Whether you’re an armchair traveler or digital nomad there’s no corner of the world not open to you. From mountain peaks to ocean depths we’re free to experience all the wonders of our blue planet. Off we go, wearing the latest in travel fashion, posting selfies and food pics to document our adventure. We return home, glowing with well being and a sense of accomplishment.
But all too soon we feel empty inside, with the sense that we missed something. It’s like eating Chinese food and an hour later, you’re suddenly starving. We need/want more, so we start planning our next adventure, looking for someplace even more exotic, an experience even more thrilling. But simply changing where we go and what we do isn’t going to help. It won’t make our travel better.
Traveling better isn’t a matter of where we go and what we do, it’s a matter of why. For many of us, our why is to connect with other people and cultures. And while technology provides us many ways to connect, rarely is the connection a deep one. However, the growing trust or share economy is based on establishing a connection between strangers. The success of companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft is a testament to our desire for connection. Score one for technology.
However, the promise of that human connection is eroding. As investors have surged into Airbnb, the experience is becoming commercialized and sanitized. Even staying in properties owned by individuals, it’s becoming rare to ever see your host, much less make a connection with them. Ride sharing, which used to feel like being picked up by a good friend you’d forgotten about, is being tainted by disputes between management and drivers, drivers and local taxi operators.
But recently, I found a bright spot in the sharing economy. One that, by design, is resistant to commercialization and labor disputes. Like most good ideas, it’s been around for a long time. But the combination of technology and our willingness to transfer our trust from institutions to individuals has allowed a largely local service to go global, allowing deep connections around the world between strangers by sharing our homes and pets.
If you don’t know about house sitting, let me introduce you to the ultimate experience in trusting strangers. And not only do you get to satisfy your cat, dog or bearded lizard fix for several days, weeks or even months, it’s free. That’s right, free pet therapy. Plus, you get to stay for free in just about any place you’ve ever wanted to visit, allowing you to stay longer and live like a local.
Travel is better when you house sit.
While their owners are away on vacation, you take over supplying the daily requirements of food, love , walks and belly rubs. Plus poop patrol or litter box scooping, of course.
At this very moment, in every country in the world, some lucky person is a surrogate pet owner, happily walking their temporary best friend through a beautiful park and being greeted by the neighbors with a friendly smile instead of a suspicious glare.
This lucky person could be you.
But if the mere thought of a pet of any kind makes you sneeze, don’t despair. While most house sits include caring for a pet of some kind, many don’t. You can enjoy all the other advantages of house sitting without resorting to allergy shots.
Connection is the name of the game.
While many of us travel to escape daily responsibilities – I’ve certainly spent my share of time lazing on tropical beaches – being temporarily responsible is an entirely different experience, like being an aunt or grandmother instead of a mother. And, just as technology makes us more isolated, it can also help connect us with people, pets and experiences we would have never encountered.
Adding house sitting to your travel portfolio not only enriches your travel experience, it also allows you to travel more, going to more places and staying longer. Even if your travel budget allows unlimited Airbnb stays, house sitting provides benefits beyond saving money. After our first house sit in Quito, Ecuador we were hooked.
Taking the first step.
Visit a few house sitting sites and search their listings. I’ve used Trusted Housesitters, Mind My House and Nomador. All allow free searches so you can easily see what’s available in the time frame you want to travel, the places you’d like to visit, even the type of pets you’re qualified to care for. Be aware that some sites include completed house sits in their search results, which gives you a historical perspective but isn’t helpful when looking for available sits.
Founded in 2010, Trusted Housesitters has become the big dog, with thousands of listings around the world. Today they had 1,111 sits in the United Kingdom, 558 in the United States, 456 in Australia and New Zealand, and 70 in France. They are the only site I’ve had any success with, although I’m following a new service, House Sit Mexico. I’ll give you an update in a few months.
Top secret search tip.
My favorite search technique is called, “spin the globe” where I look at the search results in map view. And there’s also the “pin the tail” option where, with eyes closed, you touch a point on the screen to determine where you’ll go. Only for the highly risk tolerant.
Of course, you’re free to develop your own style and I’ve found that different trips require different approaches. Whatever method you use, you’re sure to find a sitting that’s fitting.
Is House sitting fitting?
Are you excited yet? Have you discovered the wide range of possibilities that house sitting opens up? Are you ready to dive in? Great – I’ll walk you through the whole process and share the tips I’ve discovered that will have you traveling the world from one pet to the next. If you’re on the fence, I’ll show you how to dip your toe in the house sitting waters to test the waters without wasting your precious time.
But, it’s not for everyone. And that’s ok too. I have a good friend (she knows who she is) who isn’t comfortable with the Airbnb model so, as much as she loves pets, being a house sitter isn’t a good fit for her either. She also has a dog and a horse so her pet therapy needs are well taken care of. She does, however, use a pet sitter when she travels. And I’ve met folks who do both – using a pet sitter and being a pet sitter – when they travel.
40 All. Forever.
One of my favorite aspects about the share – or more accurately – the collaborative consumption – economy is that it is a win-win for both parties. What the home owner receives is of equal value to what the house sitter receives. Actually, both parties believe they are getting the better deal. Recently I was chatting with a home owner about her up coming sit and she said, “I understand what I get, what’s in it for you?”
She must have liked my answer because we got the sit.
Preparation is the key to getting your first sit.
Because sits are often competitive, I recommend you register and pay for a membership now, with the site that had the best search results for you. While some sites allow you to apply for a limited number of sits without buying a membership, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be chosen without having a posted a profile, which is available only to paid members. Current membership fees range from $20 to $119.
Wait, you said at the beginning that the sits are free. And the sits are, you don’t pay a nightly fee to the homeowner. This a membership fee, paid to the company providing the technology and making the connection possible. In 2017, we paid $89 for a one year membership with Trusted Housesitters. In our first year, we completed three sits for a total of 26 days. At a modest $50 a night, we saved $1211 in lodging.
Crafting your profile.
Complete all the registration steps as quickly as possible. Ask friends for recommendation letters. Highlight your unique qualities, qualifications and relevant experience. David is an architect and has construction experience. On one sit we applied for, they mentioned an upcoming kitchen remodel. In our application, we offered a free architectural consult. Not sure if that sealed the deal, but we got the sit. Can’t wait to go back and see the finished kitchen.
Landing a sit.
Getting your truthful, yet glowing profile up is just the beginning. While homeowners can contact potential sitters directly, it’s rare until you have a connection with them. Because there are more sitters than sits, the home owners post their listing, which includes pictures of the house and the pets, as well as the specific dates they need help and detail all responsibilities. Then they wait to review applications from registered sitters. And that is you.
It’s not a contact sport but housesitting is competitive, especially for popular destinations and House Beautiful cover worthy homes. But you’re about to learn how to beat your rivals to the draw. Here are my tested and proven tips to winning at sitting.
Tip One: Expand your search parameters.
Search using as few restrictions as possible, even when you have a specific time frame and/or destination. In my experience, search engines don’t always deliver flawless results. And, dates for sits are often flexible by a day or two on either end. Actually, I shouldn’t blame the search engines because they rely on the information that humans give them.
For an upcoming trip to Oregon, we wanted to stay a few nights in Portland, a popular destination. By searching listings for the entire state, I found a wonderful home in Milwaukie, a delightful suburb connected to Portland by light rail.
It will be our first experience taking care of a bearded dragon, who must be fed live crickets, twice a day. I’ll let you know how that goes in a future post.
Tip Two: Be proactive.
Don’t wait to be notified of matching sits. While most sites allow you to set alerts to notify you when a listing meets your criteria, don’t rely on them. I’m not a luddite but I don’t trust technology 100%. Or maybe it’s just a control issue. Anyway, when I’m looking for a sit, I check the site first thing every morning and last thing at night. And maybe at lunch. Ok, I like to win, alright?
Tip Three: Ready, fire, aim.
That’s not a typo. While you don’t want to apply for sits that you really can’t, don’t want or aren’t qualified to do, when you see a listing that you’re interested in but have questions or reservations about, go ahead and throw your hat in the ring. It’s a bit like online dating. Everyone is putting their dreams out there, hoping for the perfect match. But it’s a dance and you have to be at the party to have a chance.
Tip Four: Toe dipping.
Consider a staycation. Looking for a sit in your home town or state is a great way to build your profile and your confidence. You’ll know more about the neighborhood and it makes meeting the home owners prior to the sit easier.
Top Tip: Flexibility
If you do nothing else – be flexible. I haven’t formulated the precise equation but the greater your flexibility, the higher probability that you’ll find and get a sit. If your travel dates are set, consider a range of possible destinations. Try spinning the globe. Or, if you simply must go to Paris, consider January instead of April.
Congratulations - they chose you!
Before accepting, be certain you still want – and can do – the sit. If you have any concerns discuss them now with the homeowner. It’s better to decline now, politely, of course, than later. Coordinate your arrival and departure days and times. We like to arrive the day before the homeowners leave and leave just before they return but, just like you snowflake, every sit is different.
For us, the most unexpected benefit of house sitting was the amazing connections we made not only with the pets but with their humans. A shared love of animals and travel plus caring for someone’s home and pets creates a strong and lasting bond. It adds a richness to our lives and our travels that Airbnb can’t match. So far, we’ve welcomed six new two-legged friends – Brenda & Matt, Abigail & Brad, and Cary & Barrett – and four new four-legged friends – Frida, Le Roi, Charlie and Mabel into our growing global family.
Share your housesitting adventures.
Have you tried housesitting? What was your experience?
Or do you still have questions? Let me know and I’ll do my best to help you.