Aquariums & Vacations: 31 Great Tips To Ensure Success!


As an aquarium owner, the thought of going on vacation sends the stress levels through the roof. Vacations are supposed to be a time to relax so here I’m going to give you some awesome tips to prepare your aquarium to allow you to lie on that beach stress-free!

Automatic feeders, aquarium controllers & light timers help to keep everything running normally in an aquarium while you are on vacation. Tank sitters, wifi cameras, no new additions, and good pre-trip maintenance will help to relieve anxiety while away.

I have been on many vacations, some of which have been up to 4 weeks and having a plan, good maintenance and an awesome aquarium controller allowed me to do this time after time. Read on to find some great tips and ideas…

Short Getaway Or Long Vacation?

Are you planning a trip away for the weekend or a month-long tour? The length of time you are going to be away is going to dictate the amount of planning and prep work you are going to need.

Short weekend getaways are pretty easy and have minimal preparation. An auto feeder and making sure your ATO and dosing containers are full is about all that will be required.

The longer week+ vacations need a bit more thought and work for them to be stress-free for you, but allow your aquarium to survive.

What Time Of Year Is The Vacation?

Some of us like to get away when the weather is gray, dull and miserable, Some of us like to take trips for business or pleasure. Which ever trip you are planning you have to start to think about the environment outside your house.

Is it the middle of summer and your home air-conditioning helps you from needing an aquarium chiller?
Is it the middle of winter and your furnace or pellet stove keeps your house from becoming an ice cube?

These items need to be regularly serviced to ensure they keep working. Replace the battery in your thermostat to ensure that keeps going.

I woke up one morning to a FREEZING house in the middle of one of our -40°C spells a few years back because the battery had died in my thermostat. Luckily my aquarium heaters were working overtime, but it was a lesson learned!

Are you in the middle of storm season? Do you have regular power outages? What happens to your aquarium when the power comes back on? Do you ever need to reset anything?

All things you need to start thinking about and what actions you need to have in place ‘Just In Case’.

Never Change Or Add Anything Last Minute To Your Aquarium

Not following this one tip has crashed so many aquariums it is not funny. The times I have read and helped people who tinkered with something 10 minutes before leaving or bought that new coral 2 days before flying off and then came back to serious problems.

The last things you should ONLY ever do before leaving your aquarium is topping off your ATO reservoir and looking around to make sure everything is as it should be – That’s it!

Test Run Your Aquarium Vacation Setup For A Few Days

After reading all the tips below and figuring out what you need to do before your trip I HIGHLY advise you to get it all set up the week before you go and let it all run, just as if you were not there.

This way you can ensure your plan works and everything is doing what it should. All you have to do on the last day is Top Up your ATO and go!

It takes practice to get your aquarium ready and if you are planning a big trip why not test out your entire plan a few months/weeks beforehand while you are home.

Setup your ‘Vacation System’ and do not touch your system. Just observe. If anything needs tweaking then adjust and re-assess. There are reasons why we have practice runs, its to weed out the bugs and perfect the plan.

If your aquarium easily manages for the ‘Two Week Trial’ while you are home it will fill you with great confidence while you are away, thus allowing you to relax and enjoy your trip.

31 Great Tips To Help You Prepare Your Aquarium Before Vacation

1. Try Not To Do Everything Last Minute

Packing and getting ready to leave on any trip can be stressful, especially when pets and children are in the equation. The last thing you need to be thinking about is your aquarium.

Forgetting to turn off the RO/DI system or forgetting to turn back on your ATO, for example, could have serious consequences! Ensure all your aquarium maintenance and ‘stuff’ is done at least several days before so all you have to do is plan on packing.

2. Ensure ATO And Dosing Containers Are Large Enough

How long does your ATO container last? How long do your dosing fluid containers last? If you are going away for a weekend this is probably not an issue.

However, if you get through a 5 gallon bucket of Top Off water in 7 days and you are going away for 10 days you need a bigger container. Getting a larger container and placing it in front of your aquarium is an easy solution and its only temporary.

Make sure to set up the larger containers a few days before to ensure they work fine and you don’t get any back siphoning etc. Just give them a final top up the day before you leave.

3. Do Not Add New Equipment Just Before Leaving

Setting up a new piece of kit to help while you are away is always great, but do not do it just before you leave! A lot of equipment may need a ‘Break-In’ period or need some fine tuning to get them running correctly.

A new piece of equipment can also affect how another item runs for example. We have all seen a skimmer go nuts when something new is added. Set up any new item at least a few weeks before you leave!

4. Do Not Add New Livestock Just Before Leaving

Aside from all new livestock should go into quarantine before being added, putting a new fish into your tank days before leaving is asking for trouble.

A dead fish left to decay in your aquarium for 2 weeks may cause problems if you don’t have a good clean-up-crew, established biofilter and mature tank, so why take the risk.

If you see the fish at the local fish store and ‘Need To Have It’, purchase it and ask them to hold it for you.

5. Do Not Adjust Anything On The Day Of Leaving

Many a time have people missed their flight because they tinkered with something just before they were about to walk out the door and all hell broke loose.

I almost missed a flight because I went to fill up my auto feeder 10 minutes before leaving and I knocked my entire tub of pellets into the tank!
DO NOT touch anything! Get it all done ahead of time!

6. Do A Final Check Of All Plugs, Switches, Valves & Connections

This should be done at least a day before leaving and then do not touch your tank! Have a quick visual a few hours before you leave but that is all.

7. Do Not Adjust Home Air Conditioning When You Leave!

I have heard many times that when people leave for vacation their partner turns down the AC or heat because no-one is there. Your aquarium runs perfectly when you are home. Forgetting about them and turning the AC down usually always gives you a problem waiting for your return.

Leave the house just as if you are there!

Thermostat

8. Do Not Allow Visiting Family To Adjust The AC

Do you have parents that ‘Like to Help’? I’ve heard of tank crashes because Mom turned off the AC to help save you money when she came to check up on the house!
Leave a big sign on the thermostat! DO NOT TOUCH!

9. Purchase A Smart Thermostat

Want to make sure no one messes with the temperature while you are away, buy a wireless smart thermostat! These are so simple to set and monitor from anywhere in the world, so now the meddling mother can be taken out of the problem equation.

You can view a great range of Smart Thermostats with reviews and prices HERE at Amazon.com

I really recommend the Nest Thermostat. Its the one I have and it is awesome. Not the cheapest, but its pedigree and quality were what sold it for me. You can read more on it HERE at Amazon.com

10. Purchase A Timer For Your Lights

Do your aquarium lights need to be manually turned on and off by someone? If you have not done this already, purchasing a timer to automatically turn them on/off is one of the best additions you can make to your aquarium.

This will also help you keep your lighting periods consistent which is very important when you begin to keep coral in your aquarium

11. Set Up An Automatic Feeder

If you are new to saltwater this is a must! Those floating 2 week feeding blocks you can get for freshwater aquariums just won’t cut it anymore.

You can purchase the industry’s most popular feeder, the Eheim Everyday Feeder HERE at Marine Depot and you will not regret it. It’s the one I use and it truly is a Set-And-Forget unit.

Eheim Automatic Fish Feeder

Be sure to set it up a few days before to ensure it works and all fish are feeding. Ensure the batteries are good/new. I always remove the batteries when I put it away for storage.

12. Pellets Work Better In Auto Feeders

I find that pellets work best in the auto feeders as they do not clump. A small amount of moisture can make flake foods clump in the barrel of an auto feeder causing it to clog.

If you need to feed flakes, I suggest you use a mix of pellets and flakes, that way the pellets will tumble and help keep the flakes from clumping.

13. Feed Less

Your fish can easily survive a few weeks without food so by slightly reducing the amount you feed while you are away will help keep your Nitrates and Phosphates down. This will help if you usually do a water change every week but are now unable to do one for 2-3 weeks.

Auto feeders can dump in huge amounts of food. I use a small bowl to see how much is in my ‘Usual Pinch’ then I try and match the dosed amount to that. This way it saves you dumping lots of food into the tank while you set up your auto feeder.

14. Change Filter Floss/Socks The Day Before Leaving

Sometimes when changing floss or sock your Protein Skimmer can go nuts. You are best to change your floss or socks the day before you leave in case this happens.

An overflowing skimmer can cause so many problems while you are away!

If filter socks last only 5 days and you are gone for 10 leave them out. Maybe look at adding floss somewhere. I place some in my sumps bubble trap leaving a 2″ gap on one end to allow the water to bypass the floss when it gets blocked.

15. Install a Roller Mat

If your aquarium gets through floss and socks very quickly, you could look at investing in a Roller Mat. These fairly new ingenious devices allow you to go weeks without changing your mechanical filter media.

These will help prevent detritus buildup if your socks are unable to last the duration of your trip.
You can find out more on Roller Mats HERE at Marine Depot.

16. Clean And Service Protein Skimmer A Few Days Before Leaving

Protein Skimmers can be an odd duck sometimes. One minute they are running fine, the next they are overflowing like crazy! Because they are removing dissolved organics from the water, anything can make them overflow.

I remember my wife lighting a ‘Smelly’ candle once and 30 minutes later my skimmer was going nuts!

Because of this ensure you clean and service your skimmer a few days before leaving. Empty the collection cup, clean the neck, the silencer, pump and impeller, the air venturi, everything. Then leave it be.

17. Ensure Any Skimmer Overflow Stays In The Sump

Ensure that when your skimmer cup overflows that it all drains down back into the sump. I have seen skimmers pushed right up to the sump wall and then the collection cup hangs over the edge of the sump. This is going to cause a flood AND your ATO to kick in.

Keep the skimmer an inch or two inside the sump, then if it does overflow it won’t matter as much.

I have seen some people place a large ZipLock bag over the collection cup to direct any overflow directly down.

18. Clean All Pumps And Overflows

A week before you leave remove all your powerheads & wavemakers and give them a good vinegar bath to remove any dirt and Coralline Algae. Brush the impellers and cages to remove the fuzz and keep everything working as efficiently as possible.

Be sure to clean any algae, especially Bubble Algae from your overflows and give the teeth/slots a good brush too.

Leaving plenty of time to do this will ensure it’s all working correctly when you leave.

19. Set Up A WiFi Camera

This is by far one of the better, cheaper options for peace of mind! I have been using one for years and it saves so much stress!

A simple $30 camera looking at your aquarium, that you can view via an app on your phone is an absolute must! They are super simple to set up and the real-time picture quality is fantastic. They even do two-way voice so you can talk to a tank-sitter while they are there if needs be!

Wireless Webcam

THIS ONE from Amazon.com is perfect for your needs and is under $30! This is what I would buy if I was looking today. I have two older ones that I use and I never go on vacation without setting them up!

Sit it on a stool and open your stand doors, it will also allow you to see what’s going on in the sump too!

Buy two cameras if you have a filtration room that is separate from your aquarium. My sump is in my basement but I can view both cameras at the same time on the included app.

For more information on Wifi cameras for your aquarium I have a full guide here:
Aquarium WiFi Camera – Simple Setup For <$30

20. Always Run Two Heaters In Your System

This is has saved my tank once and I know of others this helped. Heaters can be temperamental at times and no matter how good the quality is you can always get defects.

Most of today’s digitally controlled heaters are far better than the old style, but you can still get failures. I would never trust such an important water parameter to just one device!

Having two heaters provides redundancy and will always protect your tank in case one fails. They are cheap! Just install two, set at the same temperature and leave them be.

To be extra safe you can run one off a temperature controller like this Finnex Deluxe Digital Temperature Controller at Marine Depot, then run the other heater as a back up set 0.5°F lower.

21. Get An Aquarium Controller

I cannot begin to describe how much of a lifesaver and life-changer these devices are. I’m lucky as I was able to make my own, but I will never own an aquarium without one. Just like a webcam, they will reduce your stress so much!

Unfortunately, they are not cheap, but after lights and filtration are the best investment you can make in your aquarium. You can also move it from tank to tank as you upgrade.

In essence, they are a device that constantly monitors and controls equipment and if there is a problem they alert you instantly via your phone or email so you can take action. Because they automate so many tasks you will wonder how you ever managed without one.

The Neptune Systems Apex Aquarium Controller is by far the most popular and also has the most ‘Add-Ons’ to allow you to custom build your own control system as you go.

You can find out more about these great controllers HERE at Marine Depot.

22. Have A Flood Sensor Installed Into The Controller

Saltwater causes huge damage when leaked and being able to detect and shut down the offending item is a great way to save some serious repair bills.

Many of the aquarium controllers have available Flood Detection Sensors that you can install by your sump or cabinet. You can have your controller set to shut off your Protein Skimmer, Return Pump or any other item you think could be causing the flood as soon as it detects the flood.

Once it alerts you, you can then diagnose and get the rest of the system running again all from your sun lounger! Then call in a helper to go to your home and investigate.

23. Prevent Wireless Blackouts To Your Aquarium Controller

Many aquarium controllers like the Neptune Apex connect wirelessly to your home internet connection. From time to time they can lose this connection preventing you from getting the data on your phone/laptop.

Some of these controllers need to be reset by the push of a button, which can be another stressor for you. Now you have to get someone to go over to your home and press it.

A solution is to temporarily plug your aquarium controller directly into your wireless router with an ethernet cable, while you are away.

You can find some examples cheap Here at Amazon.com at pretty much any length you require. Because your controller is now not relying on the wireless connection, it will never lose contact with you.

24. Buy A Local Sim Card For Your Phone

Are you traveling in a location where you may have sporadic connections to WiFi and you are worried about your aquarium controller not being able to reach you or you are worried about roaming charges when looking at your webcam?

Most phones can now accept a sim card for use in other countries. You can usually pick up a Pay-As-You-Go sim card for cheap in your vacation location and this will allow you to receive data and be instantly connected to your controller or webcam.

If you are unsure about your phone, go see one of the phone stalls which seem to be in every mall across the world! They will be able to get your phone ready for a different sim card if needed.

25. Install an Automatic Water Change System For Long Vacations

I built in an automatic water change system into my own aquarium controller and it saves me hours each month and it allows me to maintain my weekly water change schedule with a push of a button while I’m away.

My setup allows me to have a trashcan full of new mix water ready and I have access to a drain. My system drains water, then refills it. This system is almost one of the best upgrades I made to my aquarium!

The Smart AWC Touch from AutoAqua does just that. You could temporarily set this up with a couple of buckets or Brute trash cans by your aquarium and if you are going on a long vacation this WILL really help you.

Jeff from Premium Aquatics gives a great review of it here:

You can find out more information on the Smart AWC Touch HERE at Marine Depot

26. Battery Backup For Your Powerheads/Wavemakers

A power loss at any time could have catastrophic effects on your tank, let alone while you are away. The rate at which you will begin to lose oxygen in your aquarium is the number one cause of tank crashes during/after a power outage.

A simple way to help prolong this is to keep the surface of your water agitated to help gas exchange. Having just one powerhead on a battery backup you could save your aquarium.

There are two really effective and simple backup systems available depending on the powerheads you run:

For EcoTech Pumps you can get more information on their battery backup system HERE at Marine Depot

For other manufacturers, you can get the IceCap Universal Battery Backup system. This one comes with a range of connectors to suit many DC pumps and you can find out more information HERE at Marine Depot.

Both systems can have extra batteries added to them to extend the working time of the pump during the outage. These are a great investment not just for when you are away, but for year round use!


For even greater information on Battery Backup Systems, I have an article dedicated to them. ‘Aquarium Battery Backups – Your Ultimate Guide’


27. Install a Simple, Smart Battery Powered Air Pump

If the cost just prohibits you from the battery backup systems mentioned above you could look at this much cheaper alternative.

This battery-powered air pump monitors electrical power to your home. When it senses a power loss, it automatically switches on the batteries and starts to pump oxygen into your aquarium water. Because this is fully automatic, it is a great option.

Each pump is recommended for aquariums up to 30 gallons, but by adding more you could easily keep your water oxygenated in a larger aquarium.

You can read the great reviews and find out more information HERE at Amazon.com

28. After A Thunderstorm/Power Outage

After a power outage or thunderstorm get a friend/family member/neighbor/tank sitter to check all the GFCI plugs that supply your aquarium equipment to ensure none of them have tripped.

GFCI Plug

Surviving the storm or outage is great but if your power is not on to your equipment then you will come home to a dead aquarium. Thunderstorms can be notorious for tripping GFCI plugs, so have someone come and check each plug just to make sure everything is back up and running.

Maybe inform a neighbor before your departure to shoot you a text message if they have a power outage or thunderstorm so you can arrange for someone to stop by and check.

29. Have A Fellow Aquarist On Standby To Help If Needed

Having a friend who owns an aquarium that lives close by is a great asset. If they own a saltwater aquarium then even better. By having someone who knows about aquariums on-call can really help you in a crisis.

Have them come over and learn your system, maintenance, and routines and do the same for them. By helping each other it can really reduce the stress on your vacation

30. Have A Tank Sitter Who Knows Your System – Train Them

I have heard so many horror stories of tank sitters that unknowingly did something that led to entire tank losses. Having a tank sitter is great but you need to train them on your system.

If you can, just get them to observe the aquarium and call you if there is a problem. The more they touch, the more the chance of a problem arising.

Face Time is a great tool when talking to the tank sitter or trying to explain how to fix something. They can show you exactly what is wrong and you can advise them what you want them to do step-by-step, real-time.

It is a good idea to prepared bins of RO/DI and New Mix water and have them sat by the aquarium, just in case of an emergency and your tank sitter has to top up or do a water change. The more you can prepare for them the less that can go wrong.

Give the tank sitter instructions only on what they MUST do and MUST NOT do. Make it clear so both of you are on the same page.

31. Hire A Professional Aquarium Maintenance Company

Having worked as an Aquarium Maintenance Technician I can tell you this is a great asset to have. A professional person who knows what they are doing on your system can save your tank and your sanity, but it costs.

If this is a route you would like to take, especially if your vacation is going to be 3+ weeks then you need to plan this EARLY.

There are some great companies out there, and there are some terrible ones out there! Speak to your local fish store they will be able to recommend the good ones.

My advice would be to get them in to maintain your aquarium a few weeks before you go so that they can get to know your system and you. Then when you are away, they carry on maintaining your system, just as if you were there.

Trust can be a big issue and letting a stranger into your home is a major concern for many people. If this is the case ask a family member to be there while they work, then get them to lock up.

There is always a solution!

To Finish

Preparation is the key to a successful and stress-free vacation. Yes, there will be times when no matter what you do your tank was not going to make it but, preparing as much as you can will really, really help.

I hope you found these tips helpful because I know many of them I personally use and it really helps me enjoy my time away.

For further reading on topics that may provide further help you can read my articles listed below:

Richard

Hi, I'm Richard and I have been an avid aquarist for over 30 years with a passion for Saltwater Aquariums. I love to pass on my knowledge to help others get the same amount a pleasure out of this hobby as I do. View my About Me page to find out more about me & my mixed reef aquarium.

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