International House Sitting-Stretch Your Travel Budget & Upgrade Your Trip
As of mid-2019, Tim and I will have been travelling the world for around 13 of the last 23 years. Even before we started international house sitting, people wondered how we could afford to ‘retire’ as early as we did.
In the early days, that could be explained away because we mainly travelled in developing countries where the cost of living was low. We stayed in clean but modest guest houses and the occasional hostel. But in the last 12 months, we’ve started posting more and more accounts of luxury accommodation, from expensive countries like Canada, the USA, Dubai, and the UK. Clifftop mansions, inner-city apartments, country houses, and the use of luxury cars. That’s not something the average traveller can do on an average budget.
The secret to this shift in our standard of living while travelling long term is international house sitting.
What is International House Sitting?
House sitting is living in and looking after a property while the homeowner is away. More specifically, international house sitting is minding houses in countries other than your own, although I think the name really refers to the fact that people are house sitting worldwide in dozens of countries. Trusted House Sitters, who we find most of our house sits through have properties in 130 countries worldwide. They have hundreds of new sits from all over the world going up on their site every day!!
The majority of the time (but not always) a house sitter is also required to look after pets, along with the routine tasks of caring for a home. The majority of house sitting is performed for no payment in exchange for free accommodation. However, many professional house and pet sitters get paid. Tim and I sit for free, because of the many benefits we receive which I’ll detail below. House sitting isn’t just about houses though. This kind of arrangement is valid for any abode. We’ve done lots of apartment sitting, and have seen call outs for boat sitting, castle sitting, and more.
Why is International House Sitting and Pet Sitting Becoming So Popular?
House and pet sitting are becoming incredibly popular for many reasons. But I think the number one reason is that both parties – the house sitter and the homeowner – receive a wide range of benefits from the arrangement.
Up front, I want to emphasise that house sitting is not just about getting free rent. You need to realize that if you’re thinking of house sitting abroad YOU will have responsibilities to the homeowner. You must also remember that people are trusting you with probably their MOST expensive possessions (their house, all their furniture and maybe their car) and some of the beings they love the most in the whole world – their pets Your responsibilities will vary with each sit, but if you’re not prepared to meet their requests, and live up to the homeowner’s expectations, then house sitting isn’t for you. Try Couchsurfing instead.
The Benefits of Engaging House Sitters for Homeowners.
1. There is someone in the property while the homeowner is away.
Not only does this improve security and discourage burglars, but if, as has happened on several of our sits, something happens to the property because of storms, breakdown, or maintenance problems, there is someone there to rectify it immediately, rather than wait for the owners to return when the problem may have escalated.
On one sit I did, a water pipe in the roof leaked and started dripping through the ceiling. I was able to call someone to fix it the moment it started, and there was minimal damage. I can’t imagine the mess if it had been left another five days before the owner had returned.
On another occasion, we had a massive storm which knocked out the power. Once the power came back on, we were able to reset all the fuses, address all the alarms that started going off, and ensure appliances like fridges and freezers were fully operational. Once again, we saved the owners a lot of hassle than if the situation had been left for another four days.
Friends and family of homeowners who engage house sitters (especially first timers with gorgeous houses and expensive toys) are astounded that they will let strangers into their home while they are away and let them care for their worldly possessions and pets. However, the house sitting community has a lot of hoops to jump through and engaging a trusted house sitter with a bunch of excellent 5-star reviews is much safer than just leaving a property empty while they aren’t there.
In fact, check your insurance. Are you covered if your home is vacant over a particular period? Getting in a house sitter might reduce your insurance risk.
2. Homeowners don’t have to pay for or rely on, third-party services while they are away.
By this, I mean people who come in to perform tasks like keeping the house clean, watering gardens and house plants, mowing lawns, checking water pipes, and collecting mail. That might mean paid services, or it might mean relying on neighbours, friends, or family.
All of these things can be part of the agreement between the homeowners and the house sitters. In saying that, many of the homeowners we’ve sat for have retained the services of their cleaners and gardeners which left us with nothing more to do than keep things tidy and dote on their pets.
3. Homeowners don’t need to pay for expensive boarding fees.
Boarding animals can cost an absolute fortune. Without that expense, homeowners can spend the extra cash on their holiday. With prices up to $60 or more a day to board just one pet, that’s a lot of lattes over a month!
4. Their pets have a better time too.
Homeowners who love their pets want to ensure minimal disruption to their lives AND make sure they are well looked after while they are away enjoying themselves. The pets:
- Get to stay in their normal environment and keep their routine
- Have experienced and trusted house sitters to watch over them, give them attention and ensure all their needs are met
- Escape the stress, diseases, and other downsides of living with other animals
As pet sitters, we follow the homeowner’s requests regarding food and exercise regimes to the letter. More than one owner has commented on the excellent health of their pets on returning home, and we suspect we may be more diligent on these aspects than the pet owners themselves. Think of it as a boot camp for the pets 🙂
5. Homeowners get to travel worry and guilt free
We haven’t met a homeowner who wasn’t deeply attached to their pets. Leaving them at home, while they are off enjoying themselves can result in a degree of guilt and worry. We’ve found this is especially true of homeowners who engage a house sitter for the first time.
We always provide regular updates and pictures to the homeowners throughout their trip. I laughingly call it ‘proof of life,’ but it’s way more than that. Seeing their beloved pets happy, content, and in their home environment relieves them of that worry. It doesn’t mean they miss them any less, but it does mean they are reassured about their well-being.
We have had several pets who’ve been elderly or ill. Just having us there to watch over their pets has provided an enormous relief for the homeowners involved.
6. The homeowners meet new and interesting people and make new friends
We are still friends with most of the homeowners we’ve sat for, and they continue to follow us on our travels. Many have invited us back to their homes as friends should we be in their neighbourhood again. We have extended an invite to all of them to visit us in Vietnam when we head back there for our next extended stay.
All of these benefits for homeowners means that house sitting is becoming more and more popular, and the opportunities for responsible and trusted house sitters with excellent house sitting reviews is expanding exponentially.
For Homeowners Wanting to Travel More With Peace of Mind
If you’re a homeowner tied down by your pets and want to travel more, we recommend you check out some of the more popular House Sitting sites so you can free yourself of security and pet care concerns.
It costs nothing to explore the sites and look at some of the many trusted and reliable house sitters available. We personally recommend Trusted House Sitters to homeowners because of the security clearances we had to go through to get our profile approved AND the sheer number of house sitters on the platform – You’ll have plenty of choices! They are a little more expensive than some of the other platforms which I’ll mention in Part 2, BUT when you look at the costs and problems and costs associated with boarding your pets, I think you’ll find you’ll make your money back many times over.
The Benefits of International House Sitting for us
1. We don’t pay accommodation costs
For the ten months after we started housesitting, our total accommodation costs amounted to ~15/night. The majority of that time we spent North America where accommodation is several times more expensive than in places like SE Asia. Granted, we did a lot of camping and enjoying the hospitality of Warmshowers hosts during our bicycle trip, but we also enjoyed 161 nights of free accommodation in what I would consider extremely comfortable accommodation.
As of the 4th of June 2019 when we head off on our next cycling trip, we will have spent a grand total of AUD 1002 (~720 USD) for this calendar year (2019). That calculates to ~ AUD 6.50/night or USD 4.70/night!!! We’ve also paid no electricity, no wifi, no gas, nor any other bills, plus had the use of an SUV in Vancouver, Canada for five weeks, saving a bundle in car hire.
2. We get to stay in more comfortable accommodation than we would typically choose or afford.
We’ve stayed in luxury clifftop homes overlooking the Salish Sea on Vancouver Island, a stunning lakeside home in Canada, huge apartments with city views around South East Asia, country houses in the UK, an inner-city condo amid all the action in Vancouver, a renovated character home in near Toronto, and large family homes surrounded by incredible works of art. None of those fit into our modest travelling budget. All the homes have had AC or heating (depending on the location), and most had Netflix and multiple other entertainment options.
The apartments gave us access to a gym for free and sometimes a pool. Several of the houses had gym equipment too, and there’s been the occasional hot tub overlooking an incredible view. I also believe I now know how to operate every luxury coffee machine in the known universe.
When we’ve had our touring bicycles with us, there’s been secure storage for them, rather than us trying to work around them in the living space.
Had we had to pay to stay in these properties we would have paid out well over $50 000 in accommodation costs based on comparable Airbnb rates.
3. We also save on food and often transport costs
Having a fully equipped kitchen saves us a bundle, and we eat better. When we don’t housesit, we often stay in Airbnb’s with kitchens, but they are never as well equipped and stocked as the homes we mind. Simple things like condiments, herbs and spices, plus the right dishes and utensils make preparing food a pleasure rather than an exercise in making do. Being able to prepare at least one or two meals a day, frees up funds to sample the more expensive local specialities, rather than relying on the cheapest deals around.
Several of our house sitters have given us the use of a vehicle. That has meant we’ve been able to explore the broader area without having to depend on and pay for public transport or expensive tours.
4. We get a regular dose of fur baby love.
Tim and I obviously can’t own pets because we move around so much. Having the opportunity to look after some adorable dogs and cats (turtles, rabbits, fish, snakes and more), provides us with some regular love and attention from the pets we look after. More than once I’ve left a little bit of my heart when we’ve departed.
Of course, not all pets will grow to love you like their owner’s but we’ve found that once they realize who’s now feeding them, they learn to love you pretty quick. 🙂
5. We get to explore the local neighbourhoods at our own pace
We are seriously into slow travel, whether that be on the bikes or overland. Housesitting caters to that perfectly. Rather than rush around trying to see everything in a few days, we can spread them out over a week or more. It also means we can avoid peak times, take advantage of weekly deals, form relationships with the people at our favourite local haunts, and fossick out hidden gems most tourists will miss.
Walking the dog(s) also introduces you to the local neighbourhood. People will stop and chat to see why you’re the ones walking the animals and once they’re reassured you’re not some crazy dog-napper are more than willing to open up about the highlights in the area.
Most homeowners prepare an information bundle for us pointing out things we shouldn’t miss and their favourite establishments, so we get to try out places popular with locals rather than tourist haunts.
6. We have a comfortable well-equipped work area
Tim and I spend a fair amount of time on the computer these days, writing travel articles, planning our adventures, and maintaining our websites. Most hotels and many Airbnb’s only have one workspace. When we’re camping, any old bench becomes a desk. However, when we’re housesitting, we always have more than enough space to set up our mobile office in comfort. Superfast Wifi, AC, and heating always come with the deal.
7. We can top and tail our other adventures without increasing costs
We are currently house sitting a beautiful home in Calgary as we train for our next bike ride and wait for the weather to get warmer. Before this sit, we spent five weeks in the centre of Vancouver, which allowed us to retrieve our bikes from Bellingham in the USA where we left them last year, and make sure they were in good working condition after storage.
Had we not been house sitting, we would have probably stayed in Asia because it’s much cheaper (and warmer!) However, we would have had no bikes and no ability to train which would have had a significant impact on our ability to complete our next adventure through The Rockies.
Last year when we had to pick up our bikes in England, we found a house sit close by where they were stored. Then flew into Canada for three sits before the ride. When we were held up because of forest fires and fled to the West Coast, we were faced with around five weeks of unexpected accommodation bills in one of the most expensive parts of the world. Instead, we were able to lock in 2 quick house sits to fill the void.
We are already scouting house sits in Southern California for the end of our ride so we can recollect ourselves and explore a little on four wheels before heading back to the Asia-Pacific once again.
7. We make new friends by house sitting overseas
Since we started international house sitting, we have a whole heap of new friends. As I said above, many of the homeowner’s we’ve sat for we now consider friends and stay in touch with. We’re pretty sure that if they needed house sitters again, we would be at, or near, the top of their lists.
Drawbacks of House Sitting
So that’s all the benefits for both sides, what are some of the drawbacks of house sitting? After all, if it were all beer and skittles, everyone would be doing it.
House sitting is much different from staying in a hostel, hotel, or even campground. Unless you get out and about, there’s not a lot of opportunity or reason for you to meet anyone new. If the house is in an isolated area, you don’t have the use of a car, or there’s not at least some public transport, then you might not get out much at all. Some homeowners will forbid you from having visitors to the property. That’s not usually a problem at all for us, but if you do have or make friends in the area, you’re going to have to do all your socialising away from the property, even if you’re the one with the deck, BBQ, hot tub and fabulous views.
2. Seeing a destination at it’s worst
Many homeowners leave town when the weather or conditions are worst. For example, the burning season in Chang Mai results in terrible air quality and you’ll see a lot of house sits throughout that period. Staying in tropical locations in the wet season, The Caribbean during hurricane season, and Alaska mid-winter, may not be the optimum time to visit.
3. Super-High Maintenance pets
We avoid sits where the pets require care we feel is beyond us. For example, pets that:
- can’t be left alone for more than an hour or two
- require a lot of medical treatment, we don’t feel comfortable or confident with administering
- are known to be aggressive.
We don’t want that degree of responsibility, so out of respect for the homeowners and the pets, we don’t apply. We are fine with pills in pill pockets and liquids, and some injections but it depends on how cooperative the animals are.)
4. Rustic, Unclean or Unhygienic conditions
I think these are rare, and we certainly haven’t come across the situation, but house sitters on some of my Facebook groups have reported that they’ve arrived at a sit and the conditions have been unliveable according to their standards. Some of them just mucked in and cleaned the property; others have left because they felt their health was at risk. I guess this depends on your tolerance level, and I hope we never have to test that.
5. You can get too comfortable
Surrounded by all that comfort, with excellent kitchen facilities, and a range of entertainment options it can be hard to work up the motivation to get out and explore. Suddenly you’re at the end of your sit, and you find you’ve seen nothing of the destination or surrounding area, any of the local restaurants, or experienced the local highlights.
6. You aren’t free to do as you please
If you need to walk the dog three times a day, feed the cat by 7 am and then again by 5 pm, or administer medication at a set time, you can’t just head out on an all-day expedition, or stay out overnight. Unless that is, you have an agreement with the homeowner or a backup plan. (Which we’ve had on several sits.)
However, if you have indoor/outdoor pets with plenty of room to run around, auto feeders, and a safe environment where they can amuse themselves, you have as much flexibility as any other form of accommodation. There is definitely two ends of the spectrum and everything else in between.
Are you ready to supercharge your travel budget and improve your travel experience by learning How to become an International house sitter? Then head over to Part 2 where you’ll find out:
- What kind of people need house sitters
- Where to find house sitting assignments
- Tips for setting up your profile
- Tips for getting your first few sits
- What you need to do to get 5-star reviews and how important they are
Meanwhile, feel free to ask us any questions you’d like us to address, or add your opinion to the comments below and share this article with your friends.
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