I admit: I sleep around. I’m a 59-year-old single American woman who has traveled (mostly) solo full-time for the past decade as an international house sitter. I am hooked on house sitting as a safe, affordable, authentic way of traveling. I’ve lived in more than 50 homes in 19 countries throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico, the U.S., and Africa, taking care of nearly 100 dogs, cats, rabbits, and fish.
As a house sitter, I live in someone else’s home and care for their pets, plants, gardens, and houses while they vacation. I love that I can “live like a local” in a foreign city -- while providing pet owners the freedom to travel knowing that their pets are pampered, and their home is occupied. Read here for tips on finding the best house sitting experience for you.
Most house sitters don’t do it as a lifestyle, as I do. They house sit for a few weeks over the holidays or during their summer breaks -- or when they are visiting their adult children and don’t want to be underfoot. While anyone can house sit -- families, couples, retirees -- it’s particularly great for solo women travelers. Here’s why:
1. You’re In A Safer Area
Hotels are generally in touristy areas that attract scammers and pickpockets. While you’ll likely visit those touristy areas to see the sites, you won’t be walking around them at night.
2. You’ll Save A Bundle On Accommodations
I hesitate to write that house sitting provides “free” accommodations because there is a cost: It’s a huge responsibility to care for everything that’s dear to another person and, sometimes, you might need to put your own plans on hold while dealing with an emergency with the pet or home.
On the other hand, I’ve stayed in fabulous homes in desirable neighborhoods in expensive cities for ridiculously long periods that I would never have been able to financially afford. For example, I have regularly house sat in London for several weeks at a time. My first international house sit was in east London for two months during the 2012 Olympics! The torch parade ran by just three blocks from where I “lived.”
3. Your Wi-Fi Is More Secure
Staying in a home with private Wi-Fi protects you more securely when you access your online financial or personal accounts than when you log in at hotels. And you’ll probably get better bandwidth, too!
4. You’ll Have More Privacy
Since housekeeping won’t be entering your room each day, you’ll have more privacy -- and security -- in a private home.
5. You’ll Enjoy More Overall Security
Homeowners generally do a better job securing their homes than hotels -- especially budget hotels -- do when securing their rooms. At hotels, many people have access to your room. And who knows how many people have keys or know the door code to your vacation rental?
Burglaries surely can occur at homes, too, even when you are extra cautious. It’s a good thing to ask your homeowner about the neighborhood and community security before accepting a sitting assignment.
6. You’ll Get Great Local Tourist Tips
By the time you reach your destination, you’ll have communicated with your homeowners so often, you’ll already have a local connection. If you ask them, your homeowners will provide you with maps, a list of their favorite neighborhood restaurants, and information about nearby public transportation.
A woman I house sat for in Amsterdam left me her museum card pass. A couple I house sat for in London left me a loaded transportation card. A man I house sat for in London left me his membership card to Kew Gardens, an experience I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
Couples and families would benefit from these discounts, too, but as a solo traveler, I liked that I could take full advantage of these homeowners’ generosity. And I really appreciated that some of the “tourist research” had already been done for me. As a solo traveler, I don’t have the luxury of a partner who does some or half of the travel planning. I love that I can ask my homeowners for their ideas -- and they love to share their communities!
7. You’ll Be Able To Cook Your Own Meals
As a house sitter, you’ll have your own full kitchen to prepare your meals. Especially if you have dietary concerns, this is a huge safety perk. And it saves you a bundle by not having to eat out three times every day.
8. You Can Park For Free
If you are renting a car at your destination, being able to park in “your” home’s driveway is a huge benefit over parking in expensive -- and scary -- underground hotel structures.
9. You Won’t Lose Your Laundry
Most homes where you house sit will have their own washing machine. No more paying for laundering your clothes. No more chances of clothing getting lost or damaged -- or cleaned with products you are allergic to.
10. You Don’t Have To Worry About Bedbugs
Chances are, the house where you’ll be sitting is cleaner than a hotel -- and cleaner than some vacation rentals. But, this is no guarantee. But bedbugs in a private home? Highly unlikely!
11. You’ll Enjoy Free Movies
Nights can be tough when you are traveling solo. While I do get out to listen to live music or see a great play, I can’t afford that every night (and I usually go to more affordable matinees of plays and dance performances). For my nights in, I love being able to access my homeowner’s cable package or Netflix rather than being stuck with the mediocre offerings at hotels. During a recent 4-month house sit, I binged on the homeowners’ Netflix on all seasons of Better Call Saul, Orange Is the New Black, and Mad Men. I was happy sightseeing during the day and cuddling at “home” at night.
12. You’ll Be Introduced To New Friends
I specifically ask my homeowners to introduce me to their girlfriends or to add me to their neighborhood WhatsApp groups. Usually, this has meant a coffee or wine outing with an interesting woman in a place only locals know about. This has sometimes led to more exotic experiences, like the friend I was introduced to in Reunion, a French island east of Madagascar where I house sat for 2 months. Anne arranged for me to snorkel with migrating humpback whales -- an experience I would not have been able to organize as a tourist on my own.
13. You’ll Have Neighbors Watching Out For You
During a house sit, you’ll live in a residential building or home where people know each other, at least by sight. Your neighbors are vested in your safety and will provide an extra layer of security -- and perhaps friendship -- that you wouldn’t get at a hotel or vacation rental.
14. You Might Get Great Amenities
I had a house sit every spring and fall in Mexico for a wonderful dog at a four-story home that was built on the side of a hill. Every level had a panoramic view of Lake Chapala. There was a private lap pool and inspiring terraces. No hotel that I could afford could have matched this!
15. You’ll Be Introduced To Experiences Only Locals Know About
I’ll be honest: Traveling alone can get lonely, and figuring out what to do can get overwhelming. When you house sit, your homeowner might be able to steer you toward places or events that are geared toward your interests. One homeowner in Berlin, knowing of my interest in helping and writing about refugees, steered me toward a refugee intake center at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. I volunteered for a day and wrote about my experience. I would never have found this on my own, as all the local news was in German.
16. And If You Are House Sitting For A Dog…
…You might even enjoy an extra layer of protection from a watchdog!
Note: I don’t get paid money for house sitting. I do it as a quid pro quo where my accommodation costs are covered in exchange for pet and home care. If I were paid, I would need a work visa (rather than a tourist visa) for entering many countries. Work visas are generally tougher to secure and sometimes cost more money.
To learn more about house sitting and how to get started by avoiding common pitfalls, check out my book How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, available as a softcover, Kindle, or ebook.
There are 50 sites that you can join to find homeowners who are searching for house sitters. The largest, most expensive, and most competitive is Trusted Housesitters. Smaller sites like HouseSit Match and Nomador offer more personalized service. Then, there are country- or lifestyle-specific sites like HouseSit Mexico or Kindred Spirits House (for vegans and vegetarians). To help figure out which site to join, check out HouseSit Search, input your search criteria, and peruse the offerings from several of the top house sitting sites. It’s free to use!