Before we ever started on this digital nomad adventure, we knew we wanted to try housesitting. We’d read nothing but rave reviews from people who’d done it, and even stories of travelers who use it nearly full-time.
Along with CouchSurfing and work-exchange programs like HelpX and WorkAway, which usually provide free accommodations and/or meals in exchange for some type of work, housesitting abroad is one way long-term travelers can save money while remaining nomadic and free. And as we’ve found from our four housesitting experiences so far, the benefits go far beyond the savings.
What is housesitting?
Housesitting is normally an exchange between the sitter and the homeowner, so no money changes hands. Rather, travelers get a free place to stay (typically a full house or apartment to themselves) in exchange for taking care of the house while the owner is gone, maybe watering some plants or bringing in the mail, and in most cases (and most importantly), taking care of their pets.
Most housesitting jobs have dogs or cats, though some have smaller animals – and there’s even the occasional farm.
Some homeowners without pets do hire sitters just to look after their place while they’re away, especially at vacation homes where problems could otherwise go unnoticed for months in the off-season. But from what we’ve seen, the majority are primarily looking for a petsitter while they’re away.
While it might be surprising to hear that people would invite strangers to stay at their home while they’re gone, using a housesitter means saving a bundle on boarding kennels (which can cost between $25 and $45 per night or more), and most people prefer for their pets to be able to stay at home anyway.
Especially in countries that don’t have a strong culture of owning pets, many kennels also have bad reputations for low standards, disinterested staff, and little play or socialization. And really, most housesitters will give the pets way more attention and affection than they’d get at even the best kennels.
Why We Chose Housesitting
Initially, we looked at house and petsitting because we were trying to think of ways we could save money or make extra income on top of freelancing so this new digital nomad lifestyle would work out. Of all the options on the list, though, housesitting seemed the least viable.
There aren’t really that many listings in Southeast Asia compared to other places, and we know how many broke backpackers and long-term budget travelers make their way through this region (it feels like hundreds of thousands…). Why would anyone choose us to receive the keys to their home and be trusted with their beloved pets?
I wrongly assumed that the only people who ever got housesitting jobs were the people who write about housesitting – though it seems I’m only proving myself correct by writing this post. What I didn’t realize is that house and petsitting isn’t for everyone, and we were better candidates than I initially thought.
Housesitting abroad requires a certain type of traveler. While some positions last just a couple days, many are for a week or more, longer than most travelers would stay in one place, which makes it better suited to people who are traveling long-term and like to go slow.
The homes are often in residential neighborhoods, which could be far from the main attractions and may or may not have convenient transportation, so sitters need to see that as a chance to get off the beaten path rather than an inconvenience.
And of course, if there are pets involved, housesitting means scheduling sightseeing around feeding times, walks, and pee breaks, and not being gone overnight. We’ve found that many owners actually prefer housesitters who work online or have another reason to be at home much of the time, rather than vacationers who will usually be out sightseeing.
While people certainly do housesit solo, I also think we’ve had an easier go of it as a couple – like it or not, younger single travelers are often stereotyped as less responsible. Additionally, having two people watching their home and animals gives the host some peace of mind that if there’s a problem (like one person gets violently ill), the other can still take care of everything.
Our Experience with House and Petsitting
Eight months into this journey, we’ve had four housesitting jobs, all in Thailand and all fantastic. They’ve lasted anywhere from five days to three weeks, and have all been for expat couples around our age.
Our responsibilities while housesitting have never been much more than putting food and water out, going on a couple walks a day, and letting the dogs sleep in the bed, which is always presented as optional but we’ve never minded.
Most owners also requested that we not leave the pets home alone for too long at once (usually not more than eight hours). Since we spend a lot of our time working from our laptops anyway, and because we’ve fallen in love with all the pets we’ve cared for, that wasn’t much of a problem. Besides, as it turns out, working on a computer is way more enjoyable with a pup by your side.
Benefits of Housesitting
Most people are initially drawn to housesitting for the free accommodations, but the benefits are so much more than that. Honestly, we usually only pay around $15 per night for hotels in Southeast Asia anyway, and a decent chunk of the savings gets offset by needing transportation to get into town and by spending more time in expensive cities (where there tend to be more positions). But while the neighborhoods are sometimes a bit out of the way, it’s been a really unique opportunity to experience parts of Thailand that we would never have seen otherwise.
Besides the accommodations being free, the chance to stay in an actual house is a huge deal when you’re traveling long-term. We’re so used to not having anything bigger than a hotel room and no better way to organize our stuff than having it strewn out on the floor or piled onto the room’s single table.
Being able to stay in a house is a really nice change every once in a while, and it’s great to have some extra space to spread out a bit, unpack our stuff, and even have plenty of room for practicing yoga.
When you’re traveling and used to eating out multiple times a day, it’s also so nice to have a kitchen and be able to cook your own food. Having an oven is relatively uncommon in Thailand, so we’ve made especially good use of the ones we’ve had.
We’ve also found housesitting to be a great way to meet people. You’d think that since the owners are gone throughout your time at their house, you wouldn’t get a lot of interaction with them. But between them telling you about when Fido needs his meals and you gushing about how great it was when he cuddled up to you at night, there’s a bond to be formed. At least in Southeast Asia, the hosts usually have lots of interesting stories and great travel advice to share, too.
Another of the most surprising things we’ve learned from house and petsitting is how much of a dog person Jen truly is. While she was always excited about the concept of housesitting, it wasn’t until she bonded with a very special Chihuahua during our first sit that she realized how much she wanted a dog in her life. Now, she gets excited by just about any fluffy creature we find on our travels. While we’re in no position to have a pet right now, housesitting is a perfect substitute in the meantime.
Of course, it’s also incredibly difficult to say good-bye to the pets, perhaps because you know you’ll probably never see them again. You might think a week or two isn’t long enough to form a strong attachment to the animals you’re caring for, but after the first sit, you’ll see how heartbreaking it can be. We still get excited whenever we see a new Instagram post from the dogs at our first housesit.
How to Start House and Petsitting
The easiest way to find housesitting opportunities is through one of the dedicated housesitting sites listed below. They have hundreds of listings around the world with a description of the house, pets, owners, and duties you’d need to fulfill. They also have identity verification systems that give the homeowners (and sitters) some peace of mind. The downside is that these sites charge a fee for sitters to join, and don’t offer refunds to those who never find a gig.
Another option is to look for housesitting opportunities through Facebook groups, which is how we found our latest housesit in Chiang Mai. There are a few general groups for house and petsitting, and you might also find positions listed in expat or other city-specific groups. You’ll probably know less about what you’re getting into and won’t have the security of the major housesitting sites, but you’ll get access to homeowners who aren’t listed on them.
The Top Housesitting Sites
There are several housesitting sites out there, each with their own pros and cons. We joined TrustedHousesitters because it has the most in Southeast Asia, and actually most worldwide.
At $129 per year, TrustedHousesitters has the highest fee, but it’s also the only site with a strong presence in Southeast Asia. If that’s where you’re going, this one is definitely the best bet. Bonus: Use the code “RAF290889” to get 25% off!
Nomador is more popular in Europe, particularly France, but doesn’t have many listings in other regions. It’s one of the more expensive sites, at $89 per year, but it does offer a trial that lets you apply to three positions for free.
MindMyHouse mainly has listings in Europe and the U.S. It only costs $20 to join, so even if you’re on another site, it’s not a bad idea to sign up for this one if you’ll be passing through those places.
HouseCarers has worldwide listings and a membership fee of just $50 per year. It only has about a third as many listings as TrustedHousesitters, but it’s a good option if you’re averse to paying their hefty fee.
Getting Your First Sit
Getting started is definitely the hardest part of housesitting abroad, and we were lucky to end up landing the fourth position we applied to. Much like with your first job, nobody wants to hire someone without any experience or references, so you really have to write a profile that stands out (and makes you sound like the responsible, pet-loving person you are).
I don’t know about the other sites, but when you set up a TrustedHousesitters profile, you can solicit external references from your friends, past landlords, and any previous house and petsitting hosts. I’m not sure how much weight homeowners put on these external references, but it seems like they’d be useful for comparing applications from multiple new people.
On our first few housesitting applications, we also included a link to our Airbnb profile, which has reviews from all the hosts we’ve stayed with, and our first housesitting hosts said it was one of the reasons they chose us.
To land your first sit, it makes a big difference if you’re able to be flexible with your travel dates and locations and can cast your net wide. Of the four housesits we’ve done so far, only one fit perfectly into our plans (which was a real stroke of luck). The other three required making some changes to our itinerary, and we were glad to have the flexibility to make it work.
It will also help to apply to less competitive listings, with dates or locations that aren’t as desirable. In our experience, really short positions also tend to be less competitive, at least in Southeast Asia.
Why You Might Want to Housesit
We’ve been lucky to have some great experiences over the last several months in Southeast Asia, but we both agree that our housesits have been some of the best. Living this lifestyle has many benefits, but it can be stressful: finding work, meeting deadlines, and handling difficult clients, all while living in tiny rooms and eating oily noodles. It’s great to have the opportunity to sleep in a comfortable bed, cook in a full kitchen, and pet a fluffy animal while you work.
Of course, many housesitters are not digital nomads, and we recommend it to any travelers with some flexibility in their schedule and a love for animals.
Do you have any questions about housesitting? Ask in the comments!
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