Some of our best travel experiences of late have been through house sitting. House sitting has become a new travel niche with home owners and house sitters connecting through trusted house sitting websites. There are more and more home owners wanting to ensure their home is safe and secure and also minimise disruption to their pets whilst they take holidays. At the same time, there are record levels of people who are location independent. Whether it be the retired ‘grey nomads’ or remote working ‘digital nomads’ such as ourselves.
We have spent the past 12 months house sitting around the world. We have shared our tips below (with a few thrown in from the adorable pets we met) for anyone looking to try house sitting for themselves. These tips should help you have a unique travel experience whether it be locally or in a foreign country. We also share our most useful house sitting websites and other resources for beginning your house sitting journey.
1. Get into house sitting for the right reasons
For a traveller, house sitting may seem like free accommodation. It’s important to understand house sitting and pet sitting is for people who can adequately look after a home and the associated animals. Sure, there will be time to explore the neighbourhood and some sights further afield but the priority should be on the home and pets.
This means walking, entertaining, feeding, cleaning and even medicating pets and knowing how to treat any issues that crop up. Then there is gardening, cleaning, maintenance and mail along with dealing with deliveries, tradespeople and neighbours. We’ll delve deeper into the duties later, but if you see house sitting as free accommodation, you’ll be surprised how much time it will take from your day. We’d also recommend house sits of a week or longer to make the most of your time in a new location.
2. Take time to prepare your application
It is worth investing time in setting up your house sitting profile and creating a relevant, detailed and transparent house sitting application. At the end of the day, this will ensure you get the housesitting assignment you want the most. The application should outline the following:
- Be honest about why you are wanting to house sit and what your personal situation is. Home owners are genuinely interested in this and any unique situations help you stand out from the crowd.
- Mention previous experience in taking care of animals specifically related to the pets you are intending to look after. There is no point talking about how much of a dog lover you are when you are applying to house sit for cats! Pics in your profile with purring pets help too.
- Personal and online references. Some websites allow for this but also include links to online profiles on social media like LinkedIn, Facebook or even Airbnb and check that these profiles all look OK.
- If you are a home owner, mention this. Running a home as a home owner just gives people confidence you can deal with the unexpected.
- Obviously once you have a few house sits completed, reviews will help boost your chances, although we’ve found these were not essential starting out. But it helps to have some personal references from friends before reviews come in.
3. Be flexible
House sitting for the dates you want, in the location you want, for the pets you prefer is very unlikely to align perfectly. And, if it does, there is no guarantee you will be chosen for that house sit. The more flexible you can be on dates and location the better. We’ve found it’s best to prioritise the house sitting arrangements in terms of pets and duties first. Then look at dates and location. Obviously all of these criteria are quite crucial but if you can be somewhat flexible on dates and location it means the day to day house sit experience will be more enjoyable.
Flexibility is also important once the house sit is secured. Being flexible on arrival and departure times is necessary depending on the handover required. Some may or may not want you to spend the night before they leave and after they come back. But this should be arranged after you have secured the house sit.
4. Things to ask when choosing a housesit
While it’s important to be transparent and flexible in the application process you still need to determine if the housesit is right for your situation. Some things to check if not disclosed in the description are:
- Are the dates published accurate and already fixed? It’s best to have fixed dates you can work around rather than changeable dates that leave you hanging.
- Are there any other pets not mentioned? This includes birds and fish which often get left out.
- How big is the yard and what garden duties are expected? Mowing a large acreage vs a domestic backyard are two completely different things!
- Where do the pets sleep and where will they sleep during your stay. You may not want them on your bed for example if this is what they are used to.
- Are there cleaners and gardeners? People often cannot or don’t want to pause these services during their absence. While this may be seen as a bonus it’s good to know who is expected to arrive during your stay and how they are paid.
- Any rental accommodation needing to be managed? This should be disclosed upfront but check as some people list their property on many sites and may not have updated all their profiles with this aspect.
- If you are working remotely, ask about reliability and speed of their Wifi and any download limits. Most sites list this but ask upfront if it doesn’t.
- Is a vehicle available or not? Many state this upfront if you need a vehicle at all or if it is included. Make sure you have the necessary license to drive their vehicle in their country and get a document from the owners stating you are allowed to drive it. We were stopped by police in the USA who wanted to see something to this effect. Luckily it was written in the comms we had with them!
5. Clear and consistent communication
It is best to be proactive and over communicate (within reason) with the home owner both before and during the house sit. Be available for a Skype call if requested so they can put a face to your name. Keep the home owners aware of your travel plans and likely arrival times or any potential delays on the day.
When you meet in person agree on how frequent they would like updates and by which method. It may be a daily WhatsApp message or an email every week. Generally, updates tend to be more frequent early on and then more infrequent. The main thing is to provide this at regular or at requested intervals. Sometimes they may not be contactable (say on a cruise) so it is good to get their itinerary to know when they will be contactable and get familiar with popular messenger apps so you can use these if preferred by the home owner.
6. Be present during the first few days
When house sitting with pets, which is almost a certainty, it’s best to spend the first full day with the pets as much as possible so they get to know you and help them get over the absence of their owners. Some pets may be completely fine whereas others may be a little worried. If you leave for most the first day or don’t give them enough attention early on it may be hard to win over their affection.
You will want to get setup in your new location anyway so use the first day to do this with the animals observing you every move! Keep the usual walking and feeding routine for at least the first few days. Lastly, if you move any furniture or other items around to accommodate your own needs make a note of it so you can put it all back the same way before you leave.
7. Being neighbourly
On of the unique things about house sitting is you are immersed into a location as a local immediately. It is great to get acquainted with or ask about any neighbours the owners associate with. Not only can they help you out in an emergency they are also a good source of local information and things to do in the area you might otherwise not know about. Also be aware that in some city apartments or residential complexes there may have a policy against house sitters or unregistered guests so just check on how much to disclose with unfamiliar neighbours in these situations.
8. Sightseeing or commuting arrangements
Depending on your reasons for house sitting, at some stage you may need to travel to and from work or get out and explore what the town you are in has to offer. Depending on the type of perts and their needs will determine how long you can leave them alone. Most pet owners will also state how long this is. For sightseeing, there may even be the opportunity to take the pet (usually only dogs) with you if it is in their best interests. Personally, we don’t think house sitting really works if you need to travel to an office 9-5 every day but there may be times when it does, again best to be upfront in the application.
9. Type of animals to care for
Housesitting can allow you to care for a wide range of pets from horses to hamsters and from lizards to even snakes! Mostly however there will be dogs or cats (or both). People generally tend to class themselves as a dog or cat person. Some are even allergic to cats. It’s best to only look after animals you have experience with and want to or able to look after.
Dogs will welcome you energetically when you walk in the front door and can be fun to play with but they will demand way more attention and time from you! Cats are self cleaning and very self sufficient and will usually dictate the terms of the relationship, usually by walking across your pillow in the early hours. Also consider the type of dogs you are looking after as some large dogs can be too difficult to handle for elderly people. Lastly any exotic pets like snakes or specific birds, it is best to have experience in these animals or at least get a detailed handover guide.
10. Avoiding worst case scenarios
Apart from a few vet visits, power outages and an on the loose moose, we’ve been relatively lucky in avoiding any worst case scenarios. To prevent these from occurring or dealing with the unexpected we recommend the following:
- Walk a dog on a leash unless it is in a dog park or safe open area recommend by the owners.
- Avoid confrontations with other dogs where possible and know the temperament of your dogs around people and other specific types of dogs.
- Be very wary of your dog around children.
- Don’t let your dog drink or swim in any contaminated water.
- Keep all food garbage out of reach, particularly keep chocolate from dogs.
- Keep owners informed where possible of any major decisions such as vet visits or major medical treatment.
- Make sure doors and gates close behind you so pets do not escape.
- Triple check after using a stove or iron that it is not left on.
- Triple check doors are locked at night and when you are out.
- Keep a torch handy and mobile devices charged in case of blackouts.
- Have mobile coverage where you are and don’t rely 100% on wifi.
House sitting websites
There are an ever growing list of global and country specific house sitting websites. There is no dominant player so you do need to sign up (and pay) for a few relevant sites to get a good coverage of opportunities. It’s best to choose sites that require both home owners and house sitters to pay. That way you are certain home owners are serious (and generally more accurate) about their listing.
We have used and secured house sitting from the following sites so we’d recommend these purely from our experience:
- Trusted Housesitters: Global. $130 per year. Very easy to use and has a wide range of properties on offer. We have secured the bulk of our house sits from here.
- Mind-a-home: Australia only. $59 per year. We have secured the bulk of our australia house sits from here.
- Housesitters.com.au: Australia only. $40 per year. Basic interface but it has been operating for a long time and has a loyal following
- Housecarers.com: Global. $55 per year. One of the first house sitting sites but not the largest. Still it is relatively easy to use and we’ve found a few house sits in the USA and Australia from here.
We wish you luck with securing your first house sitting assignment. Believe us, you’ll never look back! Feel free to get in touch for any specific advice or share your own house sitting experiences in the comments.
About The Author
Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.