A beginner’s guide to housesitting

This blog post was originally published on the 23rd June 2018.

As we’ve been on our housesitting travels for six months now (hooray!) we thought it might be helpful to write a short guide to housesitting! We’ve had several people come to us saying they’re interested in the lifestyle, and have asked us if we found it difficult to get started at all, so hopefully this rough guide will shed some light on our experience and more information about how you can get started too! We should mention, as we have before, that we are by no means experts and can only speak from our personal experience.

A few people have told us that they’re planning to go travelling, and have asked us if we think that house/petsitting is a good way to travel around lots of places while staying for free. The short answer is yes – we’ve been to so many places that we hadn’t travelled to before, finding beautiful homes with lovely animals to care for who also kept us company on our adventures! That being said, if you’re expecting an easy ride you’re in for a surprise! Your first priority should always be the welfare of the animals you’re given charge of, and respect for the homeowner’s house and lifestyle. If you’re expecting to walk a dog around the block in the morning and go out sightseeing for the rest of the day by yourself, think again! When you get booked into a housesit you are committing to adapting your life to fit around the animals’ routines, whether that means waking up at 7am every morning to let out chickens, going out in pouring rain because ducks need feeding, or hiking for four hours plus each day to walk an energetic dog, you have a duty of care to fit your day around that. This isn’t to say we haven’t ever managed to go out while housesitting – we have! Our travels so far have exceeded even our expectations, from climbing snow-capped mountains in the Lake District to petting wild horses in the New Forest, each housesit provides us with more and more opportunities to step out of our everyday lives and make new memories to cherish forever. Sightseeing will be difficult when you might get put in charge of five dogs who only need a thirty minute walk each day, but who can’t be left alone for more than an hour, and you have to be flexible enough to adapt your idea of what your trip will be like to that situation.

As for those wondering if it was hard for us to get booked on our first housesitting assignments, we should mention that Trusted Housesitters was not our first experience with looking after animals! Both of us have always been genuine animal lovers, though living in London for two years meant the only time we got to spend with any animals was when we’d play with stray cats in the street or maybe ask to pet a dog on the bus! Moving to Brighton meant that we had more space and, as getting to work took a quarter of the time in a smaller city, we had more time to commit to looking after animals. We began using a website called Borrow My Doggy which allows those in need of dog walkers and sitters to find people with the time and love to give to their pups! Membership to the website costs just £10 for a year, which we thought was an excellent price to pay for the amount of dog experience we gained in that time. We began by meeting with two different families – one with a retired racing greyhound and one with a pug/staff puppy – before we started dog walking and sitting for them up to three times a week. As Suze was only working part time back then, they would care for the greyhound for full days when her owners were at work, and on weekends both of us would care for the pug/staff puppy when her owners would take trips to see friends and couldn’t take their dog along. We eventually began looking after two more dogs – chihuahua/terriers – and the more we spent time with a variety of breeds the more we got to know their personalities and realised that each dog has very different needs. We felt confident enough in our abilities and joint experience that we would then commit to looking after dogs for friends and neighbours, and even took care of a couple of guinea pigs for a couple of weeks here and there! The experience we gained over the year was invaluable when it came to beginning our housesitting journey.

Chris with Bella, one of our Borrow My Doggy friends!

We first heard about Trusted Housesitters from our landlady at the time, who worked for the company. Then the owner of the chihuahua/terriers, who had become a great friend to us over the year we spent looking after her dogs, told us that she often used the site to find reliable sitters to take care of her dogs if she went away. We were sold on the concept from the beginning, though it’s a concept most people don’t understand. At its core, the site connects homeowners who are looking for genuine animal lovers to take care of their pets, with those genuine animals lovers who are looking to travel or experience a new way of life. No money changes hands – everything is based on trust – which some people don’t understand. (We have been asked in the past if we’ve heard about any sitters stealing from houses, at which point we realised this person would never understand the mutual trust concept or be able to use a site like Trusted Housesitters!) At the end of the day it’s a mutually beneficial exchange of resources – we provide genuine care for animals and respect for a home and lifestyle, in exchange for a place to stay in a location we haven’t been to before, and an experience in a lifestyle we haven’t had the chance to try before. At this point, if the all trust and no money element of housesitting isn’t for you, then the way we’re doing things may not be for you either!

The more we spoke to our friend about Trusted Housesitters the more it seemed like the perfect opportunity to live our lives differently – more in line with how we’d like to live. We signed up for a year’s membership to the website, and asked our friend with the chihuahua/terriers to write a reference for us to get started. We then took on the dates she had listed on the site (our first official housesit on our profile!) which meant that after the sit was done, we had our first review! When it came to applying for our first housesits we prioritised interesting locations, though with animals we’d looked after before to make sure we weren’t out of our depth initially. As we’ve gone on we’ve grown more confident in our abilities and bit by bit we’ve taken on more unusual pets, from chickens and ducks to tortoises and alpacas! But in the beginning, setting out gently seemed the best way to start.

Jyoti and Milai – more friends from Borrow My Doggy, and our first official housesit on Trusted Housesitters!

A quick guide to writing an application letter – be polite, friendly and flexible to the homeowner’s and pet’s needs. Think of it like applying for a job – what experience or qualities do you possess to convince the homeowner that you are the best person to look after their pets and home? For example when we applied for our first housesit, for one Border Collie in a village in the Lake District, we wrote about our experience looking after dogs and our love of walking and exploring new places. By doing this we wanted to let the homeowner know that not only could we competently take care of their pet and home, but we were confident that we could give her Border Collie the exercise he needed.

Over time the more housesits we complete, the more reviews and experience we gain, and we find it easy to be confirmed for housesits we apply for. We make sure to constantly keep our housesitting profile updated with recent photographs and information about our adventures, so that homeowners can view our profile and see our experience for themselves. We keep an application template saved that we can use for each housesit we apply for so that we don’t miss out any important information about us, and can easily tweak our application to add up to date, relevant information for the sit we’re applying for. A typical application letter will begin with a personalised greeting and us asking to sit for the homeowner over their dates in whatever month it’s in, followed by a short paragraph about us and what we’re doing. From there we’ll tailor the application to talk about our relevant experience for the sit, making sure to use names of their pets to link it back to why we’d like to come and stay. We’ll finish the message by offering to arrange a Skype or FaceTime meeting if the homeowner prefers, before signing off and adding a P.S. with a link to our Instagram so the homeowner can browse our daily posts if they wish! Once we’ve been confirmed for a housesit, we make sure to have a thorough read of the welcome guide provided by the homeowner, and we make a note of any questions to ask when we arrive. To date we’ve always met the homeowners at the beginning of each sit, whether it’s half an hour before they’ve left or a day in advance to settle in with the pets. We always work around the homeowner’s preferences, and we’re grateful for their generosity if they do invite us to stay, as we can talk with them about their lives and maybe enjoy a meal together while we’re settling in!

A last point to mention is that, so far, we’ve only completed housesits in the United Kingdom, and stayed with friends or family on the days in between sits if the dates don’t line up exactly. This is simply to keep travel costs low at this point; avoiding visa applications, flight costs and hotel fees, but it’s also to give ourselves an appropriate amount of time to get used to our new travelling lifestyle, and to decide in that time whether it’s something we’d like to continue. Plus travelling only in the U.K. means that we get to see more of the places we’ve never been that are only a few hours (or even less) from where we’ve always lived – in the South East of England. Add in the fact that everyone we’ve sat for has spoken English (a bonus to both of us with only very basic Spanish, French and Swedish between us!) and it just made sense to start closer to home.

Climbing mountains while at a housesit in the Lake District

We hope that this hefty amount of information is helpful, and it’s hefty for a reason – it wouldn’t be fair to you, to homeowners, or their pets if we tried to make this look easy. The truth is it isn’t one big holiday, though it may look like one, and we still have to work hard in different ways to sustain our travels and make sure they’re successful. Behind each five minute Instagram post is hours of researching the practicality of getting to places, hours of searching for housesits that will be equally enjoyable and challenging, hours of writing applications and a whole lot of conversation and deliberation between us about where to go from here. But to reiterate, if you have a genuine desire to care for animals, a genuine lust for adventure, and are an all-round genuine person at heart, it’s probably one of the best things you can do for yourself to ditch the 9-5 grind as we did, and begin living a new life.

If this has persuaded any of you to drop everything to look after animals or go travelling (Excellent! We live for people starting a new adventure!) then you can use our code for Borrow My Doggy, where 10% of your £10 membership fee will go to the Blue Cross charity for animals. Or use our code for a 20% discount on Trusted Housesitters membership!

For now, we’re off to cuddle some doggies!

Chris with Hetty and Rosie