Thursday, December 19, 2019

Housesitting All Over the World

"How long are you on vacation?" That's a question we get a lot--most recently on a snorkel boat in Molokai. When we answer that we aren't on vacation, people get curious about our nomadic lives--especially when they are on the islands for a week and we've been there for six months, five of them housesitting

The minute we mention housesitting, we are barraged with questions. I reached out to my Facebook friends who posed questions as well. Here are my answers:

Housesitting in Malaysia

How do you get into housesitting with no experience? What are the actual steps you need to take to begin doing this type of housesitting--actual, emotional, financial?

I have written about these issues in my book and this article and a lot in this blog. When we looked at our lives and asked ourselves what we really wanted, our answer was freedom

That meant living off of our retirement income and savings for a while, doing what we wanted to do, before it was too late. We wanted to travel, rather than being in debt and tied to one area. My mindset was that the void is fertile. 

In other words: letting go of things we held onto meant discovering new possibilities that we couldn't have otherwise seen. One of our discoveries was housesitting.

Rancho Palos Verdes housesit

There are several housesitting websites, but our favorite is Trusted Housesitters. Dozens of new sits come up every day all over the world. Many are a month or longer, although they range from just a few days to a year or more. No money exchanges hands. We care for others' homes and pets, and we have a free place to stay. It's an act of service because people can travel without worry.

We started by developing our page on the site, including references from friends, and paying a bit more for the optional background check. As we do sits, homeowners write reviews. You can get reviews more quickly if you apply for short housesits near where you live--for instance, a weekend in San Francisco if you live in the Bay Area, before you branch out.

Because we are now known as housesitters, people often come to us; as a result, we have done gigs for friends and acquaintances as well.

Describe the weirdest or wackiest task you've been asked to do.

Get up at 6 a.m. to feed the 40 ducks, chickens, geese, turkeys and rabbits. 

Farmer Dave

What kind of budget do you need to have if you do that full time?

This varies greatly depending on the person. We don't housesit full-time because several months a year we stay at our place in Mexico. We live on a small amount of money per month compared to many Americans, approximately $1,500-3000, based on how much travel we are doing. In addition to discovering housesitting, I've learned that a digital nomad is a thing. Some of our income now comes through the writing, editing and coaching I can do wherever we are. We also rent out our little place in Mexico on Airbnb. And as we travel, other opportunities arise, such as the year I spent teaching in China, and the writing workshop I developed with a guy I met in Thailand.

What also helps support our lifestyle (in addition to no rent or mortgage, and no utilities while housesitting) is that we don't buy a bunch of stuff--because our small house in Mexico has little storage, and the rest of the time we're living out of a suitcase. 

It's a mindset--not that we're doing without, but that we're rich in what we love in life: travel experiences, nature, meeting people, time with friends and family, writing, reading, music, and enjoying animals.

Hiking with Freckles on our housesit in Long Beach, Washington

How do you avoid surprises in this process? What are the dos and don'ts for both parties related to screening for the engagement? Have you ever said "no" after a Skype?

There are always surprises--and we have learned to become more and more adaptive and flexible. However, creating a list of questions can help. I think of our Skype with homeowners as an interview that goes both directions. If I haven't seen many pictures of the house online, I might ask for a video tour. I like to know what size bed we will be sleeping in--and if we have full access to the house. Some homeowners want you to sleep in the guest room, which is fine as long as the bed is a queen or bigger, especially for a housesit longer than a few days.

We like to ask a lot of questions about the pets: Has the dog ever shown aggression? Are any of the animals incontinent? Not that we can't handle these things, but we want to make an informed choice. We also ask about the animals' routines, the neighborhood, and use of a car, which is important for longer housesits when car rental would be prohibitive...although sometimes we have our own car with us, if we've driven it up from Mexico. In our current housesit in San Diego, we are even using the homeowner's RV! She encouraged it because her little dogs love camping. Reviews are posted on hosts' pages, so you can see what other housesitters thought of the experience.

Lulu and Sammie (siblings) enjoyed RV camping with us.

And yes, we did say no to a sit once after a Skype--because the cat was so old and feeble that the homeowner thought it might die on our watch, which we could (sadly) handle but she seemed nervous about the whole thing...and she wanted us to sleep in a double bed, even though the master bedroom had a king. Most homeowners, though, are very generous and kind. We have made good friends this way.

Longest gig? And most peaceful?

Our longest gig was four months on the Big Island of Hawaii. That was probably our most peaceful, a remote, rural area with a sweeping view of the ocean. We cared for one dog and enjoyed our daily long walks with her.

And a bonus in Hawaii: huge fruits and veggies picked in the yard.

Our nearly three months in Forest Ranch in Northern California was very peaceful as well. The dog could be walked off-leash on the trails right out the door.

Forest Ranch property

Are there options out there for those allergic to cats and dogs?

Occasionally you will see a gig that doesn't include animal care, but those are rare. Some, though, include non-furry animals, like fish or birds. And some involve feeding animals that live outside only. For instance, our sit on Maui required feeding three outdoor cats.


What have been the best and worst of your experiences?

Each place has had its good aspects and drawbacks. For instance, my favorite dog we cared for was a sweetie in Australia named Gem. She and I just clicked. However, overall we weren't too fond of the area and its very windy weather. So we focused on what we liked: the dog, nearby hot springs and movie houses, and the lake we walked around every day that had more than 100 species of birds.

Another example is our housesit in Malaysia. You can't argue with this view:

But we were disappointed when we learned the beaches in Penang aren't swimmable. We'd envisioned a tropical paradise experience. Usually we research a place beforehand (highly recommended!) but in this case, we hadn't. We did love the adorable dog, though, and the amazing Olympic-sized swimming pool. And in our month there, we met some great people. 

Basically, we have learned to relax into wherever we are, rather than focusing on expectations being dashed. And living in other places is helping me get clearer and clearer about what I like about home and place.

What is the hardest part of housesitting that people might not realize when they jump into it? 

For us, it's the transition time into a new gig. After the often tiring experience of traveling, we arrive in a home to spend hours, and sometimes a day or two, with the owners who orient us to the pets, home and area. It's a lot to take in. But it's also fun and exciting to get to meet new people and animals.

Max and Levi in Port Townsend, Washington

How do you get used to a new place? Seems like it would take a toll on your system.

We are getting better and better at this, becoming more adaptive with each experience. My biggest issue often is figuring out where the light switches are! And finding place for my stuff in the freezer. People's freezers are usually packed, although thoughtful homeowners make space for us in the fridge, drawers, and closets. Getting our personal effects organized helps a lot. But, yes, it does take a toll, which is why it's important to make sure we allow ourselves some rest the first few days--after we have shopped and oriented ourselves. Having a sweet dog or cat to cuddle with helps.

My writing spot at our houessit on the big island of Hawaii.

Have you ever broken anything? How did that go?

Nothing major. Once I broke one of my host's favorite mugs. I quickly went online and found similar cups and had them mailed to her. At a housesit in Washington, a chimney fire flared up. A neighbor, who happened to work for the fire department, noticed and came by. He told us how to handle it--but we were unnerved. It's hard to imagine something worse than burning down a host's house! When we told the homeowner, he said it had happened before, that the wood burning stove wasn't a good design. So now we can add to our list of questions: "Ever had a chimney fire?"

Dave and Ely at our Tahoe housesit.

What are some common forms of etiquette that both sitters and hosts do for each other? Like leave flowers upon arrival or departure? Is tipping a thing on either end? 

Even though we aren't paid, people have given us some cash at times as a "tip"--or to cover any unexpected expenses. They have also left us gifts, the most elaborate being at a Seattle housesit: a box of handmade chocolates, two bottles of local wine, and a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. Often, they pick us up at the airport and take us out to eat.

On our end, if we spend some time with the hosts we cook a meal or two. If we are there when they come home, we will have dinner ready. While they are gone, we regularly update the hosts, sending them pictures of the animals and telling them what we've been up to. Even though many of the hosts have house cleaners who continue to come while we are there, we make sure the house is spic-n-span, often cleaner than when we arrived--including all towels and bedding washed. If there are flowers to pick in the garden, we might bring some in. And if we have finished books that we brought, we leave them behind.

How does it feel to be intimate with a stranger's stuff, place, bed, things?

It kind of reminds me of when I used to babysit...although I'm less nosey now than when I was a teen! My favorite thing is to walk into a house that has shelves crammed with books we can read during our time there. For a day or two, it might feel a little awkward to be in someone else's space, but soon we settle into our temporary home.

Our month on Maui, thanks to a housesit.

Do you get attached to the place, house, pets you care for? Is it hard to move on sometimes? Do you get the urge to nest?

We always nest wherever we are: cooking, doing yoga, reading, etc., in what is essentially our home for the time being. Often the homes are very nice and have all the comforts that make for great nesting, from nice furniture and beautiful kitchens to pools, gardens, views, and hot tubs. 

Saying goodbye is bittersweet. Living this life is an ongoing lesson in non-attachment. The pets are great teachers about living in the moment. When we are leaving, I think about how happy they will be to see their owners, and that helps. 

And then I focus on the part of me that's ready to relinquish responsibility--and that's excited about the next adventure. Basically...we've stumbled into a lifestyle that fits us well.

Saying goodbye to Gem.


Daisy Luu said...

So beautiful and informative, Kate! I just love the pictures of your views from all over the world, from tropical paradise, to snowy wonderland, to intimate and homey rooms. Seems like you’ve carved out a unique but fitting lifestyle for you and Dave. You are indeed some of our most adventurous friends! And I love knowing that however traveled you are, you often dock back to the Bay Area where we could touch base again. Onwards, and happy travels!

Anonymous said...

Great blog. It sounds like you are living the same kind of lifestyle we are. We stay home for our Australian summers, and housesit overseas during the winter months. It looks like you housesat in the exact same place in Penang that we did! Wondering if it was just the same building or actually the same sit! Good luck with your next adventures!

WalkAbout said...

Hi Kate, Merry Christmas! Where will you and Dave start the New Year? I have broken a favorite cartoon character glass during a local house-sit; it was Tweedy Bird. Did you and your co-adventurer know that you were both free spirits before you began this way of life or did you discover this about each other along the way in your union? How do you feel about taking pictures? Is it another task or part of the fun? Thank you for your travel stories and keep 'em coming. Kirsty

Unknown said...

Is it safe for a single mature woman to housesit in other countries as well as US?
Sitters pay their own traveling expenses I believe.
Great info and questions to ask.

Unknown said...

Love this post! So inspiring and a great way to enjoy new environments and experiences without having to make a long-term commitment. Thanks for sharing :-)

Kate Evans said...

Hi LS...Yes, many single women housesit all over the world!