In the past six months, I lived in a land-locked nation where Mercedes and BMWs rank in the top five most popular cars, enjoyed endless sunny days on golden sandy beaches along the sparkling Atlantic Ocean, and for a week called a tiny New York apartment home.
Digital nomads, retirees with free time, and travelers hoping to live like a local have embraced the house sitting lifestyle. Despite this trend, it remains a generally untapped accommodation resource.
My partner and I recently returned from five months travel where we completed seven house sits in four countries. As tourists, we came across many people who seemed surprised at our ability to secure house sitting assignments with total strangers. You too can do the same, without extensive pet care experience, professional references or home ownership. But does that mean you should?
Many articles focus on house sitting perks and writing the perfect profile. Few explain the downside to spending your free time caring for someone else’s possessions and pets. I’m an absolute house sitting advocate and often use the words “epic” and “amazing” to describe this unique travel experience. Nonetheless, before committing to house sitting, I advise others to understand whether it is a viable option for their lifestyle, family dynamics, and travel preferences.
These are my top 10 questions to ask yourself before deciding if house sitting is right for you?
1. Do you like animals?
House sitting requires a fondness for cuddling cats or playing fetch with dogs. Owner’s without pets do seek house sitting services but 95% of opportunities come with a four-legged family member. Usually, this involves caring for dogs and/or cats but can include reptiles, horses, and even goats. Before applying ask yourself if feel comfortable taking responsibility for the particular animals? Can you administer medication if needed?
If dogs prone to shedding give you hives, or you are among the estimated 10% of the population who suffer from cat allergies, consider bunnies, chickens or breeds less likely to cause a reaction; such as Poodles or short-haired dogs and cats.
After a childhood spent around cats, I’m used to pets who avoid human contact except at meal times. I wondered how I’d react to dogs and their constant companionship, boundless energy and drooling. Several dog sitting experiences taught me why dogs are man’s and woman’s best friends, and I now struggle to decide on a preference for fluffy felines or playful pooches. Avoid labeling yourself as a cliched cat or a dog person and it will expand your house sitting options.
2. Is your itinerary flexible?
You may fantasize about a Greek island getaway where you sip margaritas and gaze at tranquil golden sunsets from a beach side balcony. Unfortunately so is everyone else!
Few house sitters hit the jackpot like my partner’s friends’ who completed a long-term house sit on the actual Gilligan’s Island from the 60s TV show; where its billionaire owner periodically dropped in by helicopter.
Owner’s with house sits in popular locations often find themselves swamped with applicants. Therefore, you may struggle to obtain your ideal location or desired dates.
It can pay to be flexible and grab several assignments rather than one long stint. Once in a while, you need to change your plans as an owner alters theirs. Twice when we had back-to-back house sits, the owner extended their travel plans to return a day later. Luckily we accommodated this with one of us remaining while the other traveled to the next destination.
Online forums detail stories about owners having to cancel after a last minute family emergency or decision not to travel. Expect unforeseen circumstances, develop a backup plan and don’t assume a house sit is 100% guaranteed.
3. Do you have the time to secure house sitting jobs?
I wish finding house sitting jobs involved simply posting a profile picture cuddling cute flurry puppies and waiting for the offers to come flooding in. Like any job hunt, you must prepare a standout application, monitor new opportunities, set up online alerts and take part in interviews. You need to put in the effort to get the reward, which is difficult if you’re pressed for time or lack motivation.
Previous house sitting helps, but is not essential if you can demonstrate some experience with animals. You may have grown up on a farm, owned lizards or volunteered as a dog walker for your local animal shelter. House sitting websites encourage you to provide references from employers, landlords or friends. Their favorable comments show potential owners you are a responsible person who they can trust with their precious pets.
4. Does it suit your lifestyle?
Although it saves a fortune on accommodation costs, house sitting may not suit someone with a stable office job, since working in one geographic location limits their options to a certain area. Whereas cats can usually fend for themselves, dogs are needier, and some dog owners prefer house sitters who work remotely from home to keep their pet company.
Facebook gives the impression that all parents view their offspring as the most angelic children ever created, however others may not share their enthusiasm. Consequently, families who house sit should keep in mind they can be liable for any accidental damage their kids cause and can’t expect that their temporary abode is 100% child safe.
5. Are you prepared for the responsibility?
Unlike your typical vacation, house sitting requires a sizable commitment. It’s in a house sitters interests to treat each residence with respect. After all, a negative review that damages their reputation on a leading house sitting site might spell disaster. Therefore, you may spend your last day scrubbing toilets or mopping floors, to ensure the owner returns to find their home in the same condition (or sometimes better) than how they left it.
Occasionally an incident occurs where you need to involve a vet, contact a tradesperson, or pay a service provider upfront and ask the owner to reimburse you later.
Apart from one unfortunate incident we refer to as Oniongate, we survived all our house sits with no pet emergencies. The worst causalities were several pot plants when we house sat in Luxembourg during a drought. The property contained over 80 different flowers, shrubs, herbs and plants spread throughout the home and garden. Luckily, the owner was sympathetic to us losing a few despite our best efforts.
Overnight trips and day-long excursions are not possible when you have a dog with a full bladder waiting at home. Expect to limit your sightseeing to 4-5 hours per day: unless your dog can join you, has an accessible outdoor area, or a backup pet sitter. In our case, a lovely couple next door who missed having their own dogs unexpectedly offered to have our doggie charge over to visit while we went exploring. He had a great time eating treats, frolicking around the huge garden and charming other guests at their hotel.
6. Can you deal with challenging pets or owners?
There’s a possibility an owner has standards or quirks you perceive as contrary to your own beliefs about pet care or tidiness. You may discover they don’t own a broom, that a bucket would come in handy, or that their washing detergent instructions are in a foreign language that even Google Translate can’t decipher. Unless you suspect pet abuse or experience uninhabitable living conditions, it’s usually no big deal. Respect the instructions in the owner manual, which is either written down or emailed before your arrival. For example – I consider myself a slight hygiene freak but love waking up to wide-eyed animated puppies eager for morning snuggles. However, I understand some owners want them to sleep in another room or in a crate.
Sometimes you meet sensitive rescue pets who suffered trauma or come with special challenges. Our first overseas pet sit Tam Tam was a sweet-natured 10-year-old English Setter who has never heard herself or another dog bark. Bred as a hunting dog, she was returned to the breeder and advertised for adoption when the hunter realized a deaf dog wasn’t great at catching prey. Tam Tam is patient with Leo, a new addition to her family, probably because she can’t hear his excited yelping at any vehicle, person or creature within his vicinity. Accordingly, he’s a pint-sized Yorkie who thinks he’s a large Rottweiler. His bark may sound intimidating until you see him and find out he’s an easily excited tiny energetic bundle, who likes cuddles and is prone to jealousy when other people or dogs receive attention.
None of the pets we encountered were too mischievous, although minor incidents occurred, like two small dogs who took turns leaving deposits on the floor as it was chilly at night when we tried to coax them outside. We could always tell the guilty culprit as the one playing hide-and-seek when we cleaned their mess. Although one look at the expressions on their adorable faces and our hearts melted.
The least affectionate pet in our care was Catus or Cactus as he is also known for his prickly disposition. In her manual his owner warned us about his half metre personal space boundary. Assuming this claim was an exaggeration, my boyfriend tempted fate on his first day by breaching the safety zone. He quickly learned a lesson as Catus swiped his outstretched hand. Over the following weeks, Catus warmed to us, mostly at meal times. Eventually, we managed a couple of pats and convinced him it was safe to sit next to us on the couch, just outside the personal space limit. His owner called this a minor miracle.
7. Are you aware of the visa requirements?
Make sure you confirm any visa requirements before applying for international house sits. Fortunately for me, a New Zealand passport guarantees a visa waiver for 37 countries when staying for three months or less. The downside is it rules out any long-term house sits beyond this time frame.
Visit the country’s Consulate website nearest to your own town for information on visa conditions. They can advise you about the cost, supporting documents needed and processing times. Imagine your embarrassment if you cancel the house sit due to visa delays or because you face deportation at the border for incorrect documentation.
8. Are you prepared to live out of a suitcase?
Our Uber arrives in 20 minutes at 6am to transport us to the airport, and I have misplaced my Levi’s and the pastel pink t-shirt I intend to wear. Surrounded by a sea of mismatched soaks and too many dresses, I scold myself for not preparing my clothes the night before. Living out of a suitcase comes with the territory when you are a house sitter, and learning to pack lighter is a skill I am still trying to master. The takeaway is that constantly repacking your suitcase and moving from place to place can become frustrating when you long for your own home comforts and a clean pair of matching socks.
9. Are you location independent?
Before accepting a house sitting assignment, check the location on Google Maps and take a look at the address in street view display. Google search may also generate past real-estate advertisements with photos or neighborhood information. Off the beaten track listings might be more than you bargained for if you find yourself living in the Costa Rican jungle miles from civilization, or farm sitting where the nearest supermarket is a two-hour drive. United States towns are designed for driving, and even places in the city outskirts are often not within walking distance to public transport.
10. Can you handle the emotional distress of saying goodbye to your fluffy friends?
If you are a sensitive soul like me, you may find leaving your fur babies traumatic once you grow attached. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I left several house sits sobbing at the prospect of never seeing them again. I refer to the pets who touched my emotions the most as The Three Ps – Parker, Pim and Penny.
A sweet-natured Golden Retriever named Parker resembles a cuddly lion. His favorite hobbies include roving around his abode with toy duck in his mouth and roaming the nearby English heath. He is sweet, affectionate and grins to show he’s happy.
Pim, a grayish/brown Shih Tzu mix willingly allowed his exuberant sister to steal the limelight. That is until our last day when he uncharacteristically pushed past his more assertive sister for a goodbye cuddle and then maneuvered his way outside the apartment door to follow us as we tried to leave.
Penny, the Maltese Poodle (or Maltipoo) never needed an excuse for a snuggle and nuzzled or curled up beside us any chance she got.
House sitting allows you meet some adorable pets but it can be a little heartbreaking when you have to say goodbye.
If answering the above questions didn’t faze you, then I hope you have an awesome house sitting journey. If it left you with some reservations, then perhaps house sitting isn’t in your future, or it’s an option you could reconsider one day when the time is right.