There are a lot of travelers who use house-sitting as a way to travel more economically. House-sitting is an excellent option for those who want to be nomadic, want to travel economically, or engage in slow travel. Sits can range from a weekend to several months — you pick the house sit that works for you. For pet lovers, this is a great way to get your pet fix while on the road!
What is house-sitting?
The concept is based on a mutually beneficial arrangement. As a house sitter, you take care of someone’s home and pets for free. In return, you get free lodging. Some house-sits don’t include pets, but they are much rarer.
With the price of a budget hotel in the States averaging $75–$150 per night, depending on location, and with Airbnb’s pricing structures often outpacing hotels, house-sitting is a great way to travel and cut out your largest expense.
First and foremost, your primary responsibility is to the house and the pets. If you watch dogs, don’t expect to spend 12 hours hiking or sightseeing. You will need to care for someone’s pets as they would.
How I got started house-sitting
I spent about two years looking at house-sitting websites before I was ready to take the leap and purchase a membership. While there are many options, I chose Trusted Housesitters, which has a yearly membership cost of $129. Different sites are more popular in other parts of the world. Nomador is one of the biggest house-sitting websites and has a three-month membership option if you want to try out something with less commitment. It is more popular in Europe than in the United States, so keep that in mind. All of the sites will let you look around for free to see what kinds of house-sits are available, but you can’t create a profile without a membership.
The signup process will take you through some verifications, including submitting your driver’s license. Once you get accepted, you will set up a profile. I spent a lot of time on my profile, reviewing the profiles of house-sitters with great ratings to see whether I could bust the code to create a solid profile. Finally, I got verified and asked people I had sat for before (off the platform) to write reviews for me. Then off I went!
I started by choosing some fantastic and unique places: downtown Portland, near the French Quarter in New Orleans. Places far from my hometown and on my list of places to visit. I learned something really quickly: There was a lot of competition, and I had no ratings.
Back to square one.
I started looking closer to home, within driving distance over a weekend. I was less interested in finding the perfect sit and more interested in finding one with fewer applicants.
I applied for and secured a house-sit 2.5 hours from home.
Based on my first experience, I would suggest meeting with the owner over the phone or on a video chat to ask questions and gather information.
While owners do provide a digital handbook on the Trusted Housesitting site, there are things that were not included that I should have asked. These might help you navigate your first sit and give you a feel for who you will be sitting for.
Questions to Ask Before House-Sitting
If I am away from your home, where do you want the pets to be, and what is the max time you are comfortable with them being unattended?
I usually phrase this as such: “If I decide to go out to dinner and do a little sightseeing, are you comfortable with me being gone for four hours, give or take?” This allows the owner to set some parameters for you.
Does your pet have any anxiety issues I should be aware of or health conditions?
At my first house-sitting experience, I discovered one of the dogs had an anxiety issue, which causes him to lick obsessively. I noticed on day three that he had rubbed his tail raw! I was aghast. While I had seen him doing some licking, I didn’t think much of it. I have a pit bull who licks constantly. It didn’t seem obsessive; I thought he might be a bit itchy. (It was spring when I was pet sitting — lots of pollen.) As soon as I noticed, I notified the owner. She let me know he does this a lot, and I started him on some meds. If I had known, I’d have kept a closer eye on him and began his meds sooner.
What is the wifi network?
Make sure they leave you a password.
Are there security systems I need to manage?
Will you need to turn a security system on and off? If so, what is the protocol if the system goes off while house-sitting? Be aware a lot of people use cameras in their homes. Will the camera be on when you are house-sitting?
What is supplied in the house for your use?
I always assume I should bring my food/drinks/personal care items. I usually ask if they have a preferred nearby grocery they recommend. This gives them the opportunity to let you know what they intended to leave for you. When I travel, I hire a dog sitter and leave snacks and food that I know she likes. Not everyone does this! My first house-sit left me GREAT coffee, which I thought was very sweet.
Where do the pets sleep?
Ask whether the pets will be sleeping with you or where they sleep. I’d also recommend asking if they have a wake-up time. Some dogs have very structured routines — find out what that is.
My dog sitter knows that my smelly old dog will sleep in bed with her and wake her up to go out in the middle of the night. I leave detailed instructions, but not everyone does.
Are there indoor or outdoor plants to care for?
Are your vacuum and cleaning products in a location that is easy to find?
I like to make sure I leave the house as clean — or often cleaner — than it was when I arrived. My years of cleaning houses as a side hustle comes in handy!
Make a list for yourself of things you want to know. We all have different needs and preferences, so make sure you are comfortable in someone else’s space. For example, this house-sit didn’t have cable, which was fine. I usually watch streaming services — but that might bother some people.
My First House-Sitting Experience
My first house-sit was in July 2021. I chose a house-sit for a single woman who was about my age and had two German Shepherds. She is an avid traveler.
I arrived in the evening and was pretty anxious on my drive: What if I walked into a bad situation? What if the house was really dirty? What if the dogs were aggressive or hard to manage? Why didn’t I ask more questions!?
The house was located on a well-traveled road, about 30 minutes outside the city center of the state capital, a reasonably remote area, not suburbs but not the country. I quickly found the key left for me, let myself in, and let the dogs out of the garage, where they were waiting for me. After some intense sniffs, they seemed satisfied with me, if a bit wary. I immediately took them out to the backyard, letting them potty and run. I needed them to know that I was in charge, so I did a few quick things, such as calling them to me and rewarding them with pets.
Once the dogs were settled, I started to bring my things in. Because I was working remotely, I wanted to set up my computer and monitor and ensure the wifi was decent enough. Thankfully it was!
The house had no living room furniture. It was set up as some sort of dance/yoga space. There was a small den with a single small recliner, where I ended up doing most of my work.
The kitchen had a small table and chairs but wasn’t comfortable for an eight-hour workday.
I was taking over for another sitter, and she had left me a note and put fresh sheets on the bed. There was no washer or dryer, so doing any laundry was a no-go, but I only stayed the weekend.
I was able to locate cleaning products and clean the bathroom and kitchen. They weren’t excessively dirty but needed a touch-up.
The host had left some things labeled in the fridge that were available for my use and left me coffee, which was nice. I had brought some food with me in a cooler since I had only traveled two hours, and I was glad I had since I arrived late.
The following day I ran to the grocery and picked up a few other items.
A larger-than-lifesize cut-out of Charlize Theron in an art room scared me every time I walked by the room. I shut the door.
The dogs were older — pretty independent, and easy to care for. I let them out regularly, threw the ball for them, and generally just reassured them their owner would be home soon. As previously mentioned, the male dog had anxiety and licked his tail raw, requiring me to give him meds. But the host was understanding. The most important thing was communicating what was happening as soon as I noticed.
In general, it was fine, albeit lackluster, house-sit, but she left me a lovely review. Once I don’t have my own pet that I have to pay someone to watch, I hope to do more house sits and continue to grow my profile.
House-sitting has many benefits and options but it’s not for everyone. If you are looking for some other unique options, we cover those in this piece on hotel alternatives!
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