Want to know the secret to travelling the world for free?

Jul 21, 2023
Housesitting is a free way to see the world and get pet cuddles. Source: Supplied.

Free travel? Pet Cuddles?

Alright –  if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is, we have all learned from that mistake I get it, but hear me out. 

It may be bending the truth a little, I admit, about the free travel part, maybe it should really read “free accommodation”,  but that isn’t quite as enticing as “free travel”  let’s face it!

You’ve all probably heard of this housesitting idea, but it just doesn’t seem to make sense, you might have so many questions about how it all works and what’s it all about,  and if it’s as good as it sounds, just like I was doing this time last year! 

But I took the plunge and gave it a go – the verdict: It IS as good as it sounds, even better.

My first introduction to it came more by necessity than choice.

How to live around the world for free by petsitting

Pet sitting - travel the world and save cash - Unique and free way to see the world and get pet cuddles
Source: Image Supplied.

I was looking to find a solution to fund my way, while in England temporarily, without eating into retirement savings. I needed to be in a specific location (close to my elderly mother who needs visiting daily) and it wasn’t an option to live with relatives. 

So up goes my profile on a housesitting site and out goes around $90 for the membership. Worst case scenario, that’s all I will lose, the best case is someone offers me a nice place to stay and perhaps a pet to take care of, so, here goes.

I didn’t have to wait long; numerous possibilities were listed in the location I wanted.

One house shouted at me immediately – from the images, it looked like everything I hoped for – perfect location, gorgeous house, cute dog, the right dates and length of sit for me. I took great care with my wording when applying for this sit, knowing how important the first impression could be, similar to applying for a job that you know you desperately want, which is exactly what we’re doing when applying for a house sit! 

I was slightly nervous but excited too as I waited, the more I thought about it, the more I doubted that they would choose me, there must be hundreds of people wanting this gorgeous house, I surely don’t stand a chance and I have no references yet. 

Less than 24 hours later the owner messaged me through the house sitting site asking if I would like to drop by to meet her. I did. There was an immediate rapport between both her and her dog. We sat over a cuppa and got to know each other. 

This, it turns out, is one of the fundamental crucial steps of house sitting – taking time for both parties to feel comfortable that this is the right fit. They are entrusting their most valuable possessions (usually), being the home and the pet, to you. 

I was offered the house sit and subsequently was asked back another 7 times by the same owner and we have even stayed good friends. It was a perfect match and I have made many happy memories there.

The house itself was an 1830s farmhouse with 10 acres of land in a rural setting. Idyllic country views, with its own fenced pond, large garden and paddock. It was luxuriously and tastefully furnished with 5 bedrooms I could choose from, an open fireplace and an Aga stove for cooking. 

The sit came with its own beautiful affectionate dog (English Springer Spaniel mix Afghan ) who just loved company. It also came with a few spoiled chickens all with cute names who laid eggs for breakfast.

All I had to do was live in this splendour, take the dog for a walk each day and feed the chooks. That’s it. I could tend to the garden if I wanted, but a gardener came in once a week to do it. I had my Mum come for dinner and my daughter stayed for a few days to experience it, all encouraged by the owner to do so.

Let’s just stop here a moment – I can hear all the voices “Why would anyone want a complete stranger living in their beautiful home?” 

Pet sitting - travel the world and save cash - Unique and free way to see the world and get pet cuddles
Source: Image supplied.

There are usually 3 reasons WHY people want strangers in their house in this situation:

  1. Because they love their pet so much, they can’t bear to think of it in a kennel or cattery. They simply want the best for their pet, and the best is usually, if at all possible, for the pet to stay in its own environment with its own routines, with some caring companionship. It is a fact that they suffer less separation anxiety this way (that goes for the pet and the owner!)
  2. For house security – to have a presence at the home and keep it lived in.
  3. Because it costs them nothing and boarding and vet fees for a pet can be very expensive

So that leads me to ask you this – Why would anyone WANT to stay in someone else’s house?

There are many reasons people will want to do this, and some of them go like this:

  • It is FREE (ok so you still need to pay to get there, whether it’s airfare or petrol for your car)
  • You often feel part of the community you’re in, without feeling like a tourist in a hotel or motel
  • It’s a chance to experience living in a different area, as a local for a while, and absorb the area. Plus enjoy a change of house.
  • It’s a rewarding way to travel, feeling like you’re contributing by earning your keep by providing pet care services in exchange for accommodation.
  • If you’re thinking of moving to a new area you have little knowledge of, it provides a chance to live there without commitment.
  • It gives you a connection with a pet and a chance to even explore what type of pet or dog you may want eventually!
  • Perfect for those at a stage of life who may be looking for something new.
  • It opens your mind.

Now, I realise my situation was quite unique and that most people would not want to stay 7 or 8 times in the same area or house (you would if you saw this house though!)

There are definite advantages to finding one home sit that you love and returning again- for you, it feels like going back to a favourite holiday destination, each time finding out more about the area, and for them, it eliminates the need to advertise and find another house sitter they’re comfortable with.

I realise the benchmark had been set high with my first experience, but, since then, there have been so many other exciting and interesting sits completed. 

For example:

  • The Heritage listed (Grade 2 listed in UK) Flemish style 7 bedroomed mansion in Gloucester, whose owner simply wanted us there to open up for the real estate agent on occasion, (sadly she was selling up after a nasty divorce) thus there were no pets and no gardening, just the beautiful house. 
  • The 14th Century Tudor house and gardens, complete with a sheepdog, open fireplace and timber beams.
  • The ultra-modern townhouse with a playful pup to care for on the outskirts of Stratford on Avon – the pup happily accompanying me on expeditions to Shakespeare country (I got some ideas for my own kitchen renovation from this house!).
  • “The Smithy” – a converted blacksmith’s barn in a medieval town, with an over-friendly pug who would stick his head through the cat flap and yell every time I was out of sight. Had my pick of the raspberries and apples from their orchard.
  • The picturesque white stone country cottage (think The Holiday cottage, but better), complete with a delightful rose garden and pear trees, and a pretty cat who rarely came home for tea.

Not to mention the ones I have completed in Australia recently.

You get the idea.

Pet and Housesitting Frequently Asked Questions

Source: Image supplied.

It’s a reasonably new concept, and there is an element of the unknown, trust and commitment involved. Perhaps that’s the reason people have asked me so many questions. I can only give you some answers from my experience.

What sites should I look at to start?

Do your own research and see which resonates with you – For me, I used Trusted Housesitters because it’s international, but also local ones like UK House Sitters or Aussie House Sitters. Different rules and prices.

What does it cost to sign up?

Anything from $80 – $250

Is there a contract? 

Not usually, it’s a verbal agreement

Are you insured?

Check your membership, each company is different. I have never experienced an insurance issue. 

How do they choose you? – by reading your profile and references and the feeling they get when speaking to you by phone, video call or in real life. Each site will give you tips on writing your profile.

Do they ask for references? When you first start you can use personal references. But as you go along, the owners leave you references on the site, and you leave feedback on them.

Are there any house sits with no animals? – Yes, but not as common as with pets.

How do you know what to do?

They give you all the instructions you need and usually a folder about the neighbourhood and important numbers.

What happens if something happens to the pet on my watch?

Remember you are not a trained animal professional – they will always leave their vet’s number for you, and keep them informed at all times.

Do they just leave the whole house for you to use?

Usually, but sometimes just a part of the house.

What if I change my mind or they change their minds?

Once you have committed, stick to your word. It’s very hard to find a replacement last minute. So don’t say yes unless you really mean it! It may also lead to a bad review. 

Some tips I have found useful: 

  • Anything you use (food, laundry powder etc),  replace. 
  • Leave the place as you found it, or cleaner.
  • Try to meet the owners beforehand if possible or arrange a video meeting.
  • If you are not feeling 100 per cent comfortable about the house, people, or arrangement, don’t accept the sit. It could lead to a bad experience.
  • You must like animals, and give the pet the time and love required that the owner has asked for.
  • Be a sweety and leave flowers or chocolates on their return (this helps with return jobs).
  • Always remember the most important thing for most owners is that they return to a happy and healthy pet.
  • Keep in touch with the owners while they are away, photos of their pets are always appreciated.
  • Be flexible! There was a time when the house owner surprised me and walked in a day earlier than expected. She wanted to watch the Queen’s funeral and invited me to stay with her, eating cake and drinking tea, keeping each other company, and I didn’t need to change my plans. 
  • Ask specific questions. In one experience I had, the owner specified 3 chickens on her listing – I didn’t check with her, however. The first night I went searching for chicken number three in the dark, cold countryside, calling its name for hours, upset that a chicken had gone missing on my watch – only to hear from the owner, she forgot to tell me there were only two chickens now!

All things considered, I understand why this type of travel may not suit everyone, but if your interest has been sparked a tiny bit after reading this, I recommend you hop on a site now and investigate. You might just see that perfect house jumping out at you, and who knows what that might lead to.

What have you got to lose?

Disclaimer: Always be sure to check for any visa requirements in the countries you wish to visit.

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