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

Part 2: House and pet sitting questions answered

Part 2: House and pet sitting questions answered

I’ve decided to do another frequently asked questions post after reading people’s comments on social media.

Most people *still* believe I get paid to house and cat sit—I don’t. And a lot of people who read the CNBC Make It story assume my airfare is paid for. It’s not (unfortunately). These things aside, people seem genuinely curious about what house sitting looks like and what they can expect from it. The answers I’ve provided are from my house and cat sitting experiences, but that doesn’t mean every sit will be like this.

Where can I find a house sit?

There’s quite a few house and pet sitting websites out there. TrustedHousesitters is the one I use the most, but I can also vouch for Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters America.

Do you need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get a house sit?

I’m going to say you don’t have to be vaccinated, but it’s probably in your best interest to have received at least two shots. A lot of owners will only consider applications from sitters who are vaccinated and some owners might even ask for proof of vaccination before inviting you into their home.

Do you work while you’re house and cat sitting?

Most of my sits are taken in between contract jobs. That means I’m free to do as I please while house and cat sitting.

Why would the owner get a sitter from Australia?

I don’t think it matters that I live in Australia when I’m prepared to travel to them.

Do you meet the owner before the sit starts?

Most times, yes. I can only think of one time when I didn’t meet the owner in person. We did, however, do a video call in the weeks leading up to my arrival.

Are you ever in the house at the same time as the owner?

Yes. You might arrive at the property hours before the owner heads off. This has never been a problem for me and it gives us the opportunity to go over everything in person.

Sometimes the owner will let you stay a night or two before the sit starts, or after it ends. I may have found this arrangement a little weird (not sure ‘weird’ the right word) the first time, but I’m so grateful to be able to stay an extra night.

Is the sitter expected to contribute to utility bills?

I’ve never been asked to pay for things like electricity, gas or water, and I think it’s wrong of the owner to ask. You’re saving them a lot of money by looking after their pet. My advice would be to steer clear of sits like this.

Can I bring my own pet along on the sit?

I think it’s a bit odd to have your pet accompany you on a sit because you’re probably there to look after someone else’s pet. Some owners might allow it—it doesn’t hurt to ask.

What if you run out of pet food before the sit ends?

Try to communicate with the owner before this happens so you can organise for more pet food to be delivered or purchased. You might need to pay for the food initially, but the owner will—or should—reimburse you.

What if you break something or something breaks on you?

I can’t recall ever breaking anything, but, if I did, I would let the owner know as soon as possible.

The only thing I’ve ever had die on me during a sit was a pedestal fan. I let the owners know and we agreed that I’d buy a new one for them with the emergency money they’d left for me.

Other questions

There’s no way I can think of every possible question a would-be sitter might have, but I’ve tried my best to cover off on the things I think they’d like to know about. Please comment—or email me—if there’s something else you’d like answered. Your question(s) may have even been answered in my original FAQs post.

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).

Newcastle house and cat sit cut short by COVID-19 spread

Newcastle house and cat sit cut short by COVID-19 spread

There always seems to be a COVID outbreak right before I’m about to leave for an interstate house and cat sitting trip, and this time was no different.

In the days leading up to my departure, Sydney recorded some 50 locally acquired COVID-19 cases and Brisbane had about five. It wasn’t so much that I was travelling down to New South Wales, but the couple I was house and cat sitting for were coming up to Queensland. Queensland has been quick to shut the border to New South Wales residents in the past, but, thankfully, the Newcastle couple were able to make their way up to the Gold Coast without any problems.

Newcastle—much like Darwin—wasn’t somewhere I’d thought about going pre-COVID. However, because we’re *still* limited to domestic travel, I thought a week-long house and cat sit there didn’t sound too bad. Newcastle is about two hours north of Sydney, is Australia’s second oldest city and even got a mention in Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities list once. I read it’s the second most populated area in the state, but it still has that sleepy little town feel. Or that’s how I would describe Newcastle.

The Aussie House Sitters sit didn’t start until Sunday, but I went to meet the couple on Saturday afternoon to get the keys and go through a few things. I was also introduced to Cashew, their 10-year-old rescue cat, and briefed on her routine. They told me Cashew weighed 8kg when they got her, but they’ve managed to get her weight down to 5.5kg. She’s fed one can of wet food twice a day and gets dry food as a treat. The dry food is placed in a toilet roll and she has to move it around to get the biscuits out.

I quickly learned one can of wet food twice a day isn’t enough for Cashew. She would go back to her empty bowl and lick it clean. She did this both morning and night. Food-crazed Cashew also happens to be one of the most affectionate cats I’ve cared for. She would follow me around the apartment (not just at food time), jump on the bed as soon as I hopped in, and she had to sit on my lap if I was at the table or outside on the balcony. She would alternate between sleeping under the covers and up against my leg.

COVID restrictions reintroduced

Face masks became mandatory on my second day in Newcastle. I believe this was as a result of an increase in COVID cases in Greater Sydney. This meant wearing a face mask on public transport, at hospitality venues and when you went shopping. Newcastle’s cafes and restaurants then had to further restrict the number of dine in customers at any one time.

Things then started to get worse back home in Queensland. Despite the state’s numbers not anywhere near as bad as New South Wales’, a three-day lockdown was announced for Brisbane and surrounding areas. This included the Gold Coast. I messaged the couple asking what this meant for their plans—they said “we decided to cut our losses and come home today”. They planned to stay at the girl’s mum’s place, an hour out of Newcastle, until Friday so it didn’t affect my plans too much. I felt a bit guilty about this and said I’d change my flight to Thursday morning.

Things to do

I was lucky to have done most of the things I wanted to see/do before I left on Thursday. I did, however, really want to check out the Olive Tree Market on Saturday. And I didn’t make it out to Merewether either.

The couple’s Wickham location proved to be perfect for exploring Newcastle. The interchange—where I could get a bus, train or the light rail to most places I wanted to visit—was directly across from their apartment. Newcastle CBD was within walking distance, and popular shopping suburbs Islington and Hamilton could be reached in less than 15 minutes.

Newcastle Beach

Newcastle Beach is pretty much in the CBD. It’s at the other end of what they call Hunter Street Mall. Start at the ocean baths, walk along the beach and up to the Bogey Hole.

ANZAC Memorial Walk

If you continue past the Bogey Hole, you’ll eventually end up at the ANZAC Memorial Walk. The ANZAC Memorial Walk is a 450-metre clifftop walkway that connects Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach. It opened in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing in Gallipoli.

Shopping in Islington and Hamilton

You could easily spend a whole day shopping in Islington and Hamilton. They’ve both got plenty of stores selling antiques, vintage clothing, locally designed goods and homewares. My favourite shops were Eclectic Corner, edde, The Retro Wardrobe and Fever Dream.

Christ Church Cathedral

The Christ Church Cathedral is hard to miss as you walk around the city. I noticed it on my first day here, but I didn’t venture up the hill until later in the week. The church is huge. It even has its own park—Cathedral Park.

Newcastle Breakwall

The Newcastle lighthouse and breakwall walk was mentioned to me by the lady who owns Eclectic Corner. When I told her it was my last day in town, she recommended I do it.

You can only go up to the actual lighthouse on Saturdays and Sundays, but the walk out to the breakwall is still very much worth doing.

The Corner at Charlestown Square

I planned to bus out to Charlestown Square solely for the Creative Village Newcastle store, but I learned about ‘The Corner’ prior to my visit. The Corner is described as a dynamic food and entertainment precinct albeit at a Westfield-like shopping centre. Creative Village Newcastle was great—I was able to get one of Teval’s lady vases (first spotted at a store in Leura while I was house and cat sitting in Sydney). As were the mushroom bao buns from Bao Brothers, and my salted caramel and hazelnut thick shake from Popolo Artisan Gelateria.

Next stop

My next stop is home—two days earlier than planned, but that’s COVID-19 for you. I’ll still keep an eye on interstate house and cat sits, but who knows when everything will start to settle down.