You've been working hard all year long and it's finally time for that well deserved vacation. Ah, just to think about it gives me the vacation fever. The time is drawing near and you suddenly realize - what the heck am I going to do about the fish? Who's going to feed the fish? What do I need to do to get my fish tank ready before I leave on my trip? There are several things to keep in mind and we'll try to help you get things in order before you leave so you can have a stress free and relaxing vacation not worrying about your fish and your aquarium!
What about feeding the fish?
Fish can go for several weeks without food. Some believe they can go for 3 or more weeks even. Yes, this is true believe it or not and your fish will be fine while you're away. Your tank may even look cleaner when you get home from vacation since there should be less wastes in the water from the lack of fish food entering the aquarium and less wastes being produced from fish eating that fish food.
If you just can't stand the thought of your fish not eating for the amount of time you'll be gone, invest in an automatic fish feeder. These fish food dispensers are relatively inexpensive and they can actually be put into full time use, even when you are at home. You can fill them with a mix of tropical fish flakes (or other flake or pellet foods, depending on the fish you keep) and it should be several weeks before you need to refill the food container. Most are fully adjustable (you can release as little or as much food as allowed), operate on batteries and will easily attach to the top of the tank.
Another option is to use one of those plastic pill boxes that are composed of small boxes corresponding to the day of the week. You put in the amount of food that day's container that you'd like for your friend, family member or neighbor to give to your fish and then you don't have to worry about them overfeeding and polluting the aquarium water.
Try to do a partial water change right before you leave for vacation. This accomplishes a couple of things. The fish will get some good clean water, which should lower their stress levels and should help keep them healthy in your absence. This also gets the water level topped off so you may not have to worry about a low water level in the tank, but it depends on the rate of evaporation of course.
Rinse out the aquarium filter media, or replace half of it. A clogged filter shouldn't pose a problem since many filters (especially power filters) have an alternate path for the water to return to the tank should the filter become clogged.
You may be concerned about what to do with the aquarium lighting while you're gone. Should I leave it on or leave it off? There is a very simple solution here... The aquarium lighting can easily be turned on and off automatically using an aquarium light timer. If you're keeping freshwater plants or saltwater corals in a reef tank or macro algae in your refugium, you really should have a light timer anyway so that your plants and corals receive adequate amounts of aquarium light.
We try to go on vacation at least once a year (if we're lucky) and we have a neighbor come over several times a day to let our dog out. They have a dog too and we do this favor for each other when we go out of town. It really is extremely beneficial to have a good neighbor you can trust. While they are letting the dog out, I just ask them to check out the aquariums to make sure nothing is leaking and that nothing looks out of the ordinary. I have asked them to rinse out a protein skimmer collection cup before while I was away. If you've never seen a full cup of skimmer gunk, it can be very dark colored, yucky and smelly. They did it for me. I guess I really do have some good neighbors.
Make sure you give the fish sitter a phone number to reach you at while on vacation just in case of an emergency with your fish or tank. A leak could develop, the heater could stick in the on position leading to a rise in temperature, the automatic water top off system could stick in the on position, etc. Remember Murphy's law here - "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at the worst possible time". Write down a small list of tasks you'd like for them to do. Keep it short and don't put anything that is not absolutely essential. Here is a sample list of things you could ask your fish sitter to take care of:
* Feed the fish daily from that day's slot in the pill box - just that amount and no more please.
* Look at the temperature of the tank and if it's above 84 degrees F, call me.
* Quickly look around the base of the tank and on the floor in the immediate vicinity and inspect for leaking tank water.
* Dump out the contents of the protein skimmer collection cup (saltwater tanks only).
* Thank you for doing this for me while I'm on vacation - I really appreciate it!
Invite the fish sitter over a day or two before you leave and walk them through your list. Show them exactly how to do the various tasks. Don't expect them to know what a protein skimmer collection is or looks like! Show them exactly how to put the food in the water and exactly how to empty the collection cup, etc.
What if I don't have someone to come over?
If you're only going to be away for a week, your fish should be fine without food as mentioned above. If you have a saltwater aquarium you may need to adjust the skimmer collection cup so that it doesn't collect as much since you won't be there to empty it. If you're going to be away for a longer period of time, than say two weeks, you will be really risking it not having someone come over. This is from a water evaporation and feeding standpoint. Although you're fish should be ok from a food standpoint, your tank water may not be in the best shape after two weeks without your care.
So, plan ahead, take proper pre-cautions and show the fish sitter exactly what needs to be done and rest easy knowing that your fish will be fine. Have fun on vacation and we'll see you when you get back!