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?!

I think it doesn't hurt that I'm responsible (aka older), a bit of an OCD neat freak, a homebody by nature (yeah, go figure), and I leave a small footprint. Sure seems like this is going to be a good thing to mix in with my budget traveling! This is my 3rd sit, with a 4th lined up in Bali next year.

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 watched my friend's pup and kitty here for a few days.
You never know where you might get an opportunity. Look at this amazing jungle house! I watched my friend's 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-traveler's budget would allow. Even if it's just a modest home, it's still private - a step up. 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 learn about certain "daily life" type of things in another culture, like paying bills. All and interesting part of the travel experience and may give you a giggle along the way.
    • You might even get to know the owner's friends and neighbors which can lead to some fun connections and experiences if they show you the ropes.
  • You get a full kitchen, privacy, laundry, and maybe a vehicle! Woohoo - a nice break from the more rustic conditions of budget travel.
  • If staying longer term, you get the luxury of stocking up on groceries (read between the lines - bulk alcohol); something you can't do when you're traveling around. It's more convenient, is fun to cook real meals, and also saves money!
  • 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! Shhh, don't tell my kitty at home that I'm cheating on her.
Getting gas literally by the gallon. Hand-poured even!
Getting gas literally by the gallon. Hand-poured even!
My brood of 5! :) Love my pets away from home.
My brood of 5! :) Love my pets away from home.
One of my house sitting duties is to grab these gigantic toads and fling them off the porch so that the dogs don't lick them and die from the poison. You never know what to expect from daily life in various countries! LOL
One of my house sitting duties is to grab these gigantic toads and fling them off the porch so that the dogs don't lick them and die from the poison. You never know what to expect from daily life in various countries! LOL

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".
  • This is a job you are committing to, so you have to stay put, making it hard (or impossible) to explore the area as you would do traveling. This is situational for sure. Mainly if you are watching pets, you can't go anywhere overnight. I have had many a sad moment declining cool weekend getaways with friends.
    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! If something goes wrong, it's on you. Be prepared to clean, care for plants, stay on top of insect issues, manage and pay staff (yes, staff - I told you you might be staying in nicer places), and care for pets. Try to upkeep the house (and possible vehicle) as if it were your own. Well, assuming you take good care of your own place! LOL
    The modem went out in the house I was watching. There's no "management" to call to fix it. I had to (very poorly BTW) navigate the local company in a foreign language to get it fixed. Not an easy task but I got it done! (pat on back)

    UPDATE: Here's another example. One of the dogs I'm watching just got eaten by a crocodile!!! OMG Although the owners realize it's not my fault and just part of jungle life here, I still feel so awful!
    Second update: Make that 2 dogs. I could not feel any worse. Not quite the little slice of paradise living one might envision.

  • 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. Be cognizant of how long a time-frame you are committing to!
     
    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
The actual beach at this house sit turned out to be a little different than I had pictured.
The actual beach at this house sit turned out to be a little different than I had pictured.
Always try to see the positives wherever you are.
Always try to see the positives wherever you are.

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 is a 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 at all so it's really a personal choice.
More of my temporary fur babies.
More of my temporary fur babies.

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 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 house sitting website links I mentioned above are a great resource. You can also post in various Facebook travel groups or area-specific expat groups.

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 learned a lot my first time. I didn't find out until after I arrived that the home owner wanted me to pay the utilities! The utilities that would be on anyway because there were pets (with their food in the fridge), an on-site handyman, and a pool! I was really 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. Lesson learned.

Getting There

Of course you'll need to know the logistics of getting to where you need to be. Your host might offer to pick you up from the airport, or you might be on your own. Costs and logistics can vary a lot depending on where you're going!

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 or if there are any special instructions on getting around.

One host drove me to a larger town to stock up on groceries before they left town - super nice. Another had her neighbors to take me with them on their weekly grocery runs.

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

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 in the process.

0 Comments

Submit Your Comment
Thank you! Your comment has been received. :) It will be posted as soon as I get a chance to read it first.
Sorry, don't know what happened. Try later :(
Your email will not be shared or spammed in any way. It is only as extra assurance that you are a real person! ;) Leslie's Travel Snacks reserves the right to delete any comment that is abusive, self-promoting, nonconstructive, mean, or otherwise not in the spirit of this website.