2019 highlights and what we’ve learnt after 2 years of full time housesitting
The end of 2019 marked the end of our second successful year of housesitting and petsitting full time! With 2020 getting off to a whirlwind start (more on that later) we’ve only just been able to sit down and unpack our highs and lows of the past 12 months. If 2018 was the year we dipped our toes into the waters of full time housesitting, 2019 was the year we took a good old swim! Even as I (Suze) write this, 2020 is shaping up to be the year of cannonballing right into the water. Each year we’re learning more – more about what we want our travels to look like, where we want to go, what it means to us, and more about what we DON’T want to pursue. We had a lot of ‘firsts’ in 2019 as we threw ourselves into enjoying new things, so the theme of this post will be ‘NEW’!
As we spent the majority of our time surrounded by various animals, it’s only fitting that ‘new animals’ is top of the list! 2019 was the year we sought to find more unusual pet sits where we could, having looked after lots of dogs and cats in our first year. For our first sit of 2019 we looked after three dogs, a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, two guinea fowl and one big, friendly pig called Gwendolyn! It was great to get up in the morning and walk out into the fields to feed all the hungry sheep and cows, who would follow us in their droves as we shook the buckets of feed onto the grass. Although all the animals were lovely to us, one of the main reasons we began our housesitting journey was because we LOVE animals, and the gun dog / farm vibe unfortunately just wasn’t us. That being said, we’re glad we could spend a few days looking after these wonderful animals when they were so different to animals we’ve sat before.
We had another new animal experience in the Spring when we looked after our first horse with our first donkeys! Herbie the horse was such a gentle boy and we felt completely comfortable being around him – even brushing his mane and picking out his hooves. Itchy and Scratchy, the donkeys, were satisfied with just their food, water and hay topped up daily as it was too wet in the fields for them to leave their barn. They were beautiful and sensitive animals, and we’ll never forget the sound of them loudly braying in the morning when they saw us coming with food!
We also took care of our first bearded dragon in the Spring and, later in the Summer, a gecko! (Honestly we had so many new animal experiences last year it makes us wonder what we did in 2018!) Both Kai the bearded dragon and Speedy Eddie the gecko were super easy to care for – more than happy with just a spray of water and their food each day – though we did manage to get some cuddles with Kai!
With all these new animals it would seem as though we wouldn’t have time to look after dogs and cats – but in 2019 alone we looked after 36 different dogs and 14 cats, which included a lot of new breeds we haven’t looked after before. Sitting Duchess the Great Dane was a real highlight of the year for us and we learnt that Great Danes really are gentle giants! We’ve since looked after more large dog breeds – Simba the Rhodesian Ridgeback in Meopham, Winston the Airedale Terrier in Beaconsfield – and we grow more confident in our abilities with larger dogs each time. At the other end of the scale, we can’t forget ridiculously adorable Agghia and Gioia – the two miniature pugs we looked after in London – or lazy old Bassett Hound brothers Bill and Ben from Ross-on-Wye. Two very different breeds but ones that we’d been hoping to sit during our travels! Each dog and each breed has such different needs that we’ll never get tired of finding new doggos to care for.
As is the way with full time housesitting, we visited A LOT of new places in 2019. But aside from the houses we looked after with our new furry friends, we took some time to travel ‘just for us’. We spent a week long trip in Poole, where we caught up with friends, played mini golf in Bournemouth, visited Corfe Castle and went fossil-hunting at Kimmeridge Bay! We enjoyed spending a little bit of down time between taking on housesit responsibilities, and just a few weeks later we ended up on a two week long road trip around Cornwall and Devon! We went hiking every day, visited National Trust places like Lydford Gorge, Lanhydrock House and Lizard Point – the U.K.’s most southerly point – as well as admiring the beautiful flora at the Eden Project, AND stopping off at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary who do such amazing work to rescue injured seals! We caught a glimpse of wild dolphins off the coast of St. Ives, Chris went surfing on Fistral Beach, and we made it all the way down to Land’s End. We packed SO much into our road trip and made some incredible memories! After all that exploring, we rounded off the trip with a one night stay in a secluded shepherd’s hut – total bliss.
Our wanderlust had been well and truly rekindled by the time we got back to housesitting, and we travelled to Berlin for our first ever international housesit! We applied for the sit on a Saturday, got confirmed on the Sunday, booked flights on the Monday and arrived on the Tuesday eager for adventure. The homeowners were so kind, and even told us they’d chosen us so that we could come and explore all Berlin has to offer. Looking after sweet kitties Kanye and Pablo (@Ginger_Kanye_And_Pablo) was super chilled, and while they snoozed through the days we cracked on with jam-packed days of sightseeing. Over our short four day sit we visited the Brandenburg Gate, saw the Berlin Wall, and enjoyed a local walking tour as well as eating delicious vegan food (of which there is LOADS in Berlin – we especially loved Lia’s Kitchen!) and spent our last morning basking in the sunshine in the grounds of Charlottenburg Palace. The sit was very relaxed and we loved coming home to play with Kanye and Pablo after a good day of exploring. With our first international housesit under our belt, we’re keen to do a bit more travelling abroad in 2020..!
Closer to home we ended our year with an impulsive journey through South Wales, visiting Cardiff city centre, the tiny village of Hay-on-Wye with its record-holding number of bookshops (32!), and Barry Island – home of ICONIC tv show Gavin and Stacey. We loved hanging out on Barry beach and Marco’s cafe, and our photo at Gwen’s house made it to our number 2 spot in our Top Nine Instagram posts of the entire year, so there must be a lot of fans among all of you too!! These quick trips for just the two of us gave us a chance to see places and do things that would be difficult if we were petsitting – and it meant we could take some time to refocus on our travel plans and think about where we want our adventure to take us next!
One of the downsides that occurs every now and then in our housesitting adventure is how isolating it can be. We realise how privileged we are to be able to live our lives this way: deciding where we go and what we do every day, and we often discuss the fact that we never see people our own age when we’re out on hikes in the middle of a weekday. That’s why we were so excited to run into Eamon and Bec while housesitting in Brighton, who invited us to a van life meet up in London the next day! We’ve been following Eamon and Bec on Instagram (@EamonandBec) for around two years now, so we were super happy to spot their van in the South Laines. We took the two doggies in our care for a trip up to London, where we met and spoke to SO many people about dogs, van life, housesitting and all kinds of ADVENTURES! It was awesome to meet a massive group of like-minded people, all in varying stages of their travels, and we’re so grateful to Eamon and Bec for organising a great event. Hope we can make it to the next one!
Popping up to London made us realise that we sometimes make excuses for not going to events we’d be interested in – either we concede that it’s a little too far or takes a little too much effort, or funds. So we booked in a few short London housesits to spend some time in the capital, and took our new doggo buddies to meet friends all over the city, spending time walking around London or just relaxing in coffee shops! Feeling nourished and full of good vibes, and arriving at a new housesit in Stamford Hill, we posted an open invitation on our Instagram to see if anyone housesitting in London would like to hang with us. A couple of days later we met the awesome George and Shell (@TheRealHousesitters) and their new furry friend Kiba. Our Whippet buddy for the week, Devo, loved chasing other dogs in Clissold park while we swapped housesitting stories (and horror stories!) with George and Shell. It made us realise once again that there’s no perfect way to travel! We’re so glad we could hang with other people who just ‘get it’, and we’ve made a 2020 goal to spend more time meeting up with other housesitters.
All these animals, all these people, and all these places meant that we had our fair share of new experiences throughout our second year of housesitting! Some experiences happened organically – like waking up to eight baby chickies while looking after hens in Norfolk! Other experiences happened as a result of us having time to think about how we want to develop our travels, such as when we used Rover for the first time to book in a paid housesitting gig. We’ve since decided that we don’t want to book too many paid gigs, as we like to choose our next adventure for ourselves, but walking Simba and Jack around the local orchards was a beautiful way to start each morning we cared for them.
We also wanted to make a conscious effort to get more involved with animals outside of housesitting, and we took part in Battersea’s 20km Muddy Dog Trek hike along the South Downs to fundraise for the charity. Six months later we visited the Kennel Club’s Dog Show at London ExCel centre, where we spent HOURS meeting hundreds of breeds of dogs and learning about them from their owners!
Another real highlight, and a childhood dream come true for me, was feeding penguins at Wingham Wildlife Park. They have an amazing experience day at the centre, where you can walk the penguins, feed them, and talk to the keepers about everything to do with the penguins’ day to day life! It comes as no surprise to us that our photos from the day made it into our Top Nine – it was an incredible, unique experience for us.
Towards the end of the year we took our annual time apart / break from housesitting as Chris went to work in America to top up the travel funds. Up until this point I’d been thinking about going on a solo trip to prove to myself that, despite my anxiety, I can be independent and achieve personal travel goals outside of our joint ventures. Being a huge fan of The Beatles I’ve always wanted to visit Liverpool, and when I had this time to myself I knew I had to book it in to make sure I made it happen! It was fun to plan out my solo trip, even though I was a bit nervous, because I knew I would have a great time going to see museums and landmarks I was interested in. It was actually quite nice to wander around a new city by myself and take it all in! Moreover it felt amazing to prove to myself that I can competently travel solo. I spent the remaining weeks that Chris and I were apart staying with friends in various places, and by the time he returned I was refreshed and ready for our next adventure as a twosome.
New adjustments to our travel plans
Which leads me to the final point on the topic of ‘new’ – new adjustments we made throughout 2019, and our plans for 2020!
We’re still on the lookout for new animals and new experiences all the time – though we’re now more wary of booking in places that have potential to be a repeat of our farm life housesit. We’re more cautious when reading through listings with farmyard animals now, as a working farm was not a situation we enjoyed finding ourselves in. We surprised ourselves over the summer when we found we were enjoying shorter, weekend sits – previously we hated not having time to settle in properly – but housesitting for a few days at a time allowed us to see more places in a shorter time frame, so we’re thinking it’d be a good way to tick off more bucket list places in 2020. On the subject of bucket lists, we’re definitely looking to up our game when it comes to actually booking in places we’re dying to visit! Too often we find ourselves booked up months in advance, with no room for our own adventure wishlist. We began the new year the right way, by spending New Year’s Eve in Stockholm (a city we LOVE) before heading over to a week-long housesit half an hour outside the centre, in beautiful Swedish woodland. From there we flew to Iceland to celebrate Chris’ 30th birthday and enjoyed excursions and tours across the otherworldly, snow-and-ice-covered land. We returned to the U.K. completely exhausted after three weeks, but feeling satisfied that we’d gone out and made and adventure happen. Moral of the story – if you want to go, JUST BOOK IT!
While we made some new elderly doggo friends in 2019, another realisation for us was that we prefer sitting dogs that love to Go Walkies as much as we do! A few times last year we booked in to housesit in places we were keen to explore, only to find ourselves walking the same ten minute loop around the block or feeling guilty even if we only left the house for a couple of hours. At times when we feel like taking things slower it might make sense to book in an elderly pet sit, but mostly we’re raring to get going this year! That’s not to say we aaaalways get bored of the same walkies – as I write this we’re at a housesit in Norfolk that we’ve now completed three times! We love returning to housesits where we really feel at home – here in the countryside it’s blissful to wake up early, feed the hens, walk the dogs and settle in for a peaceful day at the cottage. Last year we sat gorgeous Saluki Jem in Hove three times simply because we love the lifestyle there (beach, city, friends, good doggo – what more could you want?) as well as returning to look after adorable Chihuahua Jessie and beautiful British Shorthair Costa in Daventry. These places are like a home from home for us, and make a welcome change from our whirlwind location-hopping life!
We already have some incredible plans lined up in 2020 – housesitting and otherwise – and we’re super keen to make our third year of full time travel our most adventurous one yet! If you guys have any comments or questions drop them below, or have a chat with us via Instagram @ChrisAndSuzeGoWalkies. In the meantime, watch this space..!