Without wishing to state the obvious, it can get pretty exhausting travelling constantly from place to place. Even though we’ve been pretty happy with the pace of our journey to date. Yet there are plenty of other (and admittedly, younger) people who pack much more than we do into their travel itineraries.
But, after 15 months of living out of a backpack, we wanted to enjoy a slower pace for a while, before we headed off again. Time to reflect on our experiences and plan what we wanted to do next with our lives. And as we returned to the Brexit fury engulfing the UK we knew we had to do our reflecting and planning somewhere else. Somewhere we could slow down and relax, while still being able to explore new places and experience different things.
Which is why France and house sitting were the perfect fit.
Two words. Wine and cheese.
OK, that’s a bit simplistic but it’s a good place to start.
We’ve been to France many times before and have loved the rural way of life, the beautiful villages and towns, the chateaux, and of course the superior weather. In fact, Nicky lived there for six months as a young girl, in a tiny Ardeche village in the south-east. And, as it’s a cheap ferry journey from England (50 euros from Newhaven to Dieppe) it was a no-brainer.
We’ve also decided that, if we’re to continue with our long-term travel plans we need to find a variety of ways to generate the cash to fund it. We’ve got some ideas about how we’ll do that while we’re on the road but we’ve decided that by buying a property in France (which is WAY cheaper than buying in the UK) we can potentially earn some rental income during the summer season. So that’s objective number one.
But what sealed the deal for us was the opportunity to try house sitting at the same time. We’d heard so much about it that we reckoned it was about time we gave it a try ourselves. After all, what’s not to like about staying rent-free in some of the most sought-after areas of France?
So what exactly is house sitting?
It’s an arrangement by which homeowners can have their pets and/or their home looked after while they are away – from just a few days to months or even years. In return, housesitters have the opportunity to live like a local in rent-free accommodation (and usually utility bill-free too).
It’s a win-win situation which is proving increasingly popular amongst homeowners and housesitters alike.
What’s in it for homeowners?
On the face of it, you might think there are too many risks associated with letting complete strangers into your home and expecting them to look after it to the same degree as yourself. Not to mention giving them access to your personal belongings and entrusting them with the welfare of your pets.
But consider the alternatives.
Owners are not always comfortable about leaving their pets with expensive commercial kennels and catteries. And they’re not necessarily the best environments for keeping them happy and healthy, anyway. Particularly if the owners are away from home often or for long periods of time.
And there are those owners who have geese, chickens, sheep, goats, horses etc who simply don’t have the option of off-site carers.
It’s not just about the animals, either. Owners don’t necessarily like the idea of locking up their homes and switching everything off for months at a time.
And there’s the issue of security attached to an empty house, too.
We’ve also come across owners of holiday homes who just want someone (or a couple) to look after their business while their away. In these cases, there’s usually separate living accommodation close to the holiday home itself. And there are even opportunities to earn some money from it, too.
What sort of people are housesitters?
This kind of arrangement is perfectly suited to long-term travellers who are flexible with where and when they can house sit. In fact, it’s been a steady growth area for the past ten years or so.
It’s not for those who are continually on the move and want to fit in as many sights as they possibly can. However, for those who want to travel slowly and immerse themselves in local culture, it’s an extremely low-cost and efficient way of travelling.
Having said that, there are plenty of assignments available for two weeks or less that are suited to those looking for an alternative way of spending their annual holiday.
However, as the vast majority of assignments involve looking after pets, you really do need to be an animal lover and accept the attached responsibilities.
It IS possible to find house-sits that do not involve pets but the choice is limited and there’s a lot of competition.
How do you find assignments?
There are people out there who discovered house sitting many years ago and have since turned it into a profession. Even to the point where homeowners approach them directly and they are able to charge for their service.
However, for the vast majority, the access point is via a number of online websites which bring together communities of homeowners and housesitters for a quarterly or annual fee.
Typically a house sitting “assignment” is listed by the owner, to which applications are invited from prospective housesitters registered with that particular website. As part of their registration, applicants will have completed a personal profile, so the homeowner is able to sift through them for the sort of qualities and experience they are looking for. Much in the same way as an employer sifts through CVs in a job application process.
Once they’ve short-listed one of more candidates they might then arrange a telephone or Skype call before making their decision.
Some homeowners don’t even list their assignments publicly but scour the website for individual profiles and contact the most suitable directly. In fact, I’m happy to say this has already happened to us!
Housesitters can search for assignments based on a number of filters – country, region, dates etc. Then just short-list the most suitable (or desirable!) and submit a request, along with a covering message. Obviously, it pays to have a well-thought-through profile as it’s likely that other people would like the assignment, too.
Right, you’ve convinced me – where do I start?
First of all, you need to register with one or more house sitting websites. There are some well-established sites, along with a few newcomers. Of course, the well-established ones typically have the most listings and in turn, the most registrations. Which means lots of competition. So it might be worthwhile registering with a popular and an up-and-coming one to keep your options open.
We’ve been using Mind My House for our assignments and have found them to be excellent for us. To be honest we picked them because they were also the cheapest on the market ($20 per year). But since we registered and started applying for house sits in July we’ve managed to secure SIX assignments between September 2016 and the end of March 2017. That’s five in France and one in England.
The big players are Trusted Housesitters ($99 per year) and House Carers ($50 per year). Meanwhile, Nomador (65 euros per year) are particularly good for European-based assignments (especially France) and you can actually make three free applications with them before you have to upgrade to the paid version.
We can’t vouch for these other sites but there’s plenty of other information and opinion on them from other housesitters. In fact, try these….
What do I need to be a successful housesitter?
There are certainly more experienced housesitters than us out there. But we think we’ve quickly established what it takes to be successful at this.
Firstly, you need to treat every assignment as you would a new job. Reputation counts for a lot and is what will help you to stand out from the crowd. And positive references from your previous assignments will provide assurance to prospective new “employers” about your suitability.
So, if you want positive references you can start by communicating well, arriving promptly, and being as helpful as possible. If the assignment is for a month or more you might keep the owner updated on how things are progressing. You might also want to update them on how their pets are coping and anything that needs their attention. And you can finish by ensuring that you leave the place even cleaner than it was when you arrived.
All good common sense, really. But as with any new job if you set out to impress you’ll be rewarded with further work. Just spend some time crafting your profile because, without that, you stand less chance of getting your foot through the door in the first place.
If you want some inspiration, here’s our current profile.
So what have you got lined up?
We’re just completing a five-week assignment looking after a gorgeous black cat in a converted 14th-Century presbytery in the Dordogne area. After this, we’re up in Charente for eleven days before heading down to the Pyrenees for a further nine days. Then it’s off to Tarn for a month before flying off to Budapest for a week (not house sitting this time).
We’ll then be back in England over Christmas and New Year (including another house sit in Cheshire) before returning to France early January for a three-month assignment in Loire-Atlantique.
In all, we’ll be looking after six cats, six dogs, five geese, some chickens and a parrot. And we’ll have hopefully learned more French than the parrot (although Nicky will claim she’s already way ahead of me).
In the meantime, I’ve just spotted a glass of red Bordeaux with my name on it peering across at me over a lump of Roquefort cheese.
What did you think? Have you tried house-sitting? Or perhaps it’s something you’d consider in the near future? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Hi, we’re Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we’d like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.