Housesitting: The Penny-Pinching Travel Secret to Try at Least Once

Shave off a huge portion of travel costs by housesitting. Here's how to do it successfully.

“Two weeks at a beach-access property near the shores of Thailand with two cats and a green oasis to water twice daily” is how the housesitting ad might start, and to us it sounds like the perfect vacation.

While house sits range from suburban stays to glamorous digs in faraway places, house-sitting all over the world has one thing in common: It makes accommodation—one of the most expensive factors of traveling—cheap or free.

“Housesitting was a revelation for us,” said Dalene Heck, co-founder of Hecktic Travels. “Not only did it allow us to save a lot of money in our travels by living rent-free, it also opened us up to a whole new type of travel.”

Heck went on to say that by staying longer, she and her husband Pete were able to have a deeper interaction with the local culture and day-to-day lifestyles.

While there are more responsibilities with a house sit than other types of accommodation—ranging from watering a few plants to tending a whole farm, animals and all—there are ways to make house sits as enjoyable as they are frugal.

Dogs sitting on a balcony

Housesitting Is for Everyone

While some house sits can last for weeks to months, there are house sits available for any type of traveler, if certain tips are applied.

“Be flexible with dates and a destination when starting out,” said Dani Heinrich, Globetrotting Girls blogger. “I hear from a lot of people who get frustrated when they don’t score their dream house sit right away, but if you’re set on New York City in the first week of May, it is extremely hard to find a house sit that matches both.”

With flexibility in mind, there are a few notes of caution to follow for young families and pet owners.

While young families can score house sits, it’s advisable to respond to advertisements posted by other young families. Not only would they be in a similar circumstance, they’d also have some of the same large items that almost all kids use: high chairs, toys, etc.

For travelers with their own pets that they want to bring along, Heinrich says that some sits are available if the pets are compatible. Another potential option for pet parents who still want to travel and house sit is to board their own pets or have friends and family check in on the animals.

Even if year-round travel isn't a feasible situation, housesitting might still be applicable for the leisure traveler who wants to get away once or twice a year for a week—or even a long weekend. 

"Some house sits can be for as long as a year," said Andy Peck, CEO of TrustedHousesitters. "More frequently, house sits are known to range from a few days to several weeks."

A view out of a window into a bay

Choosing a Housesitting Community

More than a dozen online communities exist for house sitters to apply for sits. Some of the most popular housesitting sites include TrustedHousesitters, Nomador, MindMyHouse and House Sitters America.

“There are many members who live entirely on house sits,” said Peck. “It’s a concept that suits people at every stage of life and once they have tried it they keep coming back. There is no better or more authentic way to travel.”

Many online housesitting job communities have an annual fee from $20 to $80 per year. Once the membership fee is paid, if a housesitting candidate is chosen for a job the accommodation is free or nearly free.

“Most sitters house and pet-sit in return for free accommodation,” said Kylie Fuad, House Sitters America spokesperson. “However if there is a lot of work then the owner may pay them something. Owners and sitters will negotiate regarding payment of utilities, etc. On a short-term sit the owners will usually cover the cost of utilities and on longer-term sits usually the sitter will contribute to their utility use.”

One of the easiest and quickest ways to start a conversation with a homeowner looking for a house sitter on community sites like these is to directly message the owner and apply for the job. Details and logistics are typically discussed during this dialogue.

"I always suggest that new sitters start off by applying for sits close to home and offering to interview with the owners in person," said Charli Moore, author of Wanderlusters blog. "This automatically gives them an advantage over someone applying from further afield and can help them to secure their first reference."

Heinrich also advocates the use of Facebook groups like Housesitting Café to find housesitting jobs that might not be listed on other community sites.

Woman standing outside with three dogs

How to Have a Successful Housesitting Job

While each job is different, it’s advisable for both parties to be up-front and clear with expectations, rules and requirements.

“I always arrive with a checklist of questions to go through,” said Heinrich. “I make sure the house is spotless before they get back. I prepare a meal for them, stock the fridge with basics and, while they’re away, I regularly send updates and photos of their beloved pets.”

Many look for future jobs as a way to continue to travel with supplemented accommodation costs, so reviews and references are important.

“Treat the home as if it is your own,” said Heck. “Be respectful, be courteous and be good caretakers for the home and pets. References are so important to continue getting good housesitting jobs, so be sure to earn a good one.”

Boardwalk out into ocean

The Best Places to House Sit

While housesitting jobs are predominately available in the U.S., Australia and Canada, nearly any country or city where a homeowner opens their home up for a house sitter is a feasible location.

"My first house sitting experience was caring for a sustainable, self-built home in Costa Rica," said Moore. "The property was on the edge of a mango plantation and at the end of a local neighbourhood, it was quite a culture shock as I'd never  been to Central America before and it took a few days to adapt to the climate and difference in lifestyle. The house was minimalist but comfortable, and I was looking after two cats so I had time each day to head out and explore on a bike left for me by the owners."

Sources have stayed in the Caribbean, New Zealand, Costa Rica, the U.S., Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia and more.

“Standouts were our total of six months in Turkey,” said Heck. “We sat one year for three months and then loved it so much we returned the following year for three more months as well as six weeks in Manhattan.”