THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY

TrustedHousesitters—the app I was using when I was refused entry to the US—won’t update their advice for international house sitting.

The company continues to say it’s OK for their paying members to house sit on a tourist-type visa (e.g. ESTA) because they “don’t regard house sitting as work”.

In their opinion, what happened to me was all a “misunderstanding” because US immigration didn’t get “the concept of house sitting”.

Hi. I’m Madolline.
And I’m seeing the world One cat at a time

Austin, TX: Reunited with another cat friend

Austin, TX: Reunited with another cat friend

Being invited back to Austin is what prompted me to return to the United States for more house and cat sitting adventures.

Rebecca, the lady I house and cat sat for in 2019, messaged me a few months ago and asked if I’d be interested in looking after Shady again. I originally said no because there was still a lot of obstacles for Australians wanting to travel overseas, and I felt spending one month in one place (even though I just did a month-long sit in Sydney) isn’t as enjoyable as house and cat sitting in a few different cities.

I told Rebecca I might know someone who’d be interested in doing the sit and put her in touch with Clare. Clare is the the lady I sat for in New York City, back in March 2020, and she’s started to take on the occasional house and pet sit. The ladies agreed to Clare house sitting for about two and a half weeks, but Rebecca still needed someone for the final part of the stay. I was eventually able to commit to the second part of the sit after the Australian Government lifted its overseas travel ban.

I arrived in Austin at 6am after a short overnight flight from Seattle. While the flight saved me a night’s accommodation, it left me feeling shitty for the next week. I planned to get the bus to the apartment to save some money, but I guess I didn’t think about how it’d still be dark at that time. I ended up getting a Lyft instead.

Clare came down to get me and it was kind of surreal catching up with the last person I house and cat sat for when I was in the States. We spoke about how lucky she was not to have contracted COVID, especially living in a place like New York City. She said she wasn’t sure the Austin sit would even go ahead because of the Omicron outbreak just before Christmas. I know Rebecca and her partner were originally going to Costa Rica, but I’m not sure if the Omicron variant had anything to do with them changing these plans. They ended up spending the month roadtripping around Texas.

Shady was eating his breakfast while we spoke and I was reminded just how amusing it is to watch him eat. He’ll scoop the food up with his paw and lick it off, and continue to do this until his food’s all gone. He’ll then retreat to his Kirkland macadamia box until it’s time to nap on his little rug thing. Shady still has the exact same macadamia box he had last time I was here—like, literally the exact same one. Rebecca said they’ve got one in reserve (the very same Kirkland macadamia box), but they’re waiting until his current one breaks.

Shady was a little larger than I remember him being, but he’s getting old. Rebecca’s house sitting ad has Shady down as 12 years old and it also says he has the ‘uncanny ability to purr through virtually everything’. He actually doesn’t stop purring. Except maybe when he wants to be fed and he’ll let out a few little meows.

Things to do

I’ve been pretty lucky with the locations of the apartments I’ve stayed in recently and my Austin sit was no exception. Rebecca still lives in the same building—across from the flagship Whole Foods store and less than a kilometre away from the main part of downtown Austin. A lot of the things I did during my 7-day stay were walkable from her building.

East End

Following 6th Street all the way through to East End was a walk I took to get photos of two Austin murals. I continued to follow 6th Street down to Revival Coffee where I found even more fun murals and stores. It’s worth stopping in at Revival Coffee, too, for the cute pink interior.

BookPeople

BookPeople is a locally-owned bookstore across the road from the apartment. I’m not a huge reader, but BookPeople has two floors of [books and] gifts, homewares, cards, and lots of quirky Texas things. The coffee shop inside, CoffeePeople, made the best iced caramel latte I had while I was in town.

Food trucks along Barton Springs Road

I stumbled upon these food trucks after visiting the Zilker Botanical Garden (not great (maybe because it’’s winter)). There’s a lot of food trucks in Austin, but these ones seemed to offer a bit more variety. After you’ve eaten, there’s a nice walk back to West End along the Ann and Roy Butler Trail.

Day trip to San Antonio

I passed through San Antonio last time I was in Austin and I was hoping to get out there again. This time I visited Historic Market Square, Buckhorn Saloon, The Alamo and the River Walk. I’d love to get a house and cat sit in San Antonio so I can explore more parts of the city.

Next stop

I’ve been pretty fortunate to score two sits in New York City. The first one is in Chelsea—where I’ll be looking after two Ragdolls—and the second is in South Park Slope. I secured the South Park Slope sit on Monday and it starts the day the one in Chelsea ends. Both sits were found on TrustedHousesitters.

A short house and cat sit to mark my return to the United States

A short house and cat sit to mark my return to the United States

I’ve done a few house and cat sits in Seattle, but this sit’s particularly memorable because it was my first one outside Australia in almost two years.

My last international house and cat sit was in New York City in March 2020. This is when COVID-19 panic started to kick in in the United States and I thought it’d be a good idea to end the trip a few days early. But now it was time to go back. While I had been looking forward to returning, ensuring I was actually eligible to enter the United States was a bit of a process. I had to:

  • organise, download and print my international COVID-19 vaccination certificate
  • find a travel insurance company and policy with COVID-19 cover
  • print a lot of additional paperwork to fly
  • get a PCR test done one calendar day before boarding my first flight. Waiting for the result was the most nerve-wracking part.

The PCR test came back negative, but making my way to Seattle was the next stressor. My connecting flight out of Fiji was delayed by an hour. The engineers were able to resolve whatever the problem was within about 15 minutes and we spent the remaining time waiting for the cabin crew. The delay meant I had less than 60 minutes to get through immigration at LAX, collect my luggage, walk to the Alaska Airlines terminal, check the luggage back in, go through security, and arrive at the gate before my flight’s 2pm departure. I did it, but the drama didn’t end there.

I was meeting Tayla, the girl I was sitting for, at the Seattle–Tacoma International Airport because she was flying out to Burbank not long after I touched down. We found each other at one of the baggage carousels, and I was given a quick rundown and the keys to the apartment. I then realised I’d been waiting at the wrong baggage carousel so I headed over to the correct one only to find two suitcases left. Neither of which were mine. The baggage counter staff told me my luggage wasn’t lost, it just hadn’t been loaded on to my Seattle flight. They gave me an incident number and told me to call up the next day if I hadn’t heard from them. I ended up calling when I got to Tayla’s apartment and was told my luggage had been sent to Fort Lauderdale. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is literally at the opposite end of the country. I guess I should be grateful it wasn’t totally lost and was delivered to the apartment the next evening.

Tayla told me it might take a day or two for Athena (tuxedo (girl)) and Ody (Snowshoe-looking one (boy)) to warm up to me, but they took to me instantly. I think it’s because my carry on bag had Pixel’s scent all over it. Pixel would sit on the Country Road bag pretty much every day during my time in Sydney. Athena and Ody spent the next couple of hours rubbing their faces all over the bag, and climbing in and out of it. They continued to love on the bag until the sit ended.

Both cats are rescues, with one of Tayla’s friends finding Athena in a car park and Ody being adopted from a shelter. Athena’s two years old and Ody’s about a year and a half. They’re very, very playful and love to cause mischief. I don’t remember my cat, Gracie, being anywhere near as mischievous when she was that age. Ody—the cheekier of the two—particularly enjoyed chewing plastic bags, paper bags, plastic straws, and things like my itinerary and receipts. Tayla also said the cats have been known to chew power cords and advised I didn’t leave them out during the day. I’ve made this mistake once before and was sure to put my cords away as soon as I’d finished charging my devices.

Things to do

This Seattle sit was about seeing things I hadn’t got around to doing previously. The Fremont Sunday Market was on my list, but jet lag kicked in four days after I arrived.

Chihuly Garden and Glass & Space Needle (combined ticket)

I’d never heard of the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum despite it being one of Seattle’s most popular attractions. It’s right next to the Space Needle so I decided to buy the combined ticket and visit both on the same morning. A single ticket to the glass museum is $32 USD which I thought was quite steep, but it seemed a little less exorbitantly priced when you add on the cost to visit the Space Needle.

You can also head out to Tacoma—to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and neighbouring Union Station—to the to see some of Dale Chihuly’s glass work for free.

Ferry to Bainbridge Island

The ferry to Bainbridge Island makes for a fun little day trip. The downtown area is mostly independent stores and places to eat and drink, and there’s a few art galleries and museums as well. One thing to keep in mind is the ferry doesn’t really run to schedule. The one I had wanted to get on Saturday morning was cancelled and the one I was getting back to Seattle was running 30 minutes late.

Capitol Hill neighbourhood

Tayla’s apartment is in Capitol Hill and it’s a neighbourhood I’ve stayed in once before. It reminds me a lot of Sydney’s Surry Hills (Pixel’s home) and is probably the equivalent of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. Capitol Hill has lots of great stores, a diverse range of cuisines and coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks. Twice Sold Tales is worth checking out, too. It’s a used bookstore with resident cats.

Osara Commissary

Osara Commissary is a Japanese store within the Pike Place Market building. It has all kinds of Japanese homewares and most of the art is drawn by the store’s owner, Mikako Hamaguchi. Her husband happened to be working while I was in there and told me Mikako used to give her drawings away when they first opened the shop.

Next stop

I’m now on my way to Austin, Texas, to look after Shady. Shady’s a cat I cared for in the summer of 2019 and I’m looking forward to exploring the city without the extreme humidity.

Reunited with Pixel: An extended house and cat sitting stay in Sydney

Reunited with Pixel: An extended house and cat sitting stay in Sydney

What’s a house and cat sitting trip without a COVID scare? It happens every time I’m about to travel interstate.

It wasn’t me who had COVID. And it wasn’t the Queensland Government threatening to lock out the other Australian states and territories. It was Pixel’s owners—the French couple I house and cat sat for in April 2021—who had the COVID scare. Someone in their building tested positive days before they were due to fly home to France. The couple wasted no time in making their way to the international airport’s testing clinic where they paid $79 AUD to get their results within 90 minutes. Both of them tested negative and were cleared to fly to France on Saturday morning.

On the Friday before they left, I went over to their Surry Hills apartment for dinner. It felt like I was catching up with old friends, not just another couple I was house and cat sitting for. They’d asked what I wanted for dinner and I told them I’d like the same eggplant dish we had last time. I learned it’s actually called Tian de légumes. Pixel attempted to join us for dinner, but was shooed off the table because he’s not allowed on it when they’re eating.

Pixel—for those of you who mightn’t remember him—reminds me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I think it’s his expressive face and he has a bit of a smirk going on. He’s also got that larger build and has the British/Scottish Shorthair face to match. While I’m not sure he remembered me when I came over for dinner, he was quite interested in my suitcase when I arrived on Saturday morning. It’s possible he could smell himself on it from the last time I looked after him.

I ventured off to the French Christmas Market not long after dropping my stuff off at the apartment. This market is usually held in July to coincide with Bastille Day, but it was cancelled due to an increase in COVID cases across Sydney. Pixel’s owners joked I’d catch COVID at the markets, but I escaped the crowds by going first thing in the morning. I did, however, receive several notifications throughout my stay informing me I had been somewhere at the same time as a now COVID positive person.

Bus message reads 'FIGHT COVID-19 TOGETHER'

The state of New South Wales went from having about 1,000 positive cases each day to more than 6,000 in the week following the couple’s departure. It was averaging around 25,000/day by early January and got up to about 60,000/day in my final few days here. Testing clinics were turning people away and other clinics closed entirely. People were waiting in testing lines for hours and COVID home testing kits sold out everywhere. I even saw a 35-pack of N95 masks retail for $209 AUD. COVID panic had taken over. Again.

Like most cats, Pixel was oblivious to the COVID craziness going on outside his home. He would go about his days knocking the washing basket over to sleep in it, pulling the postcards off the fridge, attempting to open the bedside drawer to get more treats and napping next to the toilet. He also liked to rest on the exercise bike and would lovingly look up at the fridge when I opened it. One time I caught him engrossed in a David Attenborough ocean documentary. He started to move closer and closer to the TV in hope of catching the fish. The couple told me he loves nature documentaries, especially ones with wild cats as the subject. Pixel considers himself to be a bit of a lion. Another memorable Pixel moment is when I gave him catnip—a one-off treat to ring in the new year—and he became fixated on the portable air conditioning unit for the next hour.

Things to do

I forgot how great the couple’s Surry Hills location was. For both cafes and restaurants, and getting around Sydney. I managed to get to parts of the city I’d never been to before and only wish I’d checked them out sooner. While I was initially a little unsure of what I’d do for 29 days, I managed to find something interesting/worthwhile to occupy almost all of my time.

Royal National Park

Turns out Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world. I’d never heard of it until I started putting an itinerary together for this trip. I had originally wanted to see the Figure Eight Pools, but I was told it’s about a four hour hike. I decided to do the Bundeena to Wedding Cake Rock walk instead. Wedding Cake Rock is a sizeable white rock you stop at on the way to Marley Beach. I gave Marley Beach a miss because I wanted to return my hire car before the afternoon traffic. Sydney drivers are on par with those in Los Angeles.

Manly Beach

Getting the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly is somewhat of an ‘iconic’ Sydney thing and it’s something most international tourists do when they’re in town. Manly has a totally different vibe to the beachy suburbs in Sydney’s east. It’s a lot more chilled and family friendly, but it’s still very, very popular. Things worth doing in the area:

  • Walk from Manly Wharf to Fairlight Beach
  • Walk back the other way to stop at Manly Beach and Shelly Beach
  • Shopping in the Corso area.

Mitchell Road Antique & Design Centre

I visited the Mitchell Road antique centre last trip and couldn’t wait to return. I spent a few hours here and went back one last time during my final week. It’s more of a warehouse, with about 50 or 60 different stalls. Their pricing is pretty reasonable, especially in contrast to what another nearby antique centre charges for its bric-a-brac and furniture.

Other walks worth doing

I did a loooot of walking in Sydney. Not because the public transport is terrible, but because there’s so many walks worth doing. My favourites were:

  • Wendy’s Secret Garden to Lady Gowrie Lookout. It’s along the harbour, and you’ll pass through Luna Park and the prime minister’s Sydney residence.
  • South Head Cemetery to The Gap Bluff. There’s a nice view of the Sydney skyline, too, in the opposite direction.
  • Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. I’d never ventured further than Bondi Icebergs previously, but it’s worth walking the bit extra to see Tamarama and Bronte beaches.
  • Anywhere from Rose Bay up to Watsons Bay.

Shopping at Chatswood

Chatswood is probably the closest thing I’ll get to Japan right now. My favourite ‘area’ was around the interchange. There’s lots of Asian supermarkets, Asian restaurants and cute stores selling super cute Asian things.

Next stop

After one month in Sydney—my longest house and cat sit to date—I’m heading home for a very short time. I’m grateful I no longer have to show a border pass or a negative rapid antigen test upon arrival at Brisbane Airport. It means I can get out quicker and get started on packing for my next trip. I’ll (hopefully (I need a negative PRC test first)) be flying out to the USA on Wednesday where I’ve organised several house and cat sits.

Another year spent house and cat sitting within Australia

Another year spent house and cat sitting within Australia

The past 12 months has seen me travel to places like Darwin and Sydney to house and cat sit, and I’m in Sydney again at the moment.

I also accepted a house and cat sit in Newcastle in lieu of being able to travel overseas, but that trip was cut short because of interstate lockdowns. You’d think an international travel ban would make for an excellent opportunity to see new places across Australia, but nope. Not the case. You might be able to fly interstate, but you mightn’t be let back in. State borders could close at at any time, with as little as a few hours notice. Even travelling one or two hours away from where you live isn’t easy when there’s a COVID-19 outbreak (an ‘outbreak’ in Australia has previously been as little one or two unlinked cases within a community).

When I came to Sydney earlier this year, I was almost turned away at Sydney Airport because Brisbane had a COVID outbreak. A government worker at the airport said something like: “People from Brisbane aren’t welcome in New South Wales right now.” A few questions and phone calls later, I was told I could stay. They reminded me I had to isolate for three days—and I knew this was going to happen—but I didn’t see it as a huge issue. I was just grateful to be spending the Easter break somewhere other than Brisbane.

Fast forward six months and the Sydney couple I sat for over Easter were the ones facing the COVID-related problems this time ’round. They messaged me to say there was a positive case in their building and, understandably, they were starting to freak out. It was possible they’d been exposed to the virus in the building’s elevator and now all of our plans were up in the air (no pun). The couple wanted to get tested ASAP—not just for peace of mind, but they needed a negative result to fly home to France. They both tested negative and left for Paris on 18 December.

I did contemplate spending December and January in the United States before agreeing to look after Pixel for a second time. I’d already accepted a sit in Baltimore and I was planning to organise more sits before I flew out. All the COVID uncertainty was starting to get to me so I thought it was best to cancel. And I didn’t want to leave the Baltimore couple without a sitter at the last minute. There was also a bit—or a lot—of pressure having to make my way from Brisbane all the way to Baltimore by 20 December. International flights were due to start up again only days earlier, but there was no guarantee they actually would. Flying in to Baltimore City was going to add an extra $2,000 AUD to my airfare which meant I was probably going to go via D.C. While this was the cheaper option, it meant I then had to get two trains before finally arriving in downtown Baltimore. Getting the additional modes of transport would be stressful at any time, but it would’ve just been too much after being in the air for 20-something hours.

As it turns out, this Christmas–New Year house and cat sit will be my longest one yet. Just short of 30 days. I’ve been using the extended stay to see different parts of Sydney and organise my 2022 trip to the USA. My plan is to fly out three days after returning home to Brisbane and I say ‘plan’ because who knows what COVID-19 has in store for us. My first potential roadblock: I must test negative in order to get home to Brisbane. The second obstacle I’ll face is returning a negative result a few days later to be able to board my flight to Los Angeles. Let’s hope I get my test results back in time (and that they’re negative).

House and pet sitting questions answered

House and pet sitting questions answered

People are always intrigued when they hear I house and cat sit my way around the world, and they usually have a few questions about it. I’ve compiled a list of the more frequently questions I get and I hope my answers shine some light on what it’s like to do this.

How do I get started as a house and pet sitter?

I’ve already done a post on how I got started as a house and cat sitter, and it includes some advice on how you can get started. But it’s really not that hard. Pick a house sitting website to join, add photos to your profile and talk up any relevant experience you can bring to the sit, and then start applying for ones that interest you.

Do you get paid to house and pet sit?

I don’t get paid to look after people’s homes and their cats, but there are websites out there where you can get paid for your time. The websites I use operate on an exchange model where the sitter provides care for the person’s home and pet, and the sitter gets a free place to stay.

How much time is spent looking after the pets?

I can only comment on cat care, but it takes no more than half an hour out of your day. Feed the cat, change their water, clean up after them and play with them. You’ll probably be asked to replace the litter every few days, vacuum around the litter box once a day and hand out the occasional treat.

Does the home/pet owner pay for your airfares?

No. It makes me laugh that people think someone in the US is paying for me to fly from Australia to look after their cat. Domestic airfares aren’t subsidised either. None of my travel is paid for.

Are you ever tempted to go through the person’s belongings?

Also no. That’s their stuff and it’s of no interest to me. Sometimes the person I’m sitting for will offer me space in their wardrobe, but it’s easier to keep my clothes in my suitcase.

Are there cameras?

There might be. I’ve never been told someone had cameras and I’ve never asked. I do feel like the owners should probably disclose this at some point though.

Do you pay for stuff like toilet paper and washing powder?

This stuff is almost always provided. I will, however, purchase more toilet paper if I use the last of theirs.

Do you get a car as part of the sit?

I think I’ve been offered use of a car for one sit. So, in my experience, a car is not usually part of the deal. I’ve seen listings where a car is included, but I think this also presents a lot of problems. What if you crash or damage the car, or get a speeding ticket?

Is it weird sleeping in someone else’s bed?

It’s no weirder than sleeping in an Airbnb or hotel bed. The owner puts fresh sheets on for you, and I make sure to wash and change the sheets before I leave.

Have you ever had a pet emergency?

No pet emergencies in the three years I’ve been doing this. TrustedHousesitters is the only house sitting website I’ve used where the owners have to list a preferred veterinary practice (a good thing) otherwise I guess you’d take their pet to the closest one.

What happens if the owner cancels on you?

A cancellation isn’t something I’ve experienced, but COVID-19 has made things a lot more uncertain. I’ve had to change my flights to arrive earlier or later than originally intended, but I’ve never had to seek alternative accommodation because a sit fell through. This is something that plays on my mind a lot, especially when I’m travelling to the US to house and cat sit.

How do owners know they can trust you?

Some of the house sitting websites have security checks in place and sitters can pay extra to have a police check/clearance visible on their profile. I think you start to become more ‘trustworthy’ after getting your first positive review. Other people can then see you did a good job (and didn’t steal anything (or cause any trouble)) and you can probably be trusted with their home and pets.

Isn’t house sitting just for older, retired people?

Nope—anyone can do it.

What’s your favourite thing about house sitting?

There’s many things to like about house sitting. These include:

  • seeing how other people live—what products they use, how their house is decorated, etc.
  • having access to a proper kitchen and washing machine when I’m travelling
  • getting local recommendations from the owners
  • all the cute cats I get to look after.

And it saves you a lot of money. Sometimes up to thousands of dollars in accommodation per sit.

What’s your least favourite thing about house sitting?

Garden maintenance is my least favourite thing when I’m house sitting. I’m not a gardener and some people’s gardens have been very… heavy on the upkeep side. A place I cared for in Launceston had the most beautiful garden, but there was no mention of how much work was required. The lady didn’t upload photos of it either so it was a bit of a surprise when I arrived.

Other questions

Please comment—or email me—if you have any other questions about house and pet sitting. I’m sure there’s a million other things people might want to know, but these are the questions I find myself answering most often.