Imagine staying at a cool Airbnb… but it’s free… and there’s a cute dog! This might sound too good to be true, but it actually is possible through house-sitting.
Lisa had done quite a bit of house-sitting at home in Edmonton over the years, as it was a great way to earn some extra money during university. She had wondered about the possibility of doing it overseas, but wasn’t really sure how to go about making it happen, until she stumbled upon a blog post about a website called Trusted Housesitters. In this case, you don’t get paid in cash, but you do get free accommodations. Lisa was pretty excited about this prospect, as was Bryan when she told him about it. (Bryan is always excited about free things.)
Basically, you set up a profile and can apply for house-sits all over the world. We got references from previous house-sitting clients of Lisa’s, but the star rating that shows up on your profile is only based on jobs you’ve done through the Trusted Housesitters website. So we realized we’d better start getting some of those under our belt to be competitive for future sits. As a newbie on the site, you’re probably not going to get the month-long house-sit for the beachfront mansion in Miami that only has one low maintenance pet.
So we decided to look for local house-sits with relatively few applicants. Luckily for us, it seems that house-sits in Edmonton in the winter are not super competitive (shocking, we know). Starting out on the site, it seems like your best bets will be relatively short-term jobs in your hometown (unless your hometown is a hugely popular tourist destination).
Soon we got our first job – yay! We got to spend a long weekend at a lovely apartment with a sweet cat, and ended up with our first 5-star review. After completing another local sit, we started applying on some international house-sits.
Planning and Applying for Overseas House-sits
The main place we wanted to get some house-sits was Australia (one of the more expensive stops on our trip). In New Zealand we had our minds set on the campervan adventure, but in Australia we liked the idea of staying in one place a bit longer. It turned out there were a lot of house-sits over Christmas, so we applied to a few in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Brisbane. We figured we could base our travel plans on the results of our applications.
Initially we also wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef, but the general consensus seemed to be that it would be best done by liveaboard, which did not fit financially into this trip (maybe in the future). We learned that there was lots of great shore diving around Adelaide and Melbourne to see leafy and weedy sea dragons, respectively, and that it would be a lot more laid back and less touristy. We also found out about Kangaroo Island, close to Adelaide, which we decided we MUST visit (all those weird and adorable Australian animals like kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, and platypus – roaming around in the wild!)
After putting in a bunch of applications, we were excited to get a 3-night sit in Brisbane (we also booked 3 extra nights at Airbnbs so we would have a bit more time there). After that, we also got a house-sit in Adelaide for 10 nights over Christmas and New Year’s. We decided to extend our time there by renting an Airbnb for 2 weeks after the house-sit was done, and then spend our last week in Australia exploring Kangaroo Island.
So, How Did the House-sits Go?
Our house-sitting experiences in Australia were really positive. In Brisbane we stayed at a nice apartment in the CBD. We looked after one dog (a little white pup named Fozzie Bear), and a parrot (Elmo). They were really fun and entertaining – Fozzie had so much energy and Elmo also had quite the personality, chatting away in his cage.
Neither of us are very experienced with birds, but his owner had let us know that Elmo would be OK to stay in his cage since it was a short sit. This was good, as we would have been a bit stressed about the possibility of him escaping or having any incidents with little Fozzie Bear! Basically all we had to do was make sure he had fresh water and top up his food.
Fozzie required a bit more care. We took him for a couple walks a day, fed him, and did our best to keep him entertained (we kept our stuff locked away in the spare bedroom in case he got bored – his owner warned us he might chew on things). The apartment had a large balcony with a fake grass pee pad and a doggie door, so Fozzie was able to let himself out in case he had to go while we were out. The Foz, as we liked to call him, was a hilarious little maniac who ran and ran and ran, and played and played and played, with some chewing thrown in for good measure. We really liked him.
Bryan’s friend Kelly was in Brisbane with his family at the same time, so we were able to meet up with them a few times, which was lovely. We went to a Christmas light display in the city and had dinner with them a couple of times at their place. After being away for so long, it was nice to spend time with some friends from home, especially since it was close to Christmas and we were feeling a bit homesick.
Our next sit was in Adelaide. We were prepared to look after 4 dogs, but when we arrived it turned out that 2 of them would be staying elsewhere, so our job would be a lot easier. The owner kindly picked us up from the airport and we were thrilled when we arrived at her place. The listing hadn’t gone into a ton of detail about the house itself, but she definitely could have bragged more – the house was awesome! It was big with a great kitchen, a huge yard, and a beautiful deck with a hot tub. The owner even gave us use of her vehicle for our stay!
For this sit, we looked after 2 cute dogs, Bart and Phoebe – Bart was a medium-sized poodle cross and Phoebe was a squat medium-sized mix. There were also a bunch of cool birds that hung around the yard – lorikeets, galahs and some type of parrots – which the owner fed twice a day. We also had a possum that visited the yard at night! Bryan was able to put his telephoto lens to good use.
The dogs seemed a little bit out of sorts for the first day – Phoebe was a bit shy and had some accidents in the house and Bart was a bit restless. But soon they got used to us. Phoebe warmed up to us and was a really sweet dog (despite sounding more like a bear when she snored at night), and Bart was totally hilarious and had seemingly limitless energy even though he was quite old (14).
We took them to a field across the street from the house and hit balls for Bart with a tennis racket – he ran and ran and never seemed to want to stop. With his age, his eyesight wasn’t the best though, so he ended up doing a LOT of extra running trying to find the ball. He would poodle-prance all around the field, zig-zagging back and forth to find his ball until he finally noticed Bryan pointing him in the right direction. Phoebe, on the other hand, was pretty content just to snuffle around in the grass and occasionally roll around in an attractive spot (not really sure what her criteria were).
Our house-sit was up in Adelaide Hills, and we didn’t really spend too much time in the city itself while we were there (we figured we could explore more during the next 2 weeks). But there was a cute town nearby, and we went up to a nice viewpoint on Mount Lofty on New Year’s Eve. We also did a couple of day trips to Rapid Bay for diving. Mostly, though, we enjoyed relaxing at the house, and hanging out with the dogs. It was nice to settle in and have a place that felt like “home” for a bit (even though we were still living out of our backpacks).
The Verdict: You Should Totally Try House-sitting!
If you like animals and don’t mind having some extra responsibility while you travel, we would definitely recommend house-sitting. It makes you feel a bit more at home while travelling, and also helps you save some money. If you want to be away from the house for long hours, it probably won’t work (depending on the pet). Take a look at the expectations/responsibilities for the listing and be realistic with yourself. For example, we didn’t apply for listings with chickens because we didn’t really want to spend our mornings collecting eggs and cleaning out a coop. But hey, if you are willing to do that, the world of Trusted Housesitters will be your oyster – there have been several times where we have thought, “Wow! This house looks amazing! And it has no applicants!” only to discover that they had chickens.
We would recommend starting with local jobs to build your experience. We think the house-sitting thing works best when you can be a bit flexible with your travel plans. And even a short house-sit helps cut down your costs – you can always book accommodations to extend your stay somewhere, but every night that you can stay for free helps!
If you are interested in house-sitting, you can get 25% off your membership at Trusted Housesitters using this link (you will also help us continue our house-sitting adventures as we will get 2 months free). Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!