A little planning ahead will make your life easier when you get back.
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

The holiday season is right around the corner, which might mean you are gearing up for a trip. Like many of us, it may have been a while since you were away from home for an extended period of time (or even left the house in general, let's be real). There are a few simple things you can do to make your life a little bit easier before a trip. For me, I always clean my house before I leave for a trip and that starts with the kitchen. Here are six things you should always do in your kitchen before leaving for a trip.

A woman cleaning the kitchen counter
Credit: Getty Images / dowell

1. Do all the dishes

This one is non-negotiable. If you only take one tip from this list, do all of your dishes before leaving for a trip. Sure, it can be annoying, especially if you don't have a dishwasher (trust me, I understand), but coming home to a sink full of dishes with caked-on food bits or even mold is not worth it. Not to mention, having rotting food out in your kitchen can attract insects, pests and rodents, which would be a very unwelcome surprise. We all have moments where we let the dishes get away from us, but before traveling is not the time to let it slide. Set a reminder or even block off time in your calendar if you need it. 

2. Empty your dishwasher 

First, load up the dishwasher (you might even be able to sneak in one of these surprising items if you have space) and run it so it's clean. If I had a dishwasher, I would do this at night so everything had time to dry before the morning (a girl can dream). Then, before leaving, empty the whole load and put everything away. While it might be tempting to just run the dishwasher and leave it for when you return, it's going to feel like a chore to have a to-do list item right when you get home. 

If the dishwasher is empty and dishes are clean when you get back, you can easily serve up a freezer meal or takeout and put the dishes in the dishwasher right away. No clean-up required. This will save you some time, which can feel precious when trying to get organized after vacation. 

3. Clean out the fridge

Take stock of everything you have in your fridge. Make a plan to use up anything that will go bad during the time you are away. Use vegetables in a Clean-Out-the-Fridge Vegetable Soup or Stew, or make a curry or casserole. If you make a big batch, you can even freeze the leftovers for an easy meal when you get back. What you are trying to avoid is coming home to something rotten in your fridge, which is a waste of food and money. A little planning ahead can go a long way here, but if you're in a bind, try to offer what you won't use to a neighbor or friend before throwing it away.  

4. Wipe all the surfaces 

After the dishes are put away and the fridge is clean, wipe all of the surfaces in your home. If you are running low on cleaning supplies, you can even make a DIY disinfectant spray that will do the trick. Wipe down counters, oven tops, the sink and any tables or islands in the space. I always try to do this as close to leaving as I can so that everything is fresh and clean when I get back. There's nothing more satisfying than walking into a visibly clean home after a long day of travel. 

5. Clean the floors 

Once you've wiped off your kitchen surfaces, finish off the cleaning with the floors. Doing this after wiping surfaces down allows you to pick up any debris that fell on the ground. I always vacuum and then use a Swiffer Wet Pad (restock yours for $8.99 at Target.com) to make sure the tiles are clean. 

6. Take out garbage, recycling and compost

Last, but certainly not least, take out any and all trash. I will usually put the bags and bins in front of the door so I can take them with me when I walk out. Depending on the length of time you're going to be away, this is a must. Food waste and packaging sitting in your kitchen can start to smell bad as it sits, and that odor can attract unwanted guests like pest, insects and rodents. Once you've made the mistake of leaving your trash unattended for a week, you won't ever do it again. Take it from me. And on the bright side, this leaves you with a fresh bag and empty bins so you don't have to switch anything over when you get back. 

The bottom line 

Travel can be stressful, but a little bit of planning ahead can help make your life easier when you return home. It might take some extra time on the front end, but doing these six things will leave your kitchen in tip-top shape while you're gone. Then, when you're back, your kitchen is in working order without any work or unwanted surprises for you to deal with.