I admit it: I sleep around. Usually with animals. I’ve been house sitting internationally for more than a decade, where I stay in someone else’s home at no financial cost and care for the homeowners’ home, pets, plants, and gardens while they vacation.
Free accommodations? Yes, it’s great! And I get to “live like a local” in a home that offers further savings: I have a kitchen to cook meals, a washer to do my laundry, and (probably) extensive cable and great Wi-Fi. Although house sitting is a great option for retirees, families, and digital nomads, I’m a 59-year-old single American woman, and I think house sitting is perfect for solo women travelers, too. But is house sitting a free ride?
During the last decade, I’ve house sat in 19 countries and cared for nearly one hundred dogs, cats, rabbits, and fish. I’ve learned to ask the hard questions that make a particular house sit work for me.
But, I’ve had a few house sitting assignments that were clunkers. I learned from these experiences. Here are my tips for finding the perfect house sitting experience for you.
Please note: This list is not intended to dissuade you from house sitting! It’s a list of factors that may or may not be important to you. Determine what’s important to you and ask direct questions. Don’t assume anything.
For example, I have a house sitting friend who is quite noise sensitive. She’s learned to ask about ambient noise. I, on the other hand, have a regular house sit I love that is situated right next to a busy train track and right under a Heathrow flight path. This would drive my friend crazy. But, she loves those isolated country house sits that would have me climbing the walls!
The goal here is for you to consider what is important for you -- and then carefully match yourself up with an appropriate house sit that fits your needs, lifestyle -- and limitations. Here’s my list of considerations:
1. Your Purpose For House Sitting
Is this a vacation for you? A working retreat? Are you a walkabout addict?
Thinking about what type of experience you’d like to have will eliminate a lot of house sits that wouldn’t meet your needs -- or fill your soul. For example, if you’re looking for a cultural experience filled with museums, ballets, and fine dining, a rural house sit won’t be appropriate. On the other hand, if you are looking for a writing retreat, that rural farmhouse might be perfect!
You might have only two weeks of holiday time, or you might be looking for a longer sitting assignment. Your ideal house sit length will be determined not only by your travel logistics but by your personal comfort level. Ask yourself: How often are you comfortable moving around -- packing and unpacking? Are you a 28-cities-in-30-days type of traveler? Or a land-and-lump type?
3. Time Zone
If you are telecommuting with your home office, the foreign time zone you house sit in might wreak havoc with your sleep cycles, which might not be worth it. Similarly, if you need to communicate with ill or elderly relatives back home, the time zone you house sit in should dovetail with those needs.
4. Rural Versus Urban
Are you a city or a country person? Do you want to be in the middle of town or in the middle of nowhere? Are you looking for stimulation or serenity?
Will you be house sitting in the Caribbean during hurricane season? Up north in the winter? Consider whether you are prepared to handle a weather emergency. And whether you are okay with shoveling snow or mowing an extensive lawn.
6. Fitness Required
Is there an elevator to that seventh-floor flat? How energetic are the dogs? Will you be at a high altitude? Will you have to haul water? (Seriously, an idyllic-sounding house sit in Greece required daily trips up the driveway to the well to fetch fresh water.)
7. Proximity To Grocery Stores, Et Cetera
Remember that you will need to handle everyday tasks. How easy will that be? This is more than just a lifestyle question. Do you want to drive in the foreign country you’ve chosen? If so, be sure to check insurance and international drivers’ license requirements. If not, be sure to determine how close you’ll be to public transportation, grocery stores, and restaurants.
8. Types Of Pets
Horses? Iguanas? Rats? Snakes? Llamas? Birds? Rabbits? Donkeys? Be sure to know all the animals’ requirements before accepting the sitting assignment. Know your limits!
9. Number Of Pets
Eight cats? How much litter scooping is necessary? Three big dogs? Can they be walked together? Do the pets get along? Again, know your limits.
10. Pets’ Needs
Do the pets need daily shots? Medication? Regular brushing? Again, be honest with yourself about what you’re capable of and willing to do.
11. Pets’ Routines And Habits
Do the dogs need walking every four hours? That might be a drag for day-long sightseeing, or it might be a blessing that forces you away from your computer regularly.
What are the animals’ sleeping habits? Will they sleep in the bed with you? Do they sleep through the night? What are their toilet habits? How should you respond to “bad” behaviors?
Are you particularly allergic to flea bites? Wigged out by cockroaches? You might ask the homeowners about their flea control regimes (which you’d be required to maintain) and the bugs they deal with (and how those bugs are dealt with). If there are monthly exterminations scheduled, for example, and you are sensitive to chemicals, you might want to pass.
13. Garden, Pool, Hot Tub, And Other Maintenance Requirements
Are you prepared to take on these maintenance responsibilities?
If silence is important to you, ask about nearby construction, barking dogs, street vendors’ loudspeakers, partying neighbors, and church bells. Will you be in the country during a political campaign exposing you to hourly loudspeaker announcements or during Ramadan’s dawn and dusk calls to prayer?
15. Mold And Smoke
If you are allergic to mold or smoke, ask your homeowners about this beforehand. The last thing you want is to arrive at a destination and learn you can’t breathe in the home.
16. Culture Shock
This is a very personal response to living in an area that is unlike your home culture. One of the joys of house sitting is living in a neighborhood as locals would. But this experience isn’t for everyone. Be honest with yourself.
17. Ability To Speak The Local Language
Consider language, cultural, and community barriers to connecting with locals. At a house sit I accepted in Ya’an, China, I was the only non-Asian person I encountered in ten days and had no face-to-face English conversation during that time. (Thank goodness for Skype!)
18. Communication With Homeowners
Some homeowners want daily communication; others weekly or none at all. If the homeowner plans to travel out of communication range, can you handle emergencies on your own?
19. House Clutter
Carefully look at the posted house photos and at the backgrounds during your video conversations to determine if the house’s clutter and colors will work for you. Living on top of other people’s stuff needs not be challenging. Before you take on your first house sit, I recommend you read the Nomador blog post “Living on Top of Other People’s Stuff: How To Keep Track Of Your Belongings While Housesitting.”
20. House Cleanliness
Some of the homes where I’ve house sat have regular housekeepers, which is not unusual in some countries. Others don’t. I’ve walked into some homes after a long flight and sat down and cried because the house was so grimy.
Ask your homeowners about their housekeeping habits. After all, you want to keep these routines! Your alternative is to spend your first several hours deep-cleaning to your comfort level, recognizing that it’s a small price to pay for the value you are receiving.
21. Oversight From Neighbors
Some homeowners ask their neighbors or relatives to drop by unannounced. Would you be comfortable with that?
You might consider both the security of the location (factors such as crime, terrorism, disease outbreaks, and political stability) and of the home itself (alarm systems, nanny-cams, et cetera).
23. Your Expenses
Be sure to factor in the cost of travel to the house sit, visa expenses, and the general cost of living at the location. Will you need to rent a car? Additionally, assume you will have unexpected expenses for items that enhance your life. I can’t tell you how many coffeemakers I’ve bought and left!
24. Visa Requirements
Especially if you are considering a last-minute sitting assignment, the time involved in securing a visa might be a factor.
25. Access To Health Care And Emergency Services
If you have personal health concerns, be sure to research options for your own healthcare. How far is the nearest clinic or emergency room? What types of services are offered, and how are they paid for? Will your insurance cover you -- or will you need travelers’ insurance?
26. Internet Bandwidth And Reliability
If you are a digital nomad (or just a Skype addict), consider your specific needs for internet reliability, bandwidth, and download and upload speeds.
Those photos on the house sit posting of the lush gardens and trees may not be representative of the weather during the time of year of your house sit. Be sure to ask about heating or cooling systems and costs. Usually, the homeowners pay these utilities, but some homeowners have been stuck with large bills, so be sure to ask about how you can be consistent with their usage.
28. Shots Needed
Consider your entire itinerary when researching required inoculations. You might not, for example, need a Yellow Fever shot to enter a country if you are coming from your home, but it might be required if you are visiting another country in the interim -- even if you never leave the airport in the connecting country. Also pay attention to when you need to start taking medication. You might need to start taking some meds (such as some malaria prophylaxis) two weeks before entering the country.
29. Other Responsibilities
You might not be comfortable running the homeowners’ bed and breakfast or caring for their Airbnb guests in their absence. Or living with their adult child, elderly parent, roommates, or renters.
You might have other considerations. For example, I once turned down a two-month house sit in London because there was no shower and I’d have to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. That would probably not be a deal-breaker for others, but it was for me. (The Skype tour of the home revealed that to me.)
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.
There are numerous sites that you can join to find homeowners who are searching for house sitters. The larges 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!
Finally, if you are traveling with a partner, be sure to review these considerations with him or her so you can both be happy house sitters!