travel

More Tips on House Sitting

It was a large day when this piece of mine went live in the New York Times. A bunch of folks contacted me afterwards, saying they want to try house sitting while travelling. And, because I like to tell people what to do and how to do it, I thought I’d share some more bits of advice that didn’t make it into the 700-word limit of the NY Times piece.

Don’t approach the house-sitting website like a booking site. When I started out on Trusted Housesitters, I thought I could just pick and choose my location and dates and set my sitting gigs according to my own intentions. Better to work in reverse: what does the site have to offer, and how can I make it work with the things I’m hoping to do? For the times when I want to be in a specific location at a certain time, I may need to resort to–ho hum–paid accommodations. But, if you’re on a long-term itinerary, you can build in flexibility to take the sitting gigs for part of the time to offset your overall costs, and then schedule your priority destinations around them. For example, when I wanted to spend a winter in Cyprus but couldn’t find a long sit there, a few months of sitting in the UK offset the cost of a three month apartment rental in Cyprus.

Be prepared for the expenses of in-between times. I’ve tried to limit my travel budget to what I would pay to live in an apartment in my hometown. To make this work, I avoid short-term accommodations and opt for monthly discounts via Airbnb and the like. House-sitting is even easier on the bank account, for the length of time you’re at the house. Then, a series of house sits can add up to a lot of rent-free living. However, the costs of getting from one home to the next, especially if you need some nights in a hotel between gigs, can have an effect of diminishing financial returns. A little tip for if you’re planning a series of sits in the UK: If you have a two-week break between sitting gigs, you may be able to fly to Malta or Portugal and back for those two weeks for less than the cost of accommodations in the UK. EasyJet Holidays is one of my go-to sites for scoping out inexpensive flight/hotel deals from the UK.

It may take some time to get the long-term gigs. In the past year, I’ve scored a few extended sitting jobs of two or three months at a time. As I said in the NY Times article, my first job on Trusted Housesitters was close to home. I didn’t need the lodging, but the positive feedback gave me credibility to get more jobs. In those early days, I took a weekend sit in Paphos, where I was staying in an Airbnb; again, I didn’t need a place to stay, but it was great to make another contact in town, and the owner gave me a good review. I also took a five-day sit on Naxos during my two-month stay in a rented apartment in Athens: a chance to see one of the islands without paying for a hotel.

In the end, cost savings is just one benefit of being an itinerant pet sitter. Caring for an animal can alleviate that sense of isolation that sometimes afflicts long-term travellers. For a solo traveller like me, it’s an incredible way to connect intimately with the community I’m visiting and a way to build a network of contacts in places far from home.

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