HOUSE SITTING: The Budget Traveler’s Secret Weapon for Luxurious Getaways

In 2017, we enjoyed 111 nights of free accommodation while traveling to 6 countries because of an incredible opportunity known as house and pet sitting. Here’s our story, and how you can do it too!

Sign up for your house and pet sitting experience HERE with Trusted House Sitters!

It’s 10:30 in the morning. I’m sitting on the balcony of our 2-bedroom flat just a block from the water. For breakfast, I enjoyed groceries purchased from the local market, croissants from the bakery, and some freshly brewed tea.

Amazingly, my breakfast cost more than the entire 2 weeks in this lovely apartment. In fact, just one croissant cost more!

How is that possible? Well, the apartment is free.

If you want to get technical, our accommodation comes with a price; but that price is’t monetary. We are in the midst of traveling Europe, using house sitting as our primary means of accommodation.

What is house sitting?

In the past 10 years, a number of trends have come together that have substantially lowered the threshold of income and/or savings needed to travel on an extended or more frequent basis.

In the past 10 years, a number of trends have come together that have substantially lowered the threshold of income and/or savings needed to travel on an extended or more frequent basis.

Hostels have gained popularity and improved in quality. Opportunities such as HomeStays, where you can volunteer on a working farm in exchange for a bed and meals, have grown in popularity. And hotel points — of which I OBVIOUSLY am a huge fan — have become much easier to collect.

But as I see it, if you have some flexibility with regards to your travel arrangements (where you’re willing to go, when you can be available, and how long you can stay), nothing beats house sitting (short of having a big wad of cash).

House sitting is a trade of services in which one party (the house sitter) receives a place to stay in exchange for looking after the interests of another party (the homeowner) while he or she is away. This typically includes walking, feeding, and caring for pets; watering plants and tending to gardens; and ensuring that the home or apartment is clean, well-maintained, and looked after.

Responsibilities for a house sitter can vary from hardly any at all to running small farms and B&B’s in the owner’s absence.

What makes house sitting so appealing?

As I eluded to already, house sitting fits our style of travel and our personalities really well. We typically settle down at a house sit for a few weeks. Then, just as we are about to get antsy and are ready to go explore a new place, we move on, either taking some time to play “traveler” for a bit, or by heading directly to our next house sit.

On top of being able to dictate our travel “pace,” here are a few more reasons why house-sitting is a perfect fit for us (and might just be a perfect fit for you, too):

Traveling constantly can be tiring, stressful, expensive, and (insert adjective here)

Though we are away from home and moving frequently, we are not on an extended vacation. We have lives that matter to us, and that we wish to (need to) maintain. We work, invest in relationships both new and old, take care of ourselves to the best of our abilities, and pursue meaningful experiences with each other. This can all be very hard to balance when we are constantly on the go.

So one of the very best benefits of house sitting is that it allows us (and forces us) to slow down, settle into a routine, and live a “normal” life, catching up on whatever we might have unintentionally neglected during our bouts of frequent travel

Hotel/Hostel or Home/Apartment

The difference is probably obvious, but there’s just nothing like having a place to call home, EVEN WHEN it’s someone else’s home. House sitting allows us to have a place to ourselves and to live in it (mostly) as if it’s our own. Being on the go frequently, the “home-i-ness” of a place really starts to matter. It can make or break our enjoyment (and our sanity).

Having a kitchen

This is seriously a MAJOR plus! It’s so important that even when we’re traveling in between house sits we look for places with kitchen access, or at least a refrigerator we can use.

What does a kitchen mean to us? Well, for starters, we save money. If we don’t have to eat out all the time, it significantly decreases our food costs. Second, we can eat fresh, healthy food. I’m sure many of you have had the experience of eating out for a week straight on vacation and starting to feel like your insides are cursing you. With a kitchen, we can (thankfully) avoid this.

Third, when we’re eating healthy and cost-effectively, we feel less guilty about the times when we do splurge, and better enjoy those experiences. After all, how much fun is a creme brûlée when you’re feeling broke and bloated?

Building relationships (vs merely meeting people)

We both love meeting new people and learning from their varying perspectives and experiences. But what we REALLY crave is community. When we move around a lot, we get to meet lots of great people; but lack the connection we desire. With house sitting, we often are able to visit a local church, return for multiple weeks, see familiar faces, and establish friendships based on more than the typical, superficial traveler questions.

Enjoying the companionship of a pet without the long-term commitment of actually having a pet

Traveling like we do would be pretty difficult with a dog or cat (or snake?). But who doesn’t love those furry critters.

House sitting gives us the opportunity to play “pet-owner” for a little while, without the long-term commitment of factoring a pet into our every decision. It’s kinda like being a grandparent — we get to spoil the grand-dog while mom and dad are away, and give mom and dad a much needed break!

Finding a compromise between a backpacker and a luxury traveler

We are budget travelers. We take advantage of strategies and opportunities that enable us to travel for pennies-on-the-dollar compared to conventional approaches. However, there are certain compromises we just aren’t willing to make.

Showers are non-negotiable. Private rooms are essential. We can do shared bathrooms for a while; but after a few days of fighting for “poop-time” it just gets old. We certainly don’t need fancy accommodations, and have enjoyed MANY nights renting a room in someone else’s home or apartment; but nothing compares to our own place.

It just makes us feel — dare I say it?!normal!

How to find a House Sit or Pet Sit

Online. Kind of like e-Harmony but for house sitting.

Just kidding…kinda.

But not about the online part–we connect with homeowners using a website called Trusted House Sitters (THS, for short). For just $129/year, we are members of a community of 50,000+ people in over 140 countries. Other websites exist that perform a similar service; but for the combination of cost, user-friendly platform, and international coverage, THS is hard to beat.

If you’re interested in finding out more about THS, use THIS LINK. If you decide to sign up, we’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you. As always, we only recommend products and services we believe to be of much greater value than the cost you’ll pay. Thanks in advance for joining through us!

Homeowners are willing to trust strangers they met online?

Why do you ask it like that? Don’t you trust us?

Okay, I see your point. It’s one thing to be Facebook friends with someone you’ve never met in the real world, or to buy a product online; but leaving your house and pet(s) to a total stranger can be a little un-nerving. That’s where this process really shines:

  • We created a profile (our resume, of sorts) which includes background info, pictures, and a video introduction.
  • Then there’s our list of references, which currently includes over 55 people vouching for our character, reliability and responsibility. 5 of those references are from THS members we’ve sat for already.
  • On top of that, we’ve had Skype or Facetime conversations with each homeowner prior to being selected for the “job” (basically, an interview).
  • Though it’s an optional setting, we elected to obtain copies of our FBI background checks to make available in the event that a homeowner might request them.

So as we see it, the vetting process is probably better and more in depth than your last job interview (which might or might not be saying much depending upon your experiences!).

Why doesn’t the homeowner just ask a neighbor or friend?

This question gets asked often; and really, the answers are quite practical.

First, it’s important to understand the mind of a homeowner who uses this website:

Most are pet owners who treat their pets very well and have built consistent routines for their animals. This includes feedings at specific times every day, multiple walks, and constant companionship. Many have adopted animals out of rough conditions and don’t want their pet(s) to wonder if they are being abandoned once again. So having someone who can literally step in and continue the routines the pet already knows is a major benefit (and as for boarding the pets while they are away, most would never, ever consider this).

Second, many homeowners who use the site are travelers themselves–and some are even sitters from time to time. A good number travel frequently and/or for extended periods of time, and are not comfortable asking a neighbor or family member to take on such a burden/commitment. After all, their expectations often require someone to be continually present or to drop in multiple times every day, a time commitment and responsibility that really isn’t fair to ask anyone to do for free.

So the beauty of this website is that it provides a win-win exchange. Travelers get to enjoy all the benefits I’ve already mentioned, while homeowners can rely on the consistent and loving care for their pets and home that they so desire — at no cost to them!

As a side note, every homeowner we’ve spoken with has had positive results nearly across the board using this website. Ironically, a few have told us their only bad experiences have come from paying for a house sitter from their area or asking a neighbor or friend. Go figure!

Whats a typical house sit actually like?

We typically arrive a day or two before the homeowner leaves. During this time we meet the owners, learn the animals’ routines, gain a working knowledge of the home, and become familiar with the neighborhood. This time ensures a smooth transition and eases the minds of both parties.

While the homeowner is away, we do for them what they typically would be doing if they were still at home: care for the animals, clean the house, gather the mail, tend to the garden, etc. But the wonderful part is that while the responsibilities are important, they are not time consuming.

So during the rest of the time we work, explore the area, go on hikes, and act like travelers. We also exercise, call friends and family back home, and do many of the things we would be doing if we WEREN’T traveling. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that routines are important.

When the homeowners return, we typically stay for another day, allowing for another smooth transition. We continue to care for the pets and look after the house while they unpack, recover from jet lag, and prepare to settle back into their lives. We’ve also gotten into a habit of having meals prepared for them upon their return, which we’ve discovered is MUCH appreciated and exceeds their expectations (so if you find yourself in a house sit, plan a meal for when the homeowner returns — you will score major brownie points).

The next day, it’s on to a new location for us!

What type of person is this for?

House sitting is NOT for everyone. If you’re looking to be a free-loader and offer nothing of value in return, please don’t consider this. Otherwise, house sitting IS great for those who:

  • Values the benefits mentioned above
  • On a budget but desires atypical travel accommodations
  • Can be somewhat flexible regarding travel dates, locations, and length of stays
  • Is looking to travel for a fairly extended period of time, possibly to include multiple house sits
  • Wants to experience a place as a local vs a passerby
  • Is responsible, reliable, and adaptable
  • Loves animals and people (and gardens)
  • Wants to have incredible experiences they will never forget!

What else should I know about house and pet sitting?

Typical House Sitter: There are house sitters of every age, type, and stage of life: singles, married couples, and families; young, old, and everywhere in between; retirees and those who work online; gay and straight. Basically, anyone who meets the criteria listed above is a great candidate for house sitting.

Duration and Pets: House sits are available for a duration of one weekend up to a year or longer. Once in a while, no pets are involved; while at other times you could find yourself looking after 10 goats, 5 cows, 7 dogs, 4 cats, 2 birds, 3 guinea pigs, etc.

Locations: Some house sits are located in the heart of the city with great access to public transportation; others are truly out in the country and inaccessible except by car.

Homeowner Personality: Many homeowners are incredibly loose and easy-going; but once in a while you might find one who has impossible-to-meet expectations. You can generally discern this in your Skype conversation. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve had nothing but great experiences with homeowners.

Costs: If long-term (more than a month), you might find that some homeowners ask you to pay for utilities. If you think that’s fair, no problem; if not, everything is negotiable

Check-ins: Some homeowners will want a frequent check-in to know that things are okay; others will want to truly get off the grid. Ask their preferences; and regardless, send them a picture of their favorite fur-ball once in a while.

You can house sit too!

By now, you probably have a good idea of whether or not this is something you would enjoy. If so, I encourage you to head over to Trusted House Sitters and sign up to start the process! As always, if you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to send us a message or ask them in the comments. Happy Sitting!

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