Housesitting is not only an affordable means of travel, but a thrifty way of living. It's how my former partner and I lived rent-free in Sydney, Australia for 6+ months, and other pricy cities like Munich at no cost. So what is it, and why would anyone allow a stranger in their home for free?
What is housesitting?
Housesitting is having a person reside in someone else's home for the purpose of maintaining the house and/or their pets. For home owners, this provides a free live-in person to care for yards, pools, gardens, etc. For pet owners, it eliminates the cost of pet boarding, plus allows the animal(s) to stay in familiar surroundings while they're away.
For budget-minded travellers, house sitting curbs accommodation expenses and offers the company of animals. It also provides a far more local experience than a hotel or hostel. A win-win for all!
Having been a long-term traveller and now a pet owner myself, choosing from a pile of experienced, motivated applicants to look after my cats would certainly be my preference if I was going to be away for a prolonged period of time.
How to become a house sitter in 3 easy steps:
1. Choose a housesitting site
First, consider where you want to house sit. Some websites are global while others are region-specific. My favourite platform has always been TrustedHousesitters. It's popular worldwide and I've used it to land gigs in Australia and abroad.
Other factors to consider in choosing a site include security (e.g. are ID checks done on users, does the site seem secure), platform ease of use, and what type of support is available. Most websites charge an annual fee. As with anything, you get what you pay for. TrustedHousesitters is the priciest but the most widely used, plus offers 24/7 vet support. This can be invaluable, especially when owners aren't reachable and you're unsure if a concern warrants a vet visit.
If you're serious about house sitting, having a few memberships is recommended as this gives access to a wider range of listings. Not to mention, membership fees are quickly offset by the savings on accommodation. If a website requests payment just to browse assignments, put it aside as this can be wasteful if there are no listings in your desired area.
Here are the 3 most popular international sites at a glance, all of which I've personally used:
Your profile is a home owner's first introduction to you, so be genuine and informative in what you write. Think of it like a resume, but a bit more personable as people want to get a feel for you as a trusted person to stay in their home.
Outline all house or pet sitting experience you have, including what type of animals you've looked after. It's also worth mentioning pets that you've owned be it fish, chickens, hamsters, horses, lizards – anything goes!
Be sure to mention potentially relevant skills – these will be different to your usual job application. For instance being a green thumb, having experience maintaining a pool, jacuzzi, compost, worm farm, or more. If you work from home, say so – this is especially attractive for owners with pets.
Relaying your personality is important. Are you neat? A home body? Do you love nothing more than TV time & pet snuggles? What are your strengths, hobbies, interests, or places you've visited? What about house sitting intrigues you? Imagine this as a conversation with an owner and it may flow better.
Finally, upload at least two bright, clear photos of yourself. Casual shots that capture your personality are ideal – such as images of you engaging in a hobby, travelling, or ones of you with animals (highly recommend!). Avoid dark blurry images or ones that don't show your face.
Step 3. Search & apply for house sits
Seek out listings and filter your searches accordingly (e.g. which animals you're able to care for, location preferences). Some websites allow you to sign up for notifications even for set dates and locations (TrustedHousesitters does this, which saved me a lot of time).
When reviewing a potential house sit, always consider the following:
Make sure you can “see” the home. If a listing doesn't have images, avoid surprises and ask for photos. Check that a home is liveable before committing, as there can be some real doozies!
Apply ASAP for hot listings. Listings in popular locations or with great perks often go quickly, in as little as half a day. If you see something that excites you, apply now!
Determine the true location of the house before committing (sometimes a house is listed in a city, but could in fact be quite far from the city centre). This is especially important if you'll need a vehicle to get around. Some owners will allow you to borrow theirs, but clarify first.
If pet-sitting, ask the right questions. Inquire about pets behaviour (do the pets ever scratch or bite?), special needs (e.g. medication), and how long they can be left alone.
Make clear if you need to pay for anything. Sometimes house sits require the sitter to pay for their own Internet, energy, and so on. Ask upfront what is provided.
Once You've Landed A Housesit…
Decide when and if you'll meet the home owner before the house sit start date. Offer to have a “meeting” on Skype or a meal or drinks before the day of your sit. This is a great way to connect, swap travel stories, and for both parties to get more comfortable with each other.
Before you start your house sit, be sure to run through these important items!
Home Care Checklist
Expected communication frequency: How often does host want to be contacted while away (e.g. daily or weekly updates)? Pet owners often love getting photo updates!
Emergency contact: Emergency # & e-mail plus neighbours you can contact
Garbage & recycling: Where & how often
Cleaning essentials: Vaccuum, sweeping – where and how often to do these things.
Mail collection: Where to pick up & store
Maintenance: Pool, hot tub, fountains, ponds
Safety: House alarm (get code & learn to turn on/off), spare key (where is it kept)
Yard/plant care: Mowing (how often, where are tools), gardening, weeding
Pet Care Checklist
Behaviour: Likes/dislikes, how long can they be left unattended
Cleaning: How often to change litter, bathe and/or groom
Feeding: How often, how much, and any special requirements if you need to buy more food
Medication: How often & how much
Veterinary: Contact # and location. Ask where pet carrier is stored & ensure it's readily accessible.
Walks/playtime: How often & how long
Remember: house sitting is more than just free accommodation!
It's a responsibility – and a big one at that! Here's a few final tips on being a great house sitter:
If something's wrong, speak up. Is a pet acting strange? Has something stopped working? Did you accidentally break something? Don't be afraid to contact a home owner and never ever cover up a problem! Remember, you're taking care of someone's best friend, so the benefit of a 24/7 vet hotline offered by TrustedHousesitters can offer a lot of peace of mind to both the owner and house sitter.
Say thanks – you can afford to! You're getting a “free” place, be sure to leave a written note & token(s) of appreciation whether a bottle of wine, chocolates, or a semi-stocked fridge.
Leave your host a review – and ask for one in return. Try to do this ASAP after a sit, it's easier to recall and you may later lose touch.
If you want to cut accommodation costs when travelling and have a local experience doing so, give house sitting a try. It's been one of my favourite travel experiences to date and I can't recommend it enough.