I was chatting with my workmates one morning and found out another staff member, originally from the UK, lives rent free in Australia. That is, she looks after other people’s homes in exchange for somewhere to stay.
While I don’t care much for the house sitting lifestyle here in Australia, I thought to myself: ‘If she can do it, I could probably do it [international house sitting]’. I went home that October afternoon and Googled ‘house sitting’. TrustedHousesitters was the first site to come up. It looked legitimate, was easy to use, and had listings for homes and apartments all over the world. So I signed up. I’ve also used House Sitters America, MindMyHouse and housecarers.com for sits in Washington, D.C.; Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but TrustedHousesitters is my go-to.
After paying the annual TrustedHousesitters membership fee—$80 AUD or so back in 2017—I started working on my sitter profile that same afternoon. Like most websites, there’s the typical ‘about me’ part, and there’s ‘why I want to house sit’ and ‘my experience’ sections. But did I have any proper experience house sitting for strangers? No. I didn’t. And that’s where TrustedHousesitters makes it easier for new sitters. It lets other people leave a reference, as opposed to a review, on your profile. And that’s when I reached out to workmates, past employers and people’s parents asking them to leave a professional or character reference to help me secure a house sit.
Finding a house sit
Most of these websites let you search/filter house sits by suburb/neighbourhood, city, state or country. And you can further refine the results based on the dates you’re interested in, which type of pets (if any) you’d like to look after, and/or how long you’re looking at sitting for. For my first search, I typed in ‘United States’. A listing for an apartment in downtown San Francisco came up—it was a 10-day house and cat sit over the 2017 Christmas–New Year break. I’d been to San Francisco earlier that year and I loved it, and I was keen to return if I had the chance. This was the chance. I’d get to live in a super central part of the city. For free. With a cat. And the couple was looking for a solo sitter. No couples, no friends, no families. One person. This was perfect.
I clicked the ‘Apply now’ button, wrote my application and sent it off within the hour. As an occasional writer, and someone who likes to think they’re good at answering job selection criteria, I hoped my introductory message ticked all their boxes. A few days later, I got a response. We scheduled a Skype date for a time when we’d all be awake. To be ‘interviewed’ by people on the other side of the world about something you’d never really ‘done’ before was quite daunting. But the young couple were lovely. During our Skype chat, the boyfriend, who’s from Argentina, likened Australians to Argentinians. He said we had a similar sense of humour and were known for our laid-back attitudes, and I think that’s what got me over the line. A few days later, I got a message saying they’d confirmed me as their sitter. I was pretty pleased with myself. I’d got the first sit I applied for. And now all that was left to do was prove I was a trusted house sitter.
The first house sit
I’d been travelling around the US for three weeks before making my way to San Francisco for the house sit. I spent my first night at Casa Loma Hotel before getting a Lyft to the couple’s South of Market address the next morning. Before I even made it to the entrance, I was greeted by a homeless man who asked if I’d like to buy some shoes off him to give someone as a Christmas present. After I politely declined, I headed upstairs to meet the couple. They’d printed their TrustedHousesitters home information kit out for me. It included details about their home, neighbourhood and pet. I was then introduced to their kitty before they left for the airport.
Now it was just the kitty and me. For the next 10 days. The couple’s home was amazing. It was an almost new one-bedroom apartment, with a view of downtown San Francisco. It was within walking distance to pretty much everywhere I wanted to go. And really close to public transport to take me to those few places I couldn’t walk to. Valencia Street—a street of independently owned stores—was about 20 minutes from the apartment. The heart of San Francisco could be reached within five minutes. And Haight Street was a short Muni ride away. I also enjoyed just wandering any San Franciscan street to appreciate the city’s unique architecture. The city’s streets are lined with the most colourful houses and buildings. And as for the chores and responsibilities, there really wasn’t a lot asked of me. Feed the cat once or twice a day, daily cat playtime, water a few succulents and plants, and clean up after yourself. I kept in regular contact with the couple through WhatsApp throughout the sit. I’d send them one too many photos and videos of their kitty, and little updates on the progress we were making. It was heartening to know their young cat had gone from hiding from me to sleeping next to me on the bed each night.
New Year’s Day had come around quick and this meant it was time to go home. My first house and cat sit done. Nothing broke. They weren’t robbed. And no pet emergencies. Thank God. But I still couldn’t believe a couple trusted me—a 27-year-old stranger from Australia—to look after their place and cat. When I landed back in Brisbane, I saw I had a message thanking me for taking such great care of everything. I received a five-star review and a kindly-worded testimonial. “It was like leaving our kitty with a good friend,” the review read. They said I was welcome back anytime.
This whole house sitting experience/adventure/lifestyle also happened to be the first time I’d travelled alone. Now I think I’d find it very hard to travel with someone else. Being able to travel and house sit by yourself means you can do what you want when you want. You can also spend all day doing nothing if that’s what you want to do. There’s no fighting and no need to comprise. And you’re responsible for everything. But, yes, there are times when I do miss having someone I know to chat and joke with, or whinge to.
Several house sits later
I’ve been fortunate enough to go on to look after after rescue cats, feral-and-rehomed cats, Siamese kittens and purebred Persians all over America after getting that first five-star review. That’s about 20 cats all up. I’ve stayed in two waterfront apartments in Boston, a classic American home in suburbs of the Cincinnati and an architecturally designed home atop a mountain in Boulder. I’ve even kept in touch with some of the people I’ve sat for and consider them to be friends. We’ll chat on WhatsApp about upcoming travel plans, or share stories and photos of our cats. And I’ve been asked to sit for some people again. I actually went back to sit for the first couple in their new place in a different part of San Francisco.
Another thing I enjoy about house and cat sitting my way ‘round is all the fun products you discover living in—and maintaining—someone else’s place. I’ll order Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap in basil every time I place an order on iHerb. Products from the Mrs Meyer’s cleaning range have been in most kitchens and bathrooms of the homes I’ve looked after. Then there’s the Swiffer mop, Method 8x laundry detergent (works a treat on stains) and bamboo sheets. These are all things I’ve had shipped to Australia or stocked up on when I’ve returned. House and cat sitting has also taken me to some cities I mightn’t have considered going to otherwise. Cincinnati and Santa Fe come to mind. I really liked Cincinnati. I just wish my house and cat sitting ‘services’ were needed for another day or two so I could see more of the city. “We’d have her back again in [an] instant and feel lucky to have her. If she’s available to house sit for you, snap her up,” the home owner wrote in her review. Maybe I’ll get to see more of it soon.
So what’s—or where to—next? I’ll be off again in a few days. I’ve got sits in Nashville, Austin, Seattle and Birmingham. I’m starting out in Vegas and finishing up with a week in New Orleans. And while I’d like to make the international house and cat sitting a regular, every-couple-of-months kind of thing, I don’t think ‘unpaid cat sitter’ as a filler between government contact jobs would impress too many future employers. But, hey, you never know. Let’s see where this blog goes…