For two weeks, I’m living in a lovely small house in a residential neighbourhood of Victoria, British Columbia. Total accommodation costs: $0. In exchange for my free accommodation in this rather pricey city, I take care of a black cat, keep the house tidy, and water the plants in the garden. That’s pretty much it. I can use the kitchen to prepare my meals, so I also save on food costs, compared to a normal vacation.

A full kitchen allows for self-catering

A full kitchen allows for self-catering

So, how did I get this gig? I registered on a site called TrustedHouseSitters.com, where homeowners can find sitters for their house and pets, and travellers can find free digs. Most people looking for house-sitters have pets, usually dogs or cats (or both) but sometimes horses, poultry or more exotic animals. So in order to be a house-sitter, you have to love and be able to care for pets. In my case, I only sit cats, which is somewhat limiting, but still, I found this assignment only 9 days after completing my profile!

Sashi the cat

Sashi the cat

It all boils down to convincing strangers they can trust you with their home and cherished pets. Yes, it is a tall order, but very do-able. First you write a detailed profile by filling out a form on the site. Then you upload photos, get references (from friends, employers, landlords, even previous house-sits if you have them). To get extra brownie points you obtain a police check, and if possible, upload a video. Yes, it requires some work, but I think you’ll agree that the outcome (free accommodation around the world) is truly worth it!

Bedroom with comfy bed

Bedroom with comfy bed

After a good night sleep in a comfortable bed (more comfortable than my own actually), I get up, feed the cat, have breakfast, water the garden (if it hasn’t rained), do some writing, give the cat her “lunch”, and if the weather is nice, I go exploring the city.

The other night I picked a big zucchini from the garden and used it in a beef stir-fry. Being used to living on the 12th floor of a downtown condo, I find it very cool that I can go out to my backyard and just grab fresh vegetables! And the cat makes a nice leg warmer as I listen to jazz on the stereo in the evening. I had forgotten how nice it is to have a stereo. I’ve only been here four days but I feel quite at home already.

 

Backyard and garden

Backyard and garden

TrustedHouseSitters (THS) charges $79 a year to register as a house-sitter. There are similar but smaller sites that charge less, such as MindMyHouse.com and HouseCarers.com. You can choose in which countries you would like to house-sit. THS is a British site, so half the assignments are in the UK. The other half of assignments are mostly found in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Europe, as well as a few in Asia/Middle East.

Each day you receive an email listing the most recent assignments, and you can contact the owners directly by writing a “cover letter” of sorts, outlining why you’re interested and why they should pick you. They also get a link to your profile. So in a way, it is like applying for a job. You have to act fast though, because the best assignments get a lot of applications. Right now, THS shows 4430 sitters versus 1653 house-sitting assignments. Homeowners are more likely to consider the early applicants. If you make the short-list, they will probably want to talk to you over the phone or Skype before making a final decision.

If you are flexible with your dates, and especially if your work is location-independent, you could house-sit your way around the world, getting to know places in more depth than if you were just staying in a hotel for a few nights. Most house-sitting assignments are over a week long, often 3 or 4 weeks or even longer.

I am just starting down this path, but so far I like it! I think the secret is to choose assignments that are within your abilities, and to communicate with the homeowner to avoid misunderstandings.

Where to next? I’m thinking maybe Europe? Or Australia? :)

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