HoneyTrek’s Duo Share their House Sitting Tips
By Dana Armstrong
What’s one of the outcomes of writing a bestselling National Geographic book on house sitting and other alternative travel ideas for couples?
According to Anne and Mike Howard, authors of Ultimate Journeys for Two, it’s getting a call from a reader asking for help with a rather unusual house sit.
The call started innocently enough. The readers explained they were Park Rangers for Bears Ears National Monument in the southeast corner of Utah. They enjoyed the Howards’s book and were curious to learn more about house sitting.
Specifically, they wanted to know if the Howards could house sit for their ‘light farm without too much property’ while they were away.
“At this point, we didn’t realize it was 36 animals,” said Anne Howard. “There were a lot of turkeys and a lot of chickens. And, ‘oh, by the way, there are two beehives. Can you take care of those?’ And, even then, it was like, ‘Can you keep my sourdough starter alive and check on my kombucha?’”
Thankfully, not all house sits are as challenging as that. And the appeal of house sitting is gaining traction worldwide.
What is House Sitting?
House Sitting Magazine defines house sitting as “a service where a homeowner entrusts their property, possessions and, in 98% of cases, their pets, to one or more ‘house sitters’ for a specified period of time – usually to cover vacations or longer travel trips.”
Many may be more familiar with house sitting in the local sense: where nearby friends, family, or neighbors agree to stay in or check on your house and pets while you’re away. But, as with many things, the internet has given house sitting a new life.
Websites such as TrustedHousesitters.com, Rover.com, Nomador.com, and HouseCarers.com (along with many others) open up house sitting to pet-loving individuals anywhere looking for alternative travel experiences and homeowners around the world in need of a reliable guardian for their properties and pets.
That means your love and experience with caring for pets could land you a two-month stay with a couple of dogs in a thatched home in Ireland. Or, you could manage the gardens and feed the cats for a farmhouse in an Italian olive grove.
Does this sound like a dream gig? We asked Anne and Mike Howard for their tips on navigating house sitting.
Meet Anne & Mike
Anne and Mike Howard became interested in house sitting as a way to sustain their nomadic lives.
“We had been backpacking hardcore for two years – 36 countries in under 2 years, moving at a crazy pace – and obviously spending more money with moving every single day and flights,” said Anne Howard. “At a certain point, it’s nicer to stay awhile and get to know an area.”
The couple is known for being on “the world’s longest honeymoon,” or as they’ve titled the blog sharing their experiences: their HoneyTrek.
In January 2012, they decided to transition from their roles of being a magazine editor and digital media specialist and photographer to becoming full-time travel bloggers.
In order to maintain their blog and blossoming business, they needed a more sustainable living solution.
“We found housesitting as a way to still scratch that travel itch where we go to a new country and get to know the area, but still get to have that stability of a roof over our head that doesn’t change, Wi-Fi, and a kitchen.”
Anne and Mike’s house-sitting experiences have allowed them to take care of a farm in Portugal at the height of the harvest, take care of a lazy cat in Costa Rica, and even help maintain a run-down resort in Honduras.
They said they enjoy “getting to live different lives as ex-pats and locals” and try to do house sits two or more times a year.
How to Start House Sitting
Getting into house sitting is easier than you may think, and mainly requires a love of animals, experience caring for animals, and an ability to responsibly maintain a house.
According to Anne, “The good news is most people have done house sitting in some way, shape, or form, whether it is they have taken care of their neighbor’s dog while they are away for the weekend or their sibling’s cat.”
For anyone new to house sitting, Anne suggests starting to house sit locally to build up your resume. Once you have some experience and references who will vouch for your pet sitting abilities, you can sign up for a house sitting website and apply for house sitting jobs abroad.
Most websites offer house sitting-only plans, home owner-only plans, and combined plans that allow you to be both a house sitter and homeowner. For TrustedHousesitters.com, the most basic plans range from $129 to $189 per year. Though premium plans offer additional features such as sit cancellation insurance, 24/7 on-demand video calls with veterinarians, and even global airport lounge passes.
Know the Expectations
Now, there is a slight catch to house sitting: it is important to understand that the majority (but certainly not all) of house sits are unpaid. Plus, you need to be willing to actively take care of the homeowner’s property and pet(s).
Anne cautioned, “You have to know that [housesitting] is not a vacation. You’re not just sitting around. It’s your job to take care of these pets, so you need to be on that pet’s schedule.”
While some animals may not require that much care, others may require taking the pet on multiple walks a day and administering medication to the animal.
“When you’re interviewing with the homeowner, you need to get a vibe on the situation and how demanding the work is going to be before you sign up,” said Anne.
“We got into this [house sit] in Honduras because it had the most beautiful view of the beach and had beach coves. The homeowner seemed a little batty, but we kind of overlooked it because we thought ‘how cool we’ll live on this island and be on the beach.’ She was a crazy lady!”
“You have to be [house sitting] for the right reasons and feel really good about the relationship with the homeowner because you’re taking over their lives and you need to be able to actually build the trust.”
Know the Costs
Additionally, you must have a clear understanding with the homeowner about what you are expected to pay.
According to Anne, “Generally, if it’s two months or less, [the homeowner] should be covering the bills they’d be covering anyway: the water, the Wi-Fi, the power, all that. If you’re there for six months, they might ask you to chip in for utilities.”
On top of that, you must be financially able to cover your own living expenses like food and transportation.
Of course, since you should plan to stay in the house for the majority of the time, free (or at least very low cost) rent is still an appealing deal.
Therefore, house sitting is ideal for those able to work remotely or who have enough money stowed away to financially provide for themselves for the length of the sit.
Extra House Sitting Tips
- Applying for house sitting can be competitive, especially if you’re using globally-recognized brands like TrustedHousesitters.com. They sometimes receive over 100 applications for particularly appealing house sits. If you want to house sit in a certain location – such as Mexico, New Zealand, or Australia – make sure to look into country-specific house sitting websites because they are often less competitive and have lower membership fees.
- Timing can also be a make-or-break factor for securing a house sit. Demand for house sitting increases around the winter holidays since more homeowners are away visiting friends and family. Additionally, fewer people tend to apply for house sits in colder locations during the winter months. If you’re willing to brave it, it could lead to some great house-sitting opportunities.
- If you want to save on transportation costs, see if you can negotiate using the home owner’s car. It never hurts to ask, and especially for longer house sits, using the car periodically can help maintain it.
Making a House Sit a Home
For Anne and Mike Howard, house sitting has opened up a world of nomadic possibilities. Extended stays at homes across the globe have also allowed them the time and space to write their two books: Ultimate Journeys for Two and Comfortably Wild (all about international glamping opportunities).
While they’ve thoroughly enjoyed their moments with sweet pets and comfortable homes – and perhaps less so with Utahn kombucha SCOBYs – there is one main reason they keep returning to house sitting.
“Something I like about [house sitting] is that we’re just kind of instant locals,” said Anne.
“You can see this beautiful mountain and that beautiful desert, but really it’s all about the people and what makes them so unique. And that’s so cool because someone invites you into their home, introduces you to their neighborhood, and tells you all the best coffee shops, hikes, and local intel.”
It is house sits and friendly neighbors like these that make the world a little more homely.