House Sitting for Travel - A Beginner's Take

Costa Rica, Indonesia     How to Travel Cheap, My Adventures, Personal Reflections, Travel Tips
One of the lovely homes I have had the opportunity to take care of.
One of the lovely homes I have had the opportunity to take care of.
Something I didn't intend on getting into, it seems like a no-brainer for a budget traveler; house sit for a free place to stay! It's great so far but I can see some pitfalls.
I'm sitting here in my free cabina where I'm staying for a week. Once the owners leave for the states, I'll move into the main house for a few months. I'll be staying in a nice place right on the beach in Costa Rica and I have 5 (yes 5!) dogs to watch.

I know house sitting is something that many people do for a living, so to speak (Trusted House Sitters is very popular as well as Mind My House and House Carers to match up sitters and home owners), but for me this is something that has just sort of fallen into my lap. My first time was sort of a fluke through a Facebook travel group, and now it's come my way by meeting people along the way who ask if I'm interested in watching their place. Sure, why not?! This is my 3rd sit, with a 4th lined up in Bali next year.

I'm realizing that this is going to be a good thing to mix in with my budget traveling!

If you're curious what it's all about, I have a few observations from my beginner's point of view.
You never know where you might get an opportunity. Look at this amazing jungle house!  I was trusted to watch a pup and kitty here for a few days.
You never know where you might get an opportunity. Look at this amazing jungle house! I was trusted to watch a pup and kitty here for a few days.

Pros & Cons in a Nutshell

From the location you're in, to what you'll be doing with your time, house sitting is definitely a different experience than regular traveling.

Pros

  • You get to stay in a nicer place than the typical budget would allow. Not only the lodging itself, but you can stay in a location with a higher cost of living without killing your budget.
  • You get more of a local's (or expat's) experience. You "live" in a place, not just visit. It might be an area you would not have visited otherwise (could be a pro or a con). You take care of the house and property, and you might even get to know the owner's friends and neighbors - more local experience.
  • You get a full kitchen, privacy, laundry, and maybe a vehicle!
  • If staying longer term, you get the luxury of stocking up on groceries; something you can't do when you're traveling around.
  • Honestly, I really like being able to do something responsible, and doing it well. I have a sense of accomplishment when the owners feel comfortable and happy that I am taking care of their home.
  • You might have some pets to keep you company!
My brood of 5! :) Love my pets away from home.
My brood of 5! :) Love my pets away from home.
Local beach life.
Local beach life.

Cons

  • You might not be near a town or any nearby sights. Unlike choosing a hotel, you don't get to pick just the right location.
  • You have to stay put so it's hard (or impossible) to explore the area as you would do traveling.
    If the lack of freedom is a deal breaker, find a longer term rental. You'll have similar benefits (like kitchen, laundry, local experience), but you'll have to pay for it. See How to Search for Longer Term Budget Accommodation and Traveling Long Term is So Different!.
  • You are in someone else's home so you may or may not feel completely comfortable.
  • You have responsibilities! Be prepared to clean, care for plants, and care for pets. If something goes wrong, it's on you.
    UPDATE: Here's a good example. One of the dogs I'm watching just got eaten by a crocodile!!! OMG
  • If it's not your cup of tea, you're kind of stuck. You can always bail out, but that's not cool to leave your hosts in a bind like that.
     
    Here are a few things I wrote about my first house sitting in Indonesia. It was not as expected, but I stuck it out.
    Adjusting to My New Digs and Questioning My Travel Goals
    Desperate Times ... All I Want is to Sleep Through the Night
    Not all Spirits in Bali are Benevolent
It's not always a treat. This house sit on the beach turned out to be a little less than desirable.
It's not always a treat. This house sit on the beach turned out to be a little less than desirable.

Do you get paid? Does it cost?

It varies by sit. Some house sitters get paid, but most do not. My friends in the states are abhorred by this, but it's more like a barter and is common in the travel community. For anyone who is happy to stay put for a short (or long) while in a certain location, you are basically providing a service in trade for your accommodation. And especially for budget travelers it's going to be a nicer place than anything that falls into your usual spending budget.

It's a win win as far as I'm concerned. I know I'm really responsible, respectful, and tidy and I love animals so I know I'll do a good job for whoever trusts me with their home. In addition to the possible company of some furry friends, I get a free place to stay which allows me to splurge on other things without too much worry. :)

This different type of experience and certainly helps stretch my already thin dollar
But beware! Some people disguise it as house sitting, but want you to pay. Just recently someone was asking if it seemed right that the homeowner wanted them to pay "only" $1,500 per month instead of the usual $2,500 because they'd be watching their pets. Um, no. You are doing the homeowner a favor because they need someone at their house, whether it's to watch pets or just keep the house lived-in.

Well, I suppose it's all relative and you can do what you want. If you want to pay, and it seems like a good deal to you, go for it. As I said, my friends think I'm crazy that I don't ask to be paid so it's really a personal choice.

How To Find a House Sitting Gig

So how do you get into it? For me, I first got into house sitting when a woman had posted looking for a house sitter in a Facebook travel group. I responded telling her I was interested and asking for more details. I didn't hear anything from her for months, then all of a sudden she wrote asking if I could come to Indonesia right away as her current sitter had to leave! Form then on, it's just been word of mouth with one other lead also through a Facebook group.

The links I mentioned above are a great resource. You can also post in various Facebook travel groups or area-specific groups such as the one for Costa Rica Expats.

If you are actually "on the ground" and are already traveling, I have found that communities with a lot of expats are good because the homeowners tend to get house sitters every year when they go home for the off-season. Not only for pet sitting, but a lot of times people just don't want their house vacant. This could be for safety reasons or just to keep things running. Get to know people in the community and get the word out that you're looking to house sit.
Look at this kitchen! :) A bit better than a mini-fridge in a hotel or a shared hostel kitchen.
Look at this kitchen! :) A bit better than a mini-fridge in a hotel or a shared hostel kitchen.

Tips on What to Ask

I'm definitely learning as I go, but one thing I do know is that there are a lot of important details you need to iron out with your host. Make sure that the expectations are agreed upon up front. Some people will really help you out to make sure you're all set up, and some, well, not so much. Here are some of the things that have come up in my limited experiences.

Responsibilities

Talk about what your responsibilities will be and if there is anything you will need to pay for. If you want to leave for a day or two to go see some sights, it that possible? Will you have access to laundry and can you use the air conditioning? Aircon can be super expensive, so if your place has it, I would definitely ask ahead of time what their expectations are for your A/C use.

Your only responsibility might be to be a presence in the house, or you might take care of pets, do some regular cleaning, garden, pay staff or bills for the home owner, etc.

I really got taken my first time. I didn't find out until after I arrived that the woman wanted me to pay for her utilities! The utilities that would be on anyway because she has pets (with their food in the fridge), an on-site handyman, and a pool! WTF. She really had me over a barrel ("oh, I thought I discussed that with you"). I should have just walked out, but I had come so far to stay there so we agreed to split the cost - ugh. Never again.

Getting There

Of course you'll need to know the logistics of getting to where you need to be. My experiences have ranged from having to pay for a $60 taxi, to my host paying for my local airfare and airport pickup! The local puddle-jumper flight was a nice one.

Getting Around

You may or may not be near a town. Ask how close it is to the grocery store, restaurants, sights, etc. I personally love to be within walking distance to things. Oh, so also ask if it's safe to walk around where they live.

Because the big grocery stores are far away in my location here, my hostess drove me to a larger town to stock up before they left town - super nice.

Some people will leave you a vehicle to use (I have had both cars and motorbike to use). Once I'm there I like to ask about any driving legalities I need to know about and also where to get fuel since sometimes it's not what you'd expect! For instance, my car here I cannot drive outside of the town because it's not legally registered (or the equivalent thereof) and to get gas, I go to the mini mart where they'll bring it out in a bucket. LOL

So that's about it. As I said, I'm learning as I go. But for now this is a really fun thing to do and certainly helps stretch my already thin dollar while helping someone out.

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