Thinking of relocating for your retirement but worried the travel brochures might be a bit too glossy when it comes to day-to-day living? Dip your toe before diving into your chosen community by housesitting! You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it. Why make a major move without first trying the community on for size?

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.

Housesitters come in all shapes and sizes: Singles, couples, families, young adults, retirees on that “bucket list” trip, fulltimers like me, others who sit periodically during their holidays. Increasingly, retirees are housesitting as a way to “test out” their potential retirement destination before committing to a permanent move.

Here’s why: Housesitting provides a more in-depth view than the quick hotel trip. You can interact with household help, experience utility services in residential neighborhoods, grocery shop, drive in rush hour, join a club, take the bus – even get your teeth cleaned – while “living like a local” in someone’s home.

And you can do all that in a trip that’s longer than a pricey hotel stay, giving you a chance to experience your potential retirement location long enough to see whether you’d develop any health issues.

I housesit every fall in Ajijic, Mexico, one of the world’s largest expatriate retirement communities. I’ve seen many couples – and singles – housesit here to help determine whether this community works for them.

Often, their housesitting experience is so successful, they engage housesitters for their own new homes after they relocate. They realize housesitting gives them the flexibility to travel knowing their home and pets are safe. Or they secure local housesits for their adult children, so they can visit without being underfoot.

My advice for toe-dipping into that new community? Choose a housesit that most closely reflects the way you hope to live. Do you want to be in the center of things or out in the countryside? If you don’t anticipate living in a mansion with housekeepers and gardeners, choose a more modest home. If you want to be carless in your new life, secure a sit that’s near public transportation.

Giving housesitting a try before plunging into that shiny new retirement community is like living in sin before saying “I do”!

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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