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.)
WHAT IS HOUSE SITTING, EXACTLY?
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.
Housesitting tips from Women on the Road
From Kit P.: House sitting allows you to really see how it is to live local: grocery shopping, repairs, establishing relationships with your local suppliers. Here’s a tip for longer term stays: ask the host to recommend someone you can hire to relieve you if you want to get away for a couple of days.
From Susanne O.: We usually have a friend who house sits for us. I prefer to hand over personally to ensure they know where my special plants are.
YOUR HOUSESITTING BENEFITS
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.
“We’ve made life-long friends with 12 dogs, 10 cats, 4 chickens, and 20 humans (home-owners). It is by far our preferred method of travel and a very good way to meet interesting people and pets around the globe!”– Pete and Dalene Heck, Authors, How to Become a House-Sitter
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.
WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE DO YOU NEED FOR HOME SITTING?
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…
- Be a good housekeeper in your own home. If you know you’re messy and can’t even be bothered to sweep the cat hair under the carpet, it’s unlikely a homeowner will want you to watch their house. The homeowners should return to a house that’s as clean (if not cleaner!) than they left it.
- Have experience with pets. If you have your own, great. If you don’t own pets, have you ever watched them before? Maybe your neighbor’s dog was like a pet to you growing up? But if you have zero experience caring for animals, look for a housesit that doesn’t involve pet sitting.
- Be responsible. If you’re easily distracted, will you remember to lock doors and set the alarm?
- Have a green thumb. While this isn’t always necessary, many homeowners want a sitter who can keep their plants alive until they return. Are you the person who kills everything she tries to grow? Don’t apply for house sitting vacancies with heirloom roses that need constant love and attention. This summer, my region faced a severe hot dry spell and I had to water every day. Had you been housesitting for me, that tedious task would have unfortunately been yours.
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.
HOW TO FIND HOUSESITTER JOBS
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).
How to get started
Both sitters and homeowners pay a fee to join the site. This isn’t a free-for-all, and a lot of work goes into vetting.
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.
Explanation of trust badges
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.
Here’s some more useful information about housesitting
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.
WHY SHOULD I PAY FOR HOUSE SITTING OVERSEAS?
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.
Clarify your expectations and those of the homeowner ahead of time. Some have specific requirements that you may not find suitable, like the amount of time you are expected to spend at the house. Better yet, download this questionnaire and have the owner fill it out before you take possession of the house. (Thanks to Esther Jantzen for kindly providing this great resource!)
ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT COME WITH LUXURY HOUSE SITTING JOBS WORTH IT?
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.
- Furry friends. You might have to be a part-time pet sitter (and pets come with responsibilities). Many homeowners on Trusted Housesitters are looking for a professional housesitter specifically because they have pets and need to leave them with someone they can trust. This should be sorted right up front because your cat allergy will take a beating when you show up and find half a dozen felines roaming around the living room.
- Green thumb. You’ll be expected to water the plants. After all, that’s one of the reasons people want someone in their house.
- More green thumb. You might be asked to do a bit of gardening or weeding – again, in the spirit of keeping things from spiralling out of control. Like everything else, you need to negotiate these duties before you accept the assignment. Trusted Housesitters outlines the requirements clearly.
- Stay put. You’ll actually be expected to be at home. There may be a requirement to spend every night in the house or not be away more than a specified number of hours at a time (each homeowner will have her own rules). After all, that’s the whole point: to show the house is lived in. If you disappear for the weekend and leave the house unoccupied, what’s the point of a housesitter?
- Clerical duties. For long-term house sitting jobs, you might be asked to check the mail for invoices and other important papers (make sure those bills get paid if you don’t want the wifi cut off!)
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.
IS IT SAFE FOR WOMEN TO HOUSESIT?
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.
- Know your pets. If you’re not extremely accustomed to pets, don’t take a housesit with a large dog. I have two dogs and would only allow someone with extensive dog caring and even training experience to watch my boys – they’re volatile and could get anxious with strangers in the house.
- Be discreet. Apply the same rules you would when meeting someone for the first time. If you’re out, DON’T tell anyone you’re housesitting on your own. That tells them a) the owner is away and b) you’re alone. Say you’re staying with friends, so people will assume you already have a local support system.
- Do your research, Be very careful in choosing where you’re staying. That ‘rural delight’ might have you out in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country, with no help at hand should you need it. Or in a city, you could be somewhere dangerous without even knowing it. Once you’re in touch with an owner, find out which neighborhood the house is in before you sign up.
Sometimes things go ‘a little wrong’…
From Tamsin G. of Walking Without a Donkey: I ‘sat’ a house near Valencia, Spain, a perfect ranch of a place for a month in July – very hot! There were chickens, 2 dogs and pet fish inside and out, not to mention the huge spiders and a poor little hedgehog I discovered swimming for dear life in the swimming pool! On the first day I walked the dogs in the gorgeous Sierra Calderona, having been assured that leads were not necessary. They were the opposite of road trained. I had to flag cars down to stop them being run over and beg for help (which no-one offered) and so grab them, phone someone I had never met before, sit in a lay-by and wait to be rescued. Within 3 days I watched 2 goldfish die, and after cooking scrambled eggs and green beans for the aforementioned hedgehog (that’s what it said on the internet) it had scarpered. At least the chickens were still alive when the owners returned!! Unbelievably I have signed up again and this time they have 3 dogs and a …snake.
…or a little bit right
From Rochelle W.: My best housesitting gig was for over a year in a 13-room house with gardener and maid included in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico…
- Be prepared. Make sure you have all the phone numbers you need: the owners, the emergency (try to get a number where people speak English if you don’t speak the local language), and your nearest embassy or consulate emergency help line. Normally the house phone will be available for emergencies but if it’s not, use your cell. This is one instance in which you should forget about roaming costs and get the help you need. One tactic is to ask the owner to record a few emergency messages for you which you can use if you can’t find the right words.
- Make friends. Before you take the property, ask the owners for introductions to nearby neighbors or friends. You’ll get a better sense of being at home if you have neighbors you can call on if you ever need to.
- A reminder: this is someone’s actual home. A friend of mine had someone housesit 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!
WHICH ARE THE BEST LOCATIONS FOR HOUSESITTING?
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 if you’re not used to it, 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.
Housesitting jobs – Europe
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?
House sitters – America
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.
The rest of the world
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.
— Originally published on 15 July 2018