One of the most frequent questions I get about digital nomad life from curious people is about finding digital nomad accomodation. Airbnb has gotten pretty expensive, Facebook groups can be great but can also be full of scams – but what if I told you there was a way to live rent-free? Long term house sitting is the answer.
Why You Should Consider Long-Term Housesitting
Let’s be real – your biggest expense as a person on this planet is probably housing. It was for me when I lived as a normal corporate person in Boston (before I quit my job to travel the world) and it is in my life now.
Housesitting as a digital nomad is the best way to slash or even eliminate that cost. If you didn’t have to pay rent for a month or more, what could you do with that cash instead? Possibly a lot, whether it’s just stretching your timeline to get your freelance writing business started or saving to buy a base somewhere.
Also, if there’s a place you love to visit but can’t afford or would have to stretch significantly to pay rent in, long term house sitting is the way to make it happen. For me, that’s the United Kingdom – I love it, especially London, but monthly accomodation costs are insane. But by housesitting, I can stay in some (typically very lovely) spots without paying a cent in rent.
And a final factor? One of the biggest challenges of digital nomad life is not having a feeling of home – even the nicest Airbnbs are not at all like having a home. But with housesitting, you can get that feeling while saving money, which is a huge win for me.
What is House Sitting?
Let’s be clear – while it’s called housesitting, when you’re doing it for free long-term digital nomad accomodation it’s likely to be looking after dogs, cats, little pets, even some livestock! Simply living in and looking after someone’s home without the responsibility of pets is rare and harder to come by.
So if you don’t really enjoy caring for pets, housesitting on the major sites like Trusted Housesitters or Nomador are probably not for you.
But if, like me, you miss having a pet in your nomadic lifestyle, housesitting can be a perfect fit. You get free accomodation in exchange for looking after their pets, house, and possibly garden while they’re gone.
Usually the tasks needed are light, like watering plants on the terrace when needed, but the sit description will let you know – some can be pretty intense, but those are rare.
What Happens When I Housesit
Here’s what housesitting looks like for me:
I am obsessed with cats – I grew up with them, and I had a beautiful, enormous cat of my own until he died in 2019.
But I can’t have cats while I move around so much, so I look for housesits that have cats to care for on Trusted Housesitters. I’m not super comfortable with dogs and have never taken care of one, so I leave those to the dog lovers.
When I housesit, it’s always a catsit too. Since cats are pretty independent, I am responsible for their typical light tasks like daily feeding, cleaning the litterbox, and playing with them and giving them cuddles.
With catsitting, sometimes the cats are on a schedule and sometimes they’re pretty easy. I work from home when I catsit but sometimes I will go out for a few hours or the day, and the cats are fine by themselves. Of course, if you’re looking after dogs, they have more needs and so you will need to plan your time even more around their schedule for walks.
And if you’re looking after livestock – once I took care of four ducks, eleven chickens, and two hedgehogs as well as four cats! – the schedule will vary even more. The ducks would not go into their little shed until there was not a speck of light left in the sky, so I planned my evenings around that task, which required a lot of running around in the mud in the near-pitch-dark.
Everyone I have housesat (and catsat) for has been wonderful – friendly, welcoming, informative, and kind. They give me detailed instructions on what the cats like, don’t like, and need, and typically on the surrounding area and fun things to do as well. They do like when I check in at least once a day with an update on the cats/ducks/hedgehogs to be sure they’re doing well – they love their pets and that’s why they have someone come to stay!
Housesitting is a great option for pet owners, especially cat owners, because their pets can stay in the comfort of their own home while the owners are away. The owners are usually travelers themselves, so they understand why a nomad house sitter is drawn to this type of task as well.
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How to Become a Housesitter
So how do I find these housesits? And you can you become a housesitter yourself?
My experience has all been either with friends who know me and have asked me to watch their cats, and on the app I currently use, so this is also a Trusted Housesitters review for those who are interested.
I signed up for Trusted Housesitters in 2019 as I was ending my year of traveling the world and researching how to become a digital nomad. Giving a cat or four some cuddles while getting free housing seemed like an ideal way to ease the transition to being a digital nomad.
But you do need a bit of a strategy to start getting long term house sitting gigs. People are (understandably) cautious about who they want to stay in their home and look after their beloved pets, so it’s not enough to simply set up a basic profile and hope for the best.
The first step is choosing the right platform to set up your profile and look for sits.
- Trusted Housesitters is the biggest housesitting website, and that’s probably because it offers a lot of security and assurances for both housesitters and people who need housesitters. It was founded in the UK so it has a ton of house sitting opportunities there, plenty around Europe and the US, and they’re expanding to the rest of the world. They have the most listings by far, and you can get save searches for places you want to go and get immediate alerts so you can apply. Their app is great and they offer insurance in case anything goes wrong on your sit.
- Nomador is also popular and cheaper, but it has fewer sits available.
No matter which site you choose, you should fill out your profile completely. For Trusted Housesitters, that means uploading a description of yourself, photos, and verifiying your identity as well as passing a basic background check.
You can also get external references, which can help you land that first sit, and upload a video so your potential hosts can get a feel for you. And you can now link your Airbnb profile, which can help you prove to hosts that you’re a kind and courteous guest. I even put in my Linkedin profile because it shows that I’m really a professional writer, which builds trust.
When creating your profile, it’s important to focus on what your hosts are looking for, and less on what you want to get out of it. Saying “I want free rent” is definitely not going to make someone want to open their home to you as much as describing how much you love caring for animals, working from home to keep them company, and being tidy.
Getting that first sit is the hardest, because reviews count heavily on housesitting websites. Looking for a local one can be great even if you don’t need the housing, just so you can get established. I wrote very personalized applications – mention the pets’ names and your interest in them and that goes a long way.
Once you have a sit under your belt and a review (don’t be afraid to remind the host!), you’re on your path to getting long term house sitting gigs.
Also, one safety note – as a solo female traveler, I personally prefer to sit for hosts who have plenty of reviews so I know it’s all above board. And I do a quick call with any potential hosts before agreeing to anything so I can sense the vibe (trust me, you’ll pick up anything sketchy pretty fast). I’ve had only incredibly positive experiences so far with those measures.
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House Sitting Etiquette
Wondering how to get top reviews as a house sitter? Here’s what you need to know.
The best way to get great reviews and have happy hosts is to leave the house at least as clean as it was when you arrived – major bonus points for leaving it even cleaner, as I try to do. Your hosts have just been on holiday and it’s stressful to return to a messy house after a relaxing getaway. They really, really appreciate returning to a sparkling home as well as happy, healthy pets.
My hosts have almost always also offered me to help myself to anything in their house – major shoutout to the hosts who had a lovely fancy gin collection and urged me to make myself G&Ts with their stash while they were gone.
While I will absolutely take them up on that, I also do it within reason – I am not going to clear out all their food and drink. In my first housesit, my host told me her most recent housesitter had drunk every single bottle of alcohol in her house – that’s a definite no. (She also stole her bathmat which… don’t do that either.)
And of course, love the little pets you’re caring for! Your hosts will probably appreciate a daily check-in text with a short description of the day and a picture or two of the cuties so they feel secure that everything is going well while they’re gone.
Mostly, it’s important to remember that while you’re probably on holiday, they’re looking for excellent care for their pets, and that needs to be your priority. If it can’t be, like if you want to be out sightseeing all day and partying all night, housesitting might not be a great fit.
But if you’re looking for a way to combine working (digital nomad life!) with new, local experiences and saving on rent, housesitting is amazing. Plus all those cute creatures you get to hang out with!
Want to start housesitting yourself? Sign up for Trusted Housesitters and get a 25% discount on your membership!