Living rent free. My experience house sitting.
First off I should say, that this is what I would have done if it weren't illegal to house-sit on a tourist visa, and I'm a law-abiding citizen. If it were legal, my trip may have looked something like this..
I was a month or so into my travels abroad after I'd taken the leap of faith and headed from New Zealand across to the UK, my savings were rapidly depleting, and I needed to find a solution to my lack of accommodation.
One evening, whilst having a mild freakout trying to work out how on earth I would afford to live in London on my minuscule budget I called upon the intelligence of the T-800, i.e. ChatGPT.
I asked ChatGPT how I could live in London for free and I received some great insight, but one response in particular caught my attention. House sitting. I left it at that and went to bed. The following day I woke up to a message from my good friend, Laura, who had sent me an article about a guy who was making serious money house-sitting for the rich and famous.
I decided this was the confirmation I needed to investigate further.
The recommendation from ChatGPT was Trusted House Sitters, a global website connecting available sitters with those who need someone to take care of their pets and homes in exchange for free board. The signup was rather expensive so I was apprehensive, but in the fine print, it said that if I didn't find a sit within 2 weeks I would receive a free refund. That, coupled with someone "randomly" posting a 25% discount link on a house sitter Facebook group that I joined, I decided I didn't have anything to lose. All I needed was a sit for a few nights and it would cover the cost of the annual membership which would otherwise go to a hostel or Airbnb.
Within two days I had built my profile and been accepted for my first house sit. A home in Buckinghamshire about 1-hour train out of London, the resting place of the literary genius Ronald Dahl. I was locked in for 3 weeks while the family holidayed in Indonesia. It was late March, still cold, grey, wet and, due to the rural location, very muddy. I was looking after two very enthusiastic K9s, an older Dalmation and a year-old Pointer. Full noise. Each day I would take them for two 1hr walks in the surrounding woods, then would wash them down and dry them before letting them into the house.
The home was beautiful, I had a huge bedroom, my own bathroom, a gorgeous kitchen with all the Le Creuset you could ever wish for, and a full pantry (some owners will allow you access to their food). The home had central heating, a cinema, and they even gave me the keys to their electric VW Golf. In return, I kept the dogs, fish, chickens and plants happy, and the house clean and tidy.
As you can probably tell by now, it really depends on what animals you are taking care of as to how much of an undertaking these house sits can be. In other homes, I just had a cat or houseplants to look after, which obviously gave me far more freedom.
In the instances of sitting dogs, it wasn’t really an option to leave them alone for more than 6 hours, in the case of the aforementioned Dalmation and Pointer, it was more like two.
For the most part, this wasn't really an issue for me as I was mostly facilitating breathwork sessions and coaching online so I could happily stay in.
House sitting suits me immensely, I get a beautiful house to myself, with animals for company, in a prime location for free. There were definitely sits that I learned from, one in particular was more like a zoo, and almost became a full-time job to maintain, but generally speaking, the animals were great company.
My personal favourite, if I were to have one, would be a wee dog in South East London named Max, We had a great time together, and I very nearly shed a tear upon leaving him after two weeks.
An unexpected outcome from spending so much time with animals is that I discovered I have a natural ability to give cats and dogs healing massages. It's difficult to put into words, but my time around them seemed to open up this ability to help people's pets release tension in their bodies and often reduce anxiety.
I went a little above and beyond in my sits, I would share daily photos of the pets I was sitting with their owners, go out of my way to make sure the pets were happy, including massaging them, try my best to leave the plants happier and healthier than when I arrived, and often do things like mow the lawns before leaving the home to ensure the owner's return was as stress-free as possible.
Over the course of the 6 months, I was away for, I paid for about four weeks' worth of accommodation. Saving myself $1000s. I got to enjoy staying in nice homes, with the company of lovely animals. That being said, this way of living isn't for everyone, there were times when I had no idea where I would be living from one week to the next. It was a huge lesson in trusting I was supported in my journey. It really was a powerful reminder of how far I've come in being able to have a regulated nervous system amongst so much uncertainty. My daily practices such as breathwork, gratitude journaling, and meditation played a key role too.
Depending on the pet or home, the need to remain local to the house may take away from your ideal “free” holiday accommodation, at the end of the day, you are there to provide a service. Sometimes it can definitely feel like you are getting the short end of the stick as some pets require more attention than others, and some owners can be challenging.
Going forward, I would love to keep offering this service as a means of travel, even whilst home, within New Zealand. I've had a lot of fun with it, and it suits me to live on my own in the company of animals as I can focus my energy more on my business. I'd also like to try the paid sitter systems, as I have had excellent reviews and feel I offer a service worthy of remuneration.
If you're interested in signing up for Trusted House Sitters, you can use this link for a 25% discount. In return, I get 2 months free on my subscription. It’s a win-win.
If you have any other questions about house sitting or would like to know more about how I can help you feel more comfortable in uncertainty, feel free to reach out.