House Sitting: Safe, Worth it, A Good Idea?
When you hear “house sitting” what is the first thing that comes to mind? Potted plants? Mail retrieval? The occasional pool cleaning? Lounging on someone’s roof in a lawn chair?
3 out of 4 of these things would be accurate. 1 out of 4 would be possible in extreme circumstances. But there are many things that you may not expect when you hear the term “house sitting”. In this article I’m going to explain in detail exactly what it means to be a house sitter; what you can expect, and how you can use house sitting to travel the world for free.
What is House Sitting?
House sitting is a relatively new phenomenon in the sense that people have just discovered the mutually beneficial relationship between budget travelers and pet owners. And yes, I say pet owners because the majority of the time “house sitting” is code for “watch my pet while I go on vacation”. The notion of house sitting, however, has been around for a long time – as long as people have been hiring property managers and holiday staff – but as you can imagine, these are reserved for wealthy estate owners, celebrities, and people who can afford to own a ski chalet in the Swiss Alps that they use 2 weeks out of a year.
House sitting in the way we now think of it is more of an exchange. You, the house sitter, want to travel but you don’t want to drop a ton of cash on accommodations. The home owner really wants to go away for a few days or weeks, but doesn’t feel comfortable leaving their pet or home unattended. You agree to take care of the pet/home/property in exchange for a free place to stay, the home owner gets peace of mind while they leave Fido and his excessive salivation for you to take care of. So what you’re basically looking at is house sitting for free rent.
Who Can be a House Sitter?
Absolutely anyone! There are no rules or limitations on who can apply for house sitting jobs. Having said that, certain home owners will feel more comfortable with a couple or an older individual looking after their precious belongings. I can’t say that I blame them; inviting a 20 year old stranger into your home may be a little unnerving. After all, they’re probably having flashbacks of what they were like in their 20’s right now and having a minor panic attack. If you are a young solo traveler you may be deemed slightly less trustworthy/mature and will have to jump through a few extra hoops to prove yourself – but it can be done! I landed a house sitting job in Germany as a solo traveler at age 22, which means anyone can with the proper amount of effort put into your house sitter profile.
If you are a traveling couple or retired, even better! You’re exactly who most home owners are looking for. Plus if you have a built in travel buddy to house sit with you’re likely to have it a lot easier in terms of entertaining yourself, completing chores, and even staying safe – which leads me to the next commonly asked question.
Is House Sitting Safe?
This is a question I get a lot when I tell people about my house sitting job. Is house sitting safe? And the answer is yes, if you do your due diligence. Obviously as a solo traveler I have to be very aware of my surroundings, trust my instincts, and be my own protection. When I search for house sitting jobs I initially look for a few things that tell me whether a listing is trustworthy:
Look at the home owner’s photos. Do they look authentic, or like they were downloaded from Flickr? Are there pictures of the home, the home owners, and the home owners with their pets? In general, the more photos a listing has, the more trustworthy it is.
Does the listing have a completed bio? Every house sitting job will have an attached description. If you’re using Trusted Housesitters then the listing will include lots of opportunities for the home owners to describe themselves, the property, the pets, and your responsibilities. All of it should be filled out in good detail. If you’re left with lots of unknowns and unanswered questions about the job, it’s likely not going to be a great working relationship with the home owners.
Are the home owners willing to Skype with you? Some people will ask for a phone call or simply want to message back and forth, but if you’re going to be flying to another country (potentially) to care for their home, you want to look those people in the eye before you take off – it’s the best way to gauge trustworthiness and whether or not you will get along, which is a huge part of a successful house sitting gig!
Do the home owners seem hospitable? In the end, you’re doing someone a favor. Yes, you’re house sitting in exchange for free accommodations – BUT, if it weren’t for you and your willingness to commit to caring for their house and pets they would be stuck at home or forced to kennel their animals, which isn’t as free as letting you chill out on their couch and mooch their Netflix subscription. Trustworthy homeowners will be grateful for your assistance and often go out of their way to make you feel at home. Offering to pick you up from the train station or airport, making sure you have the ability to get supplies, or even giving you ideas of things to do in the area can be expected from good hosts.
Follow these guidelines and you’re bound to find a good house sitting job.
You may also be wondering about the worst case scenarios: what if something happens to the house or pets, what if someone breaks in while you’re staying there, what if you get locked out, etc, etc. These are good questions, and luckily most house sitting websites will have some sort of liability coverage during your stay. Trusted Housesitters provides coverage for theft, damages, and public liability. However it is important to note that this coverage is for the home owner.
You will still need to be covered for personal injury, illness or theft. You can easily protect yourself by purchasing travel insurance before you fly. As for minor inconveniences like getting locked out or losing a key, these are scenarios to bring up during your video chat with the home owners. Likely they have already thought of every worst case scenario and will have a backup plan in place, like a neighbor or family member who can help you out in a jam.
As for personal safety, well, that is a wild card. You can increase your chances of staying safe by investigating the area before you agree to a house sit. What does the neighborhood look like, what’s nearby? Is it really remote? Will you have access to a car or is there public transportation? As I said before, you need to worry about these things less when you travel with a partner, but taking a few extra precautions makes house sitting as a solo traveler perfectly practical.
BONUS TIP: If you are traveling solo – or even if you’re not – try to make friends in the area before you leave. I did this by joining travel groups on Facebook and posting about my plans. With this strategy I made a friend close to my house sitting job before I even left my home country, which made my trip exponentially more exciting!
A Day as a House Sitter
So what does being a house sitter involve exactly? Well, do you have pets at home? If you do, it’s a lot like being at home. Most house sitting jobs will involve some type of creature you have to take care of, but on top of that you still have to keep things clean and tidy, cook for yourself, and often maintain a garden and do other miscellaneous chores. If you don’t already own a home or have pets then just imagine playing house, but with a lot more sweeping up dog hair. My typical house sitting day looked like this:
6AM: Wake up, walk the dog.
6:30-7AM: Feed the dog. Feed the cats. Feed the chickens. Clean the chicken waterers. Scoop the chicken coop.
7AM: Feed myself, do some work on the computer.
8AM: Go for a hike with the dog.
9AM: Debate doing garden yoga, post on Instagram instead. Write on my blog.
10AM: Depending on the day, go on an adventure with my new German friend, take a walk with the neighbor or hang out with my host’s daughter and her son if they weren’t too busy, or venture into one of the nearby towns to explore. If I could, I’d include the dog in whatever plans I had – if that wasn’t possible, then I would be back within 4-5 hours as this was the time frame the owners were comfortable with him being left alone.
2-3PM: Get back to the house, see chickens escaped again, spend 20 minutes herding chickens and fretting over all the plants they ate.
3-5PM: Depending on whether the dog was exhausted by this point from being dragged on my adventures – take the dog for a walk/chill out at the lake/do some work.
5PM: Water the garden, pick whatever was ripe, sweep the house if I needed to. Start cooking something for dinner.
6PM: Feed the dog. Feed myself. Watch TV.
7PM: Walk the dog, look after the chickens/collect eggs.
8PM-11PM: Skype with my mom, watch more TV, go to bed.
Rinse and repeat.
Of course, every day looked a little different. Some days the chickens didn’t manage to escape and wreak havoc on the garden.
I was house sitting for 3 weeks, which left me a lot of time to just chill out and get into a groove. By the end of it, it felt a lot like being home; I cooked, I cleaned, I took care of the animals, I hiked, I occasionally went out with friends, I socialized with neighbors. OK, I don’t do that last one at home, but you get the point.
If you are looking for an novel experience full of energy and excitement, this won’t be it. It’s not like staying at a hotel where you are waited on and don’t have a care in the world. And it’s definitely not like being in a hostel where you can meet new people everyday, share a shower with at least 12 of them, and save your wristband to go on the same discounted bar crawl every night. Those things are fun, but so is house sitting – just in a different way. It’s a very laid back experience that makes it easy to live as a local, and if you can handle the idea of having responsibilities on vacation, you’re probably going to love it.
House Sitting Etiquette 101
Once you’ve decided that you want to give house sitting a try there are some basic things you should know so you don’t seem like a complete jerk to your hosts and ensure that you get good reviews and references for future house sitting gigs.
Fill out your bio. On Trusted Housesitters you will have the chance to fill out a bio and upload pictures so potential hosts can get to know you. Just like home owners seem more trustworthy with a complete profile, so will you! This is your chance to prove to home owners that you’re not the kind of person who will trash their house or mistreat their beloved pet. Make it count! Show them that you’re a real person, include your hobbies, pictures of you and your own pets, your family, your home. Talk about where you’re from, what you like to eat, what your personality is like. You really can’t get too personal (well, I mean, yes you can but we should all know where the line is drawn right?). Think about how well you’d want to know a person before you let them move into your house and then go ahead and write that bio. If you choose to find house sitting jobs by some other means, use the same strategy when writing a resume or cover letter. And don’t forget to include your experience with animals!
Don’t take advantage. If a homeowner says that you can rent movies on their Apple TV do so in moderation – same goes for everything that is offered. They may tell you to help yourself to anything in the kitchen but that doesn’t mean you should drain their entire wine fridge. If you use something up or break an item, offer to replace it. If they offer you use of their car, fill it up before they get home. Basic courtesies and all that good stuff.
Follow their rules. Most homeowners will leave you a set of rules or instructions. Follow them. Even if you think some of them are silly or unnecessary, the fact stands that it’s their house, their rules. And if you’re not sure about something, always ask.
Stay in touch. Make sure you have a way of contacting your hosts, most of the time it will be through WhatsApp. Specify beforehand how often they would like you to send pet photos and updates. Some people don’t want to be bothered on vacation, and that’s fine, but respond in a reasonable amount of time when they do reach out.
Say thank you. It seems like it goes without saying but if you had a good host and a nice stay then show your appreciation. I made homemade apple butter for my hosts and ensured everything was how they had left it before they returned home. It’s little gestures that show your hosts you appreciate the trust they put in you.
Where to Find House Sitting Jobs
If you’re itching to start applying for free accommodation as a house sitter then here are the sites you should check out:
If you want to step it up a notch and become a property or estate caretaker, that’s a whole different ball game. You will need to prepare a professional resume with references, as well as do some research and apply to staffing agencies. Alternatively, if you’re a couple with a decent amount of experience and practical skills, you can start your own website and market yourself as freelance caretakers. There is a lot more work and research involved in these strategies, but in return you would not only get to live in beautiful places for free – you’d actually receive a salary!
House Sitting: A Good Idea for Budget Travelers
Hopefully this article has helped you decide whether house sitting is worth it for you or not. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to experience a place that was unexpected, off the beaten path, and just the peaceful getaway I was looking for. For others, it might be considered too slow or too much work for vacation time. It’s certainly not for everyone, and there are a lot of things to consider before you jump in. Tell me in the comments what you think of house sitting as a means of making travel more accessible, would you or have you ever tried it?