Becoming Housesitters

Our life as full-time travelers started when we left our condo on October 25, 2018. We were officially home-free at that point, but not yet ready to leave Seattle. We had scheduled some follow-up medical appointments with our local doctors and the last one wasn’t until December 4, 2018. So we had to figure out how to stay another 41 nights in the Seattle area.

Our first goal for that period of time was to make sure we didn’t overstay with any of our friends. We decided only to stay with friends who asked more than once if we wanted to stay with them, and then for only 3 or less days at a time. Our second goal for those 41 days was to build a resume with TrustedHousesitters so we could add that option to our full-time travel plans.

Our Options for Homes on the Road

Traveling planning is my #1 responsibility now that we are full-time travelers. Alison focuses on our budgets and tracks our spending, and I book our homes and other travel logistics. Initially I outlined three main options for where I would look for our homes on the road, then added housesitting as our 4th option. 

  1. Airbnb homes, which feel a bit more like home than hotels
  2. Hilton properties, using our pool of existing points
  3. Hotels.com properties, where we can earn points for free nights with every stay
  4. Housesitting, using TrustedHousesitters

Each of the first three options has an individual cost in real dollars for every night booked. The cheapest option is Hilton properties using points banked during my years of traveling for work, since the only costs to us in real dollars are the taxes. Our second option with Airbnb is attractive because we pay for them with our Chase Sapphire Reserve card and get 3x the travel points, and also because we can choose homes that have a full kitchen and then cook at home. The third option is Hotels.com, and that’s the one that gives us the biggest bonus since we earn 3x travel points for every dollar spent, and then also earn points through the Hotels.com points program which basically means every 11th night is free.

We wanted to add a 4th option for travel housing that would offer both a “homey” feel along with cost savings. We had heard a lot about housesitting from friends and fellow nomads, and we liked the idea of having one option from the sharing economy. After doing some research on the various housesitting organizations, we picked TrustedHousesitters as the one we would join.

How Did We Find TrustedHousesitters?

We first heard about this particular program from Gwen and Julie on the FIRE Drill Podcast. I was power listening to their fun podcast throughout 2018 and got so many great tips including this one. The timing was perfect! That podcast episode is called “Retiring at 33 after only five years of work – Anita at The Power of Thrift.”

Why TrustedHousesitters?

This program is global, with member homes located all over the world, and there’s no exchange of money for services. The homeowners get someone who will make sure their pets are safe and loved at home while they are away, and the sitters get a home to stay in for free and pets to keep them company. Housesitting is a big responsibility and it does involve actual work, with the benefit of making us feel grounded while we travel.

How Did We Get Started?

I signed us up for TrustedHousesitters on August 21, 2018 and paid $119.00 for our first year of membership. The first step when we joined the program was submitting five personal and professional references from friends and colleagues relating to our trustworthiness as home and pet sitters. We also completed identity and document checks. 

After that we started researching available house sits in the Seattle area that fit within our scheduling window. We found and booked five housesits that fit within our timeframe and were within about a one-hour drive of downtown Seattle.

To kick-start our life as full-time travelers, we arranged our first 5 house sits in the area we had been living in, all within a one-hour drive from downtown Seattle.

Since we still had our car and condo when we booked these first few sits, we were available to introduce ourselves in person to each of the homeowners as part of our application process. That helped a lot since we were new to housesitting and didn’t have completed housesits in our resume yet. We gave those five initial home and pet owners a chance to get to know us and ask us about our experience in person, and we got to hear from them directly what they most needed from their sitters.

We applied about two months in advance of the start dates, and they were back to back housesits with a couple of days in between except for one house sit that started the same day that another ended. We were approved for all five housesits and accepted all of them. We didn’t really know what we were getting into when we were applying, so we learned our lessons in high speed during those first few sits. Each one of the first five house sits taught us something new about housesitting, and about what we should be looking for and paying attention to when we apply for housesits in the future. Serious lessons learned!

Building Our Resume

At the end of our 41 nights living home-free in the Seattle area, we had spent 16 nights with various friends, and 25 nights as TrustedHousesitters. We completed those first five stays with 5-star reviews from each of them. And with that, we were bonafide sitters with a perfect rating and a resume with both dogs and cats. We were officially ready to take our show on the road!

Housesitting is a Big Responsibility

These experiences are kind of like joining a little family for a short time. It gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment to do the “job” part of the house sit. And it really can feel like a job sometimes, because it comes with a set schedule and some really important responsibilities. The house and garden always need some kind of maintenance. And the pets we care for are little creatures with feelings who need to be loved and protected while we are there. We like the idea of being in real homes where we are needed, and we like having tasks to finish and responsibilities to meet. We always feel grounded as house sitters because we really move in and enjoy the space. And it’s wonderful to live with these little creatures who need us while we’re traveling. We often leave with new relationships and deeper connections both to the place and the people after our house sits.

Saving Money as Housesitters

The only real cost to us with TrustedHousesitters is the annual membership fee of $119. Our budget for nightly stays as full-time travelers is $50 per night. Since some places we stay in cost more than $50 per night and other places cost less than that, as I book our stays I work towards balancing everything to meet a year-end goal that averages out at $50 per night. With this number as the baseline, that means we only need to spend 2.38 nights as house sitters in a year to cover our annual membership fee. After that every night we spend housesitting for the rest of the year is free of charge. As of the date I’m writing this post, we have had our membership for 6 months and had 43 nights as TrustedHousesitters, which saved us $2,150.

What Else Do We Get?

Of all of our options for homes on the road, housesitting is the one that gives us an emotional benefit as well as a financial benefit. And it’s the only option that always provides us with a built-in way to give something back. Housesitting also puts us in touch with local people, and they always have something personal to share about what they think is worth experiencing in their city and community. We find we have something significant in common with each of the owners we meet, we build trust and relationships with them through our stays, and in some circumstances we have remained friends with them after we leave. Trust is the key here. After all, it’s a very intimate process to be staying in someone’s home and taking care of their property and pets while they are away.

Lessons Learned – The Tough Ones

That’s me before my hair turned gray! I’m always on a mission to pay more attention so I don’t get run over by surprises along the way.

I’ll start with the TOUGH lessons. Because the truth is we have had our share of those as housesitters. I’m hoping we have gotten them out of the way now. And I’m hoping that sharing our experiences will make things a little easier for someone else.

Is the house in good shape? 

When we applied for our first five sits we had the advantage of showing up in person to see the houses and meet the owners and pets before we committed. But we were focused on being accepted ourselves and we were not evaluating conditions the way we should have. We entered a couple of homes that were clearly not being cleaned or maintained regularly, but we didn’t think about saying no ourselves. We were thinking we really need housesits on our resume and were willing to try just about anything. We should have at least considered the possibility that we might want to decline some of those early options.

If you accept a rural housesit, make sure you can handle it

We are open to homes that are so rural they require experience with well water, septic tanks, generators, wood stoves for heat, etc. We have experience with owning a rural home as homeowners and landlords, so rural homes don’t intimidate us. We have now had 2 house sits in rural areas, and everything that could happen did. We had short- and longer-term power outages, had to keep systems going with generators, ran out of water in the wells, etc. It was a little extra work but not a problem!

Shit happens!

At our second house sit we had scheduled to leave on the day it ended and drive 45 minutes north to the next housesit and start that next one the same day. That seemed perfect when we were planning it, but then when it was time to go the owners from the first house texted to say their flight home was canceled due to weather issues. They had elderly pets with medical issues so they needed extra care and we were committed to taking care of them until the owners returned, even if they were delayed. But we had to be at our next house sit by early afternoon since we had three new pets to feed and a dog that had to be taken out to poop and pee. Our solution was for me to get on a bus and get myself to our next housesit, while Alison stayed back an extra night at our previous housesit. It was a bit of a challenge for us to split up, and for me to go stay alone at the next house that first night. But we were really happy to make that extra effort and help those owners out.

Housesitting is all about being flexible and accommodating. After that first lesson we have decided to always arrive in close proximity to a house sit at least 2 days before it’s scheduled to start, so any potential travel delays on our end won’t interfere with the homeowner’s plans. And we are always prepared to stay for at least one extra day after the sit concludes, in case the owners have travel delays of their own. And we will never book back-to-back house sits that end and start on the same day again!

Are the dogs well behaved or trained?

We ask a ton of questions so we know exactly what we are getting into with every pet. And we accepted three different homes with dogs described by their owners as aggressive or untrained or hard to manage with our initial housesits. We wanted as much information as possible in those situations so we knew what we had to do to keep everyone safe and avoid any issues. Most importantly, all of the dogs we take care of have to be manageable for us. Taking care of dogs that are untrained, unneutered/unspayed, traumatized, or aggressive, is a challenge.

Most of the dogs we have taken care of have to be walked on a leash to get them to poop and pee every day. And if dogs are aggressive and also larger dogs, Alison is the primary handler for them since I’m 5’2” and Alison is 6’2.” Even untrained dogs always recognize Alison as an alpha and follow her, which makes life easier for us as dog sitters. We did have one housesit for a pair of small dogs who were small enough to manage but also very aggressive and challenging since one dog wanted to go after people and the other one wanted to go after dogs. I was comfortable walking them by myself since they were small but it was still a challenge to keep them safe if we accidentally came close to other people or dogs when turning corners during our neighborhood walks.

. . . It’s really all about the people

After our first five house sits we came up with this phrase, “The pets are never a problem.” Sometimes the pet owners are the real challenge. Most pets are great, but if their owners are stressed-out, disorganized, overwhelmed, or neglectful that always seems to be reflected in their home and their pets. In most cases challenging dog behaviors like pulling on the leash and being difficult to manage on walks, or being prone to drama or being really aggressive during walks, were all behaviors we could manage and even modify very quickly. Alison and I are calm people at home and that seems to work well for the pets we take care of.

Observe behaviors and adapt

We interviewed for one housesit with a rescue dog that was large, muscular, aggressive, and traumatized. This dog requires multiple walks in the neighborhood daily to poop and pee. Life would be easier for her if she could relax and feel safe enough to poop and pee in her backyard, but she would only perform on walks.

We liked the neighborhood and especially the short weekend schedule for that fourth housesit a lot. But the owner described her dog as very problematic when we applied and initially talked by phone. It was most concerning to hear that dog would go berserk and attempt to attack another dog if she saw one, and has to wear a very serious harness and a nose-lead for walks. We wanted to see in person how the owner handled her dog, so the three of us planned a time to take the dog for a walk around the block together, and sure enough on our walk an off-leash dog came running out of its yard barking and ran at us. As expected, “our dog” went ballistic and completely lost her mind. Since there were three of us, the owner managed her dog by just keeping her from charging, while Alison and I stopped the off-leash dog before he could get too close. Alison played interference with the dog while I got the attention of that owner so he could take his dog back to their house. We all helped diffuse the situation, but we also saw how close we were to having a really bad experience. “Our dog” couldn’t be forced to turn and walk away until the other dog was out of sight. We probably should have declined that housesit, but we wanted to help and we wanted the experience on our resume. So we accepted and we created our own routine to make things easier. We avoided the neighborhood for our walks and went to the busy main street instead. Alison walked the dog while I stayed a half block ahead to watch for other people or animals and redirect if we saw anyone.

This girl is a rescue dog with some serious PTSD. She could be extremely difficult on walks if she saw other dogs, but she only wanted to cuddle at home.

Elderly or Injured pets? 

Almost every housesit we have had as I write this post included at least one animal that needed extra medical attention. In fact, five of our first seven housesits had at least one pet that was injured or had medical issues for us to manage. And four of those were situations where the pet owners were completely on top of things and gave us all of the information we needed to make sure we could take care of their pets. For us that has been the norm, and we are very happy to accept those housesits.

. . . Again, it’s really is all about the people

To be perfectly honest, we have had one really bad experienced, but only one out of the first seven. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from that experience. The pet owner told us when we arrived that their elderly cat was actively dying of a brain tumor. They said the cat was uncomfortable, confused, falling down, having difficulty eating and drinking, and they were concerned he be injured by their dog since the cat was not able to protect itself and their dog was prone to aggressive attack behaviors with other animals. They said their cat could die at any time or the process could drag out for a while. And then they left. WTF?

When we arrived the cat was in distress, the house was a complete mess, and we were immediately very upset and depressed about being there. Well at least I was extremely upset when we got there and saw the state of things. That poor cat! And on top of the pet issues, the house was stunningly messy and dirty. The kitchen sink was full of dirty dishes and the bed was unmade with clearly dirty sheets. The toilet hadn’t even been flushed. Trust me when I tell you, this house was a disaster. When we came by previously to introduce ourselves we didn’t really see the house, we were just their to participate in a neighborhood walk with the dog. Basically we had a chance to do a little more due diligence and missed it. By the end of that bad situation it was clear to me that we were dealing with irresponsible pet and home owners. That’s our opinion. And it’s tough to say what the lesson is for us with that one.

First of all, once we commit we will always follow through and care for the pets. In this situation that meant we had to clean up someone else’s house enough for us to be able to stay there because it was our job to make sure the pets were being taken care of. Second, this situation gave us a chance to make contact with TrustedHousesitters staff and ask for advice about how we would review the owners, which was helpful for us and reassuring about the organization as well. Third, this particular experience was unusual – these owners were breaking the Code of Conduct in multiple ways which is why we contacted the program staff immediately. Fourth, if we find ourselves in a situation like this again – where someone tells us their pet is suffering and likely unsafe, or where a home is in a similarly gross condition that we are not comfortable with, we would tell the owners immediately and ask them to return home so we could leave. And then if they still chose to leave us in charge of their home and pets, then we would take care of their pets as promised. We should have communicated with these owners immediately and been honest about the fact that we were not comfortable with that situation. Maybe these people would have been willing to return or find another solution to the situation.

More Lessons Learned – The Good Ones

Now here are the GOOD  lessons. We have mostly had good, wonderful, and even fabulous experiences as sitters. And we both feel like we have gotten more out of house sitting than we have given back. House sitting has been an amazing addition to our travels and our lives. Truly!

This dog was so much fun to stay with! He was a jolly fellow and we fell in love immediately.

People are usually amazing hosts 

We have met some wonderful people who make a real effort to accommodate their sitters. Some of them leave us little gifts to find when we arrive, or bring us little thank you gifts when they return. Others go out of their way to introduce us to their neighbors and their community before they leave so we will really enjoy being visitors there. And some owners have become our good friends after the end of our stay. This kind of thing is not what we expect, but it happens more than we would have guessed. It’s a treat when we arrive at a home to find a handwritten thank you note, or fresh flowers from the garden, or a bottle of wine, or a cheese plate. We have had some really generous hosts that go out of their way to make us feel welcome and thank us for our help. When that kind of thing happens we are always really grateful!

One family brought us this thank you gift when they returned from Hawaii!

We love maintaining well-maintained homes

We are happiest when we find homes that are clean, well-organized, have a minimalist feel rather than being overly cluttered, and have been maintained outside as well as inside. After our first few housesits we came up with a list of questions to ask when we have our initial conversation, so we always ask owners if there are any people that will be coming to the house while we are there. That’s our way of finding out if they have house cleaners, gardeners, pool cleaners, or anyone else involved in the maintenance of their homes. Whether they say yes or no that question always gets us into a conversation about what they handle their own home maintenance, and what we will be responsible for while they are gone.

Vehicles too?

Sometimes our housesits have included use of the owner’s vehicle while we are taking are of their home. When we were doing those first few resume building housesits we still had our car so that made things easy. But now that we are nomads we don’t have a car and we prefer not to rent one if we don’t have to. One homeowner offered their truck and two scooters for free while they were gone. Another owner offered to rent us their car for half what it would cost to rent from an agency. And in one situation we were staying at a home that was pretty far from town and grocery stores, with only taxis as an option so we decided to rent a car for a couple weeks and the cost of the car rental was not cheap. After that experience we decided that we probably wouldn’t accept another housesit where we were required to rent a car. And I always look for housesits where the owners are generous enough to let their sitters use their car for grocery store runs and just in case of emergencies.

Variety in home locations

We have been sitters at a really wide variety of types of locations. We love areas that offer us an opportunity to take long walks, whether they are in urban areas or more remote or rural areas. Once we stayed at a beautiful home on forest land that was essentially off the grid, using rain water for drinking and bathing, and a wood stove for heat. Another time we stayed in a retirement community that happened to have a trail head right at their gate. We have also stayed in a historic landmark house next to a big awesome park and beach. And the house we are in as I write this post is a custom home on an island with 180’ views. Other times we have stayed in homes in really fun neighborhoods that are surrounded by markets, restaurants, and bars. We love the variety of experiences we can find as housesitters!

It’s hard to find words to describe how grateful we are for this 7th house sit in Thailand. We loved the dogs, we loved the people, and of course we loved the view!

Additional tasks mean extra spice in our lives

Some housesits have unique extra responsibilities. We are not afraid to say yes if we see a housesit like that. One of our housesits had the additional responsibility of managing two rental units next door. Those owners wanted sitters with experience handling rentals, who are comfortable greeting guests, taking deposits, verifying that cleaners have done their jobs, helping guests deal with any complications with their stay, etc. We have been landlords ourselves and we were happy to put that experience to work as housesitters. We REALLY enjoyed the additional responsibilities and extra tasks to add to our routine. We met a lot of other travelers through that housesit and had a more interesting experience as sitters because of the added responsibility of the rentals next door.

To scoop or not to scoop

We are comfortable taking dogs on required neighborhood walks and picking up poop in little baggies. And we are comfortable scooping litter boxes for cats. We have had multiple housesits that involved scooping litter boxes for cats AND picking up dog poop in little baggies, so that’s the housesitters double whammy! We also had a few pet sitting experiences with dogs that didn’t require picking up any poop and cats that didn’t have litter boxes, and those are certainly a real bonus!

Sometimes they only look tough

Sometimes housesits that sound really challenging in the posting turn out to be the easiest housesits.

Here’s a dog example: The first sit we completed had four very large dogs, two of which were elderly and had minor medical issues, and one cat. We were also at a rural home that required having our own vehicle as well as experience with wells, septic systems, a wood burning stove for heat, and a generator. Taking all of that on during a wet-weather season sounded like a lot of work. But in reality, the house was setup perfectly for those conditions, and those four big dogs were the most well-trained and obedient dogs we have ever met. We could walk them for miles in the muddy woods off-leash and we barely had to whisper “come close” to get them to immediately heel at our feet. They also bathed themselves in an outdoor tub when they got muddy, and then sat patiently on tarps in the mud room until they dried off. Those dogs were seriously amazing!

Here’s a cat example: One housesit had nine cats to care for at a small condo, which sounded like a ton of work to keep up with. But there were no litter boxes to deal with! And the cats could not have been easier to take care of or more fun to spend time with. That owner must be the inspiration for the phrase “cat herder,” because she has seven of those cats trained to go for evening walks every night. They follow her, and they followed us, all over the condo complex like a little cat parade. It was fabulous! So there you have it! Some housesits seem harder to do as jobs when we read their ads, sound very manageable after talking to the owners, and then prove to be the easiest and most fun housesits in real life.

New friends

We love meeting new people during our travels and when we meet someone we really connect with that’s an amazing gift. We made real friends with three out of seven of our first housesit hosts. We were not expecting that kind of bonus, but now we know that meeting interesting people through housesitting is something to actually look forward to as well. We are staying in touch with our new friends, and making plans to see each other again in the future. We are really grateful for the opportunity to find new friends through our housesits.

The End – For Now

Ok I think that’s where I will leave this story for now. I am writing this from our seventh housesit. We are looking forward to seeing the owners when we pick them up at the airport in their truck tomorrow, and we can’t wait to hang out with them on our last night here, before they take us to the airport the following day. This is one of those experiences where we have made new friends, and we couldn’t be happier. 

If you have any questions about our experiences or the TrustedHousesitters program we would love to hear them so ask away!

Interested in joining TrustedHousesitters? 

The bottom line, in case it’s not obvious, is that we LOVE house sitting, and we actually do want to recommend it to others. If you are interested in housesitting or if this type of situation would help you as a pet and home owner, check it out. You can use our link or just search for house sitting options online because there are a lot of different programs out there.

Our House Sitting Experiences, So Far

#7 – Koh Samui, Thailand

#6 – Phuket, Thailand

#5 – Seattle, Washington, USA

#4 – Seattle, Washington, USA

#3 – Seattle, Washington, USA

#2 – Gig Harbor, Washington, USA

#1 – Fall City, Washington, USA

15 comments

    • We’ve seen house sitting work for all kinds of people at all different ages! Some people are using it to travel around the U.S. just to get away from home and see different states without planning a complicated vacation, and then others are planning their travel routes through house sitting all over the world. If you decide to check it out do let us know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Love the blog. Let us know when you feel like coming back to the states (east coast), we’d love to have you “sit with” our house. House is in town, Rockport, Maine. Spring, summer or fall are better seasons for outdoor activities. Because of our furry family, we have been reluctant to both travel at the same time. It would be great to feel comfortable leaving them and traveling together. Because we are both retired, we are flexible about when to travel. Pets include one large well behaved collie, two normally sociable cats and a rabbit. Also easy walks to restaurants and shops in Camden and Rockport, and biking, boating, and a ton of seafood. And of course, lobster!

    Meanwhile, enjoy your travels, keep blogging and stay safe!

    Like

    • Wow thanks Mary! We’d love to come visit Maine and house sit for you guys! We have not spent enough time on the east coast and definitely want to spend a few months in that area so we will seriously take you up on that offer. Sounds like you two definitely need to travel together more and do some exploring so let’s make it happen!

      Like

    • We don’t see any purple hair there. Which one are you? Were you an under cover agent like Ali in this shot? Dang it that means we missed meeting you that day!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t always have purple hair – I can’t make it too easy to find me 😉 . I’m standing directly in front of the girl with the lime green backpack that’s near in the Space Needle. You can basically just see my brown hair and skin. If y’all are ever back in Seattle let’s rectify this! Would love to meet y’all and find it crazy we came so close!

        Like

  2. Thanks for the thorough review. We just started house sitting through Trustedhousesitters here in the US while traveling for the summer. We’ve had a great experience so far sitting cats at three homes. One of the women who owns the home where we’re staying now has only done sits internationally and she’s traveled all over the world that way. Like you, she’s made friends in many places.

    I also really wish I had known about this service when my dog was still alive. I am sure would have used it to find an in home sitter as well.

    What a great strategy to sit locally to get reviews!

    I think you’re really smart to arrive early and build a day after. We didn’t do that and it’s proved to be a bit stressful. Plus it doesn’t really give us a chance to check out the area much beyond where we’re staying. We will do the same as you in the future as much as possible.

    I found your site through the DebtFreeGuys podcast and I’m enjoying it. Enjoy your travels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Gerri!

      We are getting better and better at house sitting. I keep thinking this would have been amazing to find out about years earlier!

      We are super excited right now about the 2 house sits we recently booked. This time we decided to look for some house sitting opportunities in South and Central America as a way to get to know new places and local expat people, and then plan our travels around those house sits. The first one is in Ecuador in October for a kitten (so cute), and we are arriving 4 nights early to explore and then staying in the country for a couple weeks after that. The next one is a month long house sit for an elderly dog in Panama, and we’ll probably arrive 3 days early and decide how much longer to stay after it’s complete. We are thrilled!

      How wonderful to hear that you found us through the Debt Free Guys! They are doing great things and we have really benefited from being part of that community. 💜

      Happy Housesitting Gerri! 😁

      Like

  3. It’s great reading your blog! Another helpful topic. Good for travelling destinations and keeping my cat well cared for in my absence when my friends are unavailable. May try out the housesitting locally first idea after vaccines are widely distributed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We really have good luck with Trustedhousesitters.com. We just picked up a house sit here in the UK over Christmas for 10 days. It will for sure help with our housing budget for the year. And the people we’ve met have all been great. Good luck.

      Like

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