The Beginner’s Guide to House Sitting

December 18, 2013

Note: This is a guest post from James Cave, who house sits along with his partner Jemma. To date they’ve looked after more than 50 animals throughout Europe – everything from cats and dogs to turtles and even a farm of alpacas. 🙂

6be8a02214bf1477986f13d5cb3fe9c7One of the biggest trends in travel right now is house sitting.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of house sitting, don’t worry: it’s pretty simple. House sitting involves looking after someone else’s property while they’re away, in exchange for free accommodation.

It’s a great way to enjoy a rent-free sabbatical: there are house sits all over the world. House sitting has given me the chance to live in the South of France, in Portugal, and in Spain: and I’ve been offered opportunities in places like Singapore and the Caribbean too.

If that’s piqued your interest, read on.

What’s involved in house sitting?

Every house sit is different. You can get a good idea of just how different they are by browsing through the latest house sitting assignments on Trusted Housesitters. During my ‘career’ as a house sitter I’ve experience all kinds of house sits: modern apartments, ramshackle chateaux, you name it.

One of my first house sits was in a cosy one bedroom flat in Edinburgh, looking after two house cats. All I had to do was empty their litter tray. The hardest house sit in terms of work was on a farm in the French countryside, where I was responsible for nineteen alpacas, seven cats, and a ten bedroom mansion.

Needless to say, when you’re applying for house sits it’s a good idea not to bite off more than you can chew.

What are the benefits of house sitting?

Free accommodation isn’t the only benefit that comes with being a house sitter. One of the biggest draws for me is the ability to really become part of a community.

When you stay in a hostel you don’t really have the chance to meet many locals, but when you take over someone’s home you take on their neighbours and friends as well. I’ve been invited to Christmas parties, hunting society dinners, and made some life-long friends.

It’s also a great way to practice your language skills. I’ve become very good at answering French telesales people, chatting to cashiers in Spanish supermarkets, and explaining medical problems to Portuguese vets.

For animal lovers like me, the pet sitting aspect is a big bonus. Having a dog or a cat while you’re traveling long term isn’t a viable option, but when as a house sitter you get all the pleasure of a furry friend without any of the logistical nightmares.

How to get started as a house sitter

Firstly, create a profile on a house sitter website, being sure to put as much information about yourself as possible and as many photos as possible.

Pro tip: Add a photo of you with pets. It’s amazing how many people add photos of themselves on holidays which gives off the vibe that all they want from the exchange is a free holiday.

Once you’ve got an account, it’s time to fill in your profile. Fill it in as much as you can: having a picture is a good way to build rapport with home-owners. Having a police background check and some references will also make home owners more likely to employ you.

Take a look at some of the top house & pet sitters on to get an idea of what should go in your profile. Looking at the top 15, some things that jump out include:

  • Start with what you can offer the homeowner rather than what you want to get out of the experience (e.g. a free holiday). As an example, I work from home meaning I will definitely be around the pets five days a week. I mention this as it sets me apart slightly from some of the other sitters.
  • If you own a home (or pet) mentioning that you understand how difficult it would be to leave your house or animals in someone else’s care. It’s a good way to bond with homeowners from the word go.
  • Mention any pets you currently own or have owned.
  • Have you looked after a pool before? A lot of house sits in warmer countries come with pool responsibilities and a little experience here will help you stand out.
  • If you’re a non-smoker or non-drinker, it’s worth mentioning this as well.

T o get references, start by pet sitting for friends and family members and ask them to recommend you. Once you have a bit of experience, apply for a couple of house sits in your city or nearby. This is a good way to figure out whether living in a stranger’s house really is for you, before committing to a six month sit in the middle of the French countryside.

Because house sitting is so popular, sometimes a home owner won’t reply to you when you email them to apply. The most important thing is not to let that get you down. There’s a house sit out there for everyone, and if you keep trying you’re sure to find your dream assignment.

Additional Resources:

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Sabbatical Allies and the Herd Mentality

September 15, 2010

Zebra herd. Image:

Zebra herd. Image:

Sabbaticals are, by nature, anti-herd. After all, we’re trying to stop doing what we (and most people) do and try something different. Just for a little while.

The challenge of anti-herd behavior, though, is that the herd sometimes pushes back.

For many people, taking a sabbatical or career break is very un-herdly. It just isn’t something you do. And so when they hear your plans, their natural response is often any number of sabbatical killing lines, like, “What about your <job, career, pension, house, schooling, etc.>.”

Those pushbacks from the herd are an attempt to get you to conform. It’s part of evolution – if we all stick together in the herd, we have a better chance of survival. When we start running off on the savanna on our own, we screw things up. What’s important in terms of your sabbatical planning, though, is that conformity is a powerful force, and if you’re not careful, it can derail your career break plans. Here’s why.

Back in the ’50’s, Solomon Asch asked groups of people to identify which of three black lines on a card was the same length as a single line on another card. The task wasn’t that hard, but what was tricky was that everyone except one person in the group was a confederate of the experimenter. Those confederates would all insist that a certain line was a match, even when it wasn’t. You can guess what would happen: faced with a large enough herd, the lone subject would change his mind – at least outwardly.

You’re facing the same thing in your sabbatical quest: most people disagree. They think you’re nuts. You know you aren’t, but over time, the herd has a way of getting you to change your mind, at least enough to scuttle your plans.

But there’s a second lesson in the Asch conformity experiments. When the lone subject in the experiment had an ally – someone who agreed with him – they had far less tendency to conform.

Enter your ally. You need someone – outside of your family – who doesn’t think you’re nuts. Who supports your sabbatical unconditionally. More is better, but often one is enough. They’re going to reassure you that you’re not crazy, and that it’s okay to swim upstream for a few months in a long life.

Who’s your sabbatical ally? Find them – they’re out there – and use them like a lifeline when the herd closes in.   -Dan


Too busy to read Escape 101 in print? It’s also available in audiobook!

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Moving to Paris Without Quitting Your Day Job: One Guy’s Sabbatical Secret

September 3, 2009

I’ve often thought that the real trick to life is simply to know when to stop and when to start.

Sometimes, for example, you need to quit a terrible job (Stop) in order to create the motivation and head space to move forward. Other times, you need to try a new business or hobby on the side (Start) to realize the possibilities that a career change might provide without the pressure of quitting. When I talk with people about sabbaticals and lifestyle design, their decision often ends up boiling down to just that: starting or stopping. Eventually both happen, but there’s a critical first step that provides the catalyst for everything, and that step is either forward or backward – a step back from an old life, or a step forward to a new one.

Over at the Art of Non-Conformity, Chris Guillebeau posts an article by Allan Bacon about how he moved his family to Paris for a short sabbatical without quitting his day job. It’s a great example of the start versus stop philosophy from someone who’s done both to create a new life.

I love the opening, when Allan wakes up in Paris:

“When I wake up I can look through the opening in the heavy drapes and see that I am still here. Cool, it wasn’t a dream.”

That’s exactly how I’ve felt on waking up the first day for every sabbatical we’ve ever taken. A strange, slightly scary awareness of, “Whoa. We’re really here. We really did it.”

Allan, who runs a blog called The Avocationist, managed to wrangle a short sabbatical in Paris through a combination of finding the benefit for his company, and using some creative financial tricks like a home swap.

“…instead of taking my kids on a crazy, bleary-eyed tour across Europe, I decided that we should find a way to actually live there long enough to get a taste for what the experience would be like. (Would we kill each other in a city apartment? Would we get bored? Would we go crazy from having to learn how to navigate in a place where we didn’t speak the language?) Of course, none of those things happened.”

This is well worth a read. It’s a great explanation of how to make change in your life, set against one guy’s experience.

Moving to Paris without Quitting My Day Job

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Return from Your Sabbatical to Zero Email

August 7, 2009

For many, the thought of vacation (never mind an extended sabbatical or career break) immediately conjures up images of thousands of email messages building up in an unattended inbox. It’s a scary enough thought that many people simply can’t take a vacation without checking email.

Or can they?

YourSabbatical reveals the strategy that Danah Boyd uses to return from vacation to an empty inbox, despite the fact that she receives over 700 emails a day.

In the beginning, Ms. Boyd’s attempts at email sabbatical posed problems.  Returning from even 3-5 days of being offline left her with an “in box” brimming with messages that took several days to deal with. (Feel the energy drain here?)

Danah Boyd is smart.  Now, she experiences email sabbaticals for as long as 6 weeks and returns to an empty inbox. Yo!  What goes?

What goes is the email. She sends all of her email to the delete box. The sender gets a nice message saying, “I won’t be receiving your email, but I’ll be back on (date) so contact me then.”

Assuming you’ve got someone to pass emergencies to, I think this is a great solution. Just delete it all, and let people know you’re deleting it all. Why not? We do it with voice mail all the time, telling people we’re away, and to call so-and-so, and that we won’t be checking messages. Why not with email?

I can think of all kinds of companies and positions where this might not work, but I still love the idea – particularly because we’re just about to head out for a two week hiatus at a solar-powered cottage where our whole objective is to disconnect.

How to Take an Email Sabbatical and Return to an Empty Inbox (

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How to Deal With Sabbatical Resistance: Reluctant Partners

July 10, 2009

Reader J. writes that he’s having a tough time convincing his partner to buy in to his sabbatical vision:

I’d like to have one…but she’s not interested.  So the question is …how to overcome resistance from your partner?

Common ground can be surprisingly uncommon when it comes to the early stages of sabbatical planning. But don’t let resistance from your partner derail your dream.

Make The Sabbatical About Them
It might be hard to convince your partner to take six months off to do what YOU want to do, but the story can change if you shift your focus. What does she want to do? What’s his passion? You may be interested in Peru, but would you settle for Spain if that’s what lights up your partner? Likewise, she may not be interested in travel, but would be open to volunteer work or returning to school.

It may not seem ideal to have to compromise your dream, but sometimes any sabbatical better than no sabbatical. And you’ll be surprised at what you get from shifting the focus away from yourself.

Pick a Time Frame That’s Farther Away
Immediacy creates anxiety in many people. It might energize you to dream about leaving as soon as possible, but it can paralyze someone else. When you raise the sabbatical topic, do so with a reasonably distant or vague time line. “Do you think it would be interesting to take a few months off from your career to travel?” is a harmless, dreamy kind of question. “Let’s leave in December for a year,” is a bit scarier and likely to lead to more initial resistance.

Don’t Confuse What with Why
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t assume that your partner isn’t interested in a sabbatical at all. They may well love the “why” of sabbaticals – recharge, reconnect, learn, recover, etc – but not be inspired by the particular “what” that you’ve presented, like hiking the Himalayas. Don’t assume that a “no” to one sabbatical activity means a “no” to the whole idea. Dig a little deeper until you discover the real barrier.

Keep The Scary Stuff Out of The Early Conversation
Things like careers, businesses and money can shut down the early, all-important stages of sabbatical discussion pretty quickly. Successful escapes begin with the excitement of the dream, not the intricacies of financial planning.  It’s that early, mind-wide-open discussion that fuel a successful career break, so it’s critical to put these early conversations in the right context.

Don’t Give Up
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of timing. We all go through phases where it’s hard to focus on the big picture benefits of a sabbatical. We’re immersed in an important work project, emotionally or physically drained, or focused on another consuming area of our lives. If you don’t get the answer you need, give it a couple of months and try again. Just like pitching a sabbatical to your boss, you can’t always expect to get a yes on the first try.

Go Alone
Sometimes, a no is a no. Not everyone is interested in a sabbatical, but if a career break is really important to you, you need to consider the possibility of taking some time away on your own. It may not be what you have in mind, but don’t discount it too quickly – there could be many benefits. And a few months apart is much better than many years of hidden resentment over a dream that never was.

The real trick to all of this is not to assume that reluctance is a deal-breaker, and to recognize that it can take time to share your sabbatical vision with your partner. It’s not a case of, “Don’t take no for an answer,” so much as it is simply respecting the fact that this is a big deal, and big deals take time.

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Great Sabbatical Planning Resources

May 22, 2009

There are no shortage of resources out there for planning your sabbatical, but here are three worth bookmarking as jumping off points for low cost travel, working on the go, and volunteering. Happy reading!  – Dan

Travel Full-Time for Less Than $14,000

A while back we explored just how cheap it can be to take that sabbatical you’ve been longing for. One of our examples was professional hobo Nora Dunn, who “retired” at 30 to travel the world. In Travel Full-Time for Less Than $14,000, Nora shares her best tips, sites and strategies. There are a few great links and ideas in here for sabbatical planning.  It’s a long article, but, as always, Nora doesn’t disappoint. Check it out.

Digital Nomad Website Directory

For those of you in the “have-laptop-will-travel” category, the Digital Nomad Website Directory is a great compendium of sites that inspire and inform the remote workers of the world. If you want to travel and do a little freelancing on the side during your sabbatical, there’s enough reading here to keep you busy for a while.

Who Does What – 100 Ways of Filling Your Time Off

If you’re wondering just exactly what to do with your sabbatical, this is an unbelievable list of volunteer sites, travel resources and books. A lot geared towards the younger gap year crowd, but if you’re looking to test-drive some voluntourism, this is the list for you.

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Take A Rent-Free Sabbatical by House Sitting

May 18, 2009

Over at Location Independent, Leigh Haugseth describes the ins and outs of house sitting as a way of keeping your costs down while on sabbatical.

…house sitting is a very cheap way to explore a destination without fully committing to it. And while a lot of these assignments are in more remote areas, there are also plenty in medium- to larger-sized cities.

For those wanting to be location independent and start a business that can be run anywhere in the world, house sitting is an inexpensive option, especially when starting out.

Having a rent free place to live while working takes some stress out of starting/running your business by reducing your costs even more and it can let you experiment with the lifestyle to see if it works for you.

Accommodation costs can be a big challenge for sabbaticals particularly if you want to relocate to a full house – house sitting can be a great solution. There are links to 5 reputable house sitting sites, including her favorite, Mind My House.

How to Live Rent-Free While Becoming Location Independent

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An Interview With Sabbatical Coach Clive Prout

April 17, 2009

sabbatical-coachIf there’s one thing that we know for sure about sabbaticals, it’s that the number of people who want to take them is far greater than the number who actually do.

That in itself is no great surprise. Sabbaticals represent a significant lifestyle change. What is surprising (and too bad) is that there aren’t more people like Clive Prout around to help us make the change. Clive is The Sabbatical Coach – and has the credentials and experience to prove it. I asked Clive to answer a few questions for us about his role in helping people take and make the most of sabbaticals.

Q. What is a sabbatical coach?
I help people use a sabbatical to make significant lasting changes in life. Many people think about a sabbatical as simply a break from work. When the sabbatical is over they return to the same job and continue with life as before. I work with people who see their sabbatical as a chance to create a lasting shift in their work lives. Usually this change involves reinventing their work so that it is more focused on making a positive difference for others. It often involves getting clearer about their unique interests and talents and being more entrepreneurial about creating work that fits them. The overall shift is one towards greater meaning in work.

I am a professional coach who specializes in major career transition and using sabbaticals to facilitate that transition.

Q. Tell us about some typical clients
A good example would be Andy*. He was a director at Microsoft, and had been there for a long time. He knew that the work environment there was dragging him down. He felt underused and underappreciated. This had taken a toll on his self-confidence. He was trapped – he had wanted to leave Microsoft for over 5 years, but been unable to do anything about it. He hired me to help him get out, imagining that a sabbatical would be a way to make the break. We worked on a vision for his life, imagining how he wanted to be working, with whom and where he and his wife wanted to live. Inside three months he had was hired into a newly created position with a leading consulting firm. He has since built a specialized practice that he is leading. He is on track to be a partner in the next couple of years and loves his work again.

Another would be VJ who worked in the investment banking industry in London. He hired me just as he left his job for a 3 month sabbatical with some travel plans. He knew some of the things that he wanted to do during his time off. He was really hoping not to have to go back to his old job, but wanted the safety net in place in case he could not find something that suited him better.

You can read more in depth case studies of some of my clients on my website:

Q. Why do people need a sabbatical coach?
My clients hire me because they know that the magnitude of change they want will be harder and take longer if they try to do it alone. In fact many have been “trying” for years and not broken free yet. I provide a support structure that generates greater clarity about what they want and a faster route to the destination.

Q. What are the biggest factors stopping people taking sabbaticals?
Inertia and fear.

Inertia is the habit of doing the same thing day after day, week after week, year after year. We are creatures of habit and breaking any habit (even painful ones like going to a boring job every day) requires effort.

The fear that holds people back is fear of making a “mistake” or “failing”. Many people are afraid that their time and money will be wasted and that they will end up “worse off” than they are right now – perhaps with a worse job, or with the same job and less savings. Or like a guy I talked to today, the fear is of giving up on the financial opportunities that their current job offers.

In my view, inertia stops more people and fear is a bigger obstacle for those standing on the brink of a sabbatical.

Q. What lasting impact have your own sabbaticals had on your life?
I have taken two major sabbaticals.

The first was a six month diving and surfing adventure in Australia during my twenties. I had a great time, and when I got back to England, I ended up going back into the same sort of work that I had left. I learned that I what really wanted was a change in the way I made a living, not just an extended vacation.

My second sabbatical was a spiritual quest. I realized that I had totally neglected my spiritual development and that it was important enough to demand a total focus. This quest led me to live in a spiritual community and ultimately to my new career as a coach. On this sabbatical I passed the “point of no return”. After that, I knew that there was no “going back” to my previous job or career. There was only one way on – forward. That was when life became a real adventure again.

Q. What do your clients get, how does it work, and how much does it cost?
My clients get an experienced guide for their journey. I increase the chance that they will arrive where they want to go. With my help their journey (whether it is a physical, spiritual or psychological journey) becomes more intentional, held in the context of their life as a hero’s journey.

I charge $400-$600 per month – depending upon the structure we design together. My clients typically work with me for between six months and a year. Several have hired me again later in their journey.

Q. What actions can our readers take which would move them closer to their sabbatical dream?
I’ll offer two actions.
1. Imagine you have already taken your dream sabbatical. It has unfolded in the best way you can envision, and it is coming to an end. How do you want your work and life to look after your sabbatical? Write about that.
2. Talk to me. I offer complimentary consultations with anyone who deeply wants change in their work. Often one conversation is all it takes to get started. Email me at clive AT to set up a time to talk.

If you’re struggling getting your sabbatical off the ground, or want to make sure you make the most of the one you have planned, get in touch with Clive. He’s the real deal! – Dan

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What a Year-Long Sabbatical REALLY Costs (Hint: It’s Less Than You Think)

January 7, 2009

We’ve consistently found that long-term travel is actually cheaper than being at home. It seems counter-intuitive, but the myriad costs of the “real” world really do add up.

Over at Wise Bread, professional hobo Nora Dunn actually does the numbers. The surprising answer? Not counting the opportunity cost of leaving your job or business behind, sabbaticals can be remarkably inexpensive. Nora’s entire 2008 year clocked in at about $20,000 for TWO. On her own, she figures it would have been about $14,000. That’s including things like plane tickets, and buying a cell phone and laptop!

Now, Nora’s not exactly living like a rock star, but she spent lots of time in Hawaii and Australia in 2008, which aren’t the cheapest destinations around.

Lea Woodward of Location Independent Living did a similar roundup of their 2007 year, with similar results. Not quite as inexpensive as Nora’s but surprisingly cheap nonetheless.

The lesson? If the imagined cost of a sabbatical is stopping you from escaping, just remember that it might be costing you more per day to stay where you are!

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Sabbaticals and The Economy: Good Timing

November 28, 2008

It’s easy to think that an economic downturn is the worse possible time for a sabbatical, but it just ain’t so. A slowdown can be a fantastic opportunity to kick your sabbatical dreams into gear. In the New York Times piece, The Gainful Way to Use a Sabbatical, Eilene Zimmerman says:

You may also be able to use the current economic downturn to your advantage. If your company is looking for ways to cut costs, this could be a good time to win approval for some unpaid leave.

(There are some other good sabbatical tips in this one, too.)

This idea is particularly relevant for folks in long-term career positions. After all, quitting your temp job is one thing, but bailing on twenty years of corporate ladder work with a great company is another level of risk altogether. Right now, you’ve got a chance to cut that risk dramatically.

The Opportunity for You

Economic slowdowns means companies end up with excess resources (read: people). Even in this age of job hopping, lack of loyalty, and self-interest, companies really don’t want to lay good people off.

Enter your opportunity: pitch your sabbatical now. You might just be offering the perfect solution to an employer looking to cut costs. You disappear for a while, they hold your job, and maybe even pay you a portion of your salary. You get a much needed career break, and your employer gets to preserve some bottom line. It’s a win-win.

How about these Land Rover employees who were offered a sabbatical at 80% pay? I’d take that deal in a heartbeat:

Leave of up to 3 months is being offered to Birmingham based LandRover workers at 80% pay, plus they can apply for other jobs whilst on leave from manufacturing vehicles such as the Freelander. This announcement must be a blow to workers, having recently been awarded a 5.5% pay rise.

This sabbatical offer is previously unheard of in the industry and is the latest in a series of moves by Jaguar Land Rover to avoid a stockpiling of vehicles.

Or how about Infosys, who appealed to their employees to take sabbaticals?

India’s second-largest information technlogy services provider, Infosys Technologies, has issued letters to its employees stating they could opt for a one-year sabbatical to engage themselves in philanthropic activities. They would continue to draw 50 per cent of their salary during the period.

Now, instead of waiting around to be offered a sabbatical, wouldn’t it be better if you pitched one instead? Here are a few more articles you might use to mine some strategies from:

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