Updated 18 August 2018 — One of my greatest travel expenses is accommodation, and I love intriguing or unusual surroundings. Still, I'm not always willing to pay a high price for them.
Years ago I stayed on a houseboat on the Seine in Paris. An entire LUXURY houseboat, all mine. It doesn't get much better, and even a free room at the Ritz wouldn't have dragged me away.
It was one of my first experiences as a housesitter and it lived up to the promise it had formed in my mind. (Not even my motion sickness got in the way - the Seine was pretty calm that month.)
According to Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners and sitters, housesitting is “the fair exchange between sitters and owners,”
“Pet and travel-loving sitters offer to care for an owner’s home and pets for free, in exchange for an unforgettable experience in a new location.”
In a nutshell: you get to live in a cool house or apartment (or boat!) for free in exchange for keeping things ordered and safe, homeowners enjoy peace of mind and the reassurance that their home is cared for, and you get to travel the world without paying for accommodation.
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 and sometimes even a car) while they're away. You don't get paid, but you don't have to pay either.
If you're in the mood for affordable luxury, finding the right property is like hitting the jackpot.
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.
And if you're an owner in need of someone trustworthy to mind your home while you travel, finding the right person is priceless. Remember the movie Home Alone? No thank you.
There are many advantages to housesitting, and saving money is only one of them.
You'll live in a well-furnished house or appartment
Tired of creaky hotels or 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, high-speed wifi, a modern well-stocked kitchen and plumbing that works? If you've been traveling for any length of time, you'll appreciate the possibilities here.
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 ease that sense of displacement and make you feel warm and fuzzy for a bit.
A housesit is flexible
If you only have a few weeks, you'll still be able to find house sitting 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.
House sitting while traveling helps structure your trip
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.
You can bask in luxury
Sometimes, you can find luxury housesitting jobs that will take you straight into paradise – think penthouse overlooking Central Park or reconverted millhouse in France. Sauna. Swimming pool. Indoor gym. If you can’t afford all this for more than a few nights, long-term house sitting might be your ticket.
And visit unaffordable destinations
Fancy a month in Norway or Japan? Have you even looked at the price of "cheap" accommodations in these countries? Have a look at these housesitter jobs available in more than 150 countries.
Free rent in exchange for house sitting
That's right. House sitting jobs mean you don't pay rent - although, and it's only fair, you may have to pay for your expenses – 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.
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... get to know a place and sample what it's like to live like a local.
If you're mature (in mind if not in age) and want to slow down and enjoy a place for weeks or even months, you may have the makings of a housesitter.
You don’t need a degree to offer house sitting services, but to get the best house sitting jobs abroad, you should…
So it may not be a complete walk in the park but this will be YOUR home for the duration, and you'll be expected to treat it that way.
There are plenty of agencies that match housesitters to homes, but Trusted Housesitters is the one my housesitting friends use. It’s one of the best housesitting websites out there: it’s easy to use, has a huge database of housesitting opportunities (and pet sitters) and best of all, it has a verification system that protects both homeowners and sitters (but more on that later).
If you're ready to look for a housesitting assignment, keep reading. If you're on the fence and still need additional information, read more about a housesitter's responsibilities here.
Now back to your search. The first thing to do is join Trusted Housekeepers by clicking ”Join Now”. (If you’re both a traveler AND have a home and pets you’d like people to watch, you can become both a housesitter and post a “house sitter needed” listing).
Both sitters and homeowners pay a fee to join the site (more on that here).
You’ll want to create an extraordinary profile that explains exactly why someone should trust you with their home and pets. Include a clear picture of your face (without obstructions or other people in it that may cause confusion about which person you are) and then get a trust badge.
A trust badge is basically a rating that helps a homeowner assess your reliability. Trusted Housesitters has three levels: the higher your badge, the more likely a homeowner will choose you as a sitter.
Basic Level: You provide and confirm your email address, phone number, and provide at least one third-party reference such as an employer, landlord or someone you’ve previously sat for.
Standard Level: Includes all the Basic Level confirmations, as well as an identity check and document check that verify your name, address and date of birth and legitimacy of your documents like your driving licence and passport.
Enhanced Level: Includes all the Basic and Standard Level confirmations, as well as a criminal background check.
Now that you’ve set up your profile and have all your badges, you can begin looking through available home sitting jobs.
You can search by destination, type of pet you’re willing to watch, or simply a vague “duration” if you have flexible travel dates. Because of the size of this platform, it’s unlikely you’ll be the only person applying for a particular sit – so make sure your message to the homeowner stands out. Here are some tips to help you write the perfect application.
Remember that you are de facto applying for a job, and there are other candidates in competition. If you just joined, you may be going up against experienced sitters with plenty of positive reviews: you’ll need to shine to be the one.
All communications with homeowners on the Trusted Housesitters website take place on their secure chat system. Once you get a sitting assignment, you can find all the information you need in your dashboard - information about the homeowner’s house, expectations, and anything else you need to know.
At the end of the assignment, both you and the homeowners will be asked to leave reviews. This tries to keep both sides honest but as we know, online ratings aren't perfect. Still, if the sit is terrible, you can at least alert future sitters. But if you do a poor job taking care of the home, homeowners can warn others about you, so it works both ways. The better the reviews you have, the more likely you are to get better sits in more desirable areas.
You also get access to a 24/7 Vet Advice line, just in case something goes wrong with the in-home pet sitting, but isn’t enough of an emergency to rush a pet to the hospital.
For more details on how to become a house sitter, have a look at these guidelines, which are filled sound advice on how to make your housesitting experience a success.
You can absolutely find house sitting assignments without paying a membership fee: plenty of sites offer this. But I believe paying for membership has advantages.
People are more careful about things when money is involved, whether they are homeowners or sitters. A sitter will take an assignment more seriously if she’s had to pay a membership fee, just like a homeowner is more likely to respect an assignment she is paying for. Also, a homeowner will likely trust a sitter who had to pay a membership fee more than someone who can just log on for free.
That said, depending on the location of your housesit, your entire year’s membership fee could cost less than a single night in a local hotel – not to mention that with a house sit, you’ll have an entire home to enjoy.
Housesitting, while an ideal way to live well for very little, isn’t completely free.
Besides the membership fee, you will have a number of responsibilities.
Most of all, you're expected to keep the house safe. That can mean anything from closing the shutters and locking the gates at night to setting the alarm when you go out.
Of course this doesn’t mean you can never leave the house, but make sure you’re clear about how many hours a day you need to be on the premises. If you feel like the homeowner’s requirements won’t leave you any time to immerse yourself in travel or the local scene, search for another listing.
On the other hand, whenever you feel a streak of rebelliousness creeping in at the thought of a chore or two, just look at the infinity pool in the garden or the Eiffel Tower outside your window and ask yourself: how much would all this space and luxury cost you if you had to pay for it?
Only you can decide if the responsibilities are worth the free stay. Keep in mind that not every homeowner has extravagant expectations. Read their listings carefully and estimate how much time you’ll spend tending to chores. Do the math (what you’d pay for another form of accommodation divided by the hours of labor involved in house sitting) and decide if that hourly wage seems reasonable to you.
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.
We all have those bucket list destinations that are calling us. Housesitting abroad. Housesitting around the world. Has a bit of a ring to it, don't you think?
While a house is a house, certain things can vary from country to country when it comes to expectations and concerns, so here are some tips about housesitting around the world.
If a car is included in your housesit, remember that Australians (and New Zealanders) drive on the left of the road, as do the British. It’s daunting, but doable. Prepare yourself mentally by finding out about road rules and speed limits – and for changing gears with the 'other' hand.
As always, you should try and learn as much about the local culture as possible before travelling anywhere, but here are some helpful guidelines: if you go out to eat you’ll find no one tips, 000 is the number you’ll call in case of emergency, and beware that wifi can be spotty, especially if you’re far from the city. (If no wifi is a deal breaker for you – maybe because you work online – make sure to ask the homeowners before accepting a sit).
And don’t make the mistake of thinking Australia (although it’s technically an island) is a small place: if you’re thinking of house sitting Sydney homes and hopping right into house sitting Melbourne on the same trip, remember that it’s a 9+ hour drive between the two cities. Going to Perth? That’s a 36-hour drive!
But Australia has so much to see, and plenty of housesits in paradise. Here are just a few ideal locations: within view of the Sydney Opera House and its sail-inspired architecture; the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland; the sacred Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and that’s just a start.
All of Europe could fit into Australia, and chances are the distances are smaller so do give some consideration to housesitting Europe homes. You could go from house sitting Spain to house sitting France and end your month house sitting London.
While Europeans (with the exception of the UK and Ireland) drive on the right side of the road, you’ll find most cars are standards, not automatics. You can rent automatic vehicles but they’re far more expensive. Just be aware that if the homeowner gives you access to a car, you’ll need to be able to drive a standard. Depending on the European country, public transportation can range from abysmal (France) to superb (Switzerland).
Consider what you’ll do if you’re sitting a rural villa in wine country: ask homeowners if there’s someone nearby to translate, or brush up on how to say “the pipe burst” in Italian when the repairman comes by. Make sure your translation app is set and ready to go. If you’re in a metropolitan area, you’ll likely be able to find someone who speaks enough English to get by, but don’t count on it.
The best places to housesit in Europe? You’ll probably have your own list of must-sees but here are a few places that rate as top European destinations: Crete, where you can visit Elafoníssi Beach and play in the pink sand; the rolling Cotswolds in England – a stone cottage, perhaps; a lakeside home in Switzerland or Italy. Or why not the center of the city, say Madrid or Paris, or the art of Florence?
Whether you call the USA home or not, it has plenty of places to explore and an enormous variety of destinations. House sitting New York is immensely popular but a penthouse flat has an entirely different feel than a Georgian mansion. And that’s just New York.
There are also plenty of suburban homes seeking housesitters but these may be miles away from tourist attractions or national parks. With so many places to go, make sure you mind the season and the weather. Don’t end up in New England in the winter unless you want to get snowed in (which, perhaps, you may).
Here are some top spots to experience in the USA, based on seasons: spring in the Grand Canyon where you stay in or around Flagstaff, Arizona; summertime in San Francisco; fall in New England; or if you’re a winter sports fan, look for something in Colorado.
While there are hundreds of other worldwide destinations, the most popular are those where rent-accommodation prices are the highest.
Can't find a housesitting assignment where you want it? While housesitting is ideal, especially in expensive and sought-after destinations, don't despair: there are many other types of inexpensive accommodation.
So yes, housesitting is not perfect. But then, neither is a hotel, hostel or Airbnb. If I'm low on funds or yearning for that homey feeling, I can't think of a better way than by caring for someone's home.
If you have any advice to offer or comments to make, please do so below... thank you!