Getting Your Aquarium Ready for Your Vacation: Essential Preparations

Getting Your Aquarium Ready for Your Vacation: Essential Preparations

Sometimes, we all need a break from work and the daily stresses of life. Going on vacation is a great way to unwind, but it can also become stressful if you’re unsure what to do with your pets, especially when it comes to your aquarium. Many people struggle with figuring out how to take care of their aquarium when they’re away. Even for small tanks like a 10-gallon one, it’s not ideal to bring it to a friend’s house. And for larger tanks, it’s nearly impossible.

However, there’s no need to give up on your vacation plans. There are several options available to ensure that your fish receive proper care while you’re away. Let’s take a look at these options:


Having a Friend Watch Your Fish

The most common option chosen by aquarists is to have a neighbor, family member, or friend take care of their tank while they’re away. This person, known as a fish sitter, visits the tank daily or every other day to feed the fish and check on everything. At first glance, this may seem like the ideal choice, but there are potential risks involved.

If you have a friend or neighbor who is experienced with fish and owns their own tank, it’s a great idea to ask them for help. They will have the knowledge to properly care for your fish. However, problems can arise when someone without fishkeeping experience is entrusted with this task. Even with good intentions, an inexperienced person can unintentionally create issues for your tank. One common problem is overfeeding. While you understand the importance of not overfeeding, most people tend to feed fish excessively if not guided. This can lead to serious water quality problems and even fish deaths.

If you must rely on someone inexperienced with fish care, here’s a helpful tip: Prepare daily portions of fish food in Ziploc bags. Each bag should contain the amount of food needed for one day. Instruct your fish sitter to simply empty one bag into the tank during each visit. This way, you can control and monitor the amount of food added to the tank while you’re away. It adds an extra layer of assurance for your fish’s well-being.


Another issue with having someone watch your tank is that they might have the tendency to “help too much” or meddle with things. While your friend’s intentions may be good, their lack of knowledge can lead to unintended consequences. It’s important to understand that making unnecessary adjustments or changes can be detrimental to your aquarium.

Performing a water change is a prime example. It’s generally not advisable to have someone who lacks experience perform this task. They may end up removing too much water or forgetting crucial steps like adding dechlorinator. Entrusting this responsibility to an inexperienced person increases the risk of problems arising in your tank.

To avoid such issues, it’s best to provide clear instructions to your fish sitter and communicate the importance of leaving things as they are, unless there is an emergency. This way, you can minimize the chances of unintended mishaps and maintain the stability of your aquarium while you’re away.


Pros and Cons of Pet Sitters



  • doesn’t require you to make any changes to your tank or to relocate it
  • allows your fish to continue with the routine to which they have become accustomed
  • doesn’t require any changes in the type of food or feeding schedule
  • an experienced pet sitter could potentially perform maintenance tasks while you’re away




  • pet sitter may not be familiar with caring for aquarium fish
  • could lead to overfeeding or underfeeding
  • pet sitter might tamper with equipment or otherwise damage the tank
  • the sitter may not be able to perform maintenance tasks
  •  requires you to give someone access to your home while you’re gone


If You Don’t Have a Friend Watch Your Tank Then What Are You Supposed to Do?


You might be thinking, “What if I don’t have any friends with fishkeeping experience? What should I do then?” Don’t worry, there are still options available to you. In fact, the best approach for short vacations lasting 1-2 weeks is surprisingly simple: do nothing at all.

Many fish owners tend to overfeed their fish because they overestimate how long their pets can go without food and how hungry they actually are. While some fish always appear to be starving (like cichlids), they can actually go for several weeks without eating. In fact, experienced aquarists often implement fasting periods for their fish to help cleanse their digestive systems.

So, if your vacation will only last for a week or two, consider using this opportunity to allow your fish to fast. Not feeding them during this time will promote their overall health, and they will be perfectly fine while you’re away. Moreover, if no one is feeding the fish, there is less need to worry about tasks like water changes.

By opting for a fasting period, you can enjoy your vacation without unnecessary stress about your fish’s well-being.


If you’re leaving your tank alone while you’re away, there are a few important preparations to make. Firstly, consider purchasing timers for your tank lights if you don’t already have them. Set the lights to be on for 6-8 hours a day. This will help control algae growth and maintain the overall health of your aquarium.

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Before you leave, perform a regular water change and ensure that everything is clean. Take care of routine tasks such as scraping the glass and cleaning the filters. However, avoid going overboard and causing your tank to cycle again while you’re away. Stick to your usual cleaning routine to keep the tank in good shape before your departure.

It can be beneficial to have a trusted friend visit your home a couple of times to check on the tank. They can ensure none of your fish have died and generally make sure everything appears fine. If they notice any concerns, they should contact you so you can guide them through the necessary steps. Additionally, if you’ll be gone long enough for evaporation to become an issue, your friend can assist with topping off the water level. Leave them detailed instructions and assemble the necessary supplies near the sink (bucket, dechlorinator, etc.).

Keep in mind that your tank will be fine without a water change for the short duration of your absence. While topping off the water level is not recommended in general, it’s a safer option in this case compared to having your friend perform a water change.

By taking these precautions and arranging for occasional check-ins, you can ensure your tank remains in good condition while you enjoy your vacation.


Things to Avoid


The following common practices are best to avoid when going on vacation:


  • Vacation Feeders: These products, commonly found in fish stores, may initially seem like a convenient solution. They are designed to feed your fish for multiple days. However, they often prove ineffective and can cause more harm than good. They tend to cloud the water and create pollution issues in your tank. It’s strongly advised to avoid using vacation feeders altogether.Automatic Feeders: Automatic feeders are a better option, particularly when you have no one available to watch your tank and will be away for an extended period exceeding 1-2 weeks. However, consider this as a last resort. The downside of automatic feeders is that they can easily get stuck or malfunction. In such cases, they may either dump excessive amounts of food into your tank or stop delivering food entirely. Without your supervision, these malfunctions can have disastrous consequences. If you must rely on an automatic feeder, invest in a high-quality one and avoid cutting corners to save money. Remember to insert fresh batteries before leaving to ensure the feeder doesn’t run out of power.Overfeeding Before Departure: Some people believe that by overfeeding their fish before leaving, they can avoid feeding them during their vacation. However, this practice is unnecessary and should be avoided. You can continue feeding your fish as you normally would before your departure. Overfeeding right before your vacation can lead to water pollution and adversely affect the digestive systems of your fish. It’s best to maintain your regular feeding routine and refrain from overfeeding them.By steering clear of vacation feeders, exercising caution with automatic feeders, and avoiding the practice of overfeeding before your departure, you can ensure the well-being of your fish and maintain a healthy aquarium while enjoying your vacation.

Vacation Checklist


  • Here is a summarized version of the instructions:
    1. Perform a water change and clean the tank a day or two before your departure.
    2. Check the tank temperature to ensure the heater is functioning properly.
    3. Set the tank lights on a timer for 6-8 hours per day.
    4. If your vacation is 1-2 weeks long, there is no need to worry about feeding your fish.
    5. If you will be away for a longer period or have a friend watching the tank, divide the daily food amount into Ziploc bags to prevent overfeeding.
    6. Leave clear instructions on how to top off the water if it becomes necessary during your absence.
    7. Provide a detailed checklist for your friend to follow when checking the tank, including looking for water leaks, monitoring temperature, checking for distressed or dead fish, and maintaining water levels.
    8. Consider meeting with your fish sitter before you leave to personally explain the instructions.
    9. If you’re leaving during summer or winter, ensure that your air conditioner or heater is set to a suitable temperature to allow the aquarium heater to maintain water temperature.

    By following these guidelines, you can prepare your tank for your absence and ensure the well-being of your fish while you enjoy your vacation.

What to do When You Return


Once you’re back home from your vacation, it’s natural to feel excited and eager to relax. However, before unpacking and settling in, it’s essential to check on your fish tank to ensure everything is in order. If you had a pet sitter caring for your tank, you may have received periodic updates during your absence. However, if you left the tank unattended, this will be your first opportunity to assess the condition of your fish and the tank itself. Take the following steps immediately to ensure everything is in good shape:

  1. Inspect your fish: Carefully observe each fish to ensure they appear healthy and active. Look for any signs of illness, injury, or abnormal behavior. If you notice any concerns, take appropriate action to address them.
  2. Check water parameters: Test the water quality by checking parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Ensure they are within the appropriate range for your fish species. If any levels are off, take corrective measures to restore a healthy balance.
  3. Assess equipment functionality: Examine all the equipment in your tank, including filters, heaters, air pumps, and lights. Ensure they are operating correctly and make any necessary adjustments or repairs.
  4. Perform a partial water change: If the water quality seems compromised or there is a buildup of waste, perform a partial water change to refresh the tank. Aim to replace about 20-30% of the water while ensuring the replacement water is properly treated.
  5. Clean the tank: If needed, clean the tank’s interior by gently scrubbing algae or debris off the glass. Avoid using harsh chemicals that could harm your fish. Clean or replace any filter media as necessary.
  6. Resume regular feeding: If you fasted your fish during your absence, it’s time to resume their regular feeding schedule. Feed them appropriate amounts and monitor their eating behavior.
  7. Maintain a regular maintenance routine: Reinstate your normal maintenance routine, which includes regular water changes, filter maintenance, and tank cleaning. This will help keep your tank healthy and thriving.




With proper preparation and care, your aquarium should be able to withstand your absence without any major issues. Most aquarium fish are resilient and can adapt to minor fluctuations in water chemistry and short periods without food. By following the checklist of tasks mentioned earlier, you increase the likelihood of finding your tank in good condition upon your return. So, as long as you take the necessary precautions before your vacation, you can enjoy your time away without worrying about coming back to a tank disaster.
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