I just spent a month in London. I breathlessly applauded a West End production of “Hamlet,” grazed my way through Borough Market, marveled at a performance by the world’s best beat poet, sipped lavender-sage tea at a fragrant lavender farm, absorbed 1960s black art at the Tate and relished “death by dumpling” at an all-you-can eat Asian bistro. And then there were days where I just hung out and people-watched.
How could I afford such extravagances? …Especially considering that I’m a self-employed writer?
I housesat! For nearly a month, I lived in greater London within an easy walk to the Tube, and cared for two kitties and an elderly dog while the homeowners vacationed. I had my own fully stocked kitchen and a garden where I’d snack on vine-fresh grape tomatoes. I slept in a queen-sized waterbed, binge-watched the first season of “Six Feet Under” on a 48” screen TV and cuddled with the kitties in my own private backyard.
Saving on accommodations and meals allowed me to spend a more leisurely and extended trip in one of the world’s most expensive destinations.
A part of the gig economy, housesitting is an exchange where petowners engage a housesitter to care for their home and pets while they are away. Typically, homeowners cover all the household and pet care expenses while the housesitter enjoys the home and surroundings for free. Although some housesitters are paid, usually it’s a quid pro quo and no money exchanges hands. But it is important to note that the pets’ and household’s needs supersede the housesitter’s sightseeing itinerary, so housesitters need to be flexible and dedicated to the responsibility they assume.
Housesitters come in all shapes and sizes: Singles, couples, families, young adults, retirees, fulltimers like me, others who sit periodically during their holidays.
During my 8 years as a fulltime housesitter, I’ve housesat throughout London and in some of the world’s most glorious cities: Berlin, Amsterdam, Hanoi, Osaka, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Maputo, Mozambique. I spend half of each year at a recurring housesit in Ajijic, Mexico, in a 4-story house with panoramic views of Lake Chapala. It’s where I spoil ChaCha, the rambunctious pit/lab rescue I’ve helped raise.
My advice for stretching your travel dollar? When considering the “cost” of accepting a housesit, factor in the costs to get there, expenses for entry visas and medicines (if necessary), car rental or local transportation fees and the general cost of living. Sometimes, even with free accommodations, a destination is a budget-buster. But often, housesitting allows a more leisurely “live like a local” travel experience!
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When not planning her next housesitting adventure, Kelly Hayes-Raitt writes about her experiences in the Middle East with refugees. She’s just published How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva and blogs at www.HouseSitDiva.com