House sitting is a wonderful way to explore the world while keeping your finances in check. This comprehensive home sitting guide answers some of the more common questions regarding this ever growing travel trend
Travel on the Cheap With House Sitting
In recent years, the news has been dominated by stories of companies and startups that have ‘redefined’ travel. It’s likely that most people have heard of ‘Airbnb’, and other platforms like ‘Couchsurfing’, that have all found innovative ways to provide accessible and affordable ways to travel.
One of the slightly less talked about, but nonetheless game-changing, is house sitting. But what exactly is house sitting? What does it involve, how can it help you to travel, and how do you get started?
When Airbnb and similar platforms came to the fore, the platform seemed like an intrinsically fantastic idea. There are certainly a lot of merits to the system, and renting out/hiring someone’s home is a brilliant way to save money as you travel, but it wasn’t long before the horror stories of homes being wrecked by partying travellers started to emerge, and people started to realise the potential pitfalls of the model – and consider if other alternatives might be better for travel. Enter house sitting.
Let’s make one thing clear before going any further – house sitting isn’t the same as Airbnb or Couchsurfing. It isn’t a case of “here’s the keys to my £3million home, have fun during your time in Malta, see you in a week” (would that it were so simple…) What house sitting is, is an opportunity to visit new places, meet new people, and save money as you do so. So how does it all work?
What is house sitting?
Fundamentally, in the same way, you might ask a neighbour or friend to look after the plants or feed the goldfish when you’re away, house sitting involves the exchange of services – in the form of maintaining, looking after, and generally keeping an eye on a person’s home (and sometimes pets – see below) – for keys to the property, and the chance to live there for a fixed period.
It’s based on a model of generosity, trust, and mutual benefit. If you’re planning on a holiday, and need someone to keep an eye on the house, it provides a free way to do so. Couple this with an online portfolio of people willing to house sit, and you’ve got the perfect ingredients for a budget way to explore the world for both parties.
How does house sitting work?
In its most basic sense, house sitting involves finding a prospective client, in the form of a homeowner, who is planning to spend some time away from their home but needs things to be taken care of.
You then get in touch, offer your services, and then some terms of agreement are drawn up about what is expected of both parties involved, before everything is finalised, the keys are handed over, and your house sitting adventure begins.
Of course, this all sounds great, but how should you go about the process of finding houses to sit? It’s probably not a good idea to stalk out the best properties in the destinations you want to visit on Google Maps, before calling the homeowners and asking if and when they’re going away. In fact, that might get you arrested. Don’t do that.
Instead, several companies and businesses have taken advantage of our glorious digital age, and are now offering the chance to sign up for these opportunities online.
Think of it like Airbnb, but without the fees – you sign up and create a profile on a house sitting website, and then homeowners create listings for house sitting opportunities, which you then apply to. It’s easy, simple, and intuitive, and allows for a greater deal of transparency.
Which house sitting websites should I use?
Ultimately, this one comes down to personal preference. While there are a few websites that are particularly popular, which you opt for will be down to you. What we would add is that the important thing here is to do a little bit of research, and make an informed choice.
Whether or not you’re accepted for the house sitting positions for which you apply is often down the quality of your profile, or previous reviews, so it’s arguably a better idea to focus on creating a fantastic account on one website, than signing up gung-ho for every site you can find in the hope that someone, anyone will pick you.
A couple of the most recognised and popular sites include:
Specifically targeted at homeowners with pets, who are seeking to find housesitters to look after their furry (or sometimes scaly) friends so that they can travel themselves, Trusted Housesitters is a recognised and respected house sitting platform.
The site lets you create a video profile and includes ID verification along with star ratings, so you’ll be able to build up your personal page and information over time, and gain respect and prominence in the house sitting community.
The key selling point for Trusted Housesitters is the fact that pets have been found to adapt far better to a new caregiver in their own home, than an entirely new environment altogether. The only caveat for potential house sitters? You’ll have to love animals!
Mind My House
While not pet-specific, many of the listings on MindMyHouse involve looking after animals. The key difference is that MindMyHouse doesn’t just offer house sitting opportunities to animal lovers; some of the listings here require things like gardening duties, and even simple things like keeping the heating on and mail organised.
MindMyHouse offers a platform similar to others, in which potential house sitters create a profile online – although there is an annual subscription fee of $20 (which, compared with the price of a holiday, isn’t much at all!). From there, they can browse opportunities, before getting in touch with homeowners and discussing terms of the agreement.
The exciting thing about MindMyHouse is the ease of which it offers a global platform. You can search for listings by country, and city, and could find yourself house sitting a cabin in a Transylvanian village one week, and lazily tending plants in a Portuguese villa the next.
How to become a house sitter?
In terms of the official online sign-up process, it’s fairly intuitive and straightforward to become a house sitter, at least for all intents and purposes. Choose your site, pick some great photos of you (and your partner, if you’re planning on travelling together like we do!), or create a video if need be, and you’re good to go.
When creating your profile, the way you pitch yourself is crucial. Think about what sets you apart from other people, and find ways to ‘sell yourself’, but don’t be dishonest, and don’t be too salesy.
The main thing you want to show homeowners is that you’re honest and trustworthy. You might want to include things like personal interests and hobbies too, as things like this can make your profile attractive to like-minded homeowners – it’s not just about showing you’re the best house sitter for the job, it’s about showing who you are as a person.
In terms of the actual doing the house sitting, it will all depend on personal circumstance, and the listings you become accepted for. It’s not unusual to be passed over for a few listings initially, particularly when you’re trying to establish yourself as a new house sitter, but don’t be disheartened – an opportunity will arise eventually!
The key thing is to be realistic about your own circumstances. If you’re not particularly flexible and work full-time, then you’ll need to be pragmatic about your availability. Sometimes listings appear at fairly short notice, which can be difficult to arrange, but others give plenty of time to plan.
Once you’ve struck up a dialogue with a homeowner, and agreed a plan for your stay, you’ll need to organise your own travel. This is the only real area where things can get expensive, but by using some budget travel platforms you won’t need to break the bank.
How can house sitting help me travel?
And herein lies the ultimate question. The timeless ‘so what?’. “Sure, house sitting sounds great, and now I know how it all works, but so? I’m looking at your blog because I want to travel, not feed dogs and water plants!” – all fair points. So let me explain.
The answer is simple: house sitting is a brilliant way to travel the world on a low budget.
I repeat: house sitting is one of the best budget ways to travel
One of, if not the, biggest expenses of travelling is accommodation. Even if you opt for the best budget options, the price of a roof over your head can be hefty, and in places where it’s cheaper, such as Southeast Asia, the cost of getting there more than makes up for the money saved on the room.
Which is where house sitting comes in. The Roaming Spices are all about affordable, achievable travel, and when it comes to this, house sitting could be one of the best ways to make it happen. Fundamentally, you’re getting the chance to stay in a (usually) pleasant home, in a place you’ve potentially never been, totally for free.
Yeah, exactly. You get to stay somewhere new, totally for free
Admittedly, you’ll need to provide the service you agreed with the homeowner, but if you’re an animal lover, walking a dog daily isn’t a chore; and if you have green fingers, tending a garden in the morning and evening isn’t much to sacrifice for the chance to stay somewhere completely new.
It’s also worth noting that house sitting is one of the best ways to get a truly authentic taste of the place in which you are staying. Hotels and hostels are great, sure, but staying in a lived-in home, in a town or village completely free of the scorching tendrils of mass tourism is a pretty special opportunity. You can meet neighbours, local people, and experience the local culture in a completely authentic way.
Where can I house sit?
I’ve always hated the phrase ‘how long is a piece of string’, but ironically, it kind of rings true here. Essentially, you can in theory house sit literally anywhere. It all depends on the listings that appear, and where in the world homeowner searching for house sitters reside.
Some platforms, such as Mindmyhouse, allow you to list the countries you’re available to visit (if you live in Europe, for example, you might want to stay within the continent to save money on travel), and you can normally search listings by area if there’s somewhere that’s particularly high on your ‘to visit’ list.
Who is house sitting for?
House sitting can work for all kinds of people, but there are a few qualities that stand out as more pertinent.
A love of animals is a big one. It might be fair to say that the vast majority of house sitting listings have been offered because the homeowner needs someone to look after their animals when they’re away.
A fear of dogs, allergies, or other things that might make you unsuitable to look after pets could make it more difficult (although definitely not impossible!) to organise house sitting opportunities.
Similarly, if you have a love of something like gardening, or a particular penchant for housekeeping (this is the time when being the nagging one when it comes to cleaning is actually a strength!), house sitting could be perfect for you.
It comes down to a balance: you need to be the kind of person for whom the rewards of house sitting – staying in a new place, affordable travel etc. – are worth the work you do – looking after the home in question – in exchange.
It’s also worth noting that house sitting is NOT an opportunity to host an obligation free party. People looking to overtly socialise, and enjoy a late night party or two, should avoid house sitting at all costs. This is a chance for a quiet, relaxing, and enriching stay somewhere new, not the keys to someone’s house with which to do as you please.
Can I house sit long term?
In terms of long-term house sitting, it all depends on what you see as ‘long-term’ (and we’re back to the piece of string…), but opportunities that extend beyond the standard week or two do arise.
This might not be the best option for those in work of course, but if you’re retired, or are looking for a way to see the world for longer stints, you can keep your eyes peeled for a long-term house sit.
Most platforms do note that even with long-term sits, it’s never appropriate for the sitter to pay rent for the property, even if they stay for longer than the standard rent term (usually a month), but discussion about contributing towards utilities are normal – if you’re using the water and power for a month or more, it’s arguably only fair you contribute, although this might dilute the budget appeal of house sitting more generally.
Can I house sit internationally?
Yep. That’s part of the joy of house sitting in general, it’s a platform which allows you to travel to all corners of the globe (well, the ones supported on the site you sign up to, but these are usually numerous and comprehensive!).
If you fancy a domestic ‘staycation’ in your own country, this can be easily organised, but if you want to explore the world, house sitting opportunities crop up everywhere.
Do house sitters get paid?
This is a bit of a ‘yes and no’ situation.
There are house sitting sites that do offer payment to their respective sitters, and if you’re looking to make a little bit of extra money, then it is possible to use house sitting as a way to do so.
Ultimately, as a house sitter, you’re providing a service, so some kind of recompense is most certainly deserved. While some may feel this should come in the form of remuneration, for us, the reward of house sitting is something else altogether – it’s the chance to stay somewhere new, in accommodation that doesn’t cost a penny.
If, like us ‘Roaming Spices’, the chance to visit and experience somewhere new, then house sitting provides you with an enriching and unique opportunity for travel – something we think you can’t put a price on.
Does house sitting cost me anything?
One of the best things about house sitting – it doesn’t cost you anything.
It’s important to bear in mind that there, to be fair, a few costs associated with spending some time house sitting. You’ll need to think about transport and travel, and spending when you’re there on things like food and drink.
Even with the annual sign-up fee of some sites, the key takeaway is that house sitting opportunities themselves don’t cost you a thing, and the money that you will spend is still significantly reduced as a result.
How to find a house sitter?
So what about those on the other side of the spectrum?
What if you’ve already decided to go away, and you’ve found your own, alternative mode of budget (or otherwise) travel, but need someone to look after your home when you’re away?
Setting up a house sitting listing is fairly simple, and works much in the same way as setting up a profile. You simply create the listing on the site of your choice after signing up, which is almost always free, and then add some details to entice applications.
When setting up a listing, the key is to be completely forthright about everything. Explain in detail what the prospective house sitter will need to do for you during their stay, and then provide details about anything that they’ll need to factor in, from whether a rural location will require the use of a car, to whether you have poor wheelchair access.
Try to make your offer seem enticing, and think about the things that will most appeal to potential sitters. Do you live in a beautiful place? Are there exciting, unique things for visitors to try locally?
Do you simply have the most adorable, friendly, and heartwarming puppy in the world? All of these things, and more can be used to appeal to potential sitters, just don’t exaggerate, let alone fabricate, anything in a dishonest way.
Can I house sit luxury property?
This all comes down to the question of what you deem to be luxury, but the answer to this one is a hesitant yes.
While multi-million pound mansions might not appear regularly on house sitting sites (if your home costs more than most people earn in a lifetime, then chances are you won’t be frugal about hiring a house sitter), places like villas in sunny countries, and properties that could be seen as luxurious do appear.
For the truly outstanding house sitting opportunities, particularly if people have enviable homes and property, competition can be rife, so it’s worth noting that while luxury house sitting opportunities do appear, they can be tricky to land. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying though!
Ultimately, for the budget traveller, or for those looking for a way to experience new places and cultures, house sitting can be a fantastic opportunity. While there are a few caveats to be aware of, such as the process by which you sign up – house sitting is, to use a colloquialism, pretty awesome.
The chance to spend some time away, in a new place, in the most authentic way possible, is what travel is all about. As Airbnb and like-minded corporate giants continue to dominate the travel sphere (and are great options in their own right), house sitting taps into the heart of communal exploration, and mutual benefit. It’s something truly special.
You touch on some interesting points here about house and pet sitting. Not only can it be a great and affordable way to travel and see countries in depth, it can also become a lifestyle. My husband and I have been house and pet sitting full-time for two years and have covered many places in the US, using our car (and since recently our camper van) as transportation. This keeps the cost down and is one of the reasons we don’t house sit internationally yet.
We prefer long-term sits because we work from home and have traveled full-time extensively, which can become very exhausting. This is now the perfect life, with a healthy balance between experiencing new places, exploring new areas over the weekends and working from comfortable homes with all the conveniences one requires. And, enough time to get settled for a month, or three. We also never pay for utilities, since we feel this is a fair exchange.
We find that most competition happens in desirable locations, not necessarily beautiful, “luxury” houses. And, there is the “seasons” thing. Finding a house sit in a warm location for winter is more difficult than spending a winter in, say, Canada. Same is true for places that are attractive in summer. House sitting in the “opposite” seasons (as in the least desirable season for the home owners – which is why they often leave) is quite easy!
I have so much to say about this topic, and urgently need to write more blog posts about house sitting myself! 🙂
Gavin Evans says
Hi Liesbet, thanks for the super advice. You must have had so many wonderful experiences during your two-year stint house sitting. We love the idea of long-term house sits for exactly the same reasons that you list. Travelling is definitely going to be an integral part of our lives and like yourselves, we see house sitting as the perfect way to travel without breaking the bank! We fully expect to be sharing our house sitting experiences with you in the not too distant future.
PS: Did you know that the island of Grenada (in the Eastern Caribbean) is called the “Spice Island”? For a moment I thought there was some correlation. 🙂
Gavin Evans says
It’s really funny that you mention Grenada because I lived there for 2 years as a child with my Sister and parents. We spent 6 months in Lance Aux Epines in the south and a further 18 months in Bathway, in the northeast of the island. We left in 1982 and have never returned. We would love Grenada to be our very first house sit. Optimistic maybe but we may dream!
I most definitely do know that Grenada is the “Spice Island” and maybe it did influence the naming of our website to a certain degree.