Whether we’re in Brighton or Bangkok, most mornings begin the same. Mugs of strong coffee √, bowls of yogurt √, ready, set, go: scout available housesits √. The daily email, waiting in my inbox, lists dozens of new opportunities. It’s like Christmas, every single morning. Our selected parameters are wide to include just about every where in the world, so the listings, grouped by country, are filled with promise. We could go anywhere! Though, truth be told, we seem to be solidly rooted around Europe in the phase. Yet, still, we get to see and imagine what’s possible and that is thrilling. (More below on the housesitting services we use).
Sometimes, it’s a destination which grabs our attention (France, Cote d’ Azur, yes please!). Other times, we hope to bridge dates between commitments in specific regions. Images often draw us in: centuries-old stone farmhouse set among rolling hills, modern villa with expansive sea view, chic and artsy apartment overlooking city rooftops. Those are eye-candy.
And, of course, the pets are always a major factor. Take our current housesit, for instance. We had no intention of visiting the UK this summer. As our 90-day visa in Italy (and the Schengen zone) was nearing end, we discussed where to go next. “I will go anywhere except England,” I remember Matt saying. Don’t get me wrong. We have spent big chunks of time traveling and living in the UK and love it. Love the people, culture, music, beer, and have even acquired a taste for the cuisine (I admit it. Mushy peas, I’m a fan). But, let’s be frank: England’s weather can be dreadful, even in August.
Then, one morning while perusing housesits, I spied this one photo below – and our future destination was decided. It would be to the one place NOT on our list.
I nearly spit out my coffee when I saw this photo. “What about Brighton?” I asked Matt. “No England,” he replied. “But, look at these two,” I pleaded. A Skype interview with the host, who we instantly adored, followed and before you can say “puppy love,” we were headed to Brighton. We’re here for two weeks, taking care of these two super funny and sweet dogs, and the house…she’s a stunner too. Just two blocks from the sea, gorgeously artful and historic. And, wouldn’t you know…the weather is sunny and fabulous. It’s all double happiness.
We have visited Brighton before, as “tourists.” We love the distinctive vibe: open, liberal and quirky-to-the-bone. Anything goes in Brighton and you can be anyone. Now, living here as locals-ish, we have time to conduct thorough research, aka pub-crawling and restaurant-hopping, make friends and interact with locals on a deeper level. We feel how earnestly Brighton works for and holds dearly to that “be yourself, be happy” attitude. Our love for the place and people have deepened, that’s one of the joy of housesitting: seeing life from another perspective.
When we began this traveling life three years ago (you can read about our first housesitting experience here: Gunshots and Raindrops: Housesitting in Tuscany), we had no way of knowing that housesitting would become a vehicle for digging beneath the surface of places and further understanding different cultures, while living – rather grandly – within our budget.
Interested in becoming a house sitter or host? See below for more information as well as a code for membership discount.
These opportunities have taken us to marquee designations like Brighton, London and Spain’s famed Costa del Sol. We’ve also ventured way off the beaten path to places we never knew existed like the seaside beauty of Teignmouth (UK) and historic market town Fivizzano (Italy).
We’ve immersed in a King’s architecture while snuggling with two shy cats in Cambridge. Fell in love with the musical soul of Liverpool, while swaying around town with a pair of hilariously-cute cocker spaniels. Acquired an education in French cheese in the market town of Valbonne, with a doggy duo sniffing up our heels.
The Furs & Feathers
We’ve had quiet time in quiet places like the seaside fishing village of Portishead, the canal-side five-house village of Grayfton Regis and too-conservative-for-us commune of Hungerford. We’ve lived large in a posh London flat, with gregarious pup Manu who, during park walks, was treated like royalty by all who approached.
We’ve fallen in love with a lovebird in Spain, whippets on England’s southern coast, and now, a mischievous dachshund puppy in Brighton.
Our Housesitting Experiences (thus far), by the Numbers.
18 dogs. 11 cats. 1 bird.
$0 exchanged. For those new to this concept. Housesitting is a value equation. The host provides a home and utilities (plus, often a car) for free usage. The sitters take care of the home, sometimes also pets and garden, as if their own.
During 2017, 50% of our year was spent on housesitting assignments. That’s 180+ days rent free. Thus, our living expenses for the year in total (which includes rent, utilities, wifi, etc) were $4500. Note, this number doesn’t include transportation, food or entertainment. But, in comparison, our living expenses in our “previous life,” including mortgage, house insurance, taxes, utilities, maintenance, were roughly $30,000 per year.
Now, you see how housesitting enables and keeps us traveling light, right?
Our Keys to Housesitting Success:
We’re open and flexible.
For our second venture into sitting, we agreed to an assignment on the southern coast of England, one dog, beautiful cottage. The homeowner messaged a week prior asking how flexible we were. Matt and I laughed. Although we had no idea what she had in mind, we responded that we were probably the most flexible people she would meet. “Good,” she responded. “The seaside cottage is our second home, it would be better for us if you kept our dog Manu in our central London flat, two blocks from the British museum. Oh, and by the way,” she continued. “My sister will pick up the dog to take him to the country after a few days, so you only need to watch the house.” The location and experience were grand and we were hooked.
Pro tip: Set your perimeters wide and be open to exploration. See your hometown from a different perspective with a local sit, then venture to a place you’ve never been in your home country. Then, grab your passport and head for distant lands. As your reviews glow and grow, you’ll gain confidence to go further.
We approach housesitting like it’s our job (because it is).
Last night, we began talking with a guy at our new favorite Brighton haunt, as you do in neighborhood pubs. He asked what brought us to Brighton and we explained, somewhat jokingly, that we’re professional housesitters. (It’s always the strangest conversation to have with people. Their reactions say so much about their own travels and mindset). We told this guy Dave about “our” beautiful house, dogs, and proximity to the beach. He couldn’t believe this kind of thing exists. “You stay there for free? And, you take care of the dogs? How does this happen?” he asked. After we laid out the process and he digested the concept, he said “Better than working a 9-to-5! Or, even being a chef, like me. Where do I sign up?”
Housesitting requires work. We spend much time sifting through listings, researching locations, studying transportation connects and costs, then filling out applications, conducting video interviews, all for the possibility of a sit.
Once we’re “hired” and arrive, we’re always working, in a way. Caring for someone’s home, belongings and pets requires being on point and guard. We tend to be in constant communication with hosts, if they desire, sending updates, pictures and videos. And, when something goes wrong – and something often does – you have to snap into action.
What could go wrong? Uhm, let’s see. For us, here’s a short list of situations that have occurred:
> Labrador Angus ran away in the woods of Tuscany and wouldn’t return to our calls or pleas. (Eventually, he resurfaced but not until we both had little panics).
> Orange cat Marmalade ran through an open door, disappearing down a narrow alley of Stari Grad’s old town. With pockets loaded with treats, Matt and I roamed the streets crying “Marmalade,” until she peaked her head out of a dark corner.
> Accident-prone Phoebe, who wore a cone from prior injury upon our arrival in Spain, then impaled herself on a fence post in the yard requiring emergency surgery. (One of my favorite gigs as a travel writer gave the opportunity to write and record a podcast for CanadaTalks about this experience. Listen to the story here).
> During a storm, a giant tree limb shattered glass terraces of “our” gorgeous villa overlooking Gibraltar, sending us into action dealing with various contractors, all in pretty intense Spanish.
> And, most recently, our Brighton puppy decided it a good idea to eat the stuffing out of a cushion. Two vet visits, one nasty extraction, and three medications later, and here we are nursing ‘lil Percy back to good digestive health.
You get the idea. Shit happens (sometimes literally), and as housesitters, you are the manager of it. It’s also worth saying: we take no chances. If a pet appears ill or something goes wrong with an appliance, we alert the homeowners immediately. Home and pet care are priority one, in every instance.
We’ve learned to be unapologetically selective.
I suppose we’re lucky to have had only one bad experience. And, oh…the lessons we learned from that experience. Our big mistake was not asking the right questions. It was only a four-day gig so I didn’t bother to request a video tour of the home (as is our usual method). For some crazy reason, I don’t think I even asked to see photos. We arrived to a dark apartment, which we soon found to show better in darkness. With lights on, piles of junk illuminated. Kids toys, tchotchkes and trinkets, laundry, magazines and newspapers. Disorder in every direction. It was my own personal nightmare. Fortunately, the dog was sweet and time was short.
After that experience, we decided – at our age and stage of life – we are luxury housesitters, it’s simple. Now, I ask to see photos AND video tours of the house. I always tell the story of the disgusting apartment and ask bluntly their thoughts on hoarding. This usually produces laughs and good conversation (if not, it’s a no-go).
We revel in exploration with roots.
Traveling full-time requires balance. We love discovering and experiencing new places, checking out restaurants, going out to hear music, seeing all the sites. But, we also love cooking at home, spending time with pets and reading and drinking wine in the garden.
On many occasions, after the pace of constant travel, we end up at a housesit where we spend more time in the home with the pets that the hosts probably ever do in one stretch. (Another reason for being picky about spaces like kitchens and patios, too).
For us, housesitting is an opportunity to nest, recharge and feel grounded. Then, we get back on the road, always to the next place.
So, what’s next? We move a region over for one week, one cat, and one lovely house just outside Reading. More soon!
Interested in becoming a house sitter or host?
For more information, here’s a link to a story I wrote for Paste magazine:
We currently use two services: TrustedHousesitters and Nomador. Most of our assignments come through TrustedHousesitters, it seems. If you are interested in joining as a sitter or host, use this code for TrustedHousesitters and you get a discount off the membership fee (and we get a discount off our fee next year).
To apply, use this unique link.
Or, at checkout, enter this code:
Have questions about housesitting? Reply in the comments and we’ll be sure to share any of our insights.
If you like this story, you may also like:
Gunshots and Raindrops: Our first housesitting experience in Tuscany.
My first podcast for CanadaTalks: An Eye-Opening & Heart-Pounding Housesitting Experience in Spain. Read more and listen here.
Why You Should Housesit Your Way Around the World – here’s a story I wrote for Paste magazine.