For the 50+ Traveler

Have you heard about the wonderful benefits of house sitting around the world? It really is quite the arrangement, completely built on trust. You arrive -- after applying and being interviewed -- move in, and pick up the rhythm of someone else’s life, centered around the care of their pets. It’s brilliant. Take your pick: Paris. London. Vancouver. Seattle. And there are plenty of rural settings as well.

I’ve been a modern-day nomad for four years, and house sitting has been an integral part of my life. Strolling with my French neighbor down dusty roads, feeding donkeys, discovering azure blue eggs laid just for me, and chasing chickens back through fences are experiences that are woven through the tapestry of my travel story.

The opportunity to revisit the same market vendors week after week, accept a dinner invitation at a neighbor’s, and revel in the inside scoop from a local are other unique situations that I’ve relished, for house sitting is the ultimate in slow travel.

But has anyone mentioned the perils involved in house sitting? You are, temporarily, living someone else’s life. You briefly inherit their animals and their idiosyncrasies. Dogs that wake you exactly at 6:50 a.m. Breaker switches out in a tool shed, which, when the power is off, is more than an inconvenience. The 9 p.m. schedule of shooing the hens into the coop and mediating squabbles between the sheep and goats at feeding time. This is the adventure!

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you consider whether international house sitting is for you -- or prepare for your first house sitting adventure.

1. Be Flexible

When the brand new washing machine is outside in a shed with the water lines exposed, washing your clothes in a freezing cold winter in France becomes a challenge. Little did I know, as I hummed my French tune, that my clothes would become stuck in the machine for five days.

Not a big deal, you say?

As a nomad with a minimalist wardrobe, a grumpy French repairman who materialized on his own schedule, my lack of French vocabulary around washing machine cycles, and the bitter weather, I concluded that perhaps as a solo female traveler, I should travel with a blow torch. That might have saved the day.

Donkeys at a housesitting job.
Alison Browne

2. Skip The Overlap

There’s a difference between the overlap at the beginning of a house sit and one at the end. The one at the beginning is critical to get a brief on how to ensure life runs smoothly. Often, the evening before the housesit begins, you may find yourself chatting over dinner with the homeowners and in the process of starting a friendship that will last for years.

That said, I, for one, avoid end-of-trip overlap at all costs, especially when the homeowner changes their plans or returns early due to an emergency.

When one of my homeowners broke her ankle and returned two weeks early, she offered me a place to stay for as long as I wanted. I decided to overlap for three nights. Somehow living with the homeowner in her space was not ideal. Although I helped her by walking the dog and bringing her tea, the homeowner clearly did not want me in her space. In the end, she complained about me in her review.

This past summer another homeowner returned four days early from a road trip. She invited me to stay. I declined after my previous experience!

Stay open to the possibility that plans could change.

George, the golden retriever.
Alison Browne

3. Have a Sense of Humour

For the sake of anonymity, I’ll call this lovely Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever George. George, I was forewarned, was a scavenger. Everything was to be pushed to the back of the countertops when going out or to bed. The bathroom door was to be closed at all times (soap apparently tastes divine), as was my bedroom door. He’d be after my socks, I suppose.

George was also the slowest walker ever. I’ve never walked a dog whose leash would wind up fully extended behind me. George was a character. We fell into a lovely rhythm of leisurely strolls through the forest, snacks, and naps.

My second-to-last night at George’s place, I hastily left to do some errands, and upon my return, I went to the small pile of love letters I had been swooning over from France. I had counted them earlier that evening. Seven in all. I counted them again. Six. The pile was intact. Nothing was out of place. But I was one short. Had I placed it in my pocket? Stolen away to my bedroom to reread it?

I searched high and low. To no avail, when finally, in the corner of George’s bed, I spied a remnant of the letter. Lovingly chewed. And swallowed. I wonder to this day if George now barks in French!

It is a unique experience stepping into someone else’s life and bonding with their animals. But walking out the door with a final furry kiss, a backward glance, and a tug at the heartstrings is, in my opinion, the greatest peril of all.

Want to house sit? Here’s how one couple dropped everything and traveled the world by house sitting.