This is a guest post by Jo Amos. Jo runs her travel copywriting business, The Wandering Wordsmith, while roaming the world and living a location independent lifestyle. Follow her travel adventures and housesitting escapades on her travel blog, The Road to Wanderland.
In my first couple of years as a digital nomad, I was living the dream. Exploring new countries and cultures, meeting interesting people, indulging in amazing food and drink, and generally loving my newfound lifestyle.
There was only one problem.
I was so busy exploring my new environment and dealing with client work that I did NOTHING to grow my business (something I’m super embarrassed to admit on Natalie’s website!).
This hit me where it hurt: in my bank balance.
I ignored the problem for a while, as I was engrossed in setting up my travel blog. But once the disastrous Brexit referendum happened, I couldn’t ignore it any longer. My clients are mostly UK based so I earn GBP but have been mainly spending EUR. This meant my average monthly rent alone went up £150 almost overnight when the GBP plummeted in value.
I needed to do two things: stay longer in one place to work on my business and find a way to cut costs.
What’s the biggest cost when you’re travelling (or indeed in life generally)? Accommodation.
What Is Housesitting?
Housesitting is an arrangement that benefits both the homeowner and the housesitter. A homeowner offers the use of their home to a housesitter, in return for the sitter taking care of the property and any pets while the owner is away.
The arrangement is rent-free, although some homeowners might ask for a contribution to bills for longer sits (I’ve never been asked, but I’m aware it can happen).
I joined Trusted Housesitters last October and it was a brilliant decision. So far, I’ve saved myself a total of ten weeks accommodation this year.
If you love pets, cherish your freedom, and want to find a way to explore the world while saving your pennies, then housesitting may be the perfect option.
Here are some of the many benefits I’ve experienced in my housesitting journey.
1. Save Money on Accommodation
Ahhhhhhh! That long sigh of relief is my bank balance during the months I’ve been housesitting.
Saving money is one of the main benefits I’ve experienced.
However, it isn’t a free ride. It’s a mutually beneficial exchange based on trust and respect. Housesitters are expected to keep the house clean, safe and secure in the owners’ absence, and look after any pets.
There are usually other tasks involved too, such as mowing lawns, picking up mail, watering plants, maintaining the garden, and, if you’re lucky, looking after a pool. These will be set out in the housesitting ad and discussed before you accept the sit.
Some housesitters see this as a profession and charge for their services. For me, the exchange is enough (although I have been offered a very generous tip, which I graciously accepted!). The sits I’ve completed so far have ended with the homeowners and I thanking each other profusely.
I’ve enjoyed the luxury of staying in houses far nicer than anything I can usually afford to rent, in exciting locations, with gorgeous pets to care for and play with. The homeowners have returned to a clean house and happy furbabies. It’s a win-win.
2. A Home Office
It’s no coincidence that the periods I’ve been housesitting have been some of my most productive times since I began my nomad journey.
Before housesitting, I mostly lived in Airbnb properties and I became an expert at knowing what to look for and what questions to ask before booking. But I still had to deal with uncomfortable working spaces and dodgy or limited Wi-Fi connections. Or decamp to a coffee shop or coworking space to get stuff done.
When you’re housesitting, you’re living in somebody else’s home. So they usually have a comfortable working space and reliable Wi-Fi (though I recommend asking about this before committing to a sit).
This means you have a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free environment to work from. It’s perfect if you need to hold client calls while maintaining a professional appearance (i.e. not in the middle of a noisy coffee shop).
It also means I can juggle my days to best suit me. If I want to explore during the day and work in the evening, I can do this without worrying about being alone in a coworking space and walking home late with my Mac.
If I wake up bursting with a new business idea, I can make a cuppa and get started while sitting in my pjs on the sofa. It gives you freedom to live and work on your terms.
3. A Proper Home
Here’s my nomad secret. As much as I love travelling, I sometimes crave home comforts.
As a professional running my business on the road, hostels simply don’t work for me and hotels are OK for short stays and stopovers but nothing more.
Airbnb can be good, if carefully chosen, but there’s an increasing trend for buy-to-let (or should that be buy-to-Airbnb!) which often means shared Wi-Fi connections, ill-equipped kitchens, and cheap, uncomfortable furniture.
Because housesitting involves living in somebody’s home, it’s generally, you know, homely. Kitchens are well equipped, furniture is comfortable, there are often excellent sound systems and big TVs, and proper baths (oh, how I miss baths!).
So as well as having a decent place to work, you have space to relax. And proper downtime is essential to productivity.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. I discussed a potential sit with a homeowner who advised me she was a hoarder and that her house had piles of papers and stuff on almost every surface. I politely declined that one.
I adore animals, so the thing I miss most in my nomad life is being able to have my own pets. While some housesits are purely for security reasons, most involve looking after animals.
This can be anything from guinea pigs, cats and dogs, to horses, chickens, and even llamas! So you can borrow somebody else’s pets for a few weeks to get your fix of cuddles and playtime.
But having animals around is about more than the mere cuteness factor.
As any freelancer or entrepreneur knows, taking regular screen breaks is crucial to your mental wellbeing and your productivity. I can get a bit bogged down sometimes and forget to take a break. But there’s no forgetting when you’ve got animals around.
Dogs are great because they need walkies. So you have to leave the house at least once a day, getting in a healthy amount of fresh air and exercise as you go – perfect when you need fresh perspective on a problem or creative inspiration. Cats also demand attention, playtime, brushing and feeding. All of which is a fantastic stress reliever.
I find homeowners are particularly happy when they know I work from home, as their precious pets will have company throughout the day. This is especially useful in the first few days of the sit, as animals often get upset at being left.
5. Experience Life as a Local
Housesitting is a great way to experience a new destination through the eyes of a local.
When on holiday, many people stay near the main tourist areas so it’s easy to get around and see the sights. But with housesits, you often find yourself staying in residential areas.
Of course, you can still visit the main attractions, but you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in local life and really experience what it’s like to live in different cultures.
I tend to stay in places for at least a month as I find moving around too frequently is disruptive to my work. This means I get more opportunities to make friends and discover what makes people tick. Why do they love living there? What struggles do they face? What are our similarities and differences?
Housesitting gives you the opportunity to form a deeper connection to a place and get a different view of the world. All of which can be super inspiring on a personal and professional level.
Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. Housesitting is a job and, like all jobs, it brings certain challenges. You’re responsible for somebody’s precious belongings and their beloved pets too.
A dog I looked after developed an upset stomach during the night, leaving a smelly mess in the middle of the bedroom floor (at the owner’s request, she slept on my bed).
To get out of the room in the morning, I had to drag the door through said offending mess, pushing it into the brand new deep-pile carpet, to get something to clean it up with.
Not the best start to my day!
A couple of days later, I chased garden furniture around the back garden and fought a losing battle securing a garden gate in strong winds, all without treading on newly laid turf. In Brussels, my beautiful feline charge leapt onto my shoulders on the balcony, which I found insanely cute.
Until she started eating a plant that gave her gut ache (it had been put on a high windowsill so she couldn’t reach it) and left her throwing up all over the living room floor while she hissed at me, furious because I stopped her eating it.
So you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves, think on the spot, and deal with whatever life throws at you.
Getting Started in Housesitting
For me, the positives far outweigh any challenges. Housesitting gives you the opportunity to live in beautiful, interesting places and explore different parts of the world, without the worry of paying rent or bills.
For freelancers, remote workers and entrepreneurs, it also provides us with the perfect environment to work and save, so we have more money to spend on travel experiences or bootstrapping our businesses.
Or join their awesome House Sitting Academy today to learn how to get great gigs in exotic locations.
Others use housesitting as an occasional holiday, or mix housesits with rentals depending on their circumstances and plans.
There are a number of housesitting sites that match homeowners to housesitters (a little like dating sites!). I use Trusted Housesitters, which is the largest and best-known site. Other options are Nomador, HouseCarers, and MindMyHouse.
If you want to get started with housesitting, look out for the second part of my housesitting guide, where I give tips on setting up a profile that appeals to homeowners and advise you what to ask before accepting a sit.