Living like a local: How we prepared for 300 days of house and pet sitting in Europe

May 23, 2019
Before setting off on their European house and pet sitting adventure, Neil and Gai had a test run closer to home. Source: Getty Images

Queensland couple Neil McLean and Gai Reid journeyed to Europe to enjoy some authentic travel, ‘living like locals’. The result? They spent 300 days pet and house-sitting their way across four countries, spending less than it would cost them to live at home. Plus they started a new business, Village to Villa! Here’s the next chapter in the fabulous account of their escapades…

Episode 38

[To read episode 37, click here]

The Gold Coast mansion backing onto a champtionship golf course. Source: Village to Villa

Before Gai and I flew off to the other side of the world to start our 300-day European leg of our year-long adventure, we decided to cut our teeth with a few ‘warm up sits’ close to home.
It proved to be a great move. Like most pursuits that are unfamiliar, easing into it slowly is generally a good idea. We figured that is something was going to go wrong, we were better off being within a half hour of home as opposed to 15,000 kilometres away in the northern hemisphere.

Our first sit was for friends in a house we knew well. It was located in our home city, Queensland’s Gold Coast … with a cute little dog who already loved us. Everything here was familiar, or so we thought.

Our friends, the Sully family, went off on a 12-day cruise. We were to look after their house and little black dog, Ruby. We loved Ruby, the little black Moodle (a cross between a poodle and a Maltese) who is a plucky, playful thing! The house rules concerning this ball of doggie energy proved to be a little trickier than first thought.

As we progressively discovered about caring for precious pets, the old saying about while the cat is away, the mice will play comes to the fore. Many pets tend to push the boundaries a tad. For example, when the master is home (our friend Matt) Ruby is not allowed upstairs or on the carpeted areas or in the pool. The first night of the family being away, she snuck upstairs and peeked into the huge main bedroom with her cheeky little face showing as if to say, “I am here now … please let me come for a visit because there is no one else home”.

Gia holding Ruby after a bath….ready to towel her down and watch her to the ‘shake’. Source: Village to Villa

The sprawling home was five bedrooms, with 3.5 bathrooms, dining room, two studies, two lounges, a gym and heap of other spaces both indoor and outside undercover! It’s what we’d call a ‘six pack’ walk from one end to the other.

Despite knowing the house quite well from our many visits, it’s a little different when you are running the place. Who knew what induction cooking was? Do you know how induction stoves work? No, neither did we. It took us three days of having microwave meals while we figured it our finally. We’d recommend getting instructions on appliance operation — either verbally or printed — before you commence a sitting job, to avoid situations such as this.

The second day, the filter system on the big pool stopped working. Oh great, another puzzle to solve. Luckily, I had maintained the pool in my own house for 20 years and knew what to do, other wise it was an emergency call to the ‘pool guy’. Another tip, be sure you have a list of contact numbers for such things like pool maintenance/repair, plumbing, security etc. just in case something happens while you’re in charge.

All that aside, living in a very large house had its advantages. There was plenty of room, however at this place, Gai and I could have sent each other a text faster than go find each other at times! Also, we needed an electronics degree to work out how the television. Seriously, this whole place was run by apps on the phone.

It was quite an experience to be in a place that big. One of the other aspects is maintenance of course. The home backed onto a plush golf course. It was lovely hearing the sounds its produces both early in the morning until the late afternoon, especially the birdlife.

However, being a course carved out of natural bushland, there was a proliferation of native trees along the fence line. That meant a heap of leaf litter almost constantly. When there was a good blow, the pool would fill up with thousands of leaves and small sticks. No wonder the automatic system packed it in now and then!

When Gai and I started this journey, we decided that we would not judge each place, instead asking the question, ‘Could we live there”? It was about taking all things into consideration. Position, type of house, the ‘feel of it’, the neighbours, the surroundings, the functionality and the layout etc. When we were summing up near the end of our sit, it got a lot of ticks, however we simply didn’t need a place that big for us as a couple. We could have taken Ruby the Moodle home with us, we loved her so much, but it was time to move on.

Our next sit was going to be a very different setting and 700km from home. We couldn’t wait to meet the two poodles we would care for … and the owners of course!

Other helpful hints and tips

  1. Ask if there are any house rules you (and/or the pet/s) need to abide by
  2. Ask for the Wi-Fi password
  3. Keep emergency information at hand
  4. Get into a routine to ensure you keep the house in the same condition as you found it
  5. Be sure to say hi to the neighbours and introduce yourself

What tips or tricks do you have for anyone considering house or pet sitting?

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