The future of house sitting and travel
If you're anything like us, you'll have considered a number of reasons why your travel lifestyle might end quite abruptly, but I bet a world-wide pandamic wouldn't have been the first to consider!
In just a blink of the eye, international travel changed, the world slowly closed down and globalization took a step backwards.
Travellers have had to adapt quickly to ever changing travel restrictions, lock-downs, government advisories, and news about social distancing and hygiene measures. For a while it seemed like every day we awoke to new guidelines that clamped right down on our freedom of movement around the world. It really was like waking up as an extra in the movie Contagion (if you haven't seen it ... you should!)
Slowly though a new normal is emerging, albeit a different version in almost every country, and even down to state and county level in some places like the USA and Australia. Within our own versions of lockdown or easing we are finally regaining at least a little consistency in our lives. There's space to contemplate and consider what all this means to the future of our travel-based and house sitting lifestyles.
But while some borders our now tentatively opening, others remain firmly shut at governments consider how they might create safe travel routes to and from countries that have little or no infection.
Most of what follows in this article is merely our opinion of where our uncertain future might lead us, and how things might unfold.
You may have a different opinion about how things will pan out, and you may be right. Really it does feel like we are all just crystal ball gazing right now!
1) Travel - factors for consideration
This new coronavirus is obviously one of the first things to consider as we contemplate when we may be able to return to a lifestyle resembling anything like we had before. Our "return to normal" does depend on how successful the containment measures are worldwide.
At the moment, with about half of the world's population under some sort of lockdown or with restrictions on travel, the goal has been to "flatten the curve" - to reduce the number of infections in order to prevent health systems becoming overwhelmed.
There have been early signs of success, with encouraging reports from some countries that are "past the peak", where numbers of new infections and deaths are beginning to drop or level off. In some countries lock-down restrictions are easing, and bars and restaurants are opening again, many with social distancing measures to keep people as safe as possible.
But we mustn't confuse this reduction in numbers with the idea that the worst is behind us. This reduction only indicates that these tough restrictive measures are having an effect. Lifting the controls too soon carries the serious risk of unleashing the virus once again, allowing numbers to grow once more in an exponential manner.
So rather than thinking this will all be over in a few short weeks, it seems much more realistic to expect restrictions on freedom of movement to be a part of our lives for a significant period of time. And to plan for that.
There are only two practical ways we can regain our complete freedom, and both are a long way off:
a) An effective vaccine is created, or
b) We reach "herd immunity"
Let's take a quick look at both of these, as the timescale of any outcome has a direct impact on everything else in our lives over the coming months, or years.
Production of an effective vaccine
The timescale of "12 to 18 months" has become a commonly quoted estimate for producing a vaccine. It's important to remember that at 12 months, this would be a world record. 18 months is a good estimate if things go well, including testing.
It's been touted so much in the press that people have now simply assumed that we WILL have this vaccine in 18 months, but it could well be longer than this too. Successful worldwide distribution of will also depend on each country having the funding and ability to produce and administer a vaccine successfully to at least 80% of their population.
This is in a world where we haven't been able to produce enough masks and other PPE equipment to protect our healthcare workers and general population!
We suspect some countries will be able to benefit from a vaccine much more quickly than others.
Reaching herd immunity
When enough people have been infected by the virus and have recovered, it is hoped they will be immune to further infection, no longer spreading the virus to others.
At current levels of testing it is very hard to know how far along this course we are, but early studies suggest we have a long way to go. It is still unconfirmed that having the virus once confers complete immunity, or whether it is possible to be re-infected. Remember, the common cold is also a coronavirus.
In conclusion then, restrictions are probably going to be a part of our lives for at least the next year or so, possibly longer.
2) Border controls and immigration
As the virus spreads across the world, countries have been affected at different times, to varying degrees. As Europe, the UK and the USA battled to to control numbers and deal with huge daily death tolls, other countries had it easier.
Australia and New Zealand are currently dealing with much smaller numbers, and aren't facing the health system overwhelm that has been such a concern for places like the UK. They closed their borders early enough, and implemented lockdown restrictions in time... they seem to have things well under control and states are slowly easing restrictions.
However, they are unlikely to open their borders any time soon as this could open them up to an influx of potential new cases from Europe or the USA. Australia recently reported that their citizens should be expecting "to see much more of their own country" when restrictions are eased, as it could be a long time before borders are opened to the rest of the world. There are talks about a travel corridor between Australia and New Zealand, but nothing has yet been set in stone.
The Seychelles have just taken the bold move to prohibit cruise ships from docking through the whole of next year 2021.
In the UK, lock-down restrictions are easing, but hospitality will remain closed until at least July 4th and only reopen if certain criteria are met. Very soon a 14 day quarantine will be implemented and any visitors to the UK will have to self-isolate and prove they can do so to avoid being housed in a government facility. France and Ireland will be excluded but the conditions haven't yet been finalised - you will need to check.
But all of this is constantly evolving as travel vs the economy remains on a knife edge. Just today the UK announced that despite the 14 day quarantine, we may announce "travel bridges" to allow free flow of travel between some less affected destinations.
So each country has their own ideas on how best to protect their citizens, and these ideas are likely to involve lots of different restrictions. Travel is likely to get very complicated. We think it's best to sit back and let this all get settled before making any attempts to leave the UK again.
3) Personal attitude to travel
Many people suggest they will be keen to resume their travel lifestyle again as freedom of movement returns. However, it is possible there will also be a significant proportion of people who won't feel so at ease travelling by airplane, or be as comfortable using other forms of public transport because continuing with social distancing will be difficult.
It is also looking increasingly possible that all travel will involve the wearing of masks, as it does in many Asian countries. Although most recent concerns are that this is simply a choice on many of the opening flights, such as Quantas, which will undoubtedly cause some concern for overall safety (depending where you sit on the fence with the wearing of masks).
This crisis is going to change how many of us think and act. These new habits are going to impact many of our personal choices. Just for starters:
- Would you be comfortable booking a cruise just because they have some great deals on offer?
- How far ahead will you book flights, and would you be concerned about potential financial failure of the airline?
- Would you prefer to work online as much as possible in future?
- Will you still be comfortable eating in bars, pubs and restaurants, when they open for business again?
- Do you think you may need to save more funds for future potential problems, and give yourself more resilient Plan B options?
We will all have our own personal responses to this crisis, and that will affect how we decide to act going forward. Current ideas for your own personal plans will obviously revolve around how you imagine this all plays out. As we write this article, many countries are already "opening up" and "getting the economy going".
- How do you think this will pan out? Will we soon be back to "business as usual"?
- Will we experience "a V-shaped recovery", or will there be a slow climb return to "normal"?
- Could governmental decisions plunge us into a 1930's-style financial depression?
- Are we ultimately looking at a new travel reality?
We increasingly think that the short- to mid-term outlook for travel and house sitting is pretty bleak. While we really hope to be wrong about this, with everything currently weighed up, it does look more and more likely that things will be very different moving forward.
Long-term is anyone's guess right now...
4) The travel (and entertainment) industry in general
There are currently so many unknowns that everything that follows is pure conjecture. It is, however, based on A LOT of reading and online research. After all, we've had quite a bit of spare time on our hands!
What we've found is that most research simply produces more in the way of questions than answers:
- How will airlines survive? Will tickets be more or less expensive? How will they keep travel both safe and financially viable?
- Can governments continue to support all the vulnerable companies for an unknown duration?
- Will the number of people out of work have a big effect on the number of people who can afford to travel as they did prior to Covid19?
- How will public transport such as rail companies and bus networks return to normal operation and under what conditions?
- Will we require "immunity passports" or a "certificate of travel" ?
- How will hotels return to normal operation, running restaurants and bars with necessary social distancing, cleaning accommodation rooms and bathrooms to the required hygiene levels?
- Will Airbnb hosts be happy to allow strangers in to their homes without a vaccine in place?
- What about the future of entertainment – sports events, concerts, other large events, theatres and cinemas?
So much of travel revolves around restaurants, bars and tourist attractions. How will they begin to operate with the necessary safety measures in place so that both staff and customers are reassured about being kept as safe as possible.
Many restaurants run on short margins, needing a high turnover of customers to make them financially viable. If social distancing and masks continue to be required, tables may be limited with more spacing required, as we've seen in some food malls in Asia. How do you even eat if masks are mandatory in public places?
There are just so many things to be considered.
For further thoughts on the future of travel, you might also like to read this recent article by Ian Mackenzie of Above Us Only Skies: COVID-19 - How travel will change in 2020.
4) How will COVID-19 impact house sitting?
House sitting runs hand in hand with travel and so there's no doubt that how we respond to travel over the next few years will have a profound effect on the way house sitting recovers and changes.
This is a key question for us and many others.
People will not completely stop travelling. But international travel will undoubtedly take a significant period of time to recover.
If home owners decide to reduce, or even cancel, some of their travel plans, there will be less house sits posted on the house sitting platforms. We are seeing this already. Many longer term sits are conditional on how things open up for travel.
The decision not to travel might even be forced upon home owners by travel restrictions, financial circumstances, or simply because of their personal attitude towards hygiene and safety. A lot may depend on how safe they feel - whether the virus is contained or on a resurgence pattern.
Similarly, it might be that some house sitters and retirees decide to take a break, settle for a while in their previously rented out homes, opting for some short to medium term security while they see how things pan out.
That could conversely result in less competition for sits.
Even if people are able to travel overseas for emergency or work reasons, there will be potential considerations we've not had to really think much about when we were able to experience cross-border travel freedom.
Think what might happen should you travel overseas and inadvertently contract the virus. It's highly possible the virus will re-emerge in hot-spots, as happened in northern Italy.
Will you need to quarantine yourself on return? Could all this result in house sitters needing to stay longer than expected, impacting forward travel plans, booked tickets and insurance cover?
In countries like the UK where quarantine rules will soon be in place, how will you build this into the time equation?
This could also work detrimentally in reverse. House sitters may themselves get ill and need to self isolate beyond the length of the house sit.
What does this mean for full-time sitters?
For full-timers, it's possible that back-to-back sits will be more difficult for a while and we may have to allow longer breaks between sits to cover unexpected delays.
This means Plan B's and C's, along with emergency backup funds for alternative accommodation, will be even more important when organizing travel and sits.
Those who house sit with mobile homes or vans are likely to benefit in the short-term, especially in countries that have more space for larger vehicles, such as Australia, New Zealand and rural parts of the US. It will be easier to fill gaps between sits and also to carry out safe handovers with social distancing in place. Staying on the drive in your van before a sit might be the new normal!
Declaring your travel and medical history
We've already heard of home owners asking for more details about a house sitter's travel history (up to the point where lock-downs prevented movement). Questions were asked about travel from badly affected countries and potential risk that they might be asymptomatic as a result.
So in the future, it might be that you'll be asked if you've had Covid-19, been in contact with anyone that has, or have responsibility for vulnerable family that might require you to leave suddenly.
There is a lot of talk at the moment about having some sort of app or certification that will demonstrate that you've had the virus, tested negative, or ultimately had a vaccine (once developed), which will provide a solution to this.
Social impact on handovers
The handover and sometimes the hand-back are often very social events for us. A time to get to know our homeowners, and the pets we are caring for.
Will this change?
We might initially find people less likely to entertain sitters before they travel. And sitters might want to leave before home owners return from their travels, especially if it involves an area where the virus hasn't been eradicated.
Cleanliness and hygiene
Will this become a more important part of your prior assessment of a sit and handover procedure on arrival? Will you clean shared surfaces more diligently when you take over the care of the property for your own piece of mind. Maybe you'll close off rooms for a few days to ensure safety.
Adaptability and resilience
We are a pretty adaptable community. Our skill-sets generally include both the resilience to cope with changing situations, and the ability to adapt, sometimes quickly, when necessary.
For many of us long term house sitters, dealing with the isolation of lock-down hasn't posed too much of a problem. We are very used to planning ahead, remaining socially isolated and stocking up on food when transport is limited.
We will simply need to assess the possible changes to the way in which house sitting re-emerges once restrictions are finally eased.
And this may be a staged process, and different depending on your citizenship, or where you are currently located in the world.
More domestic house sit jobs
House sitting will no doubt be much more localised, especially in the first year or so. As people are prevented from travelling internationally until a vaccine is produced, vacations are much more likely to take place in the home country.
It's possible that self-catering accommodation will become even more popular and acceptable to many. Vacationers will have control of the cleaning process, hygiene and cooking (where restaurant access may be less available than before in the initial phases of re-opening).
We also think there might be a resurgence of outdoor, nature type holidays… camping, holiday parks, boating holidays, glamping, motorhome roadtrips, etc. These are the types of holidays where many take their dogs along with them, so this again could result in less need for house sitters until people feel more confident, or are able to travel overseas.
But this could go either way... all those people who travel overseas normally will be booking in the their home countries - and dogs may not be allowed at all holiday accommodations.
5) Popular house sitting countries will thrive
Those countries that have traditionally been very open to house sitting should thrive. There are plenty of options for travel within the USA, Canada, NZ, Australia, the UK etc.
Europe may be off-limits for a while as each country currently has their own views on border restrictions, although the talk of travel bubbles may help revive some travel options. We are watching this carefully, especially as Brexit comes into play at the end of the year for us Brits.
As staycations become all the rage for a while, opportunities for house sits in individual countries should increase again, and possibly strengthen.
Less long term sits
Competition for long term sits is likely to increase. With less opportunity to travel extensively across borders, longer trips may be out of the question for a while, unless someone is spending time at a second home, or family property in another country or area.
A potential rise in the number of short term sits
One thing we haven't talked about, and no-one can really know for sure at this stage, is the financial fallout. Will people save their money rather than take multiple vacations each year, while they build their financial security again?
There may just be less money around for a while, for holidays and travel, which could result in shorter, less expensive holiday options in home countries. We may see lots more weekend sits.
6) Be a pro-active house sitter ... now
There are more questions than answers at the moment, but we know from experience that being prepared and thinking through the possible scenarios, generally sets you up to take action positively and pro-actively once house sits do open up again.
So what can you do to prepare for the comeback?
- Communication, as always, will be an important part of the house sitting process. Contact prior home owners in the country where you are sheltering, and see how they are faring. Reassure them that you are available whenever they are ready to travel, and that you are following all the practical guidelines for staying safe and healthy.
- Think about which platforms will serve you best moving forward. It might be time to try out and support a country-based website, where they exist alongside your own international favorites. For instance, we use TrustedHousesitters in the UK, but might also look at joining a UK specific site as well, like HouseSittersUK. Become part of a strong house sitting community in a country where home-based travel will most likely continue.
- Take this time out to ramp up your profile, update the text, the photos etc., so that you are ready to make applications once travel freedom is reinstated, however, restricted that might initially be.
Whatever happens, we believe house sitting will still exist but it's going to take time for home owners to think about and trust the system again, allowing for any new health guidelines that need to be considered.
Our plan is to keep a close eye on how things develop over the coming months, and in to next year, and to adjust expectations accordingly.
Because the shape of our "new normal" is anybody's guess right now...
What do you think? Please let us know in the comments below.
authors - vanessa anderson & ian usher
Vanessa & Ian are full-time British travelers and house sitters who have published the online publication House Sitting Magazine since 2016. They provide numerous resources for the community as they continue their explorations and slow travel adventures across the globe. You can find out more about their house sitting lifestyle here or at LongTermHouseSitters.com
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Last updated on May 19th, 2020