Looking for the best ways to travel on a budget? House-sitting: get free accommodation when travelling!
When travelling, accommodation very often takes up the largest part of the budget. Yet there are many ways to get free accommodation. Woofing/HelpX are very popular ways to be accommodated for free in exchange for a few hours of work. Or Couchsurfing, a service connecting the travel community and where you can find someone to host you and show you their city.
But what if you want to have the benefit of free accommodation while being independent/having your own ‘home’? I found the solution thanks to House Sitting. While many people are still unfamiliar with this concept compared to the other solutions mentioned, this good plan is nevertheless perfect if you want to save money during your trip. Especially as it can also work for a long term period. I’ll explain the concept and how to become a house-sitter in this practical guide.
What is House Sitting?
Let’s start with the basics. You are probably wondering what house-sitting is all about. I was like you the first time I heard about this concept. Shortly before arriving in New Zealand thanks to WHV New Zealand, and having been travelling to Bali for 2 months, I was desperately looking for a way to live cheaply during our first weeks in Auckland while we found a job. After some research and reviews on various travellers’ blogs, this concept totally seduced me. Also, being a couple, I don’t really like being in a hostel room with 15 peoples and we were also looking for a quiet/independent place so that we could actively pursue our job search without distractions. So this concept was totally in line with what we were looking for.
House-sitting is simply watching a house while the owner is away from home (on holiday, business trip, long term travel, etc.). It is an exchange of services. Indeed, the owner calls upon someone to look after his animals, plants, maintenance of the house during his absence and the house-sitter will be able to live in the house free of charge for the period of stay.
Free accommodation in amazing locations around the world. With the bonus to look after some cute pets!
As I was saying, the owner provides you with his accommodation, free of charge, in exchange that you maintain it during your stay/his absence (that’s the whole point of this concept!). The duration can range from a weekend to several months depending on the owners. And so as a house-sitter you have some housework to do: it can be taking care of the plants, watering them, doing some gardening, looking after the swimming pool (it’s quite easy and the benefit is that you can enjoy it too). And often, there are also some cute pets to look after. This can vary from keeping a cat, dog, rabbit to several pets depending on the location of the house.
Every house-sitting is different because you decide together (with the owner) on the agreements in the “contract”. For long term house-sitting, some owners can provide their car, pay for your groceries or ask you to contribute to the bills. All this will have to be negotiated together!
Who can be a house-sitter?
The answer is ANYONE.
Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, married or single, even retired….everyone can become a house-sitter. There are no restrictions or preconditions.
Each house-sitting assignment is unique and the house owner will choose the person who, in his or her opinion, can best fulfil the mission.
Pros and cons of house-sitting
So now that you have understood the concept of house-sitting, what are the real benefit?
Benefits for the owner
– To be able to have their animals kept without having to change their habits and thus preserve their well-being. The animals stay in their living area and someone is there every day to spend time with them. Save on the cost of looking after their pets or having to ask a friend/family member to look after them.
– Have the peace of mind that nothing will happen to their house (theft, burglary, …) because the house-sitter will be present in case of a problem.
– Their house will be maintained for the duration of the stay: the house-sitter will be able to manage the mail, water the plants, …
– Making new friends from all around the world and supporting the collaborative economy. It is not uncommon to spend an evening or a few days with the owners before or after the house-sitting. This is an opportunity to get to know each other better.
Benefits for the house-sitter / traveller
– Free accommodation during your holidays, round the world, or even when you are working. House-sitting is not only for travellers, you can also do house-sitting in your own country/region, etc.
– Save on your budget, because you’ll get free accommodation! As we all know, when travelling, accommodation is usually the most expensive thing. With this system, no more accommodation to pay for! How good is that?
– Have fully equipped accommodation – unlike some youth hostels or seasonal accommodation which can be very poorly maintained/equipped. And as I said earlier, some owners also provide bikes or their car, which will also save you money on transport.
– Be independent, have your own private house. And not just a hotel room or an Airbnb to share. If you want to be in a quiet area for work, you will feel at home: a pleasant space to live in, a good internet connection and animals to pamper. What else do you need?!
– It is also the opportunity to live like a local. Meet the neighbourhood, go shopping at the local market, walk the dog in the neighbourhood, etc. All these things will give you an intimate experience in a new locale and complete immersion in the neighbourhood. That you would not have had in a hotel or hostel.
– Living in stunning houses where you might never have been able to live in. And yes, there are all kinds of accommodation available depending on where you look and some of the houses really make you dream.
Our 2nd house-sitting in New Zealand, in Auckland was in a beautiful house near Te Atatu peninsula with a pool ! It was the perfect place to live 😉
– Flexibility. Indeed, the house-sitting dates chosen by the owners may not correspond exactly to those you want. Owners usually have a fixed date. So it will be up to you to adapt.
– Offers are not available all year round. There will be many more offers during the school holidays in the country you are looking for. So pay attention to this. There may be some during the rest of the year, but the offer will be limited.
– The first house-sitting can be difficult to get, as you will not yet have a reference. I’ll talk more in detail later on how to find a house-sitting assignment.
– In general, you will have to be available every day, or at least be at home every evening to look after the animals and feed them. This can be a disadvantage if you want to travel around for a weekend, for example. That’s why we finally decided to rent our own flat so that we have more freedom to travel with our campervan on weekends.
– It can sometimes be difficult to invite friends to the house. This has to be arranged with the homeowner. But some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of strangers coming to their home.
These are not disadvantages for everyone. But it is good to point them out. The most important thing is to negotiate and agree on the rules with the owner from the beginning to avoid misunderstandings.
How to get your first house sitting assignment?
You are dreaminf of your next house sitting plan! Let’s see now how you can find your first assignment. Finding your first house-sitting assignement is not always easy, so it is important to put all the chances on your side by following these steps:
1 – Sign Up with a House Sitting Website
Like Airbnb or Couchsurfing platforms, many websites put owners in touch with house-sitters. The first step is to register on these house-sitting websites.
Then yes, registration is not free. Usually, it is a year-long subscription which, I assure you, will quickly pay for itself as you won’t pay the accommodation once you are there. The subscription varies between $US20 and $US90. And you will therefore have access to all the available assignments.
Please note: paying the registration fee does not guarantee that you will have a job. It allows you to access the offers and to apply. But the final decision is up to the owner to choose your profile or not. Hence the importance of having a perfect profile (we’ll come back to this in the next point.). Some platforms offer free service. But this is usually not very conclusive, as contacting owners will be more difficult and therefore less likely to be chosen.
The most well-known and reliable platforms are :
- Trusted House Sitters – the best-known platform and the one with the most offers. This is where we obtained our first assignment.
- House Carers
- Mind My House
- Luxury housesitting
There are also platforms by destination, as in New Zealand:
Please note: There are also free Facebook groups dedicated to housesitting in different countries around the world. This can be the first lead if you don’t want to invest in paid platforms from the start.
2 – Create the perfect house-sitter profile
I would say this step is THE most important one. Indeed, your profile will be a bit like your CV of the perfect house-sitter. And when you’re looking for a job, you take time to polish your CV, don’t you? So for your house-sitter profile, do the same!
Put yourself in the owner’s shoes! You’re looking for someone to come and live in your house, your little cocoon. And above all, this person will take care of your beloved pet. You want someone you can trust and who loves animals, don’t you? All this should be reflected in your profile! Owners need to feel that they can trust you to take care of their animals! (If you’re not serious or don’t like animals, you can forget the house-sitting option right away! If you’re just looking for the free accommodation benefit, that won’t work either. The important thing with this system is, to be honest, and to see this as a real benefit for both parties)).
How do you create the perfect house-sitter profile?
Start with a brief description of yourself (and partner if you are a couple), explain why you want to become a house-sitter, what you are coming to do in the chosen country/region. And of course, your past experiences with animals.
If you are looking for your first assignment and therefore still have no house-sitter references, talk about any experiences you have had with animals. Experience with your own pets, or are you perhaps on a Working Holiday (WHV Australia / WHV New Zealand) and have worked on a farm with animals. Or maybe you have done some HelpX/Woofing. Think of any experiences that would be a value to add to your profile.
Don’t forget to add pictures of yourself, and with animals if possible!
Once you have made your description, you will have to go through the verification process. Each site has its own system. But the documents required are often the same: identity document, proof of address, police check, …
You will also be asked to add references. If you have never done house-sitting before, use your ingenuity to find other references that will be valid. For example, for our profile, I asked my employer from Australia, from when we worked on a farm, to recommend us. As well to a former host from Airbnb. Once you have had your first house-sitting experience and therefore your first official reference as a house-sitter, everything will be easier! Because you will finally have the confidence of the owner. Just like a CV, I told you!
3 – Apply for an assignment
Armed with your profile of the perfect house-sitter, you are now ready to apply and find your first assignment. And I’m not telling you it will be easy. There’s a lot of competition, so just like a job, you have to be the first to apply. It’s time to actively search!
Define what kind of assignment you are looking for; or at least which ones you feel you can do well: do you just want to have one pet to take care of or do you feel up to managing an entire farm (and yes it can happen!)? Think clearly! Because you don’t want to receive a bad reference for your first assignment. And so, apply if you are 100% sure that you can fulfil the mission. Owners might be disappointed to have chosen your profile, but that you no longer wish to do so.
Once you have applied, i.e. sent a message (or a cover letter), the owner will contact you if he is interested in your profile. This will be followed by a few email convo between you and the owner, or even a Skype/meeting if you are already in the region. There are no rules defined in relation to this. Once the first contact has been made, it is up to you to see, together, what suits you best.
Don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as possible to make sure that this mission will suit you.
The purpose of this moment of exchange is to see if you can trust each other. The owner to leave his animals under your responsibility. But also you to be sure that this owner is honest in its approach (that he will not cancel at the last moment when you have booked your plane ticket for example). Trust must go both ways.
Your first assignment is accepted! YAY!! Plan to bring a little something from your country/region to the owner as a thank you gift, it’s always nice! And above all, enjoy it, because it will be incredible. I’m sure it will!
House-sitting mission validated? It’s time to organise your trip! If you are going abroad, don’t forget to check the visas, vaccinations requirements. But also your travel insurance! Too often forgotten by many travellers. It is however essential!
To conclude, is this really a good plan?
If you understood that house-sitting is not just about having free accommodation during your trip then yes, it is a good plan for you! And clearly one of the best in the long run!
It is important to stress the responsibility of a house-sitter towards the owners. They don’t let you sleep in their house for free just to enjoy the surroundings and their sofa. No! As a house-sitter, we have a duty to take care of their property and their pets. This concept is based on the system of self-help between individuals. So if you are not comfortable with pets or if you just want to enjoy the free accommodation via this system, you will be very disappointed. You will probably not be chosen as a house-sitter as you do not fit in with the spirit behind this concept.
However, and to finish on a good note, if you are an animal lover, house-sitting is a great experience to be able to travel around the world at a lower cost and to make exceptional encounters.
What about you? Have you already tested this concept or are you interested in it? Tell me about it in the comment!
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