LET’S IMAGINE having access to an online travel brochure from which you could fill your travel destination “bucket list”. Updated daily with new locations, the brochure describes and illustrates elegant furnished flats in Paris, ocean view condos in California and Vancouver Island, majestic chateaux in France, rural homes in New Zealand, apartments in an Australian metropolis or overlooking New York’s Central Park, Spanish vacation properties with private swimming pools, or perhaps a grand Victorian home in Central London. Stays range from a long weekend to a year and everything in between. The only cost to you is getting there. Yes, all these self-catering properties are FREE!
Our author, Angela Laws, welcomes you to the growing, global travel phenomenon that is House Sitting.
My husband John and I are 60-something retirees, with a passion for travel, animals, discovering new environments and making new friends, without enduring impersonal hotels, or overcrowded resorts. House Sitting is our lifestyle, a travel choice which combines many elements without breaking the bank, especially on a fixed income.
Living in Vancouver, British Columbia, we embarked quite by accident on this amazing journey five years ago after losing our beloved Springer Spaniel, Holly. Our own pet/house sitter, knowing my love of animals, asked for my help with her ever-growing client list. Initially hesitant but always up for a new challenge, I agreed.
My first assignment was two weeks looking after an adorable Cocker Spaniel in his lovely home on Vancouver Island. I loved it! The opportunity satisfied every need I had, healing from my loss of Holly, feeling needed, helping a home owner travel with complete peace of mind, something I was very familiar with. At the same time I was staying in superb self-catering accommodation and experiencing an area of Vancouver Island that I was unfamiliar with. A “Win-Win” for everyone.
During the last five years we have house sat around the world saving untold thousands of dollars on accommodation and very often on car rental as most house sits include the use of a vehicle. While we are away, we usually book a house sitter for our Vancouver home which includes the use of our SUV, although we do ask for a contribution to the insurance costs. For sits longer than a month we’ll expect to pay utility costs, although this is a private arrangement negotiated between the house sitter and home owner, as with any costs or payments.
2012 found us in Las Vegas for three months where we enjoyed a lovely golf course home, just 10 minutes drive from the madness of the “Strip”. Nevada has a lot of diversity but those who stay only a few days in Las Vegas rarely discover that.
In May we flew to the UK for a three month stay. All our family and close friends live there, none of whom have large enough homes to accommodate guests for more than a few days. House sitting has solved our accommodation problems while allowing longer family and friend visits in comfortable circumstances.
For our British visit, I arranged four wonderful sits locating us exactly where we wanted to be by applying online to the home owner’s listings. Among the sits was a beautiful home in Central London for a month during the Olympics. Hotels were charging outrageous prices, while we had amazing accommodation in exchange for giving TLC to a sweet cat. It would have been preferable to have secured one sit for the entire three-month stay but it doesn’t always work out. Flexibility is a must with house sitting.
After London we traveled to Epernay, epicentre of the French champagne industry, and a wonderful chateau stay looking after two dogs and cats for three weeks. A bonus was a fridge full of Champagne, courtesy of the owners. September found us back in BC saying goodbye to our house sitters from Australia who looked after our home beautifully while enjoying being close to their son who lives in Vancouver. In November we headed back to Nevada, rounding out our 2012 house sitting year.
Eighty percent of homes require pet care, mainly small animals, though John and I have cared for a veritable Ark of wonderful pets and livestock which may include horses, llamas, fish, birds of many species and small farm animals. I’m very experienced with horses and have had a sit that included a mare and her foal. But obviously the large percentage are dogs and cats, sometimes in multiples.
It’s well documented that animals are far happier staying in their own environment. Creatures of habit, they prefer the safety and familiarity of home with only the human caregiver changing. Animals are smart, they know when humans care and will adopt the caregiver very quickly when they feel secure. If you are a genuine animal lover, not just a lover of your own animals (yes, there is a difference), pet sitting can be a happy part of the travel adventure.
There is no doubt that a house sit with pets does require spending more time at home. Under such an arrangement, pets must always be the first priority. Without exception pet owners’ wishes and instructions are paramount; this is an arrangement based on trust, after all.
House sitting is not for everyone. Committing to house sitting should be for the complete experience, not just to enjoy free accommodation, however appealing. The way we approach house sitting is we’re greatly benefiting from providing a service to a home owner who is a client, although many become friends as well. If you expect perfection every time you walk into a home, you may be disappointed. Everyone’s idea of clean and tidy is different. However, only once in five years have we refused an assignment.
Sits without animals are obviously less restrictive, the details of which are individually negotiable with the accommodation owner. For example, I don’t mind if my house sitters spend up to four nights away. Regardless of the details, house sitters do need to be adaptable and quickly feel at home, be absolutely honest, good organisers, flexible (with a capital F), good communicators, practical, energetic and have a thirst for adventure. If travel, pets, people and saving money are significant priorities, then house sitting could be your next lifestyle choice.
Based in the UK, www.trustedhousesitters.com is the largest online house sitting organization in the world with support in the US, Canada, France and New Zealand. Started in 2010, it currently offers the most comprehensive website for both sitters and homeowners with thousands of members split 55/45 between homes and sitters. Trustedhousesitters.com has registered sitters from eighty countries.
The organization’s core market is house sitters in the 45+ age bracket, accounting for 70% of all registered sitters with an approx. 60/40 split between the main markets of the UK & US. Sitters in Canada and the US tend to favor home country assignments, followed by the UK & Europe, whereas Australia and Europe are most popular destinations with the UK market.
While anyone can register to become a sitter, the most successful tend to be in the older age bracket. Pet care is the main priority with 80% of home owners who list their homes, followed by 24/7 security and general home and property maintenance.
Membership as either a homeowner or a house sitter for one year is US$119. Signing up for both categories together offers a combined yearly discount. Services include daily email alerts for homes in locations of choice. Check out the simple registration options and the informative Frequently Asked Questions page.
In the last five years house sitting has provided Angela and John Laws with superior accommodation on five continents, in addition to sitters that keep their BC home safe and secure. Angela is a retired beauty industry executive, John a retired engineer in the oil industry. They are registered house sitters and home owners with www.trustedhousesitters.com. Angela has contributed house sitting blogs and articles to various online publications. Her website is www.housesittingperfected.com.