Our list of temporary "homes" have included a brownstone in Manhattan, a villa in southern Spain, a 10th century manor in rural Ireland, and more. We've lived a quick walk from a Caribbean beach, on the edge of a lake in the midwest, and are soon off to experience the Highlands of Scotland.
And for all of these exciting living arrangements, we haven't paid a cent.
The premise is simple. Homeowners are looking for someone responsible to care for their house and pets while they are away, and my husband and I are looking for complimentary accommodations to help keep our travel costs low. We are house-sitters!
Not only can we travel in comfort on a budget, but we enjoy a completely different globe-trotting experience -- spending intimate time in a new destination with complete immersion in a local neighborhood. Forget hopping on tour buses to only see the highlights. We are able to really dig into the culture and befriend the locals.
And it's not just for long-term travelers like us. One of the best things about house-sitting is that there is a wide range of house-sits available. Their duration can vary from a weekend to a year or more. Most involve the need to give love and attention to the resident pets, but others just offer a carefree existence -- homeowners can enjoy the peace of mind knowing that their place is being looked after, and the house-sitters vacation for free.
My husband with sweet Ollie, the dog we took care of in Ireland.
How to find a house-sit
There are several websites available to match homeowner with house-sitter:
TrustedHousesitters.com - $79 annual fee - The largest and fastest growing website. It has assignments worldwide but a heavy base in the UK and Europe.
MindMyHouse.com - $20 annual fee - Low fee to join, a good number of house-sits and a well laid-out website. Jobs are primarily in North America and Europe.
Housecarers.com - $55 annual fee - Plenty of good house-sits with a focus on Australia, New Zealand and North America.
Current assignments can be viewed for free, but to apply, a membership is required. Don't wait to buy in -- the best opportunities go fast and some websites give priority viewing to members only.
Keys to landing a house-sit
A Solid Profile - This is your face to all the homeowners. A well written and up-to-date profile may even encourage homeowners to contact you directly. Some key elements to include are:
-> Experience - Include any previous house-sitting jobs, or refer to your own experience as a homeowner.
-> Pets - Exude your love for all things furry!
-> Special skills - Do you speak foreign languages? Do you have a green thumb or are you handy with tools should the home require further care?
-> Sell it - Lots and lots of enthusiasm goes a long way.
Opening Email - When applying for a specific job, pay attention to the listing and to details. The key to a good opening is brevity, while highlighting important information. Don't make the email look like a stock letter that you've sent to multiple listings.
Be Prompt - Attractive house-sits go quickly - being one of the first to apply can greatly increase your chances of landing it. Sign-up for email alerts from the websites you are members of to be one of the first to know of new listings.
References - The most important aspect that homeowners will look at it is references. Have quality people lined up who will speak highly of you. If you have no previous house-sitting experience, consider asking former landlords, neighbors, or anyone who can attest to your character, reliability and trustworthiness.
You've secured an assignment, now what?
Be Prepared - Ask lots of questions before arrival so that there are no surprises with regards to expectations.
Take it Seriously - When you have the keys in hand,it goes without saying ytotreat the house with the utmost respect. Stick to the home-owners' guidelines on correspondence, how to deal with mail, instructions for pets, etc. Return it to the homeowners in as good as, or better, shape than you arrived in.
Bask in Your Good Fortune - At times there may be work involved, and tending to the responsibilities may occasionally limit your opportunities to explore the new area you are staying in, but most of the time you'll be able to just marvel at your new and valuable experience. And don't forget about the money saved - extend your vacation or let your freed travel dollars take you a little farther away - either way, the advantages of this style of travel are extensive.
House-sitting has become our favorite way to travel. We bet that it could be yours, too.
Follow Dalene Heck on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HeckticTravels