By Jaime Byrd
Two years ago, we purged most of our belongings, rented our house and started to travel indefinitely.
Since then, we’ve lived in dozens of luxurious homes in some of the world’s most desirable places. Two different large villas in Bali, a modern apartment in Vietnam, a beach house in Thailand, and several luxury homes in Mexico. All these experiences were possible by house sitting.
For some people it’s a great way to vacation, but for us, it’s a way of life. It’s a way in which to help us shed our belongings, live more simply, meet more locals, and concentrate on “experiences” in our lives rather than material things.
I get asked regularly about how we find our housesitting jobs and how we travel the way we do. But I never seem to be asked, “what does it take to be a house sitter?”. Most of the people I talk to seem to think it’s a lot easier then it is, even suggesting their teenage children or anyone can do it. Well, I don’t believe this to be true.
House and pet setting is not for everyone. Some people think it’s just free lodging. Many people I know only have a short time available for a vacation and housesitting may not be the best option in these cases. Plus, there are many different things to consider when becoming a housesitter before you buy that airline ticket or hit the road.
So, is house sitting right for you? Before you actually start your journey it may be important first to take a reality check and answer a few questions. Below, I’ve listed some things to consider before taking the leap. If you’re able to answer “yes” to all of these questions, then pack your bags and get ready for an adventure of a life time!
1. Are you responsible and reliable?
If you said yes, then good for you!
Remember, housesitting is a job. It’s not a way to only get free lodging while you’re on vacation. Good communication, showing up on time, taking care of the house as if it were your own, feeding and treating the pets with special care, recognizing an unwell animal, and respecting the home and it’s owners are just a few important things to take into consideration when accepting a housesitting position. Homeowners need someone they can trust to look after their pets and home and they want someone responsible, reliable, honest, and caring.
2. Do you love pets?
Yes again? You’re on a roll!
Not all housesits have animals, but many homeowners are looking for a sitter to not only care for their home while they’re away, but also to look after their beloved pets. Many sits involve animals that will not only need to be fed and walked daily, but they also need to be loved and played with. Being present and part of the pack is the best way to make for happy pets!
For many people, pets are family members, so reassuring them that you will show the same level of love and affection you would as if they were your own pets can help you secure your perfect house sit. Pet sitting does have responsibility attached, but if you love pets then it can be more of a pleasure then a job.
3. Are you willing to commit to stay in the home every night?
If yes, then you’re still in luck!
One of the biggest commitments with house sitting is being present in the home. Homeowners don’t like to leave their homes empty for many reasons. The owners may want to deter criminals from vandalizing or breaking into their home, or they may want things to be looked after to make sure there are no accidents or water leaks that could do further damage to their home. Leaving all day long and only returning late at night to sleep is not the best option either. Owners want to know someone is there regularly and making sure the home looks as though it’s lived in and lights are being turned on and off regularly.
4. Are you flexible?
Yes again? Great. This is looking good!
Having flexible travel dates and travel locations can help in your search for a perfect sit and experience. Try to look beyond the popular beach spots and go somewhere on a less traveled path. You may be pleasantly surprised with what you will discover! Also, the more flexible you can be with dates, the more house sits you will find.
5. Are you looking for more then just a free place to stay? Are you up for additional challenges?
If you said yes again, you may be a housesitter!
You may be lead to believe that free lodging is the best part of housesitting – and there is no doubt that it IS a very good part – but it is not the only part. Keep in mind that there are responsibilities and some that may put a damper on your daily excursions for sight seeing if you plan to be on vacation.
There are other factors to housesitting that some people might find challenging, such as living in a homeowners space on top of their belongings. We don’t mind it, but some people do. Many housesits include the ongoing duties of a household staff including a housekeeper who might clean weekly, semi-weekly or even daily, a gardener who comes regularly, and/or a pool maintenance worker. It is the responsibility of the housesitter to oversee these workers in order to maintain the household’s continuity. This can be a luxury or a burden depending on your perspective.
Yes, there are some homeowners out there looking for part time employees, but most of the time they just need someone who can take care of the small things that often go wrong around a house. Things that deal with simple plumbing, electric, heating, and appliances. If it’s beyond a simple repair, then you may need to make sure you can get a professional there to help with the problem and communicate well with the homeowners.
6. Are you willing to go the extra mile and show you care?
If yes, then housesitting is in your future!
We think it’s important to do your very best and whenever possible, even go beyond what may be expected. We like to make sure things are put back exactly as we found them, wash and fill the gas tanks on any cars or motorbikes left for our use, make sure all the linens are clean and bedding is replaced, clean up, and even have cold beer, wine, juice, snacks, (or even dinner if you are so inclined), waiting for the homeowner on their return. The smallest of gestures can show your appreciation and could earn you an invite to house sit next time they are away.
So, if you answered yes to all the questions, then you are ready to begin your journey of becoming a housesitter! There are so many opportunities out there and even though competition may feel high at times, there is always enough for everyone! Good luck and enjoy your travels!
There is so much to look at in Hanoi. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been suffering from jet lag after having traveled across 8 different time zones, but there is no doubt that I’ve had a certain amount of sensory overload that happened in less then 24 hours after arriving. In a very broad sense, things here seem very familiar yet, of course, so different in many, many ways.
For the next 2 months we now live in the Tay Ho area which is situated on a lake appropriately named, Ho Tay, which is just north of the bustling city center of Hanoi. This neighborhood is less crowed and quieter than the city center. It also appears to be filled with expatriates and foreigners. Most of these foreigners are from all over the world with a high concentration of people from the UK, Australia, and other Asian and European countries. We actually heard a group of people speaking Mexican Spanish yesterday while we had lunch and it made us smile. =)
Our housekeeper set us up for our stay here with an almost-new scooter rental that has plenty of storage under the seat for all our groceries and supplies. We started with exploring our neighborhood – first on foot and then on the scooter. Though it was a challenge at first, it was still quite manageable. Scooters rule the roads here, and driving a car seems absolutely ridiculous and very difficult to maneuver in traffic. Walking can be equally a challenge since the sidewalks stop and start abruptly with over grown grass, rocks, and other not-so-friendly obstacles, leaving you vulnerable to traffic in the roads.
The Tay Ho area is filled with restaurants, bars, coffee houses, specialty shops, and just about anything else you may need. International products can be found in just about every bodega on a street corner. Our first Saturday was spent collecting organic food at a weekly market and organic store very near to our house.
CROSSING THE STREETS IN HANOI
There’s a strange – but understood rule here with crossing a street in Vietnam. When it appears to be no way to cross, somehow, people find a way. Nobody will stop for you, yet everyone will let you cross. It’s almost an energetic game of “Frogger”. There are people texting on their scooters who never look up, yet they avoid hitting and being hit by others. It’s when you don’t “let go” of your notions of what you think it should be, and allow the system to just work, is when there could be trouble. And in most cases, you probably won’t die. =)
PHO FOR EVERYONE
We rode our scooter to the best Pho (pronounced fah) we’ve had so far, and I hope we can find it again. It was a perfect combo of broth, veggies, and spicy/sour flavors. I do, however, find it difficult to understand that when it’s 32° celsius (89° fahrenheit – but feels like 106°) with a humidity level of 90%, that anyone in their right mind would want to sit outside in the sun and eat hot soup. But everyone here does it and loves it. Surprisingly, it was kind of cooling in the end.
MY NEW HABIT
Then it happened. We found our second favorite thing in Vietnam. Yogurt coffee (ca phe sua chua).
OMG. This is stuff dreams are made of. The combination of lightly sweetened yogurt and rich chocolate-y coffee – with the light bitterness of the coffee bouncing off the creamy sweetness of the yogurt – is just heavenly. I am now planning on setting aside 15,000 dong ($.70US) each day for one of these lovely drinks. Normally I only drink coffee in the morning, but when in Vietnam, coffee drinking is an integral part of the entire day and I will be happy to make it an afternoon delight also. I’m sure I will talk more about this in later posts. Thank you Vietnam Gods.
To be continued….
Imagine living for a few weeks or even months in an Italian village, buying fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market every week, sipping coffee on your terrace, and taking easy going day trips to neighboring villages and chateaus when you feel like it. That’s what slow travel is all about. Where the emphasis is less on constant sightseeing and more about taking in the surroundings at a relaxed pace.
So many people I know return from a vacation feeling exhausted and in need of another ‘vacation’ just to relax for a few days. It seems like so many of us already live hectic and busy lives, so how is activity-intense vacations suppose to help us unwind? Spending 1-2 weeks of intense tourist attractions and sightseeing does not make for a relaxing holiday. At least not for us.
Fortunately, Adam and I have been doing this kind of travel – that’s now part of a larger movement – that has emerged over the last 10 years as a solution to tourist burnout. It’s called “slow travel”.
The two of us started doing slow travel after our very first trip to Europe – where we were doing the typical American vacation thing of trying to pack in as much as we could in a short period of time. It only took us 2 weeks before we were exhausted and couldn’t bare to go on and see one more church.
Then while in Spain, we met an American man on a train who told us he was on a mission to see 8 different countries in only 2 weeks. Hearing his agenda exhausted us both – and we knew then that this would never be the way we would want to travel. Spending more time on a bus, train, or plane, then in the actual places we were trying to “see” was never going to be us. It was at that moment we decided that we need to actually spend more time in less places.
So, what is SLOW TRAVEL?
Slow travel is like slow food. It’s about taking your time to create something more meaningful and healthy. By traveling slow, you’re able to appreciate and respect local flavors, traditions, art, culture, local farming, and environments – and end up spending a lot less money then moving around so much. It’s about getting to know one small area really well instead of getting to know very little about a whole lot of places.
It’s a mindset.
Slow travel is not always about renting a small house or room for a week or more – though this is a great idea and I highly recommend it. It can also be about taking the less traveled road. Going to places no one else has heard of. Getting on a bus just to see where it may go. It could also be about taking a train across land instead of flying. Or riding a bike from pub to pub. The idea is, no matter what floats your boat, is to slow down, take in your surroundings, smell the roses, and be here now.
Why I love Slow Travel
I feel a much stronger connection to the places I’m visiting – and of course the people too. We’re not trying to check things off a bucket list, or see every site in a guidebook. We prefer getting to know our neighbors, shopping in the local markets where people get to know who we are. I love finding favorite places to eat or have coffee, or a park where I can go sit under a tree and read a book.
I also believe slow travel is cheeper on many levels. Transportation costs will go down significantly when you are not moving around so much. Long term lodging is always less expensive. And now with Airbnb, there are lot’s of options for weekly and monthly rentals just about everywhere in the world. Also, when you take your time, you will be allowed to cook and learn from the locals how to use local ingredients therefore saving money from so much time eating out.
Another thing that I love about slow travel is overcoming language barriers, differences in customs and other stumbling blocks to make connections with the people I meet along the way. This is the most fulfilling part for us both.
Once you slow down, it’s hard to go back. Few places in the world move as fast as American’s do, so when you get on the same pace as those around you, it’s easier to escape the stress of a fast paced life.
How do you slow travel?
to be continued….