If you’re a regular traveler, you will probably be constantly thinking about how to make your budget go further. About a year ago, I discovered house sitting – looking after someone’s home and pets while they are away – and found that it’s a great way of traveling on a budget for longer. I now have eight completed house sits under my belt and I can honestly say it’s one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. However, like everything in life, house sitting does come with some possible downsides. Here’s my list of the pros and cons of house sitting, and how to get around those cons.
Pro: save on accommodation costs
This is probably the biggest upside. Of course, there are the subscription fees to pay to the websites where you’ll find house sitting opportunities (the three main house sitting websites are TrustedHouseSitters, MindMyHouse, and Nomador), but these fees are still much cheaper than paying for accommodation. I first joined the cheapest site, MindMyHouse, for $20 per year. My first house sit with them was six weeks in Seoul, so it automatically more than paid for itself. With that first year’s subscription, I also did two months in Oslo and five days in Copenhagen, so that $20 turned into even more of a bargain. In the summer of last year, I also subscribed to TrustedHouseSitters, the most expensive of the three at around $120 per year. By the time my first year will be up, I will have done five sits through them: two-and-a-half weeks in Kampot, eight days in Hamburg, two-and-a-half weeks in Zurich, three weeks in Fribourg and six weeks in Bucharest. So despite the relatively high cost of the subscription fee, it has still repaid itself a few times over.
Con: the subscription fees
It’s understandable that the subscription fees may put some of you off, especially if you’re thinking about signing up to all three of the main sites, which would set you back over $200 per year, and also considering that there is no guarantee that you would get any house sits that you apply for. As I mentioned in the previous point, I use two of the sites, and I joined them at different times of the year, so I can then pay for them at different times. It’s also worth thinking about how much you would usually spend on travel accommodation, and seeing how much you would save (or not save) if you joined. If you do join, you will have to work hard on your house sit applications, like you would on any job application, to increase your chances of getting sits to make the most of your money.
Pro: live like a local
Another great advantage of house sitting is that it gives you an insight into how local people live. On top of that, you get your own place to stay rather than sharing a hostel dorm with numerous people or paying for just a hotel room. Instead of only getting to know the city center or the popular tourist areas of a place, you might get to know a little-known suburb, somewhere you wouldn’t have traveled otherwise. I’ve always found that home-owners are happy to give their recommendations of the lesser-known spots to eat, drink and have fun, so you can be guaranteed to at least have a few good places to go while you’re in town, and possibly get to find some places you may never have found otherwise. House sitting is a great opportunity to view a place from a resident’s point of view rather than a tourist.
Con: possible isolation
This is more of a problem if you are traveling alone, but it could also present a problem for those traveling in couples. Of course, if you are looking after a property and animal(s), you may not be in the same position to meet people as you might if you were staying in a backpacker hostel. Also, there have been some house sits I’ve done where my neighbors haven’t been particularly forthcoming when it came to conversation, despite my efforts. This could potentially mean that house sitting is quite an isolating experience. This experience could be compared with moving to a new city for work where you don’t know anybody.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to get to know people in the area. Facebook and MeetUp are both great places to look up different events in the area where you are staying. Facebook has regular postings of events and language clubs in different places. MeetUp is particularly good if you have a specific hobby or interest, which you can search for on the site to see if any groups related to it are active in the area. Tinder is also an option: even if you’re not interested in dating, you can specifically say this on your profile and request local non-romantic meet ups. I’ve made a couple of friends while traveling with Tinder, as well as just meeting people for drinks. I personally have had no issues when meeting people in person on Tinder, probably because I always have a chat with people through the app before meeting them in person. It’s my belief that most people are nice, but if you meet anyone on your own for the first time, exercise caution and if you feel unsafe at any point, get yourself out of there.
Although we all know Tinder, there are also plenty of other apps which help you to make friends while you are traveling. Also, check with your friends to see if they know anyone in the place where you’re going and if they can introduce you. Or, if you’re feeling really confident, just get chatting to people while you’re out and about. You never know, you might meet your next best friend.
Pro: the chance to make friends
This may seem like a bit of an odd one after the last point, but making friends is one of the greatest joys of traveling. I’ve made friends with some of the people I’ve house sat for, especially the ones where I’ve looked after their pets for an extended period of time. This is probably because as a house sitter you spend some time communicating with the home owner. They, of course, want to know that everything is OK – or, in some cases, not OK, with their pets – and you also need to keep them updated on anything going on in the property. You may also need to ask them questions if you need anything. A conversation then usually gets going as they may want to tell you how things are going with their trip, and through this, a friendship develops. Of course, it doesn’t happen with every home-owner (or at least it hasn’t happened with every home-owner I’ve dealt with) but it is nice when it does happen.
Con: the possibility of things going wrong
Obviously, things can go wrong on any trip. You can lose your luggage or your passport, you can be robbed, you can be injured in some way. These things can still go wrong, but when you’re house sitting there is another list of things that can go wrong: the pets getting sick, the boiler exploding, the internet router not working, and so on. In these cases, it is of course down to you to get them sorted. To avoid any unnecessary panic, it is really important to make sure you have details of any emergency contacts from the home-owners. If you’re looking after pets, make sure you have the number of their vet, and ask if they have an account with the vet or not. For household emergencies, if it’s a rented property, make sure you have the landlord’s details, or if it’s the homeowner’s own place, make sure you have details of any emergency work-people, or at least get a contact of someone they know and trust nearby who could help you in those kinds of situations.
Pro: looking after animals without the responsibility of actually owning one
I’m a huge animal lover, particularly of cats, but as I’m on the road pretty much most of the time, it would obviously be very impractical for me to have a full-time pet. So house sitting offers me a great alternative; I get to look after cats without the responsibility of looking after one all the time. And if cats are not your thing, there are plenty of other animals you could be looking after. Dogs are the obvious ones, but you could also find yourself looking after rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles, horses, and I’ve even seen house sits with goats and sheep. So whatever your animal fancy is, you can be sure you’ll find a house sit with your name on it.
Con: limited on the hours you can spend outside the home
This will depend entirely on if your house sit is also a pet sit (the vast majority are) and then will depend on the animal in question. Part of the reason why I love looking after cats is that in most cases cats are usually OK with being left alone for extended periods of time. The downside of this is that if you fancy going away for a weekend to a different place in the country where you’re house sitting, this becomes impossible as you are responsible for the well-being of the animal(s). If this is something which you think may be a problem, then you may want to consider if house sitting is really for you.
When it comes to dogs, your time outside the property really does become limited. I view having dogs the same as I do having children; they need a lot of attention and tend to get lonely if they are away from their guardians for too long. There is also the responsibility of walking a dog. So, even if you really love dogs, you do have to question whether you want that responsibility when you are away. I personally wouldn’t like it, therefore I tend not to apply for sits with dogs, and I don’t mind not being able to go away overnight, so for me, cats are the obvious choice. I do have friends who absolutely love pet sitting dogs though, especially when they are traveling to areas in the countryside with a lot of nature around them. So it’s up to you to decide what you would actually be prepared to do whilst house sitting.
Pro: a wide choice of sits and the options of long- and short-term
The number of sits available varies from site to site. TrustedHouseSitters, being the most popular site, usually has 1000s to choose from. MindMyHouse tends to average about 200. There is a myriad of reasons why people put ads on the websites: they’re going on their annual two-week holiday; they need to visit their parents for a weekend; they’re being sent away for work; they’re going to their holiday home for the summer – the list goes on and on. This wide variety of reasons translates into a wide choice of house sits available. So there will be a house sit for you, regardless of how long you want to spend traveling or spend in one place.
If you’re the kind of traveler who just likes to spend the odd weekend away, then there are plenty of sits to choose from. If you fancy spending three months away, there are also a number of long-term sits you can apply for. The key, I find, is to keep checking the sites for new possibilities. I try and check every day, even if I’m not planning on applying for any, just in case one comes up that catches my eye.
Pro: Off-the-beaten-path travel
A lot of travelers, especially those on a time restraint, tend to gravitate towards a country’s most popular places to visit. However, there are plenty of other places in a country which are just as worthy of visiting – you just don’t know about them yet. I would not have gone to Switzerland had it not been for house sitting, primarily because of the cost of the country, but if I had, I would probably have gone to the more well-known tourist cities. As it happens, I did go to Zurich, but I also went to Alterswil, 20 minutes outside of Fribourg. It would probably never have occurred to me to go to Fribourg, never mind a small village like Alterswil, but they were two of the nicest places I have been to.
House sitting is a great way of thinking outside the tourist box and setting foot in places which you didn’t think of first, but which may well surprise you.
So, as you can see, there are many pros to house sitting, as well as some cons. But I feel that the cons are very easy to get past and, overall, it offers a great alternative travelling experience. What do you think?