When I headed off around the world as a solo female traveller almost 25 years ago, it was considered a brave (some would say foolhardy) thing to do. But, I was at that point in my life where I needed the challenge of discovery, both of the world and myself. And it was amazing - it gave me a new found confidence that transitioned me into a different phase of life.
Today it seems there are many women who travel around the world alone and more and more are finding the courage to head off for their first adventures. "Sisters are doing it for themselves" (as Annie Lennox once sang) - and they are loving it!
And it's not just young women, there's a new category of solo travellers, women who have found themselves empty-nesters, divorced, retired with stay at home husbands, or sadly widowed prematurely.
You only have to look on Facebook to see how many women are members of female travel groups, and age specific groups too - over 40's, over 50's, over 60's solo female communities.
Booking.com recently surveyed women in the USA and found that 65% are taking vacations without their partners. Often teaming up with other women along the way.
So this month we reached out to some of our solo women house sitters over the age of 55 (age picked out of a hat - no relevance), to see how they got started, how things are panning out and what you might need to consider if thinking of following in their footsteps.
We hope this gives you some inspiration to travel and house sit sometime soon!
DONNAE "The Travelling Crone"
Follow Donnae at her website: TravellingCrone.com
Before I retired at 65, I went on month long trips "abroad"- isn't that a delightful word? A broad abroad - that was me.
Anyway, for the previous 5 years I was solo and would volunteer at wildlife rescues with a week of R&R at the end. It was a good way for me to learn to travel alone – there was some structure and company in the form of other volunteers, but I also got to push my boundaries learning to travel alone.
The whole time I was plotting and fantasizing about what my retirement would look like. As it evolved, I knew I wanted to experience what full time travelling felt like – to have no home or job to come back to. I don't have children or a life partner so there was nothing tying me down. In reality, no roots to speak of.
I had been hoping that I would be able to continue volunteering but the last few I did showed me that maybe that wasn't going to be possible anymore. You see when you volunteer at these places without a relevant skill set, your money and your ability to do "grunt work" is what they need most. Well I didn't have as much money as I used to and my physical prowess as I aged, was diminishing.
When I came across TrustedHousesitters I was over the moon! I would have a place to stay in exchange for taking care of the people's pets, so it would help with the budget and I'd get to hang with animals - win win.
I love animals and I had been pet sitting for a friend for years. In preparation I took two pet first aid courses, signed up to the house sit website and took a local sit to get my feet wet. It was a huge success and I even managed to cope with a bear encounter without anyone getting hurt.
The year before I retired, I slowly started clearing out 25 years of accumulated stuff… it was tough. My roommate and I had lived in that apartment for a long time, so it wasn't just the stuff that was a challenge. I have a cat who was bonded to her, as well as her cat. Emotional stuff, to be sure. But we got through it and she agreed to let me have one closet and a locker for the stuff I couldn't part with and to keep the place as my permanent address. She also agreed to keep Sadi and in return I would pay her an agreed upon amount every month. I also kept my beloved Bella (my 1990 Miata) in the downstairs garage.
In January 2018 I flew to Guatemala to start my new life as a gypsy.
Since then I have pet sat all over the world – Mexico, South Africa, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and back here in British Columbia. All together it has been 12 sits.
Of course, there have been challenges – I almost lost a cat in Israel to a bowel obstruction which traumatized me no end. But the pet owner and her vet were amazing, so we got through it and the cat lives on.
I have loved it all, including the challenges. I have learned and grown so much. I am much more confident and believe in my abilities, both as a traveler as well as a pet sitter. I don't ever remember being nervous or scared of pet sitting. I read the reviews and talk to the people and trust my gut.
Being able to stay in someone's home and experience their neighborhood, whether it is in Cairo or Salt Spring Island, is an honor and a blessing. Staying in an Airbnb is great, but doesn't come close to the immersive adventure that pet sitting gives me.
I get to meet awesome people (if they care enough about their pets to give them the gift of staying in their own home instead of a kennel, how could they be anything but awesome?), and delightful pets while I make my way around the world. How lucky am I?
Find Edith's profile on TrustedHousesitters
Two years ago, I mustered all the courage I had, flew out of New York on New Year's Eve, and rented a car for three weeks to explore Ireland. I was a 58-year-old widow taking my first solo international trip since my college years. I had no real plan, but I would force myself to be open to new possibilities. My approach turned out to be serendipitous.
On a chilly evening, spent near the town of Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, my Airbnb host and I savored a cup of tea while we chatted about our travels. I asked how she managed to get away as often as she did, considering we were surrounded by her large menagerie of pets. "I belong to an organization called TrustedHousesitters," she told me. "I find vetted sitters to stay with my pets and watch my house while I'm gone."
I was intrigued, both as a pet owner and frequent traveler. Of course, I'd sat for many people I knew, but this network of service exchange (free after a membership fee) sounded like a brilliant bargain. My host saw the way I interacted with her many dogs and cats (I spent most of my time on the floor with them) and suggested that I check into becoming a sitter myself.
And so, after another three months of European travel, I returned to the United States, joined TrustedHousesitters and started pulling together my portfolio. I was especially motivated after I lost my Mickey, my sweet 17-year-old Silky Terrier. I'd had dogs all my life and felt the hole he left behind terribly.
Fortunately, I found it easy to get my first sits, because my goal was to stay near home, apply for short stays initially, and seek out more rural destinations (my preference anyway), that might not be as appealing to other sitters. I also looked to travel over major holidays, like Christmas and the US Thanksgiving, which have less competition.
I've since completed five local sits through TrustedHousesitters (that is, within about 500 miles of home — the US is a big country!). I do many more for friends and through word of mouth, and I am busy enough that I've had to turn down several offers.
Obviously, as I continue to do this, I'll encounter some negatives, but honestly I haven't yet. I've really enjoyed each experience and have fallen a little in love with all of the animals I've had in my care (just dogs and cats so far, although I would love to expand to horses and farm animals). I've met lovely people — including other solo women living their own rich lives — and I'm very gratified that pet and homeowners reach out to me for repeat sits.
When I first started through a website, it was with an eye toward doing this internationally. I've been a globetrotter all my life and I'd still like to do sits in other countries if the right opportunities arise. But for now, I'm quite content with my local experiences, because for me, it's actually all about the pets — I so miss the company of animals.
I'll always travel, I'll always manage to do that; what I can't do anymore is commit to having another pet of my own. Sitting provides me with a way to spend extended quality time with animals. That's my half of the bargain, and I'm thrilled with it.
Follow on Instagram @julielopez54321
It had been a recurring statement of mine. I wanted to leave Seattle and the home that no longer held a spark of happiness for me, so that I could travel. I wanted to explore and have adventures big and small, see new places and meet different people.
So in 2018 I did just that. I sold my condo and I sold my business. My belongings were packed up and put in storage. I had just turned 55 and it was time to shut up and do what I said I’d wanted to do for so many years.
Between then and now there have been highs and lows, positive experiences and not so positive times. I’m on my 8th house sit and on the lookout for my next.
Having owned a pet care business in Seattle for 10 years looking after homes and pets, it seemed a logical option for seeing new places, providing experienced care and keeping to a fairly strict budget so that I could travel for at least a year. December 2019 will be the 2 year anniversary of what I call "being home free"!
And the lessons I’ve learned… in no particular order:
- Pack less than what I think I need. Depending on the weather of course, I typically only wear 2 or 3 outfits. But also allow for an item (or items) that make that small sense of "home" to wherever you might be. For me it’s a framed picture of me and my mother when I was a child.
- Not all house sits are created equal. But each one provides an opportunity to learn something new and challenge myself (i.e. preparing for a hurricane, power/appliance/ac outages, rogue pets who like to escape, leaking roofs)
- Always ask detailed questions when speaking to potential house sit homeowners. This is one instance when more is better! Having extensive written instructions and guidelines is crucial especially for longer sits. This is particularly important during emergency situations when the homeowner may not be immediately reachable. Basically "interview" them, because if this is going to be a long sit you need to know what environment you’ll be in and what the personalities and quirks of the animals might be.
- No two TV remotes are the same.
- THE hardest part of house sitting is saying goodbye to the animals. It breaks my heart every single time!
I am a fairly classic introvert so traveling solo and having a lot of solitude suits me just fine. When I want to socialize or meet people I join Meetup groups, check Facebook for local events that peak my interest, or sign up for an "Airbnb Experience". Sometimes it's as simple as going to a coffeehouse or bar and striking up a conversation with the barista, bartender or person sitting next to me.
Since I’m currently not working my days are filled with writing, meditation, yoga, reading, walking, playing with the pets I’m looking after and photography. All the things I didn’t have time for when I owned my business and worked 7 days a week.
Am I officially retired?
Not yet, but I’m doing pretty well at practicing for it when the time comes. Researching what "work" (making money to pay the bills - or fund more travel) looks like for me is another way I spend my time. My goal is to find or create work that allows me to remain nomadic.
It’s interesting to see the various responses I get when people ask me "What I do or where I live". They range from a pinch-faced concerned stare to an audible sigh of "Oh, I wish I could do that"!
And here's the thing, while this lifestyle may not be for everyone, if it’s a dream of yours to pack up and go - then by all means DO IT!
Is it easy with no worries or cares in the world?
Definitely not… well sometimes, but not all the time. But it is an adventure, and a roller coaster of experiences that allows for a true appreciation of what it means to live and love and to genuinely know what is important to you.
It allows you to see what the world is like outside of your comfort zone and how people live and how, ultimately, we are all truly similar.
Follow at her website: NickyAbroad.com
My marriage had ended and my children were all overseas. I'd moved to another city for a dream job that did not live up to expectations and my health was suffering. Since childhood my dream had been to travel. What better time to start?
My possessions went into storage, I rented out my house and took flight to Mexico where my eldest son was living. We travelled together for two weeks before I joined a tour group in Mexico City. I left it in San Jose in Costa Rica.
After that, I was on my own.
My intended year away from New Zealand crept into three. There was little planning and my decisions sometimes depended on family circumstances. I had not travelled on my own before and was naïve in the ways of solo travel. Central America was perhaps an unusual place to start!
I perfected the art of slow travel.
It didn't matter if I didn't see all the sights. The people I met were more important. Sitting on a park bench in a foreign city provided free entertainment and the opportunity to chat to locals (or be harassed by the hawkers!). I was travelling on a budget and stayed a minimum of three nights in cheap hotels, hostels or Airbnbs. When I wanted to linger in one place for a while, I applied for a house sit with TrustedHousesitters.
Vermont was the location of my first foray into house sitting. I spent two months there in December and January. This is not the ideal time to visit Vermont unless you like snow! I had a large dog to walk four times a day. He leapt and capered whilst I attempted to re-trace the tracks from our previous walk. We both wore high viz vests as it was hunting season and the owner didn't want us to be mistaken for a deer. It was a lonely time, especially at Christmas. I did a lot of knitting!
At the opposite extreme, I managed an Airbnb in Byron Bay, Australia, also in December and January. There was a constant flow of guests in the two rooms and I was changing sheets and cleaning every morning. I walked up to the lighthouse at 6 am before the sun found its heat, and swam and sunbathed at the panoramic beach in the afternoon. Byron was busy and there was plenty of activity.
I always took care of dogs and/or cats. Dogs were more restrictive and time consuming with regular walking and feeding times. I couldn't leave them alone for too long. Cats were more independent. My charges included a neurotic Airedale, a cat who wouldn't come near me and another who launched a rear attack at my legs if I didn't provide food on demand! I had to get used to dogs sleeping in my room and cats on my bed.
Most owners wanted to chat on Skype beforehand. I found it beneficial to arrive a day or two early so the animals could become accustomed to me. It was also reassuring for the owners to know their pets were in safe hands.
Back in New Zealand and homeless after selling my house, I joined KiwiHouseSitters and was inundated with requests. The demand was such I could afford to be selective. My last house sit was in Taupo with two cats and a dog. I bought a house whilst I was there, am friends with the owners and now have a new base from which to set off and explore the world.
I love having something to look forward to. My husband often moans that I plan too much and do too much, but I just see life as an adventure to be had. It'll be over all too soon. I might be 58 but don't feel it. While I'm fit and well, I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing.
I'm very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work for 30 years and retire on a pension. Not a huge one but it keeps us ticking over. Both my husband and I were fire-fighters in the London fire brigade.
I travel on some occasions without my husband. Sometimes alone and sometimes with other women friends. I'm constantly thinking of the next thing to do. I don't have savings or loads of money but I make it happen. That's why swapping, volunteering and house sits are great.
I see travel as liberating and informing. I haven't gone as far afield as I would have liked due to work and family obligations (grand-kids). But now that's changed I want to go further. I'm planning a train trip with a woman friend to Uzbekistan next year. I have 2 marathons booked with women pals, Valencia & Cyprus. I'm not fast but I'm determined. While I'm alive and well, why not eh!
I've never been good with saving money as I just spend it. Mostly on doing stuff and eating out!!! Often with the family, as well as friends. I have gratitude for making it this far when some of my friends haven't. People are getting ill or dying and I just take that as a sign to make the most of life for as long as I can.
I also had skin cancer last year. Luckily I'm fine but it heightened the realization that if you're going to do anything, do it now. We only get one chance. So one of the reasons I investigated house sitting was to help us decide where we wanted to live next.
We think it's Devon, so our first sit will be there. When I retired I started to de-clutter and am now emotionally unattached from my stuff. We rented out our house and moved up north, where our son was, to help with the 2 grandchildren. We enjoyed it so much we concluded that living in London was no longer as desirable as it had been.
It became clear that if we sold our house, we could liberate our money and share it with our two kids. They could buy homes, and wouldn't have to wait until we died to get their inheritance. We on the other hand could move to my dream location, by the sea, wherever that is, we just have to find it.
House sitting will help us do that. We can buy our dream home, rent it out and continue looking after people's homes and pets. It's a win-win. So I'm very excited at this chance to discover the world via people's homes. Much nicer. Also while our first sit is as a couple I have my next one on my own.
I have no qualms about sitting alone. I rather relish it. I have lots of books to catch up on and marathons to train for. So I'm sure there will be future solo sits.
As for many people, it was a life changing event that set me on my house sitting journey. At 52 my marriage ended and my youngest was almost ready to leave home. To be honest after the initial shock, all I could see in front of me was a big world full of opportunities.
I'm an "all or nothing" kind of person so I had no problem getting rid of everything and starting fresh. My sons were supportive... or maybe it was stunned silence, I'm not absolutely sure. That first year was a bit of a blur for all of us I think.
I knew about house sitting because my mum was an occasional house sitter for friends. I already had a small online income so that's how I started. I got on my computer and set up my first profile on a house sit site, started applying for sits and emailed my CV to people offering my typing services online.
During my first few years of house sitting and travel from when I started out in 2015, I stayed close to home for family reasons, but when I landed a sit in Hawaii and I felt like I was really on my journey. I can take myself right back to that feeling I had standing on Waikiki Beach, it blew my mind.
House sitting around the world is my life right now, although I'm not sure if it will always be. I can settle down again anytime I choose, but I'm having too much fun travelling right now.
I enjoy the homeowner and sitter relationship and the trust involved, sometimes with relaxed homeowners who are experienced at having house sitters, and sometimes with more nervous first timers.
It's important to be respectful of a homeowner's privacy, their home and pets. I've learnt to accept that when I'm in someone's home I do things their way. This trust economy works well when everyone plays the game fairly.
I also like the low footprint of house sitting. When I arrive there's usually food in the fridge and a welcome note with any last minute instructions. When I leave I replace anything I used, clean up and make sure there is fresh food in the fridge. My current homeowners are vegan and I know where they like to shop, so it's nice to leave something I know they will appreciate.
Planning far in advance doesn't work for me. I used to book up to a year ahead, but since I've grown more confident I like to leave my options more open, sometimes only booking a couple of months into the future. Something always seems to come up.
I like to do 6 weeks or so in one place but sits can range from a weekend to many months, so it's really a matter of being flexible. I can stay in a tiny bedsit in the centre of London for a week or a huge house in the mountains of Mexico for two months, followed by six weeks in Belgium and four weeks in the south of France, with a week in between to pop to Venice for a holiday. All of which I have done and yeah, it's fun.
Facebook is my main form of communication. My personal page is where my friends see my travel stories and private groups are where I talk with family, other female traveller groups and our house sitting community. By belonging to our global tribe of house sitters, I never feel alone. We meet up all over the world, share stories and support each other. House sitting can be character building - there are so many opportunities, and people with interesting lifestyles, homes and animals. The sharing economy is alive and pumping and it warms my heart to be a part of it.
You might also enjoy reading:
- House Sitting as a Solo Woman
- Is Solo House Sitting More Difficult for Men?
- How to Become an International House Sitter