I’m an 81-yo Retired Traveling House-sitter

In this guest post, Warren R. Johnson shares his experiences as a traveling house-sitter and pet-sitter, along with some tips to help you get started and be successful. Here is his story…

House-sitting and pet-sitting are convenient ways to find free accommodation, and it comes with a host of other advantages, but it also comes with significant responsibility.

Whether you’re caring for a cherished pet or maintaining a home in the owner’s absence, you’re stepping into a role that demands attention and commitment.

In this article, I’ll share some of the best ways to find house-sitting and pet-sitting opportunities, how it can be a means to lower travel expenses, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a traveling house-sitter.

Your Responsibilities

It is essential to understand that house-sitting/pet-sitting (hereafter referred to as just house-sitting) is a job. You must accept responsibility for both the house and pet(s).

This usually means feeding and walking a dog twice a day or feeding a cat and cleaning the litter box. You are obliged to keep the house safe and in working order, while also accepting liability for the health of the pet. These are not trivial matters.

My first house-sitting job had no pet. My hosts didn’t start their own travels until after a month I arrived. I got to know their dog, Penny, who is a sweetheart and easy to walk. This was a pretty easy way to start pet–sitting.

Finding Opportunities

Finding house-sitting opportunities is quite easy when using the Internet. Use social media and search engines to broadly look for possibilities. Try searching by country, region, or even city.

Beyond that, there are numerous websites devoted exclusively to offering these possibilities. You pay a fee to become a member, which gives you the ability to receive the openings that homeowners post.

Some of the major house-sitting sites with yearly fees are:

I found my first sit on HouseCarers.com. The homeowners had never used a house-sitting site before and just happened upon this one. It was serendipitous that we found each other this way. We’ve become good friends and continue to reach out to each other even today.

My second sit was in England. I did the unthinkable of flying to London and sitting in Heathrow Airport for eleven hours so I could take a night bus to Manchester. My rationale was that I could save money by not flying and avoiding hotel accommodations for one night. It worked and I would do it again.

Once you find an appealing house sit, you will need to fill out the application and put your best foot forward. Suggest to the homeowner that you meet online for a face-to-face interview. This gives both of you a way of getting acquainted, asking questions, and seeing the home and the pet.

Let me assure you that finding opportunities is a challenge, primarily due to the many competing house sitters looking for assignments. In the 6-1/2 months I performed house sits, I applied for 110 opportunities and was accepted for 9. This had turned into a 20-hour-a-week job searching and communicating with homeowners. It helps to be secure in yourself to deal with so many rejections.

What You Will Find

It is your responsibility to get yourself to the home and provide your own food for the duration of the sit. Few sits pay for your services; the arrangement generally is an exchange of living accommodations for your responsibility to take care of the home and the pet. If you normally pay for housing, free house-sitting is like paying yourself in place of a rent or mortgage payment.

Very few house-sitting opportunities exist without the care of a pet. In fact, 50% of all house sits have a dog needing care. Most homes will have an Internet connection for your use. In addition, some homeowners may ask you to take care of the outside property such as gardening, mowing the lawn, and watering plants.

I discovered that every house had different appliances and I had to quickly learn how to make each work. The first thing I always did was to assess each appliance and get the owner to teach me how to use the ones with which I was uncomfortable.

At one home, I arrived and learned that the owner was leaving in half an hour to catch a flight. I had little time to get educated about the job. There was a microwave I couldn’t figure out. I discovered that, if I pressed one button, it would heat for 30 seconds. That meant I had to stand there for six rounds of 30 seconds to get 3 minutes. I called the owner and she told me it was a new microwave and she hadn’t learned how to use it. I never did figure it out while I was there!

On the next sit, I realized that Google was my best friend. I started researching all of the appliances that I didn’t know how to work. When I found and learned how to work the problematic microwave, I emailed the earlier homeowner and passed on what I had learned. She was very relieved to now know how to work her own microwave.

Transportation

Besides your costs for food, the other major expense is transportation. You need to get from one house sit to the next one. Homeowners do not reimburse you for that cost. Avoid planes except for long distances. Take buses and trains for less expensive fares. To help alleviate transportation costs, try to book house sits geographically close to each other. Also, look for deals such as a monthly pass or discounts for age (such as England’s 33%-off train travel for older people).

In Germany, I went to board a short-run train into the city where I could catch an express train. I arrived to find posted signs saying there was a one-day strike and the train would not be running. What was I to do? Fortunately, a man came to catch the same train and I asked him what he was going to do. He turned out to be an executive in the transportation field. He suggested we split the cost of a cab into town. Despite the split, it was not a cheap taxi ride, but it did get me to the express train.

I was on the Internet one night before leaving a sit the next day and discovered that my train, for which I had purchased a ticket, was canceled along with all trains after it that day. Fortunately, the announcement said there would be one earlier train before the strike started. I boarded that train in the morning and they honored the ticket for the train that was canceled. If I had not been on the Internet when I was, I would have been trainless all that day.

Visas and Preparedness

The first thing to grasp is understanding visa requirements and immigration policies. These vary from country to country. Check with the embassies in the countries that interest you. You will usually enter a country as a visitor and have three months to stay there. There are some exceptions to this, so check before you do any extensive planning. If you seek a temporary or permanent visa, you can stay until that process is completed. There are a few countries that allow Americans to stay six or twelve months. Know before you go.

It is important to know thyself, as Socrates said. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What will you bring to house-sitting? If you are sitting by yourself, you will likely only have a dog or other pet to talk to, as you will be alone during the sit. This is less of a problem if you are traveling with another person.

Be prepared for uprooting yourself every few days or weeks, moving to the next sit or to a break. You will be packing and unpacking every few days. The easiest way to travel is with the least amount of luggage you can. Determine if the house sit has a washing machine for your use. Be aware that few homes outside of the US have dryers; you will have to dry your clothes on a rack.

I stayed in one home that had an unvented dryer. It would run for only a short time and then stop so I had to start it up again. It took a whole day to get my clothes dry. Again, I turned to Google and found that it actually pulled the water out of the clothes and dumped it into a container that had to be emptied periodically. That has been the only time I have encountered such a dryer.

Disadvantages of House-Sitting

One potential downside with house-sitting is that you may gain weight. You will be using an unfamiliar kitchen and supplying your own cooking ingredients. You can not rely on the host’s ingredients or food unless they tell you to feel free to use what you find in the kitchen. The danger is taking the easy way out and relying on too many prepared meals. These are full of preservatives and will cause your weight to soar.

Despite Internet introductions, what you find when you arrive at the home can be anyone’s guess. I walked into several very beautiful homes where I was comfortable for the duration of the sit. I also walked into several abominable homes. One older home had not been kept up. It had mold on the walls, was very dirty, and had furniture piled up in unused areas. I made do.

I am still paying the price for not eating well. My weight gain has resulted in intensifying my workout and fasting a minimum of 16 hours a day. It will take me a while to get my weight down to become more manageable.

Loneliness can easily creep in as you may have only a pet to talk to. The responsibilities for the house and pet are demanding and can not be taken lightly. You will encounter people with whom you may not be compatible and houses that are not to your liking. On the other hand, you may find a wonderful situation and hate to leave it.

Advantages of House-sitting

The advantages of house-sitting are numerous. There is, of course, the pleasure of paying no rent or mortgage. I would, however, suggest you focus on other advantages.

You will have the opportunity to experience new communities, cultures, and foods. You will meet many new people, some of whom may become lasting friends. Moving between sites on ground transportation gives you the chance to at least view new territories. You will also come to know many pets who will adopt you for a short time. This can be a great way for digital nomads to work in their free time. The gift of experiencing a new life will be priceless.

One homeowner had a fall when she was traveling and came home in the middle of the sit to recover. While there, she took me to the next town to visit Glastonbury, the supposed final resting place for King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. It was fascinating to walk through the remains of the Abbey and discover the whole town focused on this legend. If the homeowner had not come home, I would never have known that I was but one town away from Glastonbury.

Some people have been house-sitting for 20 years and still loving it. You, too, could be one of those people for whatever amount of time you choose. You really have nothing to lose. Give it a try!

I am a freelance writer having published print and e-books and written for magazines. I have traveled extensively – 47 US states, Canada, Mexico, Panamá, Ecuador, and Europe. Some of my works can be seen in whole or in part here and my blog TravelSketches.info.

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I am a freelance writer and publisher. I have published print and e-books and have written for magazines and newsletters in the fields of travel, history, religion, and music. I am a former bookdealer and classical musician. I have many years of education and traditional employment in multiple fields. I have traveled extensively – 47 US states, Canada, Mexico, Panamá, Ecuador, and Europe.

1 reply
  1. Ella Rae
    Ella Rae says:

    Wow, Warren! I regret that I didn’t find you when I needed a house & pet sitter. Now I realize we offer a pretty sweet deal here: lovely, clean, nice house, use of a car, smallish easy to navigate community, not many demands other than keeping the houseplants watered and the dogs fed on time and walked each day. Tried Trusted Housesitters but won’t do that again! Thanks for your informative article.

    Reply

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