International Living just published the following article I wrote about our experience house-sitting around the world. This week, as we settled into our newest assignment – a villa in a leafy suburb of Sydney, Australia, I am inspired to share this article through Livology. Many of you have asked us about our house-sitting journey and we hope these tips lead you on an adventure of your own …
How to Live Large Around the World Rent-Free
Yesterday, I sat around a hand-hewn farm table made of Tawa wood in Nelson, New Zealand. I was surrounded by my husband, children and various neighbors as we celebrated a day of moving sheep and turning gardens. In front of me was an abundance of Feijoas, passion fruit, hazelnuts, walnuts, and a homemade, fresh lemon cordial. The air was still and the autumnal sun was graciously warm. It was a perfect moment.
I sat quietly as images of our family house-sitting around the world flooded my experience. I remembered our very first assignment in Basilicata, Italy tucked between the Southern Apennines and the Mediterranean Sea. The neighbor taught our family how to make pancetta on New Year’s Eve. I remembered the pizzeria we watched over, during the off-season in the Alps, while the owner took a much deserved break. As the Matterhorn cast its spring shadows over the valley, we waited for lone customers to visit so we could practice our burgeoning Italian. I remembered the apartment in Barcelona, Spain that was on the market and felt desperately vacant, until we breathed life back into the echoing spaces. I remembered the vulnerable grapevines in Aix-en-Provence that needed to be tucked in and watched over for any late winter frost. I remembered the ritual of opening the shutters each morning at the villa we tended to over a Tuscan winter. The ochre sun, as it hit the terra-cotta floors, bathed the house in a buttery light.
All of these diverse experiences came to us through house-sitting. Since leaving our All-American life in 2013, with three kids in tow, we have spent time in twenty-three countries and counting. More than half of our time wandering the globe has been spent house-sitting.
If you are considering an overseas move, house-sitting is the perfect way to judge whether a culture, region, or country is a good fit for you. When we set off to see the world nearly three years ago, we did not want to just travel through places, but experience life in other cultures. What we didn’t know at the time was that house-sitting would be the quickest way into an authentic cultural immersion.
While renting an apartment or home can give you more of a sense of place than a hotel experience, house-sitting adds even more richness. Because you are literally stepping into someone’s home and community, real life starts immediately. The work involved in caring for someone’s home and animals is quickly off-set by the depth of the experience.
If you are considering a new career overseas, house-sitting is a great way to try on different hats. Do you fancy running a bed and breakfast on the French Riviera or watching over a flock of sheep in Puglia, Italy? Have you thought of restoring a castle in the Spanish countryside or caring for rescue animals in the Greek Islands? There is a house-sitting opportunity to fit almost any lifestyle change you may be considering. The beauty of house sitting is that it is an exchange. You bring the best of yourself and the experience receives you and pays you back in unimaginable ways …
Which leads me to the benefits of house-sitting for your bottom line. House-sitting assignments are as diverse as the people offering their homes. Some are free in exchange for property responsibilities, such as pets and gardens. Some opportunities require payment for utilities. Others may pay a small salary for varied tasks such as booking customers in the off-season or making the occasional meal at a bed and breakfast. We have done them all and saved our family of five an average of $2,500 USD a month, which is approximately what our home in Seattle, with utilities, cost us monthly. The beauty of house-sitting is that the opportunities are available both on an off the beaten path. The savings allow us to spend more time in places, like the south of France or London, that would be out of the budget for an extended stay for our family. House-sitting makes it not just possible but profitable as housing was our largest expense in our life before this journey.
Helpful Tips For Successful Trips
We have learned a few things during our many assignments that have saved us time and money, and taken us to many dream locations.
First, there are many house-sitting sites available to search listings. We primarily use Trusted HouseSitters. We also use local sites that in many countries are the “go to” resource just for that market, like Kiwi House Sitters for New Zealand. We discover these sites by asking local real estate agents and property managers when we enter a new country. The sites have small membership fees (ranging from $25-$100 for the year) that we have found more than worth the money.
Second, flexibility helps in terms of dates and timeframes. The house sitter profile everyone appears to be looking for is a professional, single person, or couple that has flexibility with travel dates. As we are traveling with kids, and it is a bit of a harder sell, flexibility has been key to our success.
Third, a responsible on-line presence helps immensely. While many of the house-sitting sites have important profile sections, most of the assignments we have been offered have come from our blog. People like to see who we are and it gives credibility to our family travels. Many home owners have told us that our social media presence and/or blog have been the reason we were chosen. Although this is true, we now find many of our opportunities through word of mouth. Last week we were offered two opportunities in Tasmania and one homeowner asked if we could drive his RV across Australia! Once a positive reputation has been established, you will have more opportunities than you can handle coming your way!
Develop Lifelong Relationships
Finally, house-sitting is not a vacation and it will push you outside of your comfort zone. We find the most successful house sits for us are those where both parties treat it like a partnership more than an employee/boss relationship. House-sitting works because both parties have “skin in the game.” Yes, home owners are trusting us to act as stewards for the lives they have built but it also requires trust on our end. We invest time and money getting to far away locations and the more open the line of communication, the better. There is always a leap of faith involved but the excitement and uncertainty is what keeps it interesting. An open mind and a sense of adventure are mission critical. Living like a local is easier said than done at times, but always worth the risk.
From remote locations in the Southern Hemisphere, to glittering cities in Europe, to our own back yard, we are forever changed by this simple yet transformational opportunity. Each place we spend time, we leave a part of ourselves. When we establish real relationships with people, roots take hold naturally and in the most unforeseen places. Our roots are far-reaching, casting a global canopy that will give our family independence and infinite hearths in which to return to when a homecoming seems imminent or inspired.
As the sun dropped over the Tasman Sea, we walked back to the farm where we are currently house sitting. Our path illuminated by Sirius and Canis Major, new stellar points of reference in a once foreign sky, on a journey enriched by the opportunity to literally “walk in someone else’s shoes.”
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