[Editors’ Note: While in Hawaii making arrangements for our upcoming visit to Japan, we are also in a rare (for us) state of planning. We see another stint of house-sitting on our horizon, so offer this re-print of a column originally published by Kris on her blog, HMS Henning.]
Tom and I have been on the road for three years now. Even though our travels have taken us to five continents and 20 countries, we set out with the intention of biding our time in various select destinations, starting with Ecuador. We look at travel as a long distance event, not a sprint, and didn’t want to burn out chasing around the world.
Twice in the past year we’ve chosen to housesit as a way of making a temporary home. Both times we were in Spain (spring 2012 in Murcia, winter 2012-13 in Cantabria) and in both these cases we found our connections through TrustedHousesitters.com. (We are also listed with MindMyHouse.com. TrustedHousesitters costs $40 for a 3-month membership; MindMyHouse is $20 annually.) For our purposes, we consider positions of no less than a month, and no more than three, mostly due to travel expenses and visa limitations, but also because of our low boredom threshold.
Once you look into housesitting opportunities, you’ll quickly realize it isn’t the house that is your concern, but the pets. Homeowners, yes, do want someone who will care for their home, but mostly they want your love, adoration, and undivided attention for their animal family. It’s important to know this before embarking on your adventure.
Here are some other points worth considering before you involve yourself in a housesitting situation.
On the Plus Side
- Pay no rent; that’s plainly good.
- Enjoy the comforts of home while you are on the road. These might be the things you dream of when you’re fed up with hotels: laundry (wheee!), Wi-Fi (a must for us), a kitchen (more on that), and comfortable furniture for quality lounging outside of bed.
- Other homey touches: having been a homeowner, I like seeing the details of the house itself, the art on the walls, the books and music on the shelves, the plants and gardens. I’m not a peeper, and find happiness in ignoring jammed closets.
- Having a kitchen takes you to the local markets and the freshest local food, which vastly improves your diet. Of course this is cheaper than eating out all the time, too. The owners’ kitchens are invariable better equipped than rental property. But I still always carry a cork screw and knife when I travel.
- Use of a car. Doing the homeowners’ errands can be a good way to learn your way around and meet people. You’ll pay for the gas to do that, but mostly the car will allow you some freedom to get back to your traveling ways with day trips.
- You can be a regular at a couple local haunts, talk to people, and find out much more about the region than you would otherwise. Ask for recommendations, and use them.
- The animals’ affection. Nothing says home better than a dog’s pushy wet nose and pleading eyes. And like grandparents (so I’m told) you can spoil the critters, then leave them with the owners.
- A routine can be a good thing. Walking dogs, feeding animals, and the general upkeep of a house fall into a gentle routine that allows the house-sitter to recoup, recover, and work on special personal projects. We catch up on work, on travel plans, on sleep, on reading, and sometimes on entire television series via our laptops.
On the down side, consider this:
- You are confined to the pet schedule. Forget overnight trips. (Note to self: in the future, ask in advance if there is someone who could relieve you for one night, for a little weekend getaway.)
- You are likely going to be at your site during the off-season. There is a reason owners leave, so consider the weather and seasonal closures. The beach town is probably cold and deserted while you are there.
- You are responsible when things go wrong. Things will go wrong. Broken showers need to be fixed. Sick animals need to be cared for. Power goes out, supplies run low. This is your job and you can’t run away.
- Corollary to the above, you may have to advance the homeowner money in order to get things fixed. We chose to pay a water bill rather than have our water shut off, for example.
- It’s not all free. Don’t forget the expenses you’ll incur. Gas, groceries, meals out, and any utilities you’ve been asked to pay begin to sound like rent. Speeding tickets and replacing broken goods like, oh, let’s say a rice cooker, increase the tab. Utilities, in particular, are worth discussion. We believe our pet sitting is saving the owners plenty, and that utilities should be paid by the homeowner. Homeowners sometimes want guarantees that you won’t crank their heating (or AC) bill through the ceiling. Settle this in advance.
- You don’t know your neighbors/environment until you are there. The condition of the home, the location within its community, and the neighbors’ opinion of transients (that’s what you are) are never fully known until you are on site and committed.
- Flexibility and self-sufficiency are required. No matter how good the instructions, you’ll have to find and figure things out for yourself. No matter how clear the advance plans, dates and travel plans do change.
- The web sites that facilitate these connections are much more geared to vetting the house-sitter than the home owner. Take your time talking to the prospective home owners before booking your flight.
My best advice? Expect the unexpected. Enjoy the home and kitchen. Treat the animals well. And get out and visit the area as much as possible. You are still a traveler.
Nearing the end of our second housesitting gig within a year, we’re energized for covering more ground in our upcoming travels, not trading sedentary responsibilities for a roof. But no doubt we’ll find another place we love and will look for a housesit again sometime, so that we can sample day-to-day life in a place and make no long-term commitments.
If you’re interested in a couple anecdotes about our experiences, check out these posts: