this to continue after he said the world’s airline industry lost about $128 billion in 2020. In 2021, he expects that industry to continue to lose about $48 billion.

“The high prices are going to stick around as long as the demand for travel continues to increase,” Ratliff said.

Once people land, Kroger said people should not expect steep discounts at their destinations.

“The demand is unprecedented. So we have hoteliers who don’t necessarily need to do those markdowns,” Kroger said.

Throughout the pandemic, hotels had to lay off staff or limit resources.

“So they’re still trying to build themselves back up,” Kroger said.

COVID-19 cuts are not only impacting the hotel industry. Kroger said rental car companies had to sell cars during the pandemic to make up for losses and now they’re not prepared for the increased demand.

“There’s a massive rental car shortage across the U.S.,” Kroger said.

This means people are sometimes paying two to three times what they would normally pay and, Kroger said, they are still running into problems.

“And then show up to start their vacation and find out that there’s actually nothing available,” Kroger said.

She expects high travel prices to continue for the next year to year and a half.

However, both she and Ratliff agree, planning and booking ahead can help travelers save.

“Sometimes eight, nine, 10 months. Find the cheaper fares. Lock them in. Grab the trip cancelation insurance for a couple of dollars, and then you’re set. If the airline industry raises the fares three times, you’re covered. You don’t have to worry about it,” Ratliff said.

He also said one of the cheapest times to travel is September. That is when people will find better airfare, hotel prices, and car rentals because that is one of the slowest travel months of the year.





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Smart Money Tip: Get Spending Rewards


With so many opportunities to earn spending rewards today, you might be missing out on hundreds of dollars a year just for spending as you normally would on groceries, gas, travel, etc. Tying your spending to a rewards program doesn’t have to be complicated.

DO THIS TODAY: Look over the cash back programs available today (credit, debit, and cash-back shopping sites) and sign up to start using one or two of them. Tie as much of your spending as you can to the programs.



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Best kept secrets | Travel Smart


In this week’s Travel Smart, FOX43’s Trenice Bishop speaks with an expert on how to find the “hidden secrets” of travel destinations.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — The difference between a tourist and a traveler is getting to know a culture, according to Karen Gershowitz, writer and travel addict.

Since boarding a plane to Europe when she was 17, Gershowitz has visited over 90 countries and “gained friends and lovers and made a radical career change,” according to her website.

In this week’s Travel Smart, FOX43’s Trenice Bishop spoke to Gershowitz about how to find the “hidden secrets” of travel destinations. She said that travel is all about being open to new things and new experiences. 

Her number one travel tip is simply, to talk to people. 

“Be friendly, smile at people, ask them questions, show that you’re interested,” she said.

Second, she said to plan a trip around something you love.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, arts, or if it’s food,” Gershowitz said. “But whatever it is, go and do that and talk to the people who are around you because you’ll mostly find locals and they know the really great places to go, and what to do, and the kinds of places to see.”

Third, she said to pick up a paper and look for local events.

“Look for the festivals, rather than the places,” she said. “That’s where the people will be. They’ll tell you whether the places in the guidebooks are worth going to.”

Finally, she said to enjoy the journey and expect the unexpected. 

Karen Gershowitz is the author of Travel Mania – Stories of Wanderlust, a vivid story of how one woman found her strength, power, and passion.

To hear more of what she had to say on FOX43, check out the clip above.

Download the FOX43 app here.



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How to make the most of your post-pandemic travel budget | Smart Change: Personal Finance


– Hardwood lumber:

— Price increase during COVID-19: 19.6%

— Jan. 2020 to April 2020 index score: 203.2

— Jan. 2021 to April 2021 index score: 242.9

– Softwood lumber:

– Price increase during COVID-19: 78.8%

— Jan. 2020 to April 2020 index score: 230.5

— Jan. 2021 to April 2021 index score: 412.2

– Indexed year: 1982

Wood has seen a larger price increase than any other homebuilding material over the last year. There are multiple reasons for this jump, according to the National Association of Home Builders, including mill closures and an uptick in DIY projects. At the start of the pandemic, many mills were closed by stay-at-home orders—which obviously cut production—while also leading them to believe that housing would be adversely affected and demand for lumber would go down. Contrary to their predictions, the housing market has boomed, which has only increased demand for hardwood and softwood. This increase, coupled with growing sales at big-box retailers for DIY projects, has sent prices skyrocketing.

The supply shortage and heightened cost of wood and other building materials throughout the pandemic has delayed construction projects, while also driving up the price of building a home. While the outlook regarding building materials for the remainder of 2021 and beyond is still fairly unknown, research group Capital Economics expects that the demand and the price of lumber, for example, will drastically drop once 2022 comes to a close. 

This story was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.



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