We love to travel. We spent three months abroad last year, and went to Hawaii twice, Disneyworld in Florida for the food and wine fest, and then to Disneyland in California for our annual mid December trip to see friends and family and go to the Happiest Place on Earth.
So, when we realized that due to the economy and changes in our cash flow we wouldn’t be able to travel this year, we decided to take it in stride and make the most of home. This was not necessarily an issue as we live in probably one of the most beautiful regions in the world with three happy dogs, two guniea pigs…oh and my husband’s family. 🙂 Seriously, we have a wonderful, though small, extended family who we enjoy spending time with, some truly great friends, and a lovely home on 3 1/2 acres….so no complaints!
Home Sweet Home-
However…once a lover of travel, always a lover of travel. So, though we were happy at home, there was this nagging voice whispering something along the lines of…”but what about your dreams of living abroad someday? Don’t you need to travel to figure out where that someday might take place? What about Italy and the FOOD, don’t you want to run back there as soon as possible? What if….”
As one knows, the voice of our hearts is a powerful one. It has the ability to drown out the “buts” (“but we don’t have the money…”) and the “What ifs” (“what if we go and there’s an outbreak of some nasty virus and we’re stuck?”)…all the practical talk and yes even the fears have a way of slinking off, when you picture yourself riding on a boat down the Seine through Paris, or walking down a cobbled street, fresh baguette in hand, the sound of a foreign language floating about.
There’s a certain sort of magic in finding oneself free’d of their everyday surroundings even if not free of work and parenting responsibilities. My husband still has to work (we are just extremely lucky he can do it from anywhere there’s a wifi signal). And yes, it means I have to take on the role of teacher and make sure our child’s education needs are met, as well as his social needs.
But, when I look around at the delightful cafe where my son is busy at work in his workbook, my husband is working on his computer, and I’m writing, all whilst sipping a cafe au lait and looking over a landscape new to our eyes, I am grateful. Grateful we found a way to keep our traveling days alive! How you ask? (I sound like an informercial…”wait there’s more!”) The answer was in front of us all along…
We have had people house sit for us on the many occasions we have been away, some experiences better than others, but all on the positive side. Why hadn’t we thought of doing the same thing? We knew what we wanted from our house sitters, we’d be great at providing that for others!
First House Sit
Tigres- The kitty we watched over at our first ever house sit in Villeneuve Sur Yonne, Burgundy, France-
But, wait, what exactly is housesitting? And how does it work? Well, that’s a tricky one. It varies.
Basically, once you have confirmed a sit and made arrangements on how and when you will arrive, you are committed to watching over a person’s pets and home as if they/it were your own while they are away. This can be anywhere from one night to a year, to multiple years. It can also end up being an annual event, as many people (such as ourselves) who love to travel prefer to use the same sitters once they find someone whom they like and trust.
It is a good thing for the animals as well, as they can become familiar with the sitter and therefore less anxious about change. Of course, it is not always possible for the sitter to return to the same place. I have found this isn’t an issue for most, so don’t worry if you are only looking to go places once.
Mainly, homeowners are just happy to find a trustworthy person they can feel happy about leaving their furry (or feathery, or leathery, or…?) family with. They have the peace of mind of knowing that their animals don’t have to be kenneled, and that the house will be lived in, thus the chance of a break-in or other problem is lessened greatly. Plus, and this is a biggy…they SAVE TONS OF MONEY. For example, when we pay for a professional petsitter to stay at our house, it costs 50.00 a day. Add that to your travel expenses and things get pricy real quick.
The advantage for you. the house sitter? Well, as mentioned above there’s the HUGE advantage of accommodation being FREE! It’s a relief not having to pay high prices for hotels, resorts, b&b’s or whatever. AND, fyi, some of the houses you could find yourself in have a resort-style feel.
Maybe no masseuse but, come on, a private pool in a house with a view of the sea ain’t all that bad. Even when you find yourself in a small home, apartment, or similar, there are great perks. I myself, like the feel of small and cozy while traveling abroad!
Through house sitting, not only are you saving money, but you have the experience of actually living in a place. Oftentimes the owners will want you to arrive a day ahead, so they can go over the various quirks, or alarm systems, or whatever the house has to offer.
Also, it allows them to see how you interact with their animals and the chance to give you the lo-down on the routine, so that when they go, you both are confident that the sitter knows what the animals need and expect. Keeping the animals on their normal routine will be better for them, as well as you, as it will lessen any separation anxiety or other issues they might have with their “parents” being away.
A few of our happy customers–
Another wonderful aspect of house sitting that we’ve enjoyed immensely, is getting to know the owners themselves. Many times, you become friends (if not bosom buddies, at least Facebook friends!).
The experience of sitting down and having a meal with a family in their own home, and barely being able to speak each other’s language is great. It is amazing how much you can communicate and understand even with the language barrier…and of course, because of the language barrier lots of laughter can ensue!
In the case of house sitting for people who do speak your language, sharing a meal together affords you the opportunity to learn more about their culture, the best restaurants in the area, and the neighborhood gossip. We have been fortunate, in that we have even been driven to the local stores for a grocery/stock up trip, picked up/dropped off at the ferry terminal/train station of arrival, etc. We have also been offered the use of the owners’ car (always make sure you have your international drivers license while traveling abroad, even if not planning on driving- and make sure they add you to their insurance).
The sweet Teague (UK)- Caution you may get attached! I miss this guy. 🙁
We have even been given the offer to stay longer after the owners’ return, if need be in between sits, or in order to accommodate train times, etc. Of course, every sit is different. So, when deciding to take a house sitting job, make sure you ask ahead of time if you will need to borrow a car, or if the train is close, or if there’s a possibility of overlapping your time with them there if it is needed. I will post a separate question checklist. It helps immensely if you are prepared.
Vanille (vanilla)- Paris suburb, France
Not all house sits have animals involved. There are those that don’t, but in the house sitting world, it definitely helps if you’re an animal lover! Your options expand exponentially if you don’t have issues such as allergies or a fear of dogs, etc…BUT if you do, don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of options out there if you are willing to be patient.
On the other side of the coin, if you are an animal lover and feel confident in caring for them…WOW…there are all sorts of scenarios available out there. We’ve seen ads like, “charming castle with chickens” to “a working farm with a handful of alpacas, a donkey, three horses, a duck, five dogs, 18 cats (some indoor, some not) and a turtle.” Haha, yes I am serious. However, the majority of sits advertised are those looking for someone to look after their cat or dog. One or two animals seem to be the norm.
What about opportunities for families traveling with kids? There are a lot! That was one of my fears when we embarked on this adventure…will we be able to find house sits where it’s o.k. to have a kiddo with you? The answer…a definitive YES! In fact, on trustedhousesitters.com (more below) you can check the box that say’s “suitable for kids” and only listings in which the home owner says its o.k. come up, and there are a lot of them!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle-
This was not a house sit- it was a perk of doing one nearby! Disneyland Paris. 🙂
So…Where do you begin? If you’re me (in your case you won’t have to since I’m putting the info right here for you) :)…GOOGLE!
Within a few clicks of the keyboard, I managed to find some great sites that match house sitters with prospective house sits. I’ll lay them out here and explain the sort of experience we’ve had with each in the past two months I’ve been using them.
1) First, I looked at housecarers.com. This was because it was the site we use to find house sitters for our home and animals.
What to know (based on my experience)…housecarers.com is focused mainly on the U.S. If you want to list your house (for while you’re away house sitting:) it’s FREE. In our case, I had so many applicants that I had to take the free ad down in one day as we live in a very desirable town.
I was surprised, as we have quite the menagerie with a lab, two havanese, two guinea pigs, fish and three and a half acres. I get the impression, that like in real estate, it’s LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! And, not every response we got came from within the United States. I heard from as far away as a couple housesitting in Ireland (hmm…maybe that should have been my first clue that it’s a good way to travel!).
The unfortunate thing is there is a fee to list an ad for being a house sitter. And, no, you can’t get away with simply perusing the house sitting opportunities and contacting them, you have to be a registered user to make contact. The fee is $50.00 a year for membership. You can upload your profile, i.e. pictures, references, information about yourself that would be relevant to housesitting and why they should pick you!
Now, as I mentioned, I haven’t used housecarers as a sitter, but I have spent a lot of time searching their listings and there are some great opportunities here. We just haven’t found any that match up with our timing/needs.
2) My personal favorite site is trustedhousesitters.com. I find them to be the most user friendly and it includes a lot of listings throughout Europe, Austrailia and New Zealand…though it seems to be a bit light in the U.S. market. So, if you’re looking for something in the States, definitely keep an eye on the housecarers site as well. We joined after searching for coupons. This brought the cost down significantly. Without a coupon the prices are:
If all goes well on your sit and your hosts don’t mind, you can send them a request directly from trustedhousesitters.com for a review. It only takes them a minute and will show up on your profile so other folks looking for sitters can see them. This is an important step! It will help give the people you are contacting regarding house sitting peace of mind, after all you are going to be looking after their animals and all of their belongings! The reviews rate you on cleanliness, pet care, organization, etc..
3) Mindmyhouse.com Well, this one’s tricky. I don’t know how to explain this, but I find the ads on this site to be a bit odd at times. Unlike the other sites, it seems that more of these are looking for people who want to work on their property..not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a bit different than the others. Not to say there aren’t great opportunities here. I check the list, just like the others, every day.
4) The lesser known (because it just launched a few months ago) is nomador.com. I really like this site, though I don’t like the user interface as much as Trustedhousesitters. For example, you can’t just click a box that says “current opportunities only”…you have to put in dates, otherwise it goes back into those that are already expired or have found house sits.
We found two of our sits through this site. The drawback is that because it is so new there are far fewer opportunities listed. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out! Like I said, we obtained two lovely sits in France through this site and have made contacts with folks for future possibilities.
Nomador offers various options…for example, the Discovery Option is FREE and gives you unlimited access to basic website functionalities, without commitment and free of charge. However, their Confidence Option offers more (go to their site and you can see the two options lined up side by side for comparison).
I had every intention of just using the free option, but we had a potential house sit host ask that we pay for the Confidence Option, as it provides more piece of mind for the home owner…so, we did, only to have that sit fall through due to his changing his mind about his dates. No big deal, these things happen.
On that note, keep in mind…once you make a commitment to someone to be there for them, don’t flake out! I have heard many stories from frustrated home owners who have had sitters bow out on them at the last moment. People know that things come up, people get sick, etc, but we make it our policy to always do our best to fullfill our obligations.
Keep in mind that although there are lots of great opportunities out there, you won’t get every one you apply for. No matter how wonderful you are, even if your mom swears you’re the best darn dog sitter in the world! Prospective homeowners don’t know you from Justin Bieber.
If you decide to post a profile, do your best to write it in a manner that brings your personality type across. Don’t try to copy someone else’s just because they seem adept at procuring sits. You are not them and you want to represent yourself as accurately as possible, so the right sits come your way.
When I started looking for places for us, I quickly realized that it’s like a treasure hunt! I almost get the same feeling as when I’m doing a lotto scratch ticket…could be a winner, or you could end up with zilch…but either way it’s exciting.
House sitting is a win-win situation, one that we’ve been on both sides of and we are big advocators for it! Whether it’s a quick weekend away or a year in a foreign land, house sitting can make it possible. Quick note…based on my research, if you ever want to go away for Christmas, there are TONS of options all over the world for you to house sit during that time. Want to spend Christmas in Italy? No problem. 🙂
You never know what doors might open…
Bon voyage and happy house sitting!