Are you a cat person or a dog person?
I’d call myself an all-round animal lover.
I’ve been doing something for years that combines travel and animals. No, it’s not a circus… its house sitting!
I’ve found it’s the best way to explore wonderful places like a local, while spending quality time with adorable pets. Free accommodation is provided by a home owner in exchange for caring for their cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, or fish while they’re relaxing on vacation.
But how do you find these gigs? Easy.
My favourite service is TrustedHousesitters – the world’s largest community of pet owners and house sitters.
I’ve had some experience from a pet owner’s perspective, but most of this article will focus on what it’s like for the sitter. I’ll give you all the tips you need to find and score the best house sits so you can share puppy cuddles or cat kisses and travel on a shoestring budget.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France
How does TrustedHousesitters work
To join TrustedHousesitters, an annual plan must be purchased – US$119/year for a sitter or owner (3 month plans are available for owners for just $69). Sitters don’t charge any fees or receive any income from the platform. They offer their services just because they love animals.
If you just want to see what assignments are available, you can do that without paying. But when you’re ready to start communicating with owners and applying, then a membership is needed.
Thousands of assignments from up to 130 countries are available at any given time. The most popular countries are: United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Applying for a house sit is easy:
Here’s an overview video that explains how TrustedHousesitters works.
Identify verification and safety
The first thing you’ll probably think about having a stranger in your house or looking after a stranger’s pets is “can I trust them?”.
TrustedHousesitters takes safety and trustworthiness very seriously.
Firstly, there’s a community Code of Conduct to ensure all members are on the same page, and expectations about interactions are clear.
Each house sitter goes through a series of verification steps. “Basic” verification lets owners know the sitter’s contact details are confirmed, while “Standard” verification adds more thorough identity checks.
The next layer of safety comes from reviews. After each assignment, an owner can leave a review for the sitter which is publicly available for other members. This encourages sitters to do the right thing and treat owners, pets and homes with respect. A recent addition is reviews for owners, so other house sitters can tell if they might be problematic or sweet as pie.
For the owner’s peace of mind, every registered sit is covered by a protection called “Insurance Backed Guarantee” – this covers property damage, theft and public liability.
Some owners prefer to get sitters to sign a contract, although that’s never happened to me. TrustedHousesitters provide a template document as a starting point. I feel it’s a little overkill as the whole system is based on trust, but the option is there.
If there’s any problems any time, the TrustedHousesitters support team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In reality, the system works on good faith – the sitter needs to turn up when they say they will, and look after the pets as promised. Sure, if you search online you can find people sharing their experiences when things go wrong. But the vast majority of the time everything goes just fine. In fact, from over 10,000 reviews on Trustpilot, 93% give the TrustedHousesitters a 5-star review.
Is TrustedHousesitters worth it?
Let’s get to the bottom line. TrustedHousesitters is not free. And I think that’s a good thing.
What would happen if there were no fees? The quality of sitters would drop – the platform would attract everyone looking for a free ride. And owners would have less trust for the incoming applications. There would be less (or no) investment in the platform, no automatic insurance, no 24-hour support. A bad deal for everyone.
The amount you would save on paying for accommodation at a hotel will vary based on the city and suburb. But I’ll give you a real example based on one of our house sits:
A modern 1-bedroom apartment in Newcastle, UK for 9 nights goes for around US$1,500 during summer on Booking.com. For the same period, we paid $0 for a large multi-story house in a relatively affluent neighbourhood. But I can’t say it was “free” because it wasn’t. We traded our time and services for the accommodation:
- walking a very energetic young dog at least twice a day,
- feeding, grooming and cuddling her,
- vacuuming and cleaning the house.
We also went over and above the typical expectations for house sitters and bought the owners flowers, and made a home-cooked meal for when they returned from vacation. Add to this the regular pet updates while the owner is away, and the amount of communication to arrange the sit, and the pre-sit meet-up to get to know the pet, and you get the idea that there’s a serious time investment in each house sit. There’s no free ride.
So why do it?
There’s really only one reason. The love of animals.
Of course, there are additional benefits, like we get to meet amazing people and beautiful pets, and experience a destination from a local’s perspective – not like a tourist.
But if you’re asking yourself if the annual membership plan for TrustedHousesitters is worth it, then you don’t need a calculator to work out it will pay itself many times over with just 1 sitting assignment. Or if you do 2 or 3 per year, it will definitely be great value.
However, if you don’t love animals and just care about free accommodation, save everyone the hassle and just head over to Couchsurfing.
How to set up your profile properly
First impressions count. To get the attention of home owners, it pays to invest some time into creating an attractive profile. Take good quality photos of yourself, preferably with animals – if they are from previous house sits, even better.
In the “about us” section, add as much detail as possible about your experience looking after animals, even if it’s just your own pet. Share a bit about what you do, and why you travel. Let your personality shine through and help owners realise you’re down-to-earth.
It helps to add dates to the “availability” calendar. This way if you’re staying still in one city, pet owners can reach out to you (rather than the other way around). You can also set your “preferred countries” which helps owners know if you’re a good match. Take the time to complete the standard level verification as it shows you take the trust that comes with this role seriously.
Best tips for beginners
One of the most important aspects of your profile is verified reviews from previous house sits. These will make owners much more willing to choose you over competing applications. You can request external character references from a landlord, employer or someone you’ve house sat previously (outside TrustedHousesitters). But nothing beats verified reviews.
The fastest way to get these is start local. Try doing a few short house sits in your home town. You don’t have to go very far, and you can meet the owners if advance if it helps. The more positive reviews you can build up, the more attractive your profile will be on TrustedHousesitters.
Download the free TrustedHousesitters app (iOS, Android) so you can look for sits wherever you go and keep in touch with owners who message you.
What house sitters need to know
- TrustedHousesitters is the biggest community which means there’s more available sitting assignments, but there’s also more competition with other sitters. Your reviews and profile make all the difference. Think about this like online dating. But with less creepy guys. Spend your time writing a compelling review – 1 paragraph about why you want free accommodation will turn owners off. Being friendly, helpful and caring will increase your chances of finding a gig.
- Be flexible on dates if possible. This will vastly increase the number of potential sits. We started our road trip planning around the UK based on house sitting assignments. As we locked in gigs, the pieces started to fall together. Any gaps were filled in with short hotel stays.
- Fast communication is key – don’t dilly dally. When a home owner receives a dozen applications soon after posting a listing, they will likely respond to each one. If you provide a response even faster than other sitters you’ll have a better likelihood of locking in a gig. This is where the app comes in handy – enable push notifications under Me > Settings > Notifications.
- Check the website or app daily for new opportunities. If you wait until the email newsletter is sent out it might be too late – especially in popular locations. The early bird gets the house sit. In the top-right of the sitting assignments list click “sort by” and change it to “most recently added”.
- Sitting in popular locations means more competition with other sitters. Look at the number of applications on the listing page (just above the “apply now” button). Want a light and breezy apartment in central Paris with 1 low-maintenance cat? Good luck. Unless you have a stellar profile with dozens of 5-star reviews and catchy profile photos, you’re better off trying for lower competition sits. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite possible to score a sweet gig as a beginner, but this is a numbers game. Which brings me onto the next point.
- Take a scattergun approach – try applying for several sits at a time to increase your chances of success. However, once you’ve confirmed a house sit, do not apply for additional sits on overlapping dates. That’s just bad form, and diminishes the owner’s trust in the platform (and you).
- Look for last minute sits. Owners who list their property within 2 weeks of their departure need to find a sitter urgently and will tend to be less picky. This makes it harder for you to plan ahead, but if you’re already located nearby it’s a convenient way to extend your vacation. In the top-right of the sitting assignments list click “sort by” and change it to “sits starting soon”.
- Do a video call (on Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts) before committing to ensure everything feels right. Ask as many questions as you need. It’s a great way to meet the pet/s and take a virtual tour of the property.
- Basic maintenance, cleaning or garden care is perfectly normal and should be expected as a sitter. If there’s any reason why you don’t feel confident in being able to fulfil the requirements, let the owner know before confirming the sit.
- Watch out for “gotchas” during the video call or in the assignment details:
- “oh, by the way, I have a few other pets I didn’t mention on the listing” – red flag
- untrained/unruly animals – watch out
- ridiculously high expectations (like being a farm hand for free) – no thanks
- Be aware this isn’t a hotel – you’ll need to do cleaning/housekeeping. Please look after the house like it’s your own (or better). If you do a good job as a sitter, the owner will come back and use the platform again which is good for all other members (including me!).
- Sometimes it’s best to meet the owner and pet/s in person in advance. This allows the pets get used to you, and helps the owner feel more comfortable because they’re not handing their keys over to a stranger anymore.
- Looking after a house doesn’t automatically mean access to a car. Clarify this with the owner before confirming the sit. If you both agree to use the car while the owner is away, encourage the owner to check about insurance coverage and if possible, add yourself as an additional driver so you’re fully covered. Don’t take the generosity of an owner for granted, please.
- Cancelling is generally not ok. The owner is planning their vacation around you, and trusting that you’ll follow through on your promises. Unless there’s a serious illness or death in the family, it’s considered extremely rude to cancel. This kind of behaviour is grounds for TrustedHousesitters to suspend your account. If the house sit has been booked far in advance (at least 6 months) and you need to cancel, this should be enough time for the owner to find a new sitter. But discuss this in person over the phone if possible, and use tact.
- If you’re travelling from abroad, ensure you get to know any locals and customs, and differences in etiquette. Some of these may be subtle, others more obvious. As an Australian, I was surprised how many pubs in the UK welcomed dogs!
How to ensure a smooth house sit
Here’s a few tips I discovered from house sitting over the years:
- Confirm the dates and times when the owner will be leaving and returning. Depending on your travel plans, either be at home for their return or ensure the pets are not left alone for too long. Plan for a little wiggle room, so if the owner’s return flight runs late, you (and the pets) won’t be stuck.
- Make a checklist of things you’ll need to know – hopefully these will be covered in the owner’s “Welcome Guide”: emergency contacts, local veterinarian contact details (and any relevant insurance records), any parts of the house or garden that are off-limits, any vaccinations or medications required, any allergies or quirks, security system codes, WiFi password, Internet bandwidth limitations (if applicable), rubbish collection schedules, and parking permits (if required). Hopefully most of these will be in the welcome guide provided by the owner – either via the TrustedHousesitters platform, a document they email to you directly or perhaps just a print-out left on the coffee table. One owner just gave us verbal instructions, which worked fine too. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and jot down the answers.
- If the pet requires walks (ie. a dog), find out the best routes and parks. Some locations may require a drive, so if you’ve got your own car (or a rental), put a towel or blanket on the back seat to keep it clean.
- Find out if the owner would like daily/regular updates while they’re away. If they are comfortable, send them photos of their pet and home every few days via WhatsApp (or another IM app). Some owners want to disconnect completely, so just find out how much contact they’d prefer and work around that.
- Get to know the neighbours. If the owner has close contact with their neighbours, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself as well. We enjoyed a chat with drinks and nibbles at a neighbour’s house while in the UK. An absolutely charming experience.
- Respect the privacy of the home. Don’t share any images or information about the home and pets (including on social media) without express permission from the owners.
- I’ve endeavoured to prepare a home cooked meal for the owner for when they return. Check before they leave if they have any allergies, dietary requirements or preferences. I prefer to keep the finished meal in the fridge so they can re-heat it once they get home. Chances are after a long transit day, they just want to relax in their comfortable, familiar surroundings. So, give them plenty of space, unless they request otherwise. Also stocking the fridge with any food you might have consumed while the owner was away is a sign of gratitude and will help make their return smoother.
My first-hand experience house sitting in the United Kingdom
Over the years I’ve house sat in Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, and Canada. But recently we took a road trip around the UK and looked after a bunch of beautiful dogs, cats and even a chicken.
We connected with each owner on TrustedHousesitters. Some of them were very organised with a highly detailed house/pet guide, while others preferred to keep things loose and flexible. Each experience was completely enjoyable and a win-win for the owners, pets and ourselves. We were able to explore new areas from a local’s perspective, and keep our travel budget down.
Every house sit resulted in a 5-star review for our TrustedHousesitters profile. Here’s an example:
And here’s a few of the gorgeous pets we cared for:
Millie (Jack Russell):
Max & Lexie (Schnauzers):
The bottom line
Receiving free accommodation in exchange for looking after pets is a pretty good deal. And TrustedHousesitters take the hassle out of finding owners and pets, while making the process as safe and smooth as possible.
This platform is a perfect example of how love can bring people together – it’s not a service driven by greed – in fact, the sitters don’t make a cent out of it. But the unifying love for animals is able to bring out the best in each human interaction.
“The creatures that inhabit this earth – be they human beings or animals – are here to contribute, each in its own particular way, to the beauty and prosperity of the world.” – Dalai Lama