Want free accommodations when traveling? Try housesitting
If you yearn to travel but don’t have much of a budget for it, you may want to consider housesitting.
Housesitting is generally unpaid work. You and the homeowner essentially barter what you have for what you want. And when housesitting in another country, because no money changes hands, you avoid having to secure government permission to have a paying job.
But both sides get a substantial benefit. The homeowner can save the cost of having a pet sitter, which typically runs $25 to $100 a night, depending on the number of animals and the city. The arrangement can also benefit the pets, which are less likely to contract “kennel cough” or other ailments that bedevil animals boarded in a group setting. The homeowner also avoids the pitfalls of letting the place sit empty for weeks or months; someone will be there to deter break-ins and notice problems such as burst pipes. A housesitter might also be asked to water plants, collect mail and do basic maintenance such as yardwork.
Meanwhile, the housesitter saves the cost of accommodations. Since many housesitting arrangements span several weeks, this savings can add up to thousands of dollars. At the same time, housesitters often discover new towns and friends — furry and otherwise — that they never would have known if they’d traveled in a more conventional way.
Grounded by the pandemic, I returned to the air and fell in love, if briefly, with basic economy, a different parking lot and wailing children.
Paid housesitting jobs do exist. However, these are typically close-to-home arrangements that are solely about taking care of pets and plants, not travel. The best site to list your paid housesitting service is Rover, which takes a 20% commission for helping you find work.
If you’re looking to housesit outside of your metropolitan area, you should expect the deal to reduce your expenses, not provide income.
There are dozens of travel-oriented websites where you can advertise your house or your availability to housesit. Some sites concentrate on a single geographic region; others span continents.
Most charge housesitters a monthly or annual fee to search the registry and apply for positions. Some charge homeowners as much as or more than sitters, giving them premium services, such as insurance coverage for their possessions. Others don’t charge homeowners at all.
Nomador offers a compelling combination of reasonable fees, great advice and an abundance of users offering their homes and services. The site has a free option that allows you to test the service, but it charges sitters up to $99 annually if they want to contact more than a few homeowners. The same deal applies to homeowners: You can list for free, but if you actively use the service, you’ll need to pay. Other features that help Nomador stand out: It has a “stopover” option that helps housesitters find free accommodations between gigs, a fill-in-the-blanks guide to help homeowners assemble information sitters need and an identity verification service.
TrustedHousesitters is the most expensive of the international sites, but it draws the most traffic. While Nomador drew about 250,000 web visitors in April, TrustedHousesitters pulled in more than 780,000. The site’s annual fees range from $129 to $319, depending on whether you want a basic membership, additional services or a “combined” sitter/homeowner membership. Most of the extra bells and whistles seem costly. However, the site’s $129 basic registration fee provides 24/7 telephone access to a vet, making TrustedHousesitters a good choice for homeowners with older and medically fragile pets.
HouseCarers is one of the oldest sites, with more than 20 years in the industry. It is also one of the least expensive for registrants: Homeowners list for free; housesitters pay $50 annually. HouseCarers caters to retirees looking for a cozy and inexpensive way to travel the world. However, the website isn’t particularly user-friendly and appears to have fewer opportunities than Nomador and TrustedHousesitters.
House Sitters America focuses on the U.S. At a time when international travel is still dicey, this is a good option for U.S. residents who want to visit other parts of their own country. Like HouseCarers, House Sitters America does not charge owners to list their homes. Sitters pay $49 annually. Because there’s no international visa issue, Americans who use this site can charge for housesitting — but you should realize that you’re competing with people who are willing to sit in exchange for free accommodations. So unless the house or animals seem particularly unappealing, it may be tough to find a paid opportunity.
You’ll find lots of trippy California destinations in this edition of Escapes. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Cautions and caveats
For housesitters, the catch is that your vacation includes responsibilities that could restrict your ability to tour places more than a few hours’ drive from where you’re staying. The best way to address this is to research the location carefully to make sure it’s near enough to sites you hope to see. Another option is to ask the homeowners if they have a regular, paid housesitter you could hire if you wanted to take a day or two away.
Homeowners, meanwhile, bear the risk of hosting a stranger. Almost every housesitting site suggests that homeowners address that risk by communicating actively with prospective sitters. Ask for references and read the sitter’s reviews. Be clear about what the responsibilities are, asking sitters how they would handle potential problems.
Homeowners may want to keep valuables in a locked area. Clearing out a room for the sitter, including cabinet and closet space, is advised for longer stays. And check with your insurance agent to see how your carrier handles loss or damage caused by a guest staying in your home.
Kristof is the editor of SideHusl.com, an independent site that reviews hundreds of money-making opportunities in the gig economy.