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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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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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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How Long Should Your Sabbatical Be?

July 25, 2008

Reader S. asks:

“How long should my sabbatical last? Is a month long enough? A year? Does it matter?”

We’ve been asked this question more than once, and it surprised me a bit the first time. The truth is, though, it does matter. Whether you’re considering a permanent escape, a full-on sabbatical, or a mini-retirement, here’s why duration is important, and how you might decide how long your escape should last.

Up To 1 Month

At the risk of getting into semantics, breaks of just a few weeks are really just long vacations. But given that many people have never taken more than a single week off in their entire working lives, these short breaks can be an important starting point.

For business owners, it’s a great way to test-drive being away from things. For workaholics and the chronically under-vacationed, it’s a taste of what life might look like when it’s not fueled by adrenalin 24-7. For many, a month off is the perfect catalyst to start thinking about a longer escape.

These short breaks are a great introductory step. Your cat can probably survive a few weeks with a huge bowl of food, a cat door, and an open toilet bowl. Train him well and he might even water the plants. Your boss will forgive you, and you won’t need to auction off the contents of your home.

The bottom line: A month is a stepping stone to something larger. If six months feels too overwhelming for you, and stops you from taking action, then start small and commit to using your short escape as a springboard to something longer.

1-3 Months

For most people, this is getting outside the range of standard vacation, and so for the first time you’ll have to make more serious workplace and business plans. It also requires a little more financial planning.

The cat and the plants are going to need more permanent arrangements, but you don’t need to sell your car, rent your home or quit your job in order to wrangle a couple of months off. For the first time, though, you’re going to get a real taste of what it’s like to shed some of the mental life load you’ve been carrying.

Be prepared for: some eye-opening insights into your life, and the appearance of a strange voice inside your head that asks a lot of tough questions about what you’re returning to at the end of this short sabbatical. And be forewarned – that little voice doesn’t like evasive answers.

3-6 Months

For me, this has always marked the entry into “true” sabbatical territory, although everyone has their own definition.

When traveling, I’ve always found that by the three month mark a place begins to feel more like home. You’ve had an opportunity to make relationships and become involved in a community. If you’re planning to do volunteer work, three to six months is also an opportunity to make a more significant difference. Also, most short term volunteer programs require you to pay to jump on board, but when you get into longer time periods, a lot of new doors can open up.

If you’re relocating to another country, you’ll also discover that your language skills are really going to kick into gear after 3 months. You’ll find your ear warming up to foreign sounds, and you’ll develop solid confidence in your ability to speak.

Watch out: Once you crack the three month mark, that little voice inside your head is going to start making sense. You might never look at home the same way again.

6 Months and Beyond

Once you begin to crest the six month mark, some important changes start to happen. For lengthy escapes like this, you’re dealing with a whole different kind of preparation. Most people can’t just cobble together a year’s worth of time using a few sick days, unused vacation and some good grace from their employer – this is serious time off.

In Escape 101 we used the idea of “big rocks” as symbol of the difficult to shift, inertia-heavy things in your life that might hold up a sabbatical – things like your house, cars and job. The first thing you’ll notice when you plan a longer sabbatical is that you start to look at some of those big rocks differently.

People planning long absences are more likely to sell their cars, rent or sell their homes, and go on indefinite leave or quit their jobs altogether. Business owners make sustainable changes in the people and processes of their companies, as opposed to patching together more temporary solutions.

The result of course, is that the different type of preparation that goes into a long career break tends to create a different type of experience while you’re away. You’ll have fewer ties to your “normal” life, and less mental baggage as a result. The cat, the car, the boss, the house, the banking – in order to escape for up to a year or more, you’ve had to move beyond band-aid solutions for those things.

When you leave briefly, all those things still exist. When you take six months or more off, you need to solve those things,and the result is an extraordinary peace of mind that’s difficult to find any other way.

In the End, A Regular Vacation Won’t Cut It

Sabbaticals are about time. Doing something “crazier than usual “with your standard two-week vacation isn’t the same. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but you’re not going to get into the good stuff until you’ve really escaped for longer.

The message here is this:

The longer your sabbatical, the greater and more enduring the benefits.

If you’ve never taken a decent vacation, then do it. Book the time now. You need it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. A short sabbatical beats no sabbatical at all. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a good vacation and six months off are the same thing.

The great thing is that you can start small. Try to double the longest vacation you’ve ever had, and you’ll notice some significant benefits. Double that a couple of more times, and you’re into sabbatical territory and a whole new way of looking at your life.

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