Not long ago a friend planning a holiday in Europe asked me:
“What’s the single best money saving tip you could give someone who wants to travel well on a budget?“
Ever since releasing my 17,000 word guide to budget travel, I’ve gotten this sort of question a lot.
My answer is usually a bit of a shocker.
First you need to understand that throughout all my budget travel material I emphasize two big wins above all else. Most of the time, these two things make more budget impact than everything else combined:
Unlike saving $0.30 on Samosas, getting a slight discount on travel pants, and other inconsequential minutiae that many money “experts” like to focus on, getting a big win in these two areas could slash your expenses by 80%.
I don’t care whether you’re going for a holiday in Europe, backpacking in Asia, or doing the classic American roadtrip – this is where to focus if we want to make our money go farther.
And there’s one way to do both while still traveling well. I responded to my friend with what must be considered the worst-kept secret for long term travel.
Actually, better make that house and pet sitting, since the two tend to go hand in hand.
You may have heard of it, but chances are you’re not doing it.
And that’s a shame. Because house sitting is one of the few travel “hacks” that works even better in expensive countries than elsewhere around the world: Europe, The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States are ideal house sit locations.
So, if you’re like my friend and interested in saving $24,000+ on your next accommodation bill while enjoying the comfort of a 4 or 5 star hotel on your next European holiday – or just want to travel in comfort and style for pennies on the dollar, read on.
House sitting is when a homeowner leaves their house for a period of time (anywhere from days to months) and entrusts their property to an individual, or “house sitter.”
Home owners may do this for any number of reasons: to work, go on holiday, visit family, and so on. Finding a house sitter is often a more desirable option than leaving their property completely unattended for a prolonged period of time.
But most often, house sitting jobs get published because the owner is looking for someone to look after their beloved pets.
This is way more desirable than putting a dear companion in a kennel for weeks or months on end – not to mention less expensive.
So house sitters generally live on-site, looking after and maintaining the property and the owner’s pets. In return, the house sitter gets a free place to stay, as well as possibly the use of a vehicle, bike, kayak, etc.
This can add up to thousands of dollars in saved travel expenses, particularly since the majority of house and pet sitting jobs are located in developed countries with high costs-of-living.
Let’s take a closer look:
After transportation, lodging tends to be the biggest budget-eater on the travel block.
And if you’re anything like the average long term traveler who has $1,500 a month to cover all their expenses, you need to balance cost, comfort, and convenience.
For example, flying everywhere is usually the most convenient way to get from point A to point B, however it’s rarely the cheapest.
The same can be said for accommodation. A backpacker’s hostel is cheap, but lacks the comfort of a 5-star resort.
House sitting is one of the very few opportunities in all of travel that doesn’t play this game of trade-offs between price and quality:
As we can see, staying for free in someone’s home is at both the apex of affordability and comfort. In basically every other case comfort is proportional to the amount of money we spend. Short of getting an invitation to stay for free at a luxury resort, this is simply the best way to get cheap, high quality accommodation around the world.
For example, Dalene & Pete from HeckticTravels saved over $30,000 house sitting in British Columbia, Canada and Honduras.
Dariece & Nick of GoatsOnTheRoad saved over $24,000 house sitting in Grenada (and all over the world)
Chari & Ben from Wanderlusters have lived in the UK, Barbados, USA, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, Australia, and St. Kitts – all through house sitting!
Saving money is great, and it can help us extend our travel budget by months or years, but it’s far from the only reason to house sit. Have you even considered that by house sitting you can:
Live Local: Most gigs aren’t in high-traffic tourist areas, but in regions where local culture dominates. Living in the home of a local is one of the best ways to begin a real immersion into local culture
Live in The World’s Most Expensive Places: It’s one thing to go to Thailand for 6 months on a shoestring. But if you want to check out New Zealand, France, Hawai’i, or Great Britain, it’s going to be hard on your wallet. House sitting opens up destinations that for a lot of budget travelers, simply wouldn’t be sustainable any other way.
Travel Slower: Often we try to cram travel into a small period of time, in part because of budget constraints. House sitting can let you relax a bit and get more into a mode of “living” than moving.
Save Up Money For Future Travel: If you work online, rent out your home, or have some other stream of location-dependent income, house sitting can actually help you travel – while filling up your bank account to do even more travel. That’s so cool it’s almost unfair…
Even though house sitting sounds like some kind of fantasy, it’s a real job with real responsibilities, and isn’t for everyone.
Here are 4 things you should consider before signing up to become a house sitter:
1. Experience With and Love for Animals
Not all house sits require looking after pets, but most do – as it’s pet owners who most need a reliable person on site 24 hours a day while they’re away. Though this usually means cats & dogs, some house sits may even involve caring for chickens, goats, or other farm animals in rural locations.
While it’s entirely possible to house sit and not look after animals, you’ll be severely limiting your options.
2. Time Constraints
If you have a limited or set amount of time for your vacation every year it will be much harder to find a house sitting gig. Likewise, if your preferred travel style is to be constantly on the move, committing to looking after someone’s property for several months probably isn’t right for you.
On the other hand, if you’re flexible with your timeline or prefer traveling slowly then house sitting is a great option
3. Home-care Know-How
Have you ever owned a home? If so, you’re at an advantage in the competition for house sitting gigs. If not, are you sure you want to? Your job will be cleaning and yard maintenance and all the other chores of your childhood.
There’s a reason many homeowners prefer retired couples to look after their property – they’ve got the experience in addition to the perceptions of trustworthiness and reliability.
However, the more house sits you do, the more quickly you’ll become an expert at home-care – even more so than someone who has lived in a single home for 30 years.
For example, Dani from GlobeTrotterGirls has cared for beach houses and city condos that were entirely off the grid – running on solar power, a house in the alps heated with wood burning stoves, and a home in the arid Arizona desert. Each of those experiences made her a wiser, more capable candidate for future home stays.
Maybe that 6 month gig on Fiji looks enticing, but just remember – it can even get lonely in paradise. Some house sitting gigs are in remote locations, and while they might be beautiful, it also means giving up a lot of things: Favorite comfort foods from home, regular contact with others, parties, possibly even a reliable internet connection.
2, 3, or 6 months is a long time to be bored. If you don’t have a variety of hobbies to invest your time in at remote locations, you may want to think twice about taking such a gig.
If you’ve decided that yes, house sitting is a good fit, it’s time to get started actually looking for gigs!
Even though house sitting itself is usually free (though sometimes you may have to pay utilities), it’s important to note that there’s almost always a fee to sign up for house sitting websites.
I actually consider this a good thing. Considering that the demand for house and pet sitters is so much smaller than the number of people looking for a freebie, these reasonable sign-up fees will actually help your applications be visible, instead of drowned out by 100s of others.
And even if you use the most expensive site, Trusted House Sitters, whose membership fee is almost $100 annually (or 1 night in a mid-range hotel), by landing 1 single gig for 2 weeks you’re looking an an effective cost-per night of about $7. Many gigs are for several months at a time, reducing your effective cost to under $1 a night on most sites.
The world’s number 1 house sitting site in terms of popularity and available house sits, Trusted House Sitters has 3-10 new assignments daily from all over the globe, though it’s slightly more popular in the UK and Europe. Here, we can see that there’s a whopping 4,169 assignments available at the time of this writing.
With so much selection, it’s hard to imagine not finding a gig to your liking (and this guide it here too make sure you land it).
Membership Fee: $95.88 annually
Mind My House has fewer listings than Trusted House Sitters, but also less competition, meaning it’ll be more likely that your application rises to the top.
As you can see here, there’s about 1 assignment for every “sitter available” listing, or 1 assignment for every 30 active sitters.
Add to this fact the remarkably cheap membership, and if you land an assignment you’re looking at an effective average nightly cost under $1. You can’t get into a crowded dorm room at a bargain-basement hostel for that!
Membership Fee: $20 annually
Smaller than Trusted House Sitters, House Carers still averages over 300 new gigs per month (or 10 per day), which is a solid total.
House Carers is one of the best house sitting sites not tied to a specific geographic location. As you can see, it’s got gigs throughout North and Central America, Europe, and Australia plus a smattering of others.
Again, fewer competing house sitters on this site means more opportunity for you! Dani from GlobeTrotterGirls swears by them.
Membership Fee: $50 annually
Ultramodern design and super easy to use. Includes an effective internal search engine, as well as icons to quickly show how much land you’ll have to look after, how many animals, and the availability of public transport. User experience is top notch:
Nomador started in France, but has since expanded to other parts of Europe and around the globe. At the time of writing they had 994 listings, putting them only behind Trusted House Sitters for volume.
Membership Fee: $35 per quarter or $89 annually. (Also: A free account option but with restricted features and a limit of 5 applications)
There are also a ton of location-specific house sitting websites in developed, English speaking countries. These are great options if your destination happens to be in one of these countries, which are amongst the most expensive in the world.
Professional travelers and travel bloggers seem to heavily favor Trusted House Sitters, Mind My House, and House Carers. All industry leaders, these sites have the most requests for house sitters and global coverage.
That being said, Trusted House Sitters comes up time and again as a favorite, and is generally regarded as the best option if you had to go with just one.
Personally, I would recommend starting with Mind My House and get used to the house sitting process. At only $20, it’s an easy way to see if house sitting is something you want to do long term. From there, it’s easy to invest in another membership if you feel it’s necessary – or you can carry on with one of the most popular and affordable services anyway.
However it should be noted that in this case, you really are getting what you pay for, as users on Mind My House are much less responsive than Trusted House Sitters, as well as there being fewer gigs.
Either way, these top options are all highly regarded and trusted, and you won’t go wrong with any of them.
Now that you’ve (hopefully) picked a house sitting website to start searching on, it’s time to give you the tools to land a gig in your dream location.
Your profile is the first thing your prospective hosts see of you – so if you want to land a house sitting gig, it’s imperative that you come across as trustworthy and reliable.
Just like a job interview, you’ve got about 10 seconds to make a great impression. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how amazing your qualifications or references are or how eloquently you express yourself – you’re sunk.
On the other hand, a winning first impression puts you on the inside track for landing the spot.
Here’s what to do:
Profile Picture: In 40 milliseconds your prospective host has already decided whether or not you’re likable, reliable, and approachable.
All based on your profile picture.
As this study from Psychological Science underscores, your photo basically sets the stage for whether your profile/application is read in a positive light, with doubt in mind, or passed over entirely.
So while you could spend hours perfecting every detail in your profile (and you should), it’s much more important to spend time taking the perfect profile pic.
To drive this point home, the dating site OkCupid ran a test with their users showing that all that text we so painstakingly put together describing our experiences and qualifications is less than 10% of what people think of us.
Now, I’m not sure whether people take the house sitter application process more or less seriously than the search for a life partner, however all this evidence clearly points the same way: Get your profile picture right!
BufferApp has gone through all the research and come up with these tips to appear confident, capable, and reliable:
Now, as we’re often dealing with pet owners and lovers on these sites, an additional idea is to include a pet in your picture. Under other circumstances this is a no-no, but for house sitting I expect this actually builds rapport.
Headline: In the world of marketing, there’s a famous saying: “The headline is the ad for your ad.” As in a good headline ensures the rest of the text gets read.
You have one sentence to give the homeowner a reason to care. Give them a benefit of reading on. “Retired schoolteacher” conveys no benefit. Nor does “traveling the world” – which in fact probably shows you as someone looking or a freebie.
On the other hand, “Reliable, animal loving adult to care for your home or pet(s)” conveys massive benefits.
House sitting websites typically give a ton of space for your headline, so you can pack it full of useful info.
For example, Charli & Ben from WanderLusters rock this headline on Trusted House Sitters:
Or Dariece & Nick, the Goats On The Road:
Here are some isolated ideas you could mix and match in your headline:
It’s probably worth brainstorming more qualities that you embody and then seeing how they might fit together in an enticing way.
Experience: Share as much of your experience as possible. Show your ability to handle different scenarios and challenges. Think about what your potential hosts are concerned about and address these things.
If you’ve never house-sat, talk about similar experiences you’ve had and why you think they translate well. Maybe you’re a homeowner, a pet owner, have done home or yard maintenance. Find a way to tie what you have to what hosts need.
References: Having references is a big plus and increases your chances of landing a gig. So be sure to get a reference from anyone you house sit with. I would also ask for permission to put their blurb on your profile. This sort of testimonial is very powerful when woven into your profile description.
You also want your references to convey benefits! Make sure they feature the results you achieved and responsibilities you fulfilled.
If you’ve never house sat and have no references – reach out to your network and offer to house sit for anyone who is going on vacation. Explain your situation and do it for free in exchange for the reference.
If you’re serious about house sitting, set up a blog showcasing your services. This can be like a portfolio of sorts, and is just one more way to build your trust with potential homeowners. See Angela & John Laws at HouseSittingPerfected.com for a perfect example.
Set up email alerts to inform you of new gigs. Being the first to respond gives you an edge, as you’ll have more time to build rapport and become a known entity in the owner’s mind
Your application is much like your profile, in that it’s essential you stand out as a relevant candidate quickly. As your application might be sitting alongside 10-100 others, you only have a few seconds to grab the homeowner’s attention.
Note that your goal isn’t to make the owner choose you here & now, it’s to get the conversation to the next level: Via Skype, phone, or (worst case) personal email.
One of the keys to success is understanding that every house sitting situation is unique and should be addressed as such. You need to tailor your application to each specific assignment to have a chance.
Here are application best practice that will ensure your application gets the attention it deserves:
Extra tips: Charli Moore from Wanderlusters on Creating a Successful House Sitting Application
In a house sitting market where the demand for placements is way higher than the number of available homes, home owners often will have their pick of many candidates. That means that, unfortunately, you’ll sometimes find your applications rejected.
What do you do now?
One option would be just call it a day and look for new opportunities.
But why do that when we have the perfect opportunity to improve our chances – for this and all future gigs.
If our application was rejected, that means the home owner didn’t believe in our ability to get the job done. Maybe we didn’t seem trustworthy enough. Maybe we didn’t seem responsible enough. Maybe we seemed to lack experience.
Whatever the reason is, if this one homeowner thinks this after reading our profile and application letter, chances are that future home owners will think the same thing.
Your job is to find out and either A) address the issue, putting yourself back in the running, or B) improve the marketing of your services for the next application.
Script 1 is a slightly aggressive approach to continuing your candidacy that I originally developed as a follow up to job application rejections, but have adapted for house sitting:
Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. I know you have a lot of great candidates to look through and respect your decision to choose any of them, but I really do believe I’m the best candidate for the job:
I know you’re busy with all the applications, but if we could have a 10 minute chat on Skype, I’d be happy to address and questions or concerns you have. If you’re not absolutely convinced in 10 min that I’m a worthy candidate, I’ll gladly step aside.
Thanks for your time,
The goal of such a letter is not to land the job. It’s to find a way to continue the discussion. Note that I’m asking here just to connect for a short amount of time, plus highlighting why I think I’m best for this particular job. If the owner sees enough connections, a 10 minute conversation isn’t too much to ask for.
It might have a 15% chance of working. But not replying gives you a 0% chance.
If that’s not your style, then you can opt for script 2.
You can use this exact script to improve your profile & future applications:
Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. I respect your decision to go with another house sitter, and I hope everything goes well for the both of you.
One quick question: What was your primary concern about selecting me as your house sitter? I’m not going to try to change your mind, just hoping to improve my application for future gigs. Any feedback you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Have a great day,
Use these scripts every time you’re rejected, and you’ll find you start succeeding more and landing more gigs. You’ll start to understand the mindset of your prospective hosts better and make offers that match their needs better than the competition.
The final, critical step is to get in personal contact with your potential host. This is where you need to show that you’re a better choice than all the other candidates, as well as negotiating all the details of the job.
Even though you’re interested in the possibility of house sitting with them, it’s important to make sure that your own concerns are being addressed to. In talking to a homeowner, you’re interviewing them just as much as the other way around.
This way, everybody will be clear about expectations and everybody wins.
Skype is the best way to do this, as you get a chance to actually see each other face to face and build rapport that way. You might be more comfortable on email, but if you really want gigs it’s time to step up and get on video.
You should preparing some jot notes with your qualifications, answers to tough questions, as well as your own questions. Keep things simple enough that you can quickly find any info at a moment’s notice. Several words per bullet point to jog your memory and make scanning quick and easy.
Most of this should be information you already know based on writing your own profile, researching this particular gig, and prior communication with the owner.
Even though you’re basically being interviewed for a job, this is far less formal than a job interview. It can go a long way to take an interest in the homeowner and their plans. After all, they’re basically inviting you into an intimate part of their life for weeks or months.
Questions to Ask:
Is there a security system? How does it work?
What are the emergency numbers for the region?
What home/yard maintenance tasks are expected of me?
What’s the garbage and/or recycling schedule?
How can I get on Wifi (if they have it)? Where’s the router?
Who will cover utilities?
What pet food do they eat? Where can I buy it? Any particular diet restrictions?
Vet contact info.
Does the pet have any medical issues?
How much exercise/play does your pet need?
Any other routines to follow?
Also Find Out…(either now or in person)
Where are the circuit breakers?
Where are cleaning supplies, tools, etc?
Where are the main gas/water valves.
Some home owners may ask you to provide a security deposit to insure against property damage. Considering the types of homes you’ll likely be staying in, this seems like a reasonable request. This won’t always happen, but don’t be frightened off when it does.
The right approach is to negotiate the amount ahead of time, and the money exchange should only take place once you’re on-site – just before the homeowner departs. The amount should not be more than 1 month’s rent for a similar property, and under no circumstances send a deposit in advance!
Confirm in writing that this deposit will be returned when the homeowner gets back, assuming you haven’t caused any damage to the property of course. Many house sitting sites supply such forms themselves.
Most people go into an interview and try to convince the “hiring” part to pick them. It’s as true for house sitting as it is for job interviews.
You can immediately get a leg up by making it easy for the home owner to say “yes” to you.
This is a matter of research. First, knowing the country, visa requirements, internal transportation options, drivers licenses, budget requirements, weather, any political or regional strife, and any other issues that might weigh on a homeowner’s mind.
Your job is to come in to the interview and make it easy for them to say yes.
You want them to think “hey, this is great – they have it all figured out. I don’t have to show them 1000 things or deal with insane bureaucracy.”
Now depending on the details, the homeowner may have to add you to their car insurance or some such matter, but if you do as much of the heavy lifting as you possibly can, you have a huge psychological edge over the entire competition, even if you’re slightly less qualified.
Look. Homeowners want their homes and pets looked after. They want to know that everything’s going to be taken care of. When you go into an interview having preemptively handled all the minutia, you’re not only making it easy for them to pick you, you’re also sending a loud, unmistakable signal that by choosing you everything will be taken care of.
In the lead up to landing your house sitting job, you should have already become rather familiar with the location and have some ideas about what you want to see and do there.
Likewise, if you spent time communicating with your host and asked good questions, there shouldn’t be any big surprises on the house and pet care side of things. Once you arrive, the owner will show you around and help you get set up for your job – any needed supplies or other important items – before heading off and leaving you to it.
At this point you’re basically free to live how you want within the constraints of the house sitting gig. This means that, while you won’t be able to leave for a week to go exploring, you’ll have a chance to acquaint yourself with local the culture and nature.
When it’s time for the owner to return, it’s time to make sure everything is pristine for their grand entrance. You want everything to look as good or better than when they left. If logistically possible, offer to pick them up from the airport and/or have dinner waiting when they get home.
This will help you get a rave review you can use in future applications and, who knows, maybe someday you’ll be invited back. It also helps keep the entire house sitting community strong by creating general good will between hosts and sitters.
In my definitive guide t budget world travel we looked at the example of Pete and Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels, house sitting veterans who saved over $30,000 on accommodation by house sitting.
On their website, they break down their 2 months in British Columbia, Canada and 6 months in Honduras.
But by far the most ridiculous house sitting success story I’ve ever come across is Dariece and Nick, the “gats on the road”, who found a host in Grenada who needed his 5-villa property and pet dog looked after…for half a year.
They had 2 vehicles available to them in order to explore the island. The cottage they stayed in (one of the 5 villas) normally rents for $235/night.
Even if you considered the average nightly cost in Grenada of $150, that would be over $24,000 worth of rent – absolutely free.
The experience, of course – was priceless. Just check out the photos.
And even though this is an extreme example of a house sitting gig, the fact remains that it is one of the greatest ways to make travel in expensive regions ridiculously cheap.
No other travel hack comes close. Free flights might have 20% the value of a good house sit. If you want to make travel a bigger part of your life, it’s time you check out house sitting.
For more great budget travel advice, don’t miss How to Travel The World On Any Budget – my exhaustive guide to traveling longer and better for less.
Photo Credits: stevecadman, MattysFlicks, wgreller, sobri, Paolo MargariJeff Hester