How Does House Sitting Work?

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House sitting is a mode of travel in which a volunteer moves into a house to take care of pets, a garden or home, when the owner is away. A house sit can be for a few days or months on end. It is free accommodation for the volunteer house sitter, anywhere in the world. As such house sitting is used by budget travellers to see the world with zero accomodation costs.

This post is about our first experience of house sitting and why we don’t like it as a means of travel.

House sit family travel blog garden
Our first house sit gave us a cute little garden to look after.

As most of you will probably know, we’ve signed a contract to rent a small flat in a stunning London location for the next 10 months. We need time to stop, regroup, refinance and generally get our lives in order while enjoying our favourite western city.

We are in London, we’re loving it and life is good. While we’re here, we’re dipping our toes in the water of house sitting. We’ve just experienced our first house sit on the other side of London and we have another lined up for October, also nearby.

Our reason for house sitting at the moment is totally transparent. We need good references to score the great house sitting opportunities that crop up all over the globe.

We want to add house sitting to our nomadic travel armory for year 2 of nomadic travel, it could help us out financially.

How Does House Sitting Work?

Basically a house sitter (it can be a single person, couple or family) moves into your home to look after it while you are away. The homeowner may be away a week, a month or a year.

If the homeowner has pets the house sitter will care for them. They will make sure the gardens and plants are kept well, be there as a thief deterrent and insurance requirement and be there should anything disastrous occur.

The house sitter gets free bed, board and utilities and full use of your house.

Occasionally homeowners will even pay for really good house sitters or throw in the use of a car. Sometimes a house sitter will even run a business or small farm for the owner.

Plenty of people house sit their way around the world as way of travelling for free or very cheaply.

Is House Sitting a Job

People are occasionally paid to house sit if there is a lot of responsibility involved. It this case house sitting can be a job. However most house sitters are unpaid volunteers, looking after people’s homes in exchange for a free place to stay and free utilities.

Is it Easy to Become a House Sitter?

House sitting is becoming more and more popular and we’ve found it hard to get a toe on the ladder. We think that doing less popular local sits will be a good way for us to get the references we need to even be considered for the great house sitting jobs.

You do have to pay to join the big sites and house sits are not very easy to get, particularly not for a family. I think if you just vaguely fancy the idea of a free stay, it’s not for you.

Getting good house sits is a serious business, requiring a lot of effort and total flexibility. If you want to give it a go you’ll need references, ideally from previous sits or from landlords.

People also like to see police checks and a funky little video introducing yourself to homeowners.

You should have genuine experience of caring for houses, pets and gardens. The cracks can show if you don’t.

The house sitting company we’re registered with sends out emails listing new sits as they appear. Members see these lists before non members and can get their applications in first.

I receive one of these lists almost every day and go through them looking for those that accept families in locations that would suit us. It does take time.

Of the dozen house sits we have applied to so far, only 3 have even replied. Of the hundreds of sits I see advertised, not many will take families.

We are, on paper, good candidates, we’re very grown up, we’ve owned and renovated 2 houses, kept cats, dogs and small mammals, we don’t smoke, I’m a gardener and Chef is ultra fit and strong to take on manual jobs.

Despite this we’re not doing too well, we hope that with a couple of good references our reply rate will improve.

So, make your own mind up and take your time, have a think about it before you sign up. Is it really for you?

animal house sitting family travel blog
Want to make some new animal pals? Then house sitting and pet sitting makes sense. OK, Big Ears the calf belonged to our friends back in Australia, she was a stray.

But why is house sitting so popular now? Why does every nomad, digital or otherwise, suddenly want to clean up after other people’s pets?

Here are a few reasons that you should maybe consider signing up to the house sitting agencies.

1. House Sitting Provides Free Accommodation

Lets not kid ourselves here, I don’t care how much anyone says they love fur babies, they’re house sitting for the free accommodation. It saves money to live in somebody else’s house for a week or ten. It’s a sweet gig.

Of course, it’s not really free, you have responsibilities to the owner, their possessions and their pets. Some pets are pretty high maintenance.

It’s not unusual for dogs to need constant company and have to go everywhere with the sitter, for instance.

House sits do crop up with no pets. Our London sit was one, we just had to keep the garden tidy and be there, nothing more.

2. House Sitting Can Take You To Unusual Locations

If “living like a local” is what you’re after then house sitting is a great insight into locals’ lives.

You’ll be staying in residential areas not the main tourist strip. You’ll get a glimpse of people’s homes and ways of living that hotels just can’t provide.

Your home owners can give you tips and suggestions on the local area that not even the Lonely Planet will know.

Some owners even allow use of their car for the duration of your stay.

 3. House Sitting Gives You Home Comforts

You can enjoy every home comfort, cooking facilities, gardens, TV, plenty of space. It’s just like being at home, only it’s somebody else’s.

Our sit had fruit to pick, endless books, toys and a piano, it was a nice change of scene for the kids.

However, other people’s homes may not meet your standards.

4. House Sitting Offers Animal Encounters

If your lifestyle stops you from keeping pets, as ours does, it’s a great way to get an animal fix for a few weeks without having to sign up to a life-long commitment.

It’s also cool to try caring for different types of animals, we’ve been offered a sit with pygmy goats. I don’t think that would ever happen any other way.

5. House Sitting Can Be About Karma and Paying it Back.

I think it’s nice that we have trust in the world, that we can reach out to other human beings and accept them into our homes.

We used to take Couch Surfers at home for the same reason, we had space and a lovely home in Port Douglas, we could give a few backpackers a comfortable night and save them a few dollars.

I’m sure their mums would thank me for it.

Our House Sitting Fail

Our first house sit didn’t work out too well. We didn’t realise that our hosts’ internet allowance was tiny and we killed their monthly allocation of Gigabytes within a day or so.

We were told there were cafes nearby where I could work, but there weren’t. There was nothing nearby.

I had to carry on working so I came back home, my husband stayed on to look after the house sit. So check things like that, our assumptions about modern unlimited internet connections were wrong, we should have asked for specific details.

But one fail isn’t going to put me off, I’m still looking, maybe our perfect sit is out there. It’s a great idea for those of us with flexible lives, I think it’s worth persisting with. I’m not sure if we’ll be getting that good reference though. UPDATE: We’ve tried house sitting several times now and still, our conclusion is that it’s not for us. It just doesn’t work with long term family travel. Read why here.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

7 thoughts on “How Does House Sitting Work?”

  1. I know lots of people who do house swaps so possibly the house-sitting opportunities are less. We have an older dog that we like to have cared for at home so we use house sitters when we go to the USA for the summer but its usually people we know. From someone who’s had their house sat, it’s nice to actually know that your home isn’t falling apart in your absence.

    • We looked at house swap sites but that only really works for a fixed term ” vacation” a few weeks here or there. Doesn’t work for long term travel although it’s something we may consider if we end up in that situation again, we have a home in a holiday area after all. They seem to need a lot of notice too, they plan these things months ahead. Nice idea if you want to stay somewhere expensive.

  2. Alyson, thanks for sharing your thoughts about house sitting. As you have said on the surface it looks great, but also as a family with three children I also wonder how likely we are to be chosen for a house sit. We also are quite inflexible on our holiday timings so that is also a factor which reduces the chance of us finding a ‘perfect match’.

    All the best with it and it will be interesting to see if your first couple of local ones do open the door to some of the fabulous ones out there!

    • I don’t think I’d do it again Anne, I hated having to clean somebody else’s house, particularly as it wasn’t very clean to start with. I wanted to do a good job and couldn’t, which did my head in a bit. I’d rather pay my way and be in a contract with a hotel owner ( where I wouldn’t care if it was a bit grotty as it wasn’t my responsibility) as a customer, so that we all know exctly where we stand. I think Erin’s plan of hiring a cleaner is a great one, but still, I’d rather pay my way. I really wish we hadn’t blown our money on signing up and wasted endless hours looking through the lists, time is really valuable when you’re travelling full time, there’s so much to organise, this extra option was a time waster for us. But some people like it, I get that, I just wanted to put the flip side of the coin out there. Saving money isn’t always the most important factor, your own needs and preferences have to be weighed up too.

  3. We’ve thought about doing something like this but it seems pets are pretty common and neither of us care for them at all. A pretty awesome idea though for people who want to live somewhere semi-long term!

  4. I haven’t tried this yet, but seriously thinking of it. Thanks for the tips!


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