A housesitter - or house sitter, as they say in Britain - is someone who cares for someone else's house (and pets and garden and pool) while they're away. You don't get paid, but you don't have to pay either.
If you're traveling and want to stay in one place for a while, housesitting is the ideal way to do it, especially if you're a woman on your own.
Finding someone trustworthy to mind your home while you travel is priceless. Remember the movie Home Alone? Many people don't want that to happen to their homes while they're away.
So if you're mature (at least in mind if not in age) and want to live like a local for weeks or even months, you may have the makings of a housesitter.
"House-sitting is essentially a reciprocal exchange of services that is mutually beneficial for homeowner and house-sitter," according to Dalene and Pete Heck, authors of How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World, the bible for potential housesitters everywhere.
According to the Hecks, this is the best way to travel if you're planning on staying in one place any length of time.
You'll live in a well-furnished house or appartment
Tired of cheap hotels and loud hostels? They do have their charm (it fades quickly) and they may well be your mainstay. But who doesn't dream of a powerful hot shower, a well-stocked kitchen and plumbing that works? If you've been traveling for any length of time, you'll appreciate the possibilities here.
The roof over your head is free
That's right. As a housesitter you don't pay rent - although, and it's only fair, you do pay for your expenses - your your phone calls for example, and depending on the housesitting agreement and the length of your stay, you may have to pay for some utilities as well. It'll still cost far less than a nightly room, and you can't begin to compare the surroundings.
You'll be living in a real home
There's a lot to be said for living in an actual home. If you're traveling solo you'll know it can get lonely at times, especially if you're traveling long term. Caring for someone's pets and garden for a while can help shed that feeling of displacement and make you feel warm and fuzzy for a bit.
You can enjoy the unaffordable
Some housesitting assignments will take you straight into the lap of luxury - think penthouse over Central Park or reconverted millhouse in France. Sauna. Swimming pool. Indoor gym. You might be able to afford all this for a a night or two on your own but - weeks or months? Probably not.
And visit unaffordable destinations
Fancy a month in Norway or Japan? Have you even looked at the price of the cheapest possible accommodations in these countries?
Housesits are flexible
If you only have a few weeks, you'll still be able to find housesitting opportunities that are relatively short-term. But if you need a place for several months, you'll have your pick of the lot if you go about it right.
They give your travels some structure
You may want to break up a long trip into chunks. Much as you may like open-ended travel, it could be reassuring to have a few firm housesitting assignments along the way, something to aim for while you're on the road.
And there are more benefits
You can road-test becoming an expat... save on the cost of food... travel the world more slowly... enjoy a staycation... experience a change of scenery
This is where Dalene and Pete's book comes in. They take a lot of the mystery out of housesitting by providing you with clear instructions on what to do, when and how. Here are some of the issues they tackle:
Not everyone is cut out to be a housesitter, and homeowners can be quite particular about who they choose so make sure you start your search well in advance. You'll get a better pick of houses and dates because housesitting opportunities are often assigned on a first-come first-served basis. Trusted Housesitters is an agency several of my housesitting friends recommend.
How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World also contains extensive information on what homeowners look for in a housesitter, as well as checklists to get you started on your housesitting job - just to make sure you start off on the right foot.
Sounds good so far? It should but, like anything that seems too good to be true, you DO have some responsibilities when you move into someone else's house.
Of course, most of all you're expected to keep the house safe. That can mean anything from closing the shutters and locking the gates when you leave to setting the alarm.
Just ask yourself, though: how much would all this space and luxury cost you if you had to pay for it??
This is a key question. Like anything else related to travel, there is no broad, homogenous answer. Housesitting is as safe as being at home or in a hotel. BUT - there are certain precautions to take.
A final piece of advice: remember this is someone's actual home. A friend of mine had a housesitter recently who left wine stains everywhere, broke things - and didn't even have the courtesy to point any of this out when my friend came home. Don't be one of those!
So yes, housesitting is not perfect. But then, neither is an expensive hotel or a loud hostel. If I'm low on funds and would like to stay somewhere for a while and get to know a place deeply, I can't think of a better way to do it.
If you have any advice to offer or comments to make, please do so below... thank you!