We got an exciting message from some FIRE friends who moved from the USA to Portugal this year. Their message came out of the blue in WhatsApp asking if we’d be open to pet and house sitting in Lisbon!
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Alison and I read that first message and then looked at each other and shouted, YES!!!!
At the beginning of 2022 when we were finalizing our budget for this year we talked about traveling to Europe again since we canceled our plans to spend a month in Portugal in 2020 because of Covid. We decided not to force a big international trip into our plans this year and chose a wait-and-see strategy instead because life is full of surprises. Looks like that might have worked out perfectly!
We started house sitting back in 2018 because we thought that would become an important part of our new nomad life, and it definitely was. While we were traveling full time in 2019 and 2020 house sitting helped us stay grounded with real homes to stay in, new friends to keep in touch with while they traveled, plants to water, chores to do, things to tinker with, pets to love and care for, and neighbors to chat with. House sitting gave us a break from being in sterile vacation rentals and also saved us money on housing costs since we were in our first couple of years of early retirement at the time and a bit worried about sequence of returns risk (SORR).
We really enjoy the chance to take care of cats and dogs for a few days or a few weeks since we don’t have pets of our own. One of the other perks of house sitting is participating in a sharing economy that helps people accomplish their goals without exchanging money, so they can travel and trust that their homes and pets would be safe with us while they’re gone.
We enjoy house sitting so much that we sometimes alter our plans and travel to a new destination specifically for a house sit. Like that time with the cats in Phuket and that other time with the dogs in Koh Samui. And that’s what we’re hoping to do again with this trip to Portugal! But the best perks of house sitting are when we become good friends with the owners which happens pretty often.
We weren’t sure house sitting would continue to fit in our lives after we pulled over from nomad life and settled down in Arizona in January of 2021, but we kept our membership active with Trusted Housesitters and set a goal of using it at least once per year.
The last time we applied for a house sit was in England at the end of 2020, and after we stopped traveling full time we stopped applying for house sits. Eventually we’ll apply for more house sits in the USA but in the meantime we get requests from owners pretty often. Last year in 2021 we accepted a request to take care of 2 elderly dogs in February, and 3 young goats in November, and 2 middle aged dogs in December. That sounds like a lot of pet sitting for last year, especially when you add in the times we took care of our neighbor’s fabulous cat Toothy. But that was all within a 2 hour drive from our house and we were happy to stick close to our new home and help our neighbors and other pet owners while they traveled in exchange for a different location and a break from our normal routine.
I can hardly believe we’re in August now but this year has been flying by without any house sits so far. Earlier this year we were busy camping with our new trailer, and then we were busy improving our home and compound, and then we had that fabulous 3 week trip to Boston and Cape Cod in May where we hung out with family and friends including our buddies from We Want Guac and The Fioneers. This summer we’ve been focused on getting Alison through rotator cuff surgery to repair a torn tendon in her shoulder and then physical therapy twice a week to get her started on a long recovery process. We’ve turned down 5 house sits so far this year through Trusted Housesitters and 2 for friends as well. But when we were offered a month long house sit in Portugal we had to say yes!
Since life is unpredictable we didn’t book our flights to Portugal until after the owners booked their flights so they can travel back to the USA for a couple of weddings. As for housing while we’re in Portugal we’re paying for an apartment hotel for 2 nights when we arrive at $112/night (which will get us another free night on Hotels.com), and we’re paying for an Airbnb for 5 nights at $110/night after the owners return. That extension will allow us to be flexible in case the owners have a flight delay and it will also give us more time with our Chautauqua friends who recently moved to Lisbon.
After our house sit is finished we wanted to visit one more European destination on the trip. Alison voted for Amsterdam but after some debate we picked Madrid for simplicity sake because it’s so close to Lisbon. We booked 8 nights in Madrid at $114/night where we hope to meetup with other FIRE buddies. Then we’ll stop again in New York for 5 nights to see one of our nephews. We always feel honored when our nieces and nephews choose to spend time with us!
Our most expensive stay is in New York City! The Airbnb prices we found were shockingly high with the lowest price we found coming in at $250/night, so we’re using points to get a discount at a really basic hotel which will end up costing $119/night after the discount. Once we add all our housing costs up for this whole 45 night trip to Lisbon, Madrid, and New York City our per night housing costs average out at about $50/night since our house sitting nights will be FREE!
Lesson learned! We always book a place of our own for 2 nights before a house sit begins so we can spend time with the owners and get to know them and their pets before they leave. That also gives us time for the owners to show us the house in person so we can talk about anything inside or outside that we’ll be responsible for while they’re gone.
Travel hacking hasn’t been a priority for us over the last 2 years since we stopped our full time travels, but we’re still using our Chase rewards cards and accumulating travel reward points to play with. We ran the Chas credit card gauntlet when we were still working and now we’re settled on the cards we want to keep. I kept a Chase Sapphire Reserve card and a Chase United Explorer card, and Alison kept a Chase Sapphire Preferred card, Chase United Explorer card, and a Chase Freedom Unlimited card.
Are we excited to go to Portugal this year? Hell yes we are! The first thing we did was book our flights using Chase reward points. We booked 4 flights for 2 people for this trip, PHX>EWR, EWR>LIS, MAD>LGA, and LGA>PHX, all on points. Our 2 roundtrip tickets to Portugal cost us 236,800 miles + $107.34 in taxes. All of those savings remind us of our best experience using the United Airlines Excursionist Perk. Getting back into travel hacking feels great!
This year we’re celebrating 18 years together and 16 years of marriage (congrats to us!!). How should we celebrate this year? How about a really sweet anniversary trip to Portugal, Madrid, and New York City? Since we have a home and property we’re responsible for budget travel adventures sound even better to us now than they did when we were nomads.
House sits require a ton of flexibility so we don’t think of them as final until we’ve arrived and the owners have left. Life is full of surprises and we’ve had a bunch of canceled house sits in the past when the owners had to cancel their trips and no longer needed us (especially after the Covid pandemic began). We’ve had owners cancel on us before we arrived and after all of our travel plans were booked and paid for. We’ve also had owners cancel after we arrived and put our things in their guest room while we were out doing a bit of exploring! Those cancelations used to stress us out but now we just keep that reality in mind since it happens on occasion. We can’t control that sort of thing but we can try to be prepared for cancelations all the way up until the owners are gone, especially if we have to travel to a different country for the house sit.
The bottom line is, we still love house sitting and recommend it to anyone who thinks it might fit in their lives. We were thrilled when one of our nieces added house sitting to her lifestyle last year and we’re excited to still be house sitting ourselves. So if things work out as planned we’ll be spending a month in Portugal this year with Benji who will be 3 years old and Luna who will be 10 months old. Woohoo!