house sitting travel

The Reality of the House Sitting Travel Lifestyle

by Vanessa Anderson

Last updated on November 20th, 2019

What’s it really like to be a traveling house sitter?

Having been full-time traveling house sitters for almost 4 years, and part-time for even longer, we can genuinely claim to have experienced a wide variety of house sits, in different destinations around the world. In fact, since 2013 we’ve done almost 90 sits.

Our passion is house sitting, and as well as publishing House Sitting Magazine for the community, we also run a house sitting support and advice group on Facebook with over 8000 members.

The point being… we see A LOT of what goes on “behind the scenes” in our industry.

So is being a full-time house sitter REALLY the perfect lifestyle?

On the outside, and for anyone new to house and pet sitting, it can seem that if you’re looking for an alternative travel or lifestyle experience, house sitting travel is the perfect answer.

That’s because house sitting is often glamorized and promoted as the “dream lifestyle”.

Honestly, you’ll be led to believe that before you know it, you’ll be saving tens of thousands of pounds, living in million dollar homes, in glamorous destinations all over the world, with little more to do than sit by the pool with your cocktail.

You might even fall under the illusion and popular misconception that you can “travel for free”.

Well of course, that isn’t true!

But here’s where some confusion lies and it’s something we want to try and set straight.

For anyone starting out house sitting, or who is a little disillusioned with their initial results, we want to give a bit more clarity about the true nature of house sitting.

Oooh… I’m starting to feel like Louis Theroux on an undercover mission!!

But first, let me start by telling you about our current house sit.

We arrived back in the UK during summer last year, and have been seeing the UK from a different perspective by booking lots of shorter sits. As I write this, we’re looking after a stunning home in Essex taking care of 2 adorable black labs.

Our house, is in fact, a million pound/dollar home… and some. It has a heated swimming pool and a fair bit of land. The home owners are incredible, generous people, the dogs well trained, and it’s very likely this will top our list of awesome house sit jobs.

We don’t ever photograph or publicly make known exactly where we are house sitting, but if you were to see this property, you would think that everything you’ve read about house sitting is true!

Let’s be honest now…

In reality, it’s unlikely (but not impossible), that you would land a house sit of this calibre as your first ever assignment. This house sitting job has been the culmination of years of full-time experience, successfully looking after luxury homes and a vast array of pets, resulting in consistent five star reviews. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try of course, but be prepared for some rejection – just don’t take it personally!

First Time Success – There are people who, with the right approach, having done sound research, have secured awesome house sits first time around – you can read the stories of some of those successful house sitters here in this collaborative article.

We have a reliable, trusted and credible house sitting profile – our house sitting resume stands us in good stead. Just like a good career resume or CV would.

I’m giving you this luxury house sit example because it’s the reason why it’s so easy for those of us living the house sitting travel lifestyle, to sing it’s praises, rave about it, thank our lucky stars, and want to inspire others to follow in our footsteps.

escape mediocrity and become a house sitterAnd consider this… if you’ve slogged away at a job for years, trapped by materialism, longing for a break and a happier life, and you land house sits that are in beautiful homes, allowing extended travel in distant dream-like locations, cuddling up to gentle, affectionate pets, then you wouldn’t be wrong in jumping for joy, thinking you’ve just landed the best job ever!

We wouldn’t blame you at all, and we are guilty of exactly the same.

But here’s the thing about house sits…

Looking after someone’s house, possessions and pets, carrying out daily routines, walking the dogs, cleaning the property, maybe doing a bit of gardening… it is a job as well!

“Tough job” I hear you say, and I agree, it’s pretty good as jobs go.

But it’s NOT the same as going on vacation and renting an Airbnb property, and it’s definitely not like staying in a hotel.

So if that’s what you’re after, it ain’t for you!

Being a house sitter isn’t just about getting a cheap holiday or free rent

For starters, you will have responsibilities – in almost all cases, the pets come first!

Remember when you had pets? Well the same applies. There will be duties you’ll need to work into your day. You might have to get up early to feed dogs, cats, chickens, horses… and take your charges for walks, whatever the weather, once or even twice a day.

You can’t go off for an overnight stay with friends on a whim, in fact, at most house sits you can’t even have your friends and family round to stay.

All of this will depend on the house-sit and the expectations of the home and pet owner, but suffice to say, you can’t just do what you want, when you want, get to the end of your house sitting vacation, throw the towels in the bath, and hand the keys back.

Or if you do, it will probably be one of your last house sit jobs, because this isn’t what house sitting is about.

You may (but not always) spend less on your holiday, and as a full-timer you’ll no doubt save a lot of money on accommodation, BUT this shouldn’t be your primary reason for wanting to house sit, or you could end up disappointed.

House Sitting is all about the petsWe cover the topic of what a house sitter does and expectations of both sitters and homeowners, more deeply here  but for now, we want to talk more about how house sitting is just one part of our “perfect” lifestyle.

And, we think this is where we might sometimes confuse those looking in from the outside. People who want to live like us, but who are enticed into international house sitting for the wrong reasons.

House sitting is just a part of our travel lifestyle

Our traveling lifestyle comprises many aspects – some work some play:

  • Belonging to and promoting our sharing trust based community
  • Travel and adventure between house sits
  • Local exploration when on house sits
  • Living with and dealing with cultural challenges
  • The logistics and planning of travel
  • House and pet sitting “duties” including pet care, exercise and maintaining daily routines
  • Our part-time online jobs that create our remote income to fund our travels
  • Connecting with like-minds along the way
  • Returning home to spend quality time with family and friends

We equate house and pet sitting with the “job” elements within our overall lifestyle, and if you do this too you can think about it with a different mindset. As in every other lifestyle choice where you work, you’ll have “good days” in your “job”, not so good times, and occasionally, out and out shitty experiences.

A tough day at work

In house sitting terms, a “tough day at work” means sometimes things might go wrong with the property, pets get sick, or you might not “click” with your homeowners. You might not find all the creature comforts you’re used to, or the property might not meet your own standards of cleanliness.

External events, extreme weather and temperatures, transport strikes, wild fires, critters and insects, and the like, might all conspire to interfere with your plans or present challenges totally alien to you.

There’s no doubt that there may occasionally be stressful times and when you don’t have the back-up of a work team to support you.

If your first house sit involves any of the above (and In the “perfect lifestyle” scenario), you might now find yourself not quite so enamored with house and pet sitting.

You wonder where you’ve gone wrong, or whether everyone is misleading you about the way they live as house sitters!

But then the next pets come along, in a new location and an ideal home, with the opportunity to experience something different and unique – and all is rosy in the garden once more!

House Sitting Bad Sits Happen, but rarelyThe truth is there will be “ups” and there will be “downs” and this might happen as part of your house sit, travel logistics, in-between sit adventures… or any part of your lifestyle.

In a few rare cases there might even be some very difficult situations to deal with, as could happen in your life at any time. Sometimes you might need to get the platform involved, especially if a house sit has been misrepresented. Or turn to fellow house sitters for support – which is where online forums come in to their own if properly moderated.

We really do believe it’s important to find your house sits (or sitters) from a reputable house sitting site where some form of ID check is carried out, where reviews can be read and where there is someone to contact in the event of a problem. To learn more about how to select the best house sitting site for your needs, this article might help:

A mindset adjustment

That’s why we think it’s important to see house and pet sitting as just one part of your lifestyle design, and to realize that you are in a temporary job (the house sit), with a temporary employer (the homeowner).

Despite this being a trust-based exchange, we believe that having this mindset can help rationalize the situations that occasionally go awry.

I’d like to be clear too, that doing due diligence and following best practices is also key to being a successful house sitter.

But, In 99% of cases, house sitting will NEVER feel like a job in the sense of the word as you used to know. In the same way that retirement takes on a whole new meaning as a traveling house sitter.

It will be a fun travel experience, or an alternative more meaningful vacation option, with a chance to bond and care for other people’s pets.

Only in a very very small percentage of sits will it feel like the worst job on earth!

But really, as we keep saying, house and pet sitting is just one part of your overall lifestyle – and that overall lifestyle is pretty damn awesome!

I think that’s often why in Facebook groups and forums, you see the occasional and sometimes seemingly insensitive remark when someone expresses a problem with their sit, suggesting you “get over it and move on”.

Think back to “life before house sitting” when you were caught up in the trap of mainstream society. Didn’t you have bad days then, terrible days in fact? And you probably suffered a lot more stress than you’ll ever experience in your travelling house sitter lifestyle.

We’ve found we’ve had to adjust our expectations, and work hard to connect with home owners who are like-minded, with the same standards we have, who have a similar outlook on life and care for their pets in the same or similar way we did with our own animals. In this way we continue to avoid difficult situations.

What makes up our perfect travel lifestyle?

For us this IS the “perfect travel lifestyle” – but it’s made up of much more than just house sitting. For others it may be their perfect retirement lifestyle, or their perfect way to work remotely.

There are so many benefits that massively outweigh how we used to live:

  • We work part-time when we want, doing what we enjoy, part of which is house sitting
  • We travel “slowly” all over the world
  • We take “between sit” travel adventures… a month in Cuba, a road trip in Australia
  • We have time to eat and live healthily
  • We experience very little stress
  • We have pets around us always
  • We have eliminated accommodation costs, utilities, and other home expenses
  • We have been liberated from the worry that comes with owning expensive possessions – property, cars, etc.
  • We have escaped the rush hour rat race
  • We have control over our life and how we live it

When we say we love the house sitting lifestyle, or that it’s our “perfect lifestyle”, it’s because of all these things. Being a house sitter is just a part of the whole!

Over the last 2 years we’ve got most of our house sits through international house sit platform, TrustedHousesitters. If you are interested in joining and want to save 25%, just click the link below – the discount will be applied automatically!

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What about bad house sits?

We aren’t suggesting you disregard the bad sits and pretend they didn’t happen.

Not at all.

They do and they can be hell for part or all of a sit, and for so many reasons, especially if there’s a conflict with the home owner. It’s important to know that you are supported by the community and the house sitting platforms during these times.

But this can also an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your skills, how you deal with challenges or conflict – a chance to be a better you. Or at the very least, it can help perfect your future exchanges and experiences, protecting against another bad house sit situation.

Think “Human Resources” – companies have an HR department partly to deal with disputes between workers, and workers and management. As a house sitter you are encountering so many different personalities and “work” environments, yet you have to be your own little HR department, often with no-one else to help. That’s along with all the other self-management skills you’ll find yourself developing!

Learn the truth about house sitting

Putting it all in perspective

First of all, don’t be put off.

With almost 90 house sits under our belt since we hit the road in 2013, and in some very challenging environments (off-grid, island based, in tropical environments and harsh remote locations), this is the sum total of our “less than good” experiences:

  • On our very first sit, a radiator pipe burst soaking into an under-stairs’ cupboard.
  • In Fiji we had to evacuate pets, and prepare for and cleanup after devastating Category 5 Cyclone Winston – the largest ever to hit the region with sustained winds of 285km/h – leaving 44 people dead.
  • In Africa we had a total mismatch of expectations
  • In Australia we had to prepare for a bush fire one block from the house.
  • Around the world we’ve had a few houses that were not as clean as we’d have liked

Of these, only 2 house sits, Fiji and Africa, caused us any real problems – both stories in their own right. We learned from both.

The bush fire, however, didn’t reach the property. We had a stressful couple of hours preparing for the worst, but it was contained and we were all safe.

The burst radiator was isolated within minutes (always ask where the water cut-off is!), and the less-than-clean properties involved a few hours of cleaning before we could relax.

All of these were in our first year of house sitting, when we were finding our way, learning about due diligence and best practices as we became more experienced house sitters.

House Sitting in AfricaWhat about house sit cancellations?

These can happen for sitters and home owners, and while rare, you have to allow for emergencies beyond your control. It’s important to always have a Plan B! In all our sits over almost 7 years, we’ve only ever had 2 cancellations – the first gave us alternative accommodation for 2 weeks, the second, just recently, was a short weekender – we took the opportunity to catch up with family.

For us house sitting is 100% better than any day job!

So here’s the reality of house sitting for us…

  • House sitting is just one “part of” a pretty perfect travel or location independent lifestyle.
  • Things will occasionally go wrong, and we need to be adaptable, flexible and always have a backup plan.
  • Trusting our gut instinct is VERY IMPORTANT.
  • The pets come first! Our day is not always our own – pets and their routines need to be maintained and seen as priority. But our travel adventures between sits more than compensate for that.
  • We don’t connect long-term with everyone we meet, but we have also made many like-minded friends along the way.
  • We’ve discovered some of the most generous people ever are part of the house sitting community.

If it’s not really for you – don’t do it!

If it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it to fit. Especially if the love for animals isn’t there.

Find another way to travel, another way to retire even – there are plenty of options available these days, even for the budget conscious.

But at all times remember, house sitting is just one part of your lifestyle, and it’s the overall lifestyle that is freaking awesome!

It works for us, and we’ve found nothing yet that compares!

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The Reality of the travel house sitting lifestyle - It's not all glamour and luxury properties! Pets come first. #housesittingtravel

6 comments

6 comments

Carolyn -

Great article Vanessa, and very detailed. I also think it is really important, as part of your due diligence to clearly read the listing for a sit, before applying, as you can tell a lot from that. I think, often people rush into applying for a sit, without reading the listing in detail, and then possibly don’t want to pull out after that. I read and reread the listing, checking it has the basics that we need, for example a decent wi-fi, because we work remotely, amongst other requirements. But in saying that, some of my basics, are not always required, depending on where we are and what we are doing. Flexibility is key, sometimes, even with the best due diligence, you may get to the home,and it’s not (or maybe the pet/s) are not what you expect, but if you are flexible, adaptable, and your expectations aren’t too high, you will always enjoy it.

Reply
Vanessa Anderson -

You are right Carolyn, and that’s something we cover in our “getting started” articles. We are the same, we read and re-read the post for the sit, and do a lot of due diligence on the video or phone chat. We have our list of “must haves” as we work too, and that flexibility and adaptability you speak about is key to making our house sitting lifestyle as stress-free as possible, for us and the home owners. We always say, once committed that is it.. we won’t ever cancel and even in an emergency we have each other to fall back on, in the sense that one can stay and one can leave. Thanks for taking time to feedback 🙂

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Estelle Anderson -

Great read. Thanks for sharing all the pros and cons of house and pet sitting. While we do not plan to travel full time house sitting, we are keen to try a couple of months. It is sobering to read about the challenges. Yet, on our very first house sit we had some very unpleasant experiences, that were ongoing for a week. We survived and we haven’t been put off. Even so, it’s a little daunting thinking of experiencing challenges in a foreign country.

Reply
Vanessa Anderson -

Hi Estelle and glad you enjoyed the read. I’m sorry to hear your first house sit wasn’t such a good experience, but equally pleased to hear it hasn’t put you off. Honestly, with the correct due diligence and best practices you can alleviate 99.9% of potential issues. In over 60 house sits we’ve only had one bad sit. Hopefully you’ve got your’s out of the way at the outset! Look forward to hearing about your next sit in the Facebook Group 🙂

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Lynn -

Great article that accurately captures this lifestyle, from my (more limited) experience. Like anything in life, there are pros and cons. I’ve had amazing sits and some in less than stellar conditions – I’ve been told (after my first year of sitting) that a sitter should feel free to interview the homeowner as much as they interview you – it’s a 2-way street and needs to be a good fit on both sides. In some cases, I’ve found (doing free sits) that it can be an awful lot of work for the exchange of accommodations – being responsible 24/7 for somebody’s most valued possessions (their home and fur-babies); for example, the expectation of 4 dog walks a day. Ask questions and know what you’re getting into 🙂

Reply
Vanessa Anderson -

Thanks for taking time to read Lynn and glad it resonated with you. I agree, it’s definitely a two-way exchange and both parties need to be super comfortable with the arrangements, and as such the pre-sit “interview” is for both home owner and house sitter to get the reassurance they need. We have checklists to help with this, which get tailored depending on the sit, and how our questions get answered through natural conversation. Sounds like you’ve got that worked out. Happy house sitting!

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