The last time we traveled to NYC, we stayed in a spacious apartment during Thanksgiving week completely for free.
Before that, we were in Los Angeles for three weeks in a four bedroom house with a backyard, and we didn’t pay a cent of accommodation costs.
How did we manage to save all that money and still stay in two of the most expensive cities in the world?
In this guide to house sitting, we’ll go over what it is, why you should do it, and some of our experiences to help you either get your first house sit or decide if this travel method is right for you.
House sitting requires a little more flexibility, people skills, and responsibility than staying in a regular hotel or AirBnb, but it can be one of the most amazing ways to travel (and save money while doing it) and really make you feel like you’re experienced an area like a local.
What Do House Sitters Do?
Like a baby sitter, a house sitter is there to watch the, well, house, while its owner is away.
Sometimes, the owner is going on vacation for their own fun, sometimes they’re traveling for work, and sometimes they may be gone for longer like if they’re being deployed to the military or similar.
You can do house sitting where your only job is to actually make sure that the house itself is looked after (gardening, using the facilities to make sure pipes don’t freeze, secure and hasn’t been broken into, etc), but you can also do house sitting which doubles as pet sitting.
It’s more common to find jobs doing a combination of pet and house sitting, so you’re both watching the pets as well as making sure everything is okay with the house.
Finding house-only housesitting is a little bit less common, because there are fewer people who are so worried about their house that they’ll want someone to come live in it when they’re not there, particularly if it’s a shorter term vacation or getaway.
Looking after someone’s house by itself with no pets is usually more popular with longer housesits where a person will be gone for months at a time.
How to Become a House Sitter
Becoming a house sitter is much easier in today’s world of house sitting platforms.
We use Trusted Housesitters, which is our recommended house sitting website with sits all over the world (lots of emphasis in the USA and UK too.)
You don’t have to have any experience to get started (we didn’t), and you become a house sitter once you’ve signed up and paid the yearly fee and then created your profile.
We’ve got a full guide to using Trusted Housesitters here so you can make sure that you’re setting up your profile for success and applying for the right house sits, but once you’ve snagged your first one through a combination of an awesome profile and a great application, you’re in!
It’s easier to do more and more after you have some reviews under your belt.
Some people also use housesitting Facebook groups or they get so popular in the housesitting world that they just go off of word-of-mouth, but most housesitters will use a platform like Trusted Housesitters.
Another reason to use a platform is that the owner also has to pay the yearly fee and be vetted by the company, which means you’re going to be less likely to run into any sticky situations or unsavory people who aren’t looking for housesitters for the right reasons.
How Much Do House Sitters Make?
While there are some platforms where a house or pet sitter may get paid, like Rover, most of the times it is a money-free transaction and paid housesitting jobs are more rare.
The housesitter gets to stay in the house or apartment for free, essentially meaning they don’t have to pay for somewhere to stay when they travel, and the owner gets someone to look after their house and/or pets free of charge.
Some people turn housesitting into a full time “job” by essentially not having somewhere to live and using housesits as their accommodation as they travel the world.
Pros of House Sitting
The best parts of house sitting and the pros are:
- you get a free place to stay when exploring a new area, saving on travel costs and making it so you can spend more of your money doing other things like eating out or local attractions
- living somewhere like a “local” in a local area rather than seeing it all from a tourist’s perspective
- it’s common to make new friends and connections with people that you’ve housesat for, including being able to housesit again in the future and meeting up if you’re back in town
- getting design ideas from other houses and apartments
- getting to spend time with pets and get cuddles if you don’t have pets of your own
- can find some really interesting, unique, and downright luxurious housesits (think: mansions, giant houses with swimming pools, and houses located in beautiful areas like the mountains).
Cons of House Sitting
House sitting is awesome, but that doesn’t mean its without its problems.
Some of the most important cons of house sitting are:
- you may have duties around the house and/or pet care that means you can’t see as much as you would like in the local area
- it is a large responsibility to look after someone’s house, and particularly their pets, and you have to be ready to react to any situation at all times (pet gets ill, house sets on fire, etc)
- owners may cancel on you at the last minute if their owns plans change and they aren’t going away anymore
- there is more human interaction involved than simply checking into a hotel, and different people have different stress levels or ways of doing things
- there is no guarantee that a person’s home is clean or uncluttered, and you may not feel as comfortable staying in someone else’s home as you would a hotel or AirBnb.
Common Housesitting Mistakes
Housesitting is an awesome way to travel the world, but it’s also easy to make mistakes and turn your vacation into a situation.
Here are some of the most common mistakes we’ve found.
Agreeing to a Housesit with a High-Needs Pet (or situation)
There are different levels of care that might need to happen with a pet or with a house.
Sometimes it’s incredibly easy, like taking the dog for a walk once a day and checking the mail or making sure the cats are fed twice a day.
Other times, you might run into a house sit where the pets are extremely high needs, as in you can’t leave them alone whatsoever, or they have some sort of medication that needs to be administered that you’re not comfortable with.
You could also have a housesit where the house is an actual problem.
If you’re a solo traveler, taking a house sit of someone’s full farm is probably not for you.
I’ve read one review of a housesit where the sitters were told that they needed to “keep watch” over a pathway that ran on the back of the property, as it was often used by the public but they weren’t supposed to.
Essentially, they wanted the sitters to be the path patrol and spend most of their time telling strangers to get off the path.
Make sure that you’re very clear about what is involved and that you’re not going into a situation that requires more care, time, or expertise than you have.
Wanting Full Freedom and Control while Traveling
If you want absolute freedom while traveling, housesitting isn’t for you.
Book a hotel and call it a day.
Housesitting inherently has some lack of freedom, because you’re watching someone else’s house and pets and have to stick to their rules.
This could mean that you need to be home at 8am and 6pm for feeding times, or it could mean that you have to wait in for a package at 3pm on Tuesday as part of your agreement with the housesit.
There may be parts of the house that are off-limits, too.
There usually aren’t any problems as long as you’re a good house guest, but think of it that way: you’re a house guest, even if the owner isn’t home.
This comes with a level of looking after things that you don’t get when you’re staying in someone’s AirBnb.
Not Asking the Owner the Silly Questions
Whether it’s early in the application process or right before your sit, not asking your owner every question you can think of is a huge mistake.
It’s way easier to ask questions before they leave on their vacation than during it, and if you’re unfamiliar with something or want to clarify, just do it.
People would prefer you do that than doing something wrong with their home or pets.
Here are some great questions to ask the owner of the housesit:
- what are feeding times and how are the pets fed?
- how long can they be left alone?
- do you have an alarm system?
- do you have cameras in the house to watch the pets?
- what would you like to happen in case of the pet is unwell or there is an emergency?
- can we use your fridge/cupboards to store our own food?
- where will we sleep?
- do we need to bring anything in particular?
- how often would you like us to communicate with you during your trip?
Is House Sitting Right for Me?
House sitting isn’t right for everyone.
For people who are uncomfortable staying in other people’s spaces, it’s definitely not a good idea (we changed the sheets, of course, but we had to sleep in the bed of the couple that we house sat for in NYC because there was only one bed in the apartment!).
If you don’t want to be tied down at all to any pets or house needs (watering the plants, even) during your travels, then you should also just stick to a hotel.
But if you want to save money, meet new people, connect with some cute pets and can be flexible and understanding if a house isn’t decorated the way you would or is a little bit cluttered, then becoming a house sitter is a fantastic way to see more of the world without the price tag.
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