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Saturday, February 23, 2019

HSFTW! (House sitting for the win!)

Way back when Stacy and I started scheming our adventure, we discussed saving money by house sitting. We applied for a couple sits on TrustedHouseSitters.com but never heard a peep in return. It didn’t take much to discourage us since we hadn’t tapped into our reserves yet, so we just moved on and Airbnb’d it. 


When Stacy went back home, I threw our original plan out the window and spent three months in Germany writing, contemplating, wondering what I was doing and what to do next. As luck would have it, I had a string of friends who had planned trips to Europe and gladly set my schedule to match theirs.  With all this running around planned, it felt like a good time to give house sitting a try again.

TrustedHouseSitters.com works kinda like a cross between a dating site and Airbnb. Start with a profile describing how absolutely awesome and sane you are and what an amazing (animal) lover you are. Lots of pics of you and your pets to make you attractive to homeowners in need of sitters. From there, you put in a date range and a city or country and what types of animals you want to watch, find an attractive home and send a message designed to convince them that you’re the best match for their beloved home and pets. If you get chosen, you get a free place to stay and the homeowners get a free sitter.  Win - Win!

I found a two-week house sit in a small town I’d never heard of not far from the charming Cotswolds area in the UK.  In case you’re not familiar with the Cotswolds, it’s pretty much the epitome of quaint English fairytale villages. Buttery yellow stone homes each boasting a cute garden overflowing with hollyhocks and roses, many with black-thatched roofs set against rolling green hills with white sprinkles of sheep.




A few hours after my application, I got a message requesting a video interview. I was way more nervous than I am on a first date.  I set my camera to selfie mode and did practice runs in various rooms with different lighting and different outfits; imagining what questions they might have for me and coming up with a few of my own. All there was to do now, was sweat in the Berlin summer heat, twiddling my thumbs for a couple hours till I got an incoming video call.

After hello’s, the homeowner said, “Oh good, you look just like your photos.”  Guess she’d gotten catfished before, too! She asked me some easy questions and showed me around the house a bit as she held the phone up to the cats who were possibly even cuter than their profile photos.

Not long after, I got an email saying that they’d love to have me watch Tiddles and Shindig, so I booked my tickets for a couple months in the future; perfectly dovetailing with my other travels.

Once there, I found that staying in someone’s home was even more comforting than I imagined. I spent the first few days blissfully doing nothing more than petting cats, writing, and eating pre-made shepherd’s pies and Cornish pasties.  Tiddles informed me that she’d always aspired to be a writing assistant. I admired her persistence though her skills were pretty limited.


House sitting took me so far off the radar of touristy destinations that even my English friends didn’t know of this town. I was charmed but didn’t feel a pressing need to run out and “do all the things”.  I could slow down and just live. Live in a space that was actually lived in, with a kitchen people actually cooked in and best of all, KITTIES!!!



As my housesit in Great Malvern neared an end I found that I wasn’t ready to gallivant off elsewhere… I wanted more time with pets and a “real” home. Plus, there may or may not have been a certain boy that made it hard for me to leave.

I found another house sit in the area - this time with an even more amazing garden and two adorable Siamese cats.




Next, I found another at a home with two dogs (Fleur and Nell), one elderly cat (Tisha) and 14 sheep.  While there, a friend of the family offered to join me for a walk with the dogs.  We chatted like long lost friends and she invited me to her yoga class that evening. I liked it so much that I went again the following morning and happily accepted her invitation to dinner the following night! What a delight to make an unexpected friend.  She had a daughter in Australia that she’d be visiting again in December.  I’d always wanted to go to Australia so she graciously shared loads of insider tips.

My new friend informed me that Fleur would be devastated if she didn’t make it into the blog, so here she is. :-)



This home had been a barn in the 1700s and converted into a farmhouse somewhere along the way. I had fun learning how to use the AGA cooker.  It’s always on.  Two hot surfaces with covers to be lifted when in use.  Three ovens at differing temperatures, burning, warming, and roasting. It warmed the kitchen as well.  Fleur would stick her nose in the towel on the right when she was cold.



Though someone else tended to the sheep, I enjoyed giving them treats and petting them. They quickly recognized me and bleated whenever they saw me come out of the house.



By this time, fall had descended upon the Cotswolds and with winter looming, Stacy informed me that she was ready to escape the cold of Kansas and come travel with me again.  I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of the whole world being my oyster, so it was convenient to use Stacy’s distaste of winter as an excuse to chase the summer.

I found a gorgeous house sit in Perth, Australia over Christmas and New Years. We were enamored with the idea of spending Christmas on the beach.  Again, it was in a town outside of the main tourist destinations near the super cool, funky town of Fremantle which we never would have known about were it not for the house sit. The home was as comfortable and lovely as the photos and the owners and cats were a joy.  Van and Nala are possibly the most photogenic cats I’ve ever encountered and were very entertaining.
 

After our housesit, we flew to New Zealand to meet up with a dear friend from the US and another from the UK and raced across the country from top to bottom, East to West and back again.  It was so lovely seeing them and “doing all the things”, but I’m ready to slow things down again do another house sit, recharge, and catch up on my writing!  So now I'm looking forward to a month-long house sit near Chiang Mai, Thailand with two cats and two snakes!

I’ve always preferred Airbnb’s over hotels (especially Carole's Cinco B&B in Sintra, Portugal, with her lovely cats!). It’s so much more comfortable and makes for a more authentic experience of what it’s like to be a local, but staying in someone’s home and bonding with their animals takes it to the next level. I’ve kept in touch with all the homeowners and they’ve each told me that I have a place to stay even if they don’t need a housesit.  It’s been such a fabulous experience.  It would be super cool if I could make money doing this, but even just having a free place to stay and making friends is so worth it.  Hell, I’ve chosen Airbnbs just because they have cats!  To be honest, sometimes I feel like I should be paying them for the joy that meeting them and their animals has brought to me.