Consider it the last frontier in budget travel: Stay in someone else’s house, give their pets some lovin’, and cut away the biggest part of your travel expenses with no accommodation costs.
Dalene and Pete Heck, travel writers who run Hecktic Travels, have been doing that for the past three years. They’ve been house-sitting their way around the world, and have saved over $30,000 along the way.
They lived rent-free in Manhattan for six weeks, basked on a Caribbean island for several months, and roamed the halls of a 10th century manor in rural Ireland. In exchange they’ve watered plants, cut lawns, and taken care of beloved cats, dogs and even a few chickens—a small price to pay to explore new corners of the world in such an economical way.
The following is an excerpt from their new e-book, How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World. The e-book covers all the things you need to get started—it gives real-life examples about the benefits and pitfalls of such arrangements, provides a thorough analysis of the many house-sitting websites out there, tips on how to write profiles and application letters (including successful examples), and gives advice on how to be a good house-sitter.
This excerpt covers what the Hecks consider to be the most important chapter in the book: outlining your own expectations, and setting yourself up to find that ‘dream’ house-sitting job.
From Chapter 2: Important Things to Consider
For our second house-sit in Honduras, we pinched ourselves regularly to make sure it was really happening.
Six months on a tropical island?
A 2,000-square-foot brand new house with an ocean view?
A vehicle? Nearly all expenses included?
We couldn’t believe our luck—we were so excited! And in the process of picking out bathing suits and dreaming of tropical cocktails, we forgot to ask some very important questions about our time there.
We were so concerned about doing everything to make the home-owners happy that we forgot to consider our own happiness.
Overall, it still worked out well, but not without problems that cropped up while we were there—misunderstandings that could have been avoided had we thought the entire thing through.
That is why we think this is the most important chapter in this guide.
There are many things to consider when getting into house-sitting, which can easily be forgotten in all of the excitement.
Specific Things to Consider
1. Your own basic needs
What are your minimum requirements for happiness? Ours are simple:
• A good Internet connection.
• Transportation provided, or easy access to public systems
• The ability to explore the area (getting away for a few days to see the country—we are “travel” bloggers after all).
• A house that is well sealed off from creepy crawlies (Dalene’s phobia)!
Spelling out your own minimum, non-negotiable requirements for house-sitting will help you weed through the many jobs available and focus in on those that really are your “dream” house-sits.
2. Do you like animals?
Do lizards creep you out? Are you allergic to cats? Many home-owners are looking for pet care while you are at their house, so setting your own limits with regards to animals is an important step.
3. Where you can go (visas, etc.)
Fancy bouncing around Europe taking consecutive house-sits in Rome, Paris and beyond? If you’re from North America (for example), know that you can only stay in the 28 countries of the Schengen zone for 3 months. But it’s different for the U.K. What about in Mexico? Australia?
Know before you apply. Check with your government to know where you can go and for how long. (See the “Resources pages” for some websites with this info.)
4. Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?
Would you be okay with a remote location and some distance to amenities, or do you need buzzing cafes and top notch restaurants within reach? Many house-sits are in quite remote locations, and while some love the peace and quiet that it brings (we do!), you would need to ask yourself if you can handle the solitude.
5. Flexibility is key
If you’re looking for a flat in downtown Toronto for one week during the middle of August, your chances are much slimmer than if you built in some flexibility. How about traveling anytime in August, or widening it to southern Ontario, or can you stretch your holidays from 7 to 10 days? Being flexible on when or where you go can open up the opportunities significantly.
Some gigs are listed a year in advance, others just weeks. Again, having increased flexibility (i.e. ability to take a job on short notice), will increase your chances.
6. How are you going to sustain yourself?
Consider that not all house-sits are completely free (home owners may require contribution towards utilities, especially for longer term stays), and that expenses such as food and gas for the vehicle are typically your own. If it means saving up, or being sure that you have income while you are there, you need to make sure you have your expenses covered.
Also be aware of the cost of things where you want to house-sit. For our job in Honduras, we spent only $4,000 in an entire 6 months! However, had we done the same thing in London or New York, you can bet it would have cost more. Do your research!
7. Hablan español? Parlez-vous français?
Depending on the destination and how remote the house-sit is, knowledge of another language may not only come in handy, but be necessary to get by.
8. Things can (and probably will) go wrong
How are you at dealing with adversity? If you’ve ever been a home-owner or renter, you know the multitude of things that can happen, and you may need to deal with them during your house-sit.
In Honduras, an intense rain storm washed away earth around the house and the water pipes broke. We were without water for a full day, and while we had guests visiting us! We had to arrange for it to be fixed as well as deal with not having any water.
Oh! And then there was the time that one of the cats in New York escaped and roamed the streets overnight while we panicked looking for him.
And then there was the time that we were about to leave with a friend for a picnic when three of the dogs in Turkey ran away. Pete ended up running after them through muddy fields for two miles.
And then there was the time that the home-owners in London didn’t tell us about the leaky taps in the bathtub (the leak was below the surface). We inadvertently left the water running and left the home for the day, returning later to find water dripping to the floor below.
Just like things may have gone wrong in your own home, they will go wrong in others. You have to be prepared to deal with them.
Dalene and Pete Heck run Hecktic Travels. Want to read more? The e-book contains a wealth of information, and includes a promotional discount for one of the big house-sitting websites that almost covers the cost of the book. You can buy it here. Photo: JDolenga.