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We’ve been members of TrustedHousesitters since 2016. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a little obsessed with them and with this whole way of life. I love the exchange and the sharing economy; if I could simply barter my way through life, I’d do it in a heartbeat! So it’s no wonder that I love doing this. In case you’re considering it, too, here are my lessons learned house sitting with TrustedHousesitters…so far.
Wait, How Does Housesitting Work?
Great question, dear reader! I’m so glad you asked. Get a full overview of how housesitting works first, and then come back for my lessons learned. I promise I’ll wait…
Cool, So…House Sitting Sounds Fabulous!
That’s because it is! Here’s the thing, I’ve done several house sitting gigs in several countries. There are people who literally do this full-time. As in: They live nomadically, only paying for accommodation if there is a gap between sits.
There are retirees doing this, digital nomads, couples, families, you name it! House sitting is ideal for any age group, anytime.
But you don’t have to be a full-time housesitter to benefit from the experience.
Using house sitting for your next vacation can be an enormously rewarding experience!
Lessons Learned House Sitting
While not exhaustive, here are some lessons learned house sitting with TrustedHousesitters so far…
1. Cats are easier for tourists
Cats can usually be left to their own devices for extended periods of time without much worry at all. Of course, if a homeowner outlines a different type of schedule and asks that you not leave the cats alone for more than a certain number of hours, then you must acknowledge and respect that request.
More generally, if you want to go somewhere new and spend a lot of time exploring, then cats are a better pet sitting option than dogs. However…
2. Dogs help you make friends!
Every time we’ve looked after a dog, we’ve had neighbors recognize the dog and chat with us. We’ve also chatted with other dog-owners in parks and on trails.
We’ve explored dog-friendly pubs where other patrons and the staff always come up to us (and, by us, I obviously mean the dog, but then we can usually loop them into a human conversation).
House sitting and dog sitting can be a great way to get to know the local community better, since you instantly become a part of it through daily walks.
3. Location does matter when house sitting
While the TrustedHousesitters website will list a location in a general area, it is important to check with the homeowner about the exact location prior to committing to a sit.
Generally speaking, a short-term sit won’t matter too much if you need to rent a car or if you’ll take a 30-minute bus to get into the city center on a day of exploring.
However, a longer-term sit in a more isolated area might require a vehicle, which adds a big expense!
It’s just something to keep in mind while planning your sits. For example, a listing for a house sit in Edinburgh might actually mean a suburb where buses may or may not run. So you probably won’t be popping in and out of the tourist spots easily – especially if you’re looking after a dog who requires more of your time and attention.
And if it’s a longer sit and the lack of grocery store convenience or walkability will impact your stay, you want to know before you commit to anything.
The home address is not listed on the website for obvious safety reasons. But before you agree to the sit, get the exact location so you can plan your time there more appropriately.
4. Flexibility is key
Don’t book flights for a vacation somewhere and then hope you’ll find a perfect house sit to match those dates!
If you’re flexible on your timing and location, you can inevitably find a good house and pet sit somewhere interesting and accessible. But trying to fit a house sit into your specific times and location requirements might leave you feeling frustrated.
House sit first, flights second.
Think of it like using a Groupon-type site: There are blackout dates for deals and specific small print requirements. Same for house sitting while traveling; you can’t control when people are leaving for vacation so you need to be flexible in your demands first to make it work.
5. You can never ask too many questions
As a house sitter, asking LOTS of questions is a great habit! Unfortunately, it’s hard for a homeowner to think through absolutely everything you must or might need to know.
Primarily, that challenge comes from habits. The homeowner knows where everything is located and how everything gets done. As the newcomer to the situation, you’re obligated to ask.
Ask questions and then ask clarifying questions. Everything from the animals’ routines to how to shut off the water main in case of emergency. I have found that the tour around the home prompts many additional questions – as well as adaptations to the animals’ routines.
While a “Welcome Guide” might have been provided, we’ve had so many times when the owner has adjusted feeding times, quantities, the location of food, etc, without editing the document.
Ask, and then ask again to make sure you get all the current details! This is probably one of the hardest lessons learned house sitting — every sitter has inevitably had a horrible moment when information was lacking. You can bet that sitter never forgot to ask a related question ever again though.
6. A video chat is vital
I’ll be honest, I have not followed through on this specific advice for every sit. I feel like I’m a pretty decent judge of character and I’m fairly good at reading between the lines (#writerskills).
Whenever I’ve had doubts, I’ve pushed for a video chat. But, generally, a voice chat or even a text conversation has sufficed for me. This depends on your personal needs and your personality, in my opinion.
More generally speaking, doing a video chat is the ideal way for you, as the house sitter, to see the home and to see how the pets behave with the owners. This helps you to better decide if you want to commit to the sit or not.
If you see red flags (maybe you see a cluttered mess or experience endless barking that would drive you crazy), then it’s okay to turn down the sit. Most homeowners will have a few applicants in consideration at this stage, so don’t feel badly if it just doesn’t feel right to you.
7. Cleanliness standards vary widely
If you are a total neat-freak, I do not think you should become a house sitter. I don’t say that to be mean, just to be sure that you have appropriate standards for living in other people’s homes.
Whatever your expectations for a clean home, someone else has a different opinion. I haven’t had any issues with any of my house sits, but cleanliness is a common complaint in house sitter forums.
It isn’t pleasant to show up at a home where you will be living (even temporarily) to find piles of dirty laundry, unwashed dishes all over the kitchen, or filthy sheets on the bed. I’ve read some horror stories!
Luckily, I haven’t experienced anything terrible (thanks, all you homeowners!), but this does serve as a reminder to see photos and to video chat with the homeowners to get a sense of the space, especially if you’re quite particular about your surroundings.
8. Animals’ needs vary widely
Knowing yourself and your own capabilities is so important when applying for various house sits. Know your own comfort levels for handling the required tasks and be very honest about that.
You don’t need to take a sit with big dogs if you don’t feel secure walking them on a leash. Taking sits that are rural with various livestock might sound romantic, but the reality can be very challenging.
It’s ok to try something new, but only if you feel confident that you can problem-solve and ensure the health and safety of all the animals in your care.
This is where asking questions comes into play again. Ask about any medical concerns, dietary restrictions, exercise routines, and general habits of the animals. If you’ve never issued medication via syringe, doing so while the owners are away for a month might not be the best time to try and fail!
But if you feel confident that you can handle it, plan for a few days’ overlap at the start of the sit to learn what you need to do and allow the homeowners to leave feeling confident in your skills.
9. Personal space varies, too
Some homeowners will tell you to please help yourself to absolutely anything in the kitchen. Others will be more reserved and hesitant. Some will encourage you to come and stay the night before they depart, while others will be fine with you showing up after they leave.
We’ve made some really lovely friends from using TrustedHousesitters! Those are the folks who open up their homes and also their lives to us and who encourage us to feel at home in their homes.
But there are also some folks whose lives we glimpsed just for the time we were there, and that was that. In either case, we’ve had wonderful experiences!
But it’s the friendships and the feeling that we have doors opened for us in many places around the world that I truly love about this exchange.
*9a. Personal space also applies to animals!
If you’re a light sleeper, maybe don’t take the sit with 3 dogs who sleep in the bed. Some folks are very against dogs on the couch or bed, while others love it.
Just remember that the animals’ regular routines are what you are obligated to respect. It doesn’t matter how you would do things in your own home!
Pro tip: If you’re cat sitting, find out all the favorite hiding places before the homeowner leaves. Cats might get frightened and hide from you at first…knowing where to look will cut down on your own worry for their whereabouts!
10. Animals love whatever hand feeds (and pats)
I think we pet parents like to think our pets miss us terribly when we’re away. It comforts us to feel vital and beloved. But, I’ll be honest, every pet has loved us simply because we feed and love them!
Look, pet parents, I get you! I feel your angst! But just know that your furbabies are loved and cared for and – therefore – they’re pretty damn content.
I like to think of house sitting as a staycation for the pets. I dote on them like they’re going to give me a review at the end! (haha)
I want them to be oblivious to their parents’ departure because they’re just having so much fun and feeling so happy.
But I also want them to go absolutely insane when you come home because they’ve actually missed you terribly. Not gonna lie, I’ve cried seeing the sheer joy dogs show when their real parents come home. It’s a tearjerker!
11. Home is everywhere
This is actually the topic of my talk at the House and Pet Sitting Conference in England next month. I’m fairly passionate about it, so I shouldn’t have any trouble chatting away on stage with no interruptions for 15 minutes!
I believe in human connection and in movement. I want more people to talk to more of their neighbors and to better understand “others” and the differences we might have. Bridges are always better than walls.
House sitting with TrustedHousesitters has offered me yet another way to connect with people. I love the intimacy of the sharing economy – the way we can exchange and barter things like our time and our attention for a roof and a bed.
I would love to see more people travel this way so they can learn about other parts of the world, or even just other parts of their own city!
Through house and pet sitting, I have been welcomed into a wide variety of homes by a wide variety of people. That exposure to different lifestyles and locations has, indisputably, made me a better person.
In sharing someone’s home, you become a part of that community.
A shared bottle of wine upon arrival…a chat over a cup of coffee to relay travel stories before departing…these moments connect you and teach you about a place and a person.
You can’t help but leave having learned something about yourself or about someone else. You can’t help but forge a bond over commonalities.
The differences that we so often perceive melt away when you sit around someone’s kitchen table chatting about life.
That’s my favorite of the lessons learned house sitting with TrustedHousesitters so far:
Understanding that sharing space in someone else’s home can offer connection with people who might be very different from me. But those differences are always outweighed by our shared experiences.