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  • jeff2604

Left Behind

Worrying about what might happen at home when traveling is a big stress point for many people, so much so it keeps some from traveling at all. I can’t tell you not to worry about who or what you’ve left behind when you travel, but I will share with you what I do to worry less.

Janet and I travel. A lot. But you all know that already. We didn't travel so much before starting our travel business, when our kids were still living with us. Back then when we hit the road, we usually took the kids with us. The times we traveled and left the kids behind we left them in the care of Janet's parents...even after they (the kids) were old enough to be left on their own.

When you travel and leave your kids behind, having a trusted caretaker for them is the most important decision you can make. It is more important than where you go, how you get there, and whether or not to order that second dessert. I trusted our kids. More importantly, I trusted Janet's parents and though I still worried about the kids, I knew they were in good hands. The kids are grown now, raising families of their own. I still worry about them a bit...its a parent's prerogative....but no more so when I travel than when I'm home.

Now when I travel, I have two concerns about what I leave behind: Molly and Midas. Well three...there's also the house. Until recently, we relied on cat-loving teenagers from the neighborhood to take care of what we've left behind, and we paid them for their service. We asked them to stop by at least once per day, to keep an eye on the house and let us know if something looked amiss, and to spend time with the cats, petting and playing with them, feeding them, changing out their water, and every few days scooping the litter.

The main thing I worry about is the possibility that Molly will dart out the door before the caregiver could get in and get the door shut. Each time we took on a new caretaker…teenagers have a habit of growing up and moving out…I explained how to use the garage as an airlock. Open the outer garage door first, close it once inside, and only after it is closed do you open the door into the house. That way if Molly is feeling feisty and darts out of the house, she would be confined to the garage where it would be fairly easy to get her to return to the house. It never happened, but I was less worried about traveling knowing we had a plan that didn’t involve canvassing the neighborhood if it did. I didn’t worry about Midas escaping…he is an indoor cat by choice, not force. As long as there is food in his bowl, Midas isn’t going anywhere.

Occasionally we returned home from a trip to find little signs Molly and Midas left us to show they missed us. Usually, it was the treadmill. Not our exercise treadmill…the cat treadmill, aka the bathroom toilet paper roll. We knew when found a roll of toilet paper shredded all over the bathroom floor that the cats got bored.

Then there’s the scarf and barf. That’s when one of the cats gorges themself on food, only to hack it all up a short time later. The toilet paper treadmill is an easy mess to clean up, the scarf and barf not so much. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often, and we have hardwood floors throughout the downstairs level of our house. Unfortunately, when we travel the cats prefer to hang out upstairs which is carpeted. It’s a 50/50 proposition whether they stay downstairs long enough after scarfing to avoid barfing on the upstairs carpet. I don't know what it is about cat food, but that stuff is harder to get out of a carpet than red wine.

The biggest headache for me is the litterbox boycott, mostly because I’m the one that has to deal with it. The litterbox boycott is when the cats decide one of their litterboxes (they have three to choose from) is no longer up to their standard of cleanliness, in spite of regular scooping, emptying, cleaning, and refilling. Or they decide to protest our absence just because they can. Whatever the reason, they occasionally decide to boycott the litterbox. Our cats are well habituated to doing their business in litter. Even when they decide to boycott the box, they still use the litter. They just scoop it out of the box and onto the pad we sit the box on. They form the litter into piles, and then do their business in those piles of litter next to the box. While I would prefer that they keep it all inside the litter box, as long as they keep it on the pad, I can live with a little litter revolt.

Using neighborhood teenagers to care for the cats and our house worked well, until all the neighborhood teenagers grew up and moved out. We knew that day was coming, and we were prepared. Earlier this year we began using a service called Pet AuPair when we travel. After an in-person, in-home interview in with owner Nicole, we were satisfied the service her business offered was a good fit for us. Molly and Midas agreed, probably because Nicole gave them as much attention during the interview as she gave us.

We’ve used Nicole’s Pet AuPair service several times this year, to include during our longer trip to Australia and New Zealand, and have been thrilled with how Nicole’s staff has cared for our cats, and our house. We communicate with the service virtually, using their on-line calendar to schedule visits, paying through their secure web-based payment system, and leaving detailed instructions prior to each trip on the personalized daily care journal they provide.

You can schedule au pair service as often as you wish, and they will care for all manner of pets. We have them come by once each day we are away. In addition to providing the cats with fresh food and water, cleaning the litter box, and cleaning up any scarf and barf or products of a litter boycott (both almost non-existent since we started using them), they bring in the mail and any packages, and they give the house a quick inspection inside and out. The most important thing they do, both for us and for the cats, is spend time playing, petting, and otherwise interacting with Molly and Midas…reassuring them they haven’t been abandoned. And reassuring Midas his food bowl will remain filled. Perhaps that's why the scarf and barf and litterbox boycotts have all but disappeared when we travel.

Each day after visiting our house, the au pair sends us an e-mail with a link to an online summary of what they did during their visit along with anything they think needs our attention. The e-mail includes a couple of pictures that show the au pair interacting with Molly and Midas, and best of all (for me) pictures of the freshly scooped litterboxes. There is also a feedback function that allows the au pair to check with us on any care updates, and for us to provide any.

When it comes to our house, we take a defense in depth approach when we travel. In addition to having the au pair check during their daily visits for anything needing our immediate attention, we let our neighbors know when we travel, and our son Chris who lives about 15 minutes away.

The biggest thing I worry about with the house is storm damage. When we're home if a storm is forecast there are things I can do to prepare, and as soon as the weather clears I walk around to make sure nothing needs attention. When we travel I use a weather app on my phone that alerts me to any local severe weather alerts. We have several exterior security cameras that I can access from my cell phone so if a storm rolls through, I can check the cameras to see if there is any obvious damage. So far, the worst has been the cover blowing off the grill, the patio heater getting blown over, and a piece of siding blowing off the house and into the yard. All minor issues that I was able to get taken care of while I continued to enjoy my time away.

The cameras are tied into an alarm system that also provides protection against break-ins, fires, and carbon monoxide emergencies. Our house is well and thoroughly wired with sensors. The system sends me alerts on my phone, and it is tied in with the alarm company as well as first responders. I can tell you from the few times I smoked up the kitchen after getting overly aggressive with pan searing beef, or absentmindedly opened a door or window without deactivating the alarm system, police or fire vehicles will be at the house in minutes if I’m not on the phone with them promptly to wave them off. That’s only happened once, and the first responders were good natured about it. Apparently, I’m not the only person to smoke up the kitchen in an attempt to get the perfect sear on steaks in a cast iron skillet.

People have different approaches to care for what they leave behind when they travel. Our approach works for us. For others it may be too much and for still others it may not be enough. Whatever approach you take, the important thing is to do what makes you comfortable enough to enjoy your time away. A little forethought and planning can allow you to travel without worrying overly much about what you might find when you return home.

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