A free holiday through house-sitting? Sounds tempting, right. But as ever, there’s a bit more to it than it sounds. With that in mind, it’s worth understanding what it really involves.
So here’s our take on what house-sitting involves from our own experiences – along with a few hints and tips on how to get started.
Ok - What Is House-Sitting?
For those who haven’t heard of it before, the idea is simple and appealing. House-sitting is exactly what it sounds like on the tin.
A home-owner agrees to let someone stay in their house for free whilst they are away.
In exchange, the “sitter” provides security for the house by ensuring it doesn’t look empty.
The time-scales can vary from just a few days up to pretty much anything. The longest I’ve seen is a year or so. Likewise the house-sits offered will range from fairly basic, small places right up to gorgeous villas and places you’d be more than happy to pay to stay at.
Often house-sits will come with additional responsibilities. The most common of which is routine maintenance and cleaning, i.e. stuff you would expect to do for your own house. The longer sits tend to ask for this more, unsurprisingly.
The next most common additional ask is to look after the owners pets. And trust me, these can range from easy to care for goldfish right up to a small-holding menagerie! I’ve also seen some stranger ones asking for someone to keep an eye on their elderly mother in the flat next door. And one even wanted the potential sitter to look after their teenage son they were leaving behind! Er….I’m not sure that’s even legal??
As you can tell, therefore the term “house-sit” is fairly wide-ranging and there can be some pretty extreme examples. But those are few and far between in my experience.
It is far more common to find situations that end up being a true win/win situation for both sides.
So long as everyone knows and understands what they are signing up to. This is crucial and why it’s worth taking some time to find the right sit for you.
How Do I Start House-Sitting?
At this point if you are anything like us – the important question is;
Sounds great. What do I need and how do I start?
Like a lot of things these days, the internet is your friend here. Most house-sits are advertised and agreed through what I guess you could call dating house-sit sites?!
These days there are quite a few and you will quickly see that they offer a wide-range in number of sits and locations. There is a bit of skill involved in picking the right one for you. So first up, I’d suggest browsing different sites to get a feel for each.
Pretty much all websites I’ve looked at make their money through a sign-up fee. But most will let you have some sort of free trial or look at a certain number of ads for free before you need to commit to any one of them.
What you are looking for is one that has a good number of sits in locations you are interested or able to visit.
Balanced with fewer people looking for those sits.
There is little point signing up to one that specialises in Australia for example if you know you can’t afford the flights to get there.
I’ve personally used two so far, MindMyHouse and Trusted HouseSitters. Trusted House Sitters is what you would call the more professional one by far. It’s a lot slicker in both looks and process. It also has far more house sit opportunities than MindMyHouse. Likewise, it also has a lot more people registered and looking for those sits. That means more competition.
It’s also much more expensive, even with the regular discount offers. So personally after one year of giving it a go, I quit it and wouldn’t honestly recommend it as worth the money. Whilst it might not have as many sits to offer, I had a lot more luck getting house-sits on MindMyHouse. And it’s a lot cheaper.
But there’s a lot of choice out there for you to look through and come to your own conclusion. And for those wondering, no – neither of these links are affiliate links. They are just the only two house-sit sites I’ve actually signed up to and used.
I've Picked My Site - What Next?
Basically the home-owner will post a “House-Sitter Wanted” ad with the basic details of what’s required from a sitter. Potential sitters then browse these ads and apply to those they think they suit.
It also works the other way around – with house-sitters writing what’s normally called a “profile” about themselves. And then home-owners can search these profiles and reach out and contact their choice directly.
Like a lot of things in life, the better profile you can write, the better your chance of landing a house-sit.
What you want to highlight is all and any experience in particular. Be it with your own pets, owning your own home and any diy skills. Foreign languages are often a plus if going somewhere it will be an advantage to be able to talk to the locals.
One thing to be ready for is to have people ready to act as references for you. Either work colleagues / bosses or old friends. Whoever knows you well and sounds respectable! Pretty much every home-owner will want to either read them or speak to them until you build up your house-sit resumé.
Once you’re signed up and have written your awesome profile – it’s time to start applying for those sits!
Landing That First House-Sit
Getting the first house sit is the toughest. Unsurprisingly there can be a lot of competition for what is in effect free accommodation. And the best house-sits know they can have their pick from a wide pool of people. They don’t need to take a chance on people new to the scene.
Therefore this is the part where it’s important to be realistic in your expectations.
“The best way to get the house-sits you really want to land is to start early and gain experience with other sits first”
You just stand a much better chance of getting a home-owner to agree to let you look after their home once you have a glowing resumé of successful house sits and happy owner reviews. Well, unless you screw them up and then I suppose the opposite is true. But hey, let’s assume the best here!
One of the most recommended and easiest ways to land your first gig is to look for sits in your local area. Often you will be able to find some short-term offers that will not attract the same level of competition. By contrast, you will offer a lot of advantages – flexibility, language, local knowledge etc.
That’s the sensible thing to do. It is not, however, what we actually did. Hands up anyone who knows us who is surprised at this knowledge…..anybody, anybody….??!
Our First House Sit
Meet Zip – an awesome border collie dog
In the middle of nowhere (Cotacachi) in Equador
That frisbee was as well-loved as it looks!
When thinking about our life post-FIRE we figured house-sitting could potentially fit really well with the slow travel approach we were planning. So whilst still working, we decided to use my holiday allowance and try and land a house-sit before quitting. Look to build up our reputations beforehand.
So we signed up, profiled-up and started applying. But did we stick to local sits as recommended. Not exactly. The one that caught our eye was 8 nights in a small town called Cotacachi, about an hour or two outside the capital city of Quito. So you know, just the 5,750 miles as the crow flies.
Hey – the worst that can happen is they can say “No”, right. So we applied and before long found ourselves on a short-list with our first ever video call interview lined up. This is pre-Covid days when this was still a rare thing and to say we were a bit nervous would have been an understatement.
What would they ask? Who answers what? Where’s the best place in our house to do this? How do we get it to work?!
A lot of questions and practice runs testing out the technology on our laptop. Clearly all pre-Covid days where it seems everyone is now an expert!
In the end, it was much like a mini-job interview except a lot less formal. Basically went through everything on our profile, our experience, background etc. We confirmed we could provide references which the home owner then followed up on later. Much to the entertainment of our friends and colleagues, who found it highly entertaining to describe us.
But somehow we passed and we had our first house-sit offer!!!
Eight days was obviously too short to be worth a flight from the UK and so we added some time both before and after the actual sit. Turning it into a three week explore of Equador instead. Which at some point I’ll write a post all about as it was an awesome introduction to South America.
For now though – let’s get back to the important question in this blog. Is house-sitting really a free holiday?
Is House-Sitting Really A Free Holiday?
Meet Bernie – the ultra adorable ‘pup’ we looked after on our second house sit
He came with two equally large friends
And plenty of slobbery love..
First up, as ever, bear in mind this is based on our real-life experience of house-sitting. The intent is to share our honest experiences so you can make up your own mind as to whether this is something that would work for you. But it’s not a large sample size of two to date – so keep that in mind when you consider!
With that fair health warning said – here’s our view of the pros and cons of house-sitting;
Pro 1: Free Accommodation;
Perhaps the most obvious positive of house-sitting – the ability to stay somewhere for free can save a big chunk of cash when planning a trip. With the wide range of house sits on offer, if you are flexible in when you can go and where – then you are likely to find something that can work for you.
The savings can be substantial too. Our two house-sits were both detached villa places in gorgeous locations. We would happily have paid good money to stay in them. Instead, we helped the owners out by looking after their pets and their home. One of those rare win-wins and a big positive for the house-sitting concept.
Pro 2: Local / Unusual Places To Stay;
This one is not discussed as much but I think it’s another big win for house-sitting.
Simply put, a lot of the house-sits on offer won’t be in the traditional tourist locations.
Instead they will be where people really live. For us – this is a great thing. You really get to know and understand local culture better when you actually live in it.
For us – it’s a great way to find places that you wouldn’t be able to rent in otherwise.
Pro 3: Built-In Community;
Another little mentioned area of house-sitting is that the sits often come with a built-in community. Our first sit introduced us to all their friends and neighbours on the private estate. Likewise our second sit left us with details of family and friends we could call on if needed.
It’s another great way to be able to get to know local people.
We ended up invited to a local BBQ brunch in Cotacachi which was great fun and not something we’d have done without those local contacts.
Con 1: Ultra Responsible;
The first and most obvious downside of house-sitting is the responsibility of looking after somebody else’s valued home and pets.
If you are anything like us, we’re way more cautious when it’s not our own.
The idea of losing or injuring somebody’s pet is a nightmare.
It’s defn more stressful for us, whatever the owners might say about making yourself at home.
Con 2: Pet Care / Other Tasks;
Second most obvious downside when comparing to a “proper” holiday is that a house-sit comes with responsibilities. These can vary wildly and really need understanding.
Given we love to hike and be out and about, it was important to us to find house-sits where the pets were used to being safely left alone for periods of time, without any distress.
To be honest, it’s actually a great way to spend some time with animals. We fell in love with all our charges and it was actually quite hard to say goodbye to the adorable slobbery trio of dogs on El Hierro.
So it’s another of those “understand what you are signing up for” type of health warnings more than an outright con for house-sitting.
Con 3: Less Flexibility On Time & Location;
Last but not least, it goes without saying that the more flexible you can be on location and when you can travel, the more house-sits you are going to find to suit you.
Flexibility really is key here. Something that may make it harder for families with the ties of school holiday schedules.
Likewise, if you have your heart set on a certain place, house-sitting is likely not to be your thing.
It works much better to be open-minded, see what comes up that can work. Then find out about that place – there’s usually always something good or interesting to enjoy about anywhere.
So - Is House-Sitting Really A Free Holiday?
In short – the most honest answer I can give on this is;
“Yes, house-sitting is a free holiday and can be an amazing experience – but it comes with restrictions you have to accept”
So if you are comfortable dealing with the ‘cons’ of house-sitting – we can defn recommend it. It’s a great way in particular to try something different, often in places you wouldn’t otherwise hear about to visit and get to know.
Our top tip is to combine a shorter house-sit with some “real” holiday either side. Especially if you are still working and know you need some down-time.
We would happily go back to either of our two house-sits, they both made fantastic parts of those two different travels. And now that we have experience, we often get people asking us directly to sit for them. An awesome thing to be asked.
So yes, house-sitting is still very much something we keep an eye on what might work for us. We’ve learnt it’s better to say no to sits that we’re unlikely to enjoy or be able to properly look after for the owners.
Honesty on both sides really is the best policy!
I hope sharing this has helped some of you make your own minds up about house-sitting. Is it something you’ve tried already? Or are you now inspired to have a go? As ever – let me know what you think below!!