Dreaming of Travel While On Lockdown: An Update on House Sitting

By posted on July 12, 2020 9:54AM
Estaing, France

Amongst all the issues associated with the year 2020, one of the industries hit hardest is the tourism industry. If you’re like us, and love to travel, you may find yourself dreaming of where you’ll go when the pandemic has ended and it is safe to travel again. If you love the experience of new places, people and adventures, but Covid-19 has affected your finances, maybe even emptied that jar full of cash you’d set aside for travel, there are ways to make it happen for far less and still have an amazing, if not better, trip!

Several years back I did a story on house sitting and our experiences with it. I suggest reading it first as it explains the ins and outs and basics if you are new to the concept. Since then, we have done some amazing sits which brings us to this update.

We’ve now been both using house sitters and doing house sits ourselves for many years. As I mentioned in my first article, there are many sites that one can use to search for house sits and/or house sitters. However, I will say that by far the site I’ve most often used is trustedhousesitters.com. Obviously, at the moment things are out of whack due to the pandemic, but I did visit their site today and was pleased to find that for those who had already planned a house sit or to have someone come sit for them, THS has a special Q&A set up regarding Covid-19 and how to proceed in today’s uncertain world. Personally, we do not feel comfortable traveling at this point in time. However, after a perusal of the current house sitter wanted ads on THS, it is quite clear that there are still a lot of people in need of folks to come and watch over their home and pets. There are sits listed all over the world. From a house sit with seven cats, one dog, an infinity pool and sea view in Costa Rica to a dome house off grid, with one cat and a small veggie patch, perched above the Mondego river in Portugal — and so many places in between and beyond…it’s easy to let oneself get caught up in the dream of spending some time away. Especially after being stuck at home for so long.

If you are someone who has worked from home for a long time, or are amongst the lucky who work for a company who has reordered things due to the virus and are now allowing employees to work from home indefinitely — then as long as you have wi-fi you may be able to travel and work from other people’s homes. The more flexible you can be with your schedule, the more likely you will be to find a sit that is just right for you. Obviously, if you have school aged children your schedule may have to be arranged around the school year. But one reason we’ve had such luck is we don’t have to adhere to any particular schedule, as we homeschool our son so we can continue to travel.

Port Stephens, Australia
Port Stephens, Australia

In fact, just before the pandemic hit and things shut down we had spent several months on an amazing trip. It included a two week house sit about three hours outside of Sydney, Australia with two wonderful dogs. We arrived in Australia via a Trans-Pacific cruise from Hawaii that stopped in French Polynesia and New Zealand. We were on board Royal Caribbean’s ship, Ovation of the Seas and we absolutely loved it! But as you can imagine, a cruise that long does not come with a low price tag. And we very much wanted to spend some time in Australia before heading all the way home to Europe. Hence, we found a house sit that started about a week after we landed in Sydney. As we normally do when house sitting, we met the couple the night before their trip and had dinner in their home with them and got to know the dogs and their routine. The dogs were absolutely adorable and wonderful company. This is one hazard of house sitting. As an animal lover it is hard to say goodbye when it is time to leave! This particular sit found us in a gorgeous house right on a picturesque bay in which dolphins swam daily and one could walk straight out onto the sand from the house. Australia is known for its amazing birds, and each day felt like a treasure hunt. The sounds of Cockatiels and Kookaburras rang through the air, and we even managed to spot two Tawny Frogmouths! If you have never seen a Frogmouth, I highly recommend checking them out here. They are quite possibly one of the strangest birds I’ve ever seen, and I was raised by two Ornothologist. They are very hard to spot as, like koalas, they blend right in with the trees and can be still for ages. We also managed to see a koala and plenty of kangaroos.

Cuckaborough in Nelson Bay Australia
Cuckaborough in Nelson Bay Australia

Once again, we found house sitting to be an absolute joy! There is not the hurry of trying to see everything in one day and then rush off to the next place. One has time to feel what it is like to live there, to slow down and really get to know the area, the restaurants, the nicest walking trails, and the local attractions. And best of all, you can just be “home” all day (which we often did as my husband works on line) and enjoy the new scenery right from the windows.

University of Oxford
University of Oxford

Since the original article on house sitting, we’ve also done a five week house sit in Oxford, in which my son arrived ‘home’ one day to inform me he didn’t need to read about the Magna Carta as per his assignment for the day — because he’d just seen it! And I had the opportunity to sit and write in the very same pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to write! Amongst the many adventures we had during that house sit, we explored the river as we cruised down the university regatta course on one of their famous punt boats, and visited the famous nearby Blenheim Palace the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough.

Outside Cambridge
Outside Cambridge

We also did a sit outside of Cambridge in a lovely old farmhouse in which the vicar and his family who owned the home kept rescued chickens out back. We had never spent much time with chickens and couldn’t believe how much personality they had! There was one in particular who would waddle into the kitchen while I was fixing dinner and keep me company. The house was surrounded by rolling hills covered in tall grasses and trees and we could wander out directly from the house and take early evening walks. We went into Cambridge to visit the Cambridge University Botanical Garden started back in 1831 by Professor John Stevens Henslow, perhaps best known today for being one of the professors of naturalist Charles Darwin himself. And we took a drive out to see the enormously impressive Ely Cathedral which has its origins in AD 672, the present building dating back to 1083. Visiting places steeped in so much history, especially being from the relatively young country of the United States, is something I still find immense pleasure and wonder in. Back in Cambridge, I also had one of the worst haircuts of my life in the local mall — a hazard of not knowing an area! These are the sorts of experiences one looks back on with fondness. It was a wonderful sit and we still talk of it fondly as the “chicken sit”.

Brighton, England
Brighton, England

A couple years later we found ourselves back in England in a town called Southwick, just outside of Brighton. We had the pleasure of watching over two adorable Dachshunds. Southwick was a pleasant town with plenty of strolls to be had with the dogs right from the house. We used the train as well, and ventured the short way down to Brighton a lovely tourist town by the sea complete with a pier dating back to 1899 with carousels and food stalls. While there we wandered the North Laine area and meandered our way through vintage clothing stores and cafes. Another day we drove up to Devils Dyke. My internet research showed it was a major local tourist attraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it is still popular today and a great place to walk any of the myriad of trails or grab lunch at the pub. Wrapped in myth, and surrounded with gorgeous views of the South Downs, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit there. We also took a drive to see the Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs that drop dramatically down to the English Channel. Evenings found us snuggled up in the cozy cottage with the dogs. It was indeed another successful house sit.

Conques-en-Rouergue
Conques-en-Rouergue

Then there was the sit in the medieval town of Entraygues-surTruyère, in SW France, where the Lot and Truyere Rivers meet. We found our selves in a 16th century guesthouse, which the owners closed while they were away leaving us behind to watch over their three cats and dog. We took daily walks with their sweet dog down to the river, ate fresh baguettes and toured the surrounding countryside. While there we found Les Jardins des Betes, or The Garden of the beasts, a Zoological Park and Amusement Park near Rodez in Aveyron. Here, we found a strange but memorable exhibit. The Village Automata, a show designed to help you discover the history of Aveyron villages reconstituted in miniatures, using sounds and lights and a narrator. As per their website, “The houses are made of local stone and hundreds of figurines and automata retrace the trades of long ago.” Then where was the worlds best hamburger day. The owners of the house sit we were doing had introduced us to one of their friends and he offered to take us up to the nearby town of Aurillac and show us around. I believe the burger I had that day was the best I’ve ever had! Of course, that area is known for it’s meat and incredible sauces, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. He also took us to a thrift store as I love searching for treasures and, much to my husbands chagrin, I found a chandelier that ended up costing more to ship home than it did to buy it in the first place. It was three weeks well spent, and yet another example of why we love to housesit.

The downside of travel is having to leave our own dogs and home behind. For as many house sits as we’ve done, we’ve had just as many sitters watch our home and animals for us. I am happy to report that other than a few mis-haps here and there, we’ve generally had good luck with the people we’ve chosen to watch our dogs and home and have remained friends with quite a few.

Harry on Day Bed
Harry on Day Bed

With all the great things about house sitting, there is one thing that I feel is a must to understand when starting out. It is to make sure you are clear from the beginning about just exactly what is needed to make your pets feel safe and happy while you are away. In our case, we have two dogs. They are approx. fifteen pounds each and they sleep on the bed with us every night. This may seem completely normal to some, whilst others wouldn’t dream of having the dogs on the bed with them. Make sure you are on the same page with the people you entrust your furry family and home to. We had sitters once who thought that having the dogs sleep on the bed was more of a “suggestion” and it made for an awful night for all parties involved. We spoke on the phone and from that night forward they had the dogs on the bed with them and all was well! They ended up being great sitters and the dogs fell in love with them.

Just remember, it is very important for your peace of mind that you are completely up front about what is expected of your house sitters while you are away and that they are in agreement with those expectations. It is very hard, if not impossible, to enjoy a vacation if you are constantly concerned about the welfare of your much loved animals back at home. And, it is equally important that you be upfront for the house sitters sake as well. We have arrived to find ourselves in situations that were, how do you say it, not ‘as advertised’. Now, we have been lucky overall, and have managed to overcome any short comings on details that were withheld or perhaps fudged a little bit, but it really is not fair to your house sitters to not be 100% truthful about your home and/or pet care needs. Now, I don’t want to scare you, for as I mentioned we have not had anything we have not been able to overcome, but things definitely run more smoothly when everyone knows what is expected. This makes for happy owners, happy sitters and happy animals.

Even during the craziness that the year 2020 has turned out to be, there are still folks all over the world who are looking for someone to watch over their home and animals. House sitting is an excellent opportunity for people to come together without money changing hands, in a win-win situation. The house sitter has the amazing opportunity to spend time in a home environment instead of a hotel and lower the cost of their trip. While the owners get to lower their cost by not having to pay expensive boarding fees. And the animals are less stressed when they can stay home in their own environment and maintain their regular routines. When you are ready to plan your next travel adventure, I highly recommend giving house sitting a go!

Happy Travels & Be Safe!

Avatar for Hollin Stafford

Hollin holds her degree in Sociology and was a flight attendant for United Airlines up until the time she had her son. She, her husband and son are now happily living with their three dogs in Portugal. Hollin home-schools so they can explore the globe, and teach through experience. When not writing about travel, Hollin’s focus is on writing fiction. Her work has received rave reviews from critically acclaimed agents and editors. She has a unique voice embodied through rich...read more

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