Housesitting: How to get free accommodation while travelling the world
Wait, I get free accommodation AND I get to play with puppies?
Housesitting is nothing revolutionary or brand-spanking new. That said, it’s an idea that has seemingly been forgotten about when it comes to travel accommodation. As travellers embrace the likes of Airbnb and the many alternatives out there for traditional accommodation, it’s time we looked at an old classic which should be getting a lot more recognition. After all, anything that allows travellers like us to save money while exploring the world deserves a round of applause.
Table of Contents
- What is housesitting?
- Why do people need housesitters?
- How will housesitting save me money?
- So why isn’t everyone housesitting already?
- 7 things to include in the perfect housesitting profile
- Questions to ask the owners before committing to a housesit
- Questions to ask the owners when you arrive at the home
- Tips for housesitters
- Tips for homeowners
- Which housesitting websites should you be using?
What is housesitting?
Put simply, housesitting is based on an exchange between a homeowner and someone (a housesitter) who looks after their house while they are away. It used to be the case that people only trusted their own friends and family with this sacred task, however, the Internet has since brought friendly strangers like us into the fold too. Some may have seen performing this favour for someone as a big inconvenience, particularly if it meant leaving their own home vacant for a time as well, but for ourselves and many other travellers, we see it as an opportunity for free accommodation.
We know people who have been housesitting and living virtually rent-free for several years while travelling the world, only paying for accommodation within the gaps between housesits. What could be better?
Before we get stuck into how to land your very first housesitting gig, you need to understand why people would be willing to let you housesit for them in the first place.
Why do people need housesitters?
Would you trust a complete stranger with looking after your house? Maybe not. But what if this stranger had references and police checks; AND they could look after your pets, your garden and keep your house secure? Many homeowners would not be comfortable leaving their house empty for an extended period of time. This could be due to the potential for a break-in or simply because they don’t want their garden to turn into a wasteland. The number 1 reason that homeowners take advantage of housesitting, however, is due to their furry friends.
Pets are often the main concern when homeowners turn to housesitting. Taking the family pet out of its comfort zone and putting it into holiday care or a kennel can not only be distressing for the animal but for their owner’s bank account too. Kennel costs can be astronomical for owners, particularly when holiday expenses alone can put a family under financial stress.
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The companionship can also be very important to a pet’s mental and possibly even physical health. Imagine leaving your dog home alone for a month with only the neighbours coming over to feed it twice a day – furniture will be chewed and pillows destroyed – it’s a given.
Housesitting allows pets to get accustomed to their new ‘owners’ while not disturbing their very important routine of sleeping, eating and pooping in their own, comfortable environment while their owners are away. This is particularly crucial for animals which have been rescued from a shelter like the RSPCA – as the thought of going back into a kennel or a cage again can be terrifying.
The vast majority of house sitters are animal lovers themselves, but perhaps owning a pet is no longer an option for them anymore. With our lifestyle as freelancers, Maggie and I would struggle to own a pet full-time as it would need to be cared for during the many months of the year we are travelling.
We love the idea of being part-time pet owners whenever we housesit though, as we both grew up with family pets and this is something that gets sacrificed whilst living a nomadic lifestyle. Taking care of pets also helps take the edge off the long distance relationship that we have with our families that we have for most of the year.
How will housesitting save me money?
One of the first travel excuses you will hear is “I don’t have the money”. Luckily, housesitting provides homeowners and travellers the perfect mutual exchange. For homeowners, the savings are obvious. You don’t have to pay for a kennel, your pets will be happier, and your house will be looked after by sitters instead of being left vacant. Homeowners pay nothing for this service. In fact, most housesitting websites (see below) will allow homeowners to list their home free of charge.
For house sitters the costs are very, very minimal. Personally, we are members of AussieHousesitters.com which charges $65 AUD annually in order to become a listed house sitter. This is much less than you would pay for a hotel room for even one night in most parts of Australia, let alone to have access to up to a year’s worth of free accommodation. To compare other types of accommodation (including housesitting) check out our ultimate budget travel guide about accommodation.
There are some exceptions to how ‘free’ housesitting can be. A housesitting gig can be for any length of time. Some are as short as one weekend, and others we’ve seen have been for over a year. Depending on the website’s own terms and conditions, the homeowners may want the house sitters to pay for utilities while they are away – generally only if it’s for longer than a few months.
These sort of terms have to be agreed upon beforehand and some websites strictly prohibit any money exchanging hands at all.
This is very much a mutual exchange where both parties benefit, so it definitely pays to be attentive to the rules. Particularly if you are a house sitter, make sure you’re not paying for anything which wasn’t explicitly decided on beforehand.
As a traveller, taking advantage of housesitting opportunities can be a huge bonus for your budget. If like us, slow travel is your thing, you now have a way of seeing a particular city or region in depth without having to pay a cent for accommodation (aside from subscription fees).
While Airbnb is fantastic, you still have to pay a decent amount to stay in someone else’s house or apartment. The same goes for Couchsurfing. You get the accommodation for free and you get to live like a local, only you have to stay with the owner of the house and therefore don’t have nearly as much freedom as with housesitting.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Couchsurfing and Airbnb. I’ve even written a whole post dedicated to tips helping out first-time users here. Hostels are great too, but sharing dorm rooms can get old very quickly when you are travelling long term.
Overall, housesitting is just a far better deal – IF you can manage to land the right house at the right time. Of course, you will very likely have furry friends to look after so you can’t quite go on a 3-day bender in a foreign city like you could with the freedom of an Airbnb accommodation. Without a doubt, housesitting is one of the best money-saving methods you can use while you travel.
So why isn’t everyone housesitting already?
Unlike Airbnb where supply is plentiful and homeowners are keen for you to stay all year round due to the monetary benefit, housesitting can be a little hard to line up. The main reason is that you are completely at the mercy of the dates supplied by the homeowners.
You have to bend to fit in with their schedule as they are the ones providing you with the free accommodation – this suits flexible travellers well but others not so much. For example, if you were planning on doing a road trip through the east coast of Australia and spending 4 nights in each town, you would need an absolute miracle for all of the dates to line up.
Also, the lack of supply can be a problem. Sydney (Australia) is a bustling city full of just over 5 million people. How many housesitting gigs are available right now? Exactly 59 (at the time of writing) on the website we’re registered with.
So yes, these fruitful free accommodation experiences can be hard to come by. The rarity is exacerbated by the demand which is growing significantly. Many travellers have woken up to this untapped resource and you might have a hard time getting your first housesit without any references or reviews on your website of choice (don’t worry we have a few handy tips that’ll help – see below). You do have a higher chance if you are travelling with your partner though, as couples are generally favoured as being more responsible than say a younger solo traveller.
Internationally, the lack of supply is the same. I wrote a travel guide to Iceland last week which I spent a couple of days researching. When it came to housesitting there was only 1 listing in the entire country!
So the high demand, low supply, and inflexible travel dates are 3 big barriers to overcome in order to start housesitting frequently.
7 things to include in the perfect housesitting profile
In order to get noticed on these websites and present yourself as worthy of looking after someone else’s most prized and valuable possession, their house (and their pets), you will need to have an appealing profile.
Now, I want you to think of that one crazy dog or cat lover in your life. We all have that one friend who has their pet’s name tattooed on them and has more photos with them than their human partner. Think of that person when you’re creating your profile, and think about what they would want to read in order to entrust you with looking after their precious furry, feathery or scaly friend.
Here’s what to include:
1. A photo of yourself. Just like Facebook or Instagram, nobody likes a ‘shadow’. Including your face is about as important as it gets. It’s always a good idea to include a few photos of you with different animals as well.
2. Your story. Why do you want to housesit? What do you get out of it? What makes you different from the other people applying? Make sure to make this part as emotionally appealing as possible, making reference to your own pets if you have them. The owners need to be able to look at this part and feel like you will rescue their pet from a burning building and risk your life if necessary. Okay, that’s extreme, but you get what I mean – put some feeling into it.
3. If you have references available. Including a copy of a reference from another homeowner you have house-sat for is vital, but first, determine whether it belongs on your public profile or if it should be included with any housesitting requests (this is usually website specific). If you don’t have any – refer to the point number 4 below…
4. Links to Airbnb or Couchsurfing references. This is a great tip for people just starting out with housesitting, as you may not have any reviews on your housesitting profile but might have used either Airbnb or Couchsurfing frequently. The reviews on those sites might help you as the concept of respecting property is the same.
5. If you have a current police check. This may not be necessary and in our experience, we haven’t actually been asked for this, but both Maggie and I have current police checks which we would happily volunteer if needed. Usually just saying that you would be happy to provide one if necessary is a good idea, it makes you seem trustworthy!
6. Anything you need from a house as a sitter. If you work online like us then you’ll understand just how crucial a solid internet connection is. When applying for housesitting gigs we always ensure that the house we are looking at has fast Internet access and that the owner is okay with us utilising a lot of bandwidth too.
7. Your comfortability with pets. If you get nervous around large dogs, it might be worth stating that you are comfortable only with smaller domestic animals. If you are allergic to cats, don’t say that you love cats.
Questions to ask the owners before committing to a housesit
Find out about their expectations for their pets and garden. We recently saw a listing which included 2 large dogs that required an 8-kilometre walk twice a day. Now as much as I like free accommodation, I don’t like walking THAT much.
Likewise, if there is an enormous garden which requires 2 hours of maintenance each day then you’re going to spend more time tending to that than actually experiencing the place.
What kind of facilities the house has. Generally, a well-written listing will include these anyway, but it’s important to not to go in blindly expecting there to be satellite TV, super fast Internet and a fully stocked kitchen with a Nutri Bullet for your daily green smoothie.
What their travel plans are. You will need to be flexible to allow for this. On a recent housesitting experience we had a mix-up and the homeowner arrived home a day earlier than we had originally thought. It worked out fine as she was awesome and we laughed about it on the way home from the airport, but this could have been a bad situation if we had underestimated by a day and left her home vacant with hungry pets due to already having booked a flight.
Are you able to use their car while they’re away? If so, is it manual transmission or automatic? A lot of homeowners may not think to mention this but it could really stuff up your plans and force you to learn how to drive a manual car from YouTube videos.
Questions to ask the owners when you arrive at the home
Where the essentials are. It’s highly likely that you will spend some time at the house together with the homeowners and get a bit of a tour. Don’t be afraid to ask where certain things are kept. When we were housesitting in Kuranda (just outside of Cairns, Australia) there was a cyclone warning so we needed to locate all kinds of things including the cyclone kit, candles, emergency phone numbers, etc. Luckily we had contact with the owner via Facebook throughout our stay and we prepared everything that we needed. In the end, the cyclone didn’t come anywhere near us, but it was good to be prepared.
If there are any tricky doors or keys. This goes back to my first Couchsurfing experience when I thought I was locked in the apartment because I was at the wrong door. Some houses have a trick to getting in or out so it’s good practice to quiz the owners on this before they leave.
What the neighbours are like. It’s nice to know you have some support if something should go wrong. We’ve also experienced a blackout while housesitting before and a neighbour was kind enough to come to our aid to see if we had got the generator working correctly. We had previously been introduced to this neighbour and it was great knowing that we weren’t alone if there was an emergency situation. If there is a particularly annoying neighbour around it’s nice to know that in advance too.
Contact numbers for local vets, mechanics, relatives and relevant emergency services. This is crucial – remember that you’re looking after precious animal cargo while you’re there so it’s good to be prepared.
Tips for housesitters
Take photos of the house after you arrive. If you plan on moving furniture around during your stay then you should be courteous enough to move it back to where it came from originally. This will also help when you are cleaning the house as you can compare it to when you arrived.
Find as much out about the local area before you arrive. If you are planning on not bringing a car with you, you will need to ensure that public transport is readily available to and from the house.
After a few days have gone by, message the owners to let them know how you’re going. You don’t need to give them hourly updates or anything, but letting them know that you are going fine and that their pets are getting along with you can go a long way to easing their minds.
It’s a good idea to put a bit of duct tape or something similar with your phone number on it to place on the dog or cat’s collar. If the owner’s mobile number is on there which is likely with them on holiday, perhaps even overseas and on flight mode and the pets runs away you’ll be very glad you thought ahead.
Be a respectful guest. We always leave a small treat for the owners for letting us stay in their home and make sure that the house is spotless before we leave. It’s good manners and we would expect the same for someone staying at our house too.
Tips for homeowners
Write down a FAQ for your home, or just a list of useful things a guest would need to know. Think of what you would ask if you were housesitting yourself. The WiFi password, dates for any pet medications, where the spare keys are hidden, what day of the week the bins should be left out, emergency contact numbers, etc. There are plenty of things to include here.
Make room for your guests in your fridge, pantry, the bedroom and the bathroom. If there’s any food that you’re happy for them to eat because it’ll expire while they’re away or just because you’re generous then tell them where it is.
If you want to go above and beyond, like a lot of people have for us in the past, put together a small list of cool local cafes, restaurants, or events going on for your housesitters to check out.
There is a comprehensive list here from AussieHousesitters.com so it’s a great idea to familiarise with this before leaving your house for sitters.
Which housesitting websites should you be using?
https://www.aussiehousesitters.com.au/ – Our go-to for Australian housesitting gigs. There are usually more listings on this site than any other in Australia and when you consider how low supply can be, the popularity of this one helps. $65 AUD annual fee.
https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/ – We haven’t delved into an international housesitting experience yet, but when we do we’ll probably use this site. Part of an international network of housesitting websites and comes with a 5-star Trustpilot rating based on 4000+ reviews. $99 AUD annual fee.
Others to consider:
https://www.housesittersamerica.com/ – $30 USD annual fee. (American alternative to AussieHousesitters with identical site layout)
https://www.mindmyhouse.com/ – $20 USD annual fee. (Over 4000 housesitting listings worldwide)
https://www.nomador.com/ – $99 AUD annual fee. (Great for France – over 5000 listings currently!)
https://housesitter.com/ – free to join. (Canada/US-based which is focussed on the sitter providing a service, not necessarily housesitting only)
If you’re a traveller looking to save money on those pesky accommodation expenses then definitely consider housesitting. It truly is one of the best ways to experience a particular town or city in great detail.
Have you ever tried housesitting before? Or has this post made you keen to try it out? Tell me in the comments below and let me know if you have any questions about housesitting which I can help you with.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nick is a travel-obsessed Aussie, who in 2011 quit his job in banking and has been working whilst travelling ever since. He enjoys the finer things in life, like eating too much Greek food, being punctual and reading European History for Dummies. He speaks 9 different languages (basically just the swear words) and credits most of his writing inspiration to coffee, late-night cheese binges and the not-so-occasional mojito. Some say he has too many flamingo shirts in his backpack, but we all know that’s physically impossible. His passion is helping travellers explore every inch of the Earth and become location independent so the journey never has to end.
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