Several years ago, a friend living in Brooklyn told me that she had stayed for free all summer in a swanky, upper east-side NYC apartment. All she had to do was feed two cats. That’s it. It was a friend of a friend of a friend kind of connection. I couldn’t believe it! I’d heard about this house sitting thing, but it seemed way too good to be true.
As my boyfriend and I began our slow travel adventures, we easily found Couchsurfing hosts, cheap hostels to spend a few nights or found places to stay for a month or more, doing volunteer work in exchange for room and board. But a free house? Not yet.
My friend’s story was always there in the back of my mind, until one day, I heard about the wonderful house sitting experiences of our Scottish Workaway host in Bulgaria. Following her advice, I immediately signed up for a house sitter profile at MindMyHouse and shortly after, I began my quest to perfect the art of the house sitter inquiry letter.
At first, I drew upon my job application cover letter skills, but I quickly realized that there had to be a step up in the level of familiarity and amicability. Homeowners don’t really care about your people skills or your computer skills—they care about your experience with animals and your gardening and DIY skills. They want to know if you can handle life in a remote rural area, driving a 4×4 vehicle down the narrow dirt track that leads to their off-grid mountain home.
Not really minding where we would end up, I sent off half a dozen letters in a day, scattering my house sitting hopes across Portugal, Spain, France, Greece and Italy. I waited and waited for a response, and finally, the rejections started coming in. As a freelance writer who constantly pitches article ideas to editors, I’ve become used to rejections, which I much prefer to complete lack of acknowledgment. I shrugged it off, did another more thorough search of houses, and refined my profile and cover letters accordingly.
At the time, the largest number of possible homes were in France, Portugal and Spain, which usually means that this is where a large number of people have relocated from abroad or have vacation homes. House sitting is possible in many parts of the world, but I’ve found that a majority of assignments are in Western Europe, the US and Canada.
During this frenzied application process, we were hibernating in Istanbul with our CouchSurfing host (and now good friend!) as the winter season quickly approached. Driving, cold rain was the daily theme. I realized that many of the homeowners on the house sitting websites would be leaving their homes during the holidays—anywhere from a week to two months—and they simply needed someone to look after their cats, dogs and plants. But if I was going to make the journey from Turkey to house sit in Europe, I wanted to find a long-term position. Filtering out the short-term holiday ads cut down my options drastically, but it also helped me focus on more suitable matches. It’s not just about finding a free house—house sitting requires that you are physically capable and mentally prepared to take on the living situation in a new culture and ready to be responsible for anything that comes up along the way. It really is a big responsibility to take care of someone’s home. The key is to treat it as you would your own home.
Finally, I got a bite—in north Cyprus of all places. But from Istanbul, it was just a short, cheap flight on the low-cost airline Pegasus. To make a long story short, we ended up spending almost five months in north Cyprus house sitting, or rather, farm-sitting, in one of the most beautiful, remote corners of the world. It is a place and moment I will never forget. We had to use an “internet dongle” (a USB modem) for internet access, but because it was expensive and the plan was limited, we didn’t work much online during this time. But this was okay since we had no rent to pay, and we spent very little on groceries. Instead, we were able to use this incredibly tranquil and inspiring seaside setting to work on our own creative projects, like fiction writing, drawing and music.
If you’re considering a house sit during your long term travels (and you should!), here are some websites commonly used by house sitters to find gigs:
- Nomador: Free for up to 3 applications; membership with unlimited applications costs $35 for 3 months, $89 for a year
- Trustedhousesitters: $139 a year; very well-known site. Use this discount code for 15% off your membership fee! (scroll to bottom of page)
- HouseSittingWorld: 30 day free trial for first-time users, $5.99 monthly, $99 annually; be sure to check out their very active Facebook group
- Caretaker: $29.95 for one year of online access to this bimonthly publication. It looks a bit old school but is full of fantastic listings, some of which are even paid
- HouseCarers: $50 for one year; well established site
- SabbaticalHomes: Free to use; I’ve used this site several times for rentals, but they also feature house sitting gigs and home swaps as well.
- MindMyHouse: $20 for one year