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

An unfortunate start (and end) to my most recent cat sitting holiday

An unfortunate start (and end) to my most recent cat sitting holiday

I’ve been pretty lucky to spend a considerable part of the last four or five years travelling around by way of house and cat sitting. I’ve house and cat sat all over the US and across Australia, and Canada was next on my list. I’d organised back-to-back sits in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, and I was returning to the US for sits in New Orleans and Baltimore before going home.

TrustedHousesitters homepage

I wanted to save an extra few hundred dollars so I ended up booking a flight that went via the USA instead of going from somewhere like Sydney or Melbourne to Vancouver. All I had to do was pass through immigration at LAX—something everyone has to do—before getting on another one of two flights. Immigration lines at LAX can be ridiculously long, but I’m usually in and out within 45 minutes. This time was a little different. It took almost two hours to make it to the front of the queue. The immigration officer who called me over started with the standard “Where are you going?” (Montreal) and “What are you doing there?” (holiday) questions. He seemed annoyed I couldn’t produce a boarding pass for Philadelphia or Montreal, and that’s because I wasn’t given one at Brisbane Airport. The Qantas worker who checked me in even called someone about it. Whatever information was relayed must’ve been OK’d by someone higher up because I was given my BNE–LAX boarding pass and baggage receipt, and sent on my way.

The Qantas baggage receipt had my connecting flights listed on it and I even offered to show the immigration officer an email copy of the booking. He wasn’t interested in looking at either of these and went straight to asking what ‘stuff’ I brought with me. I asked him to clarify what he meant by ‘stuff’ before telling him I had things like clothes, toiletries, cereal and biscuits/cookies in my suitcase—nothing unusual for someone going on an extended holiday. That’s when I started to have an uneasy feeling about where this was going.

My Qantas baggage receipt

I suspect my most recent house and cat sitting adventure triggered something in the system when the officer scanned my passport. He started asking things like why I spent so long in the US, where did I go on that trip and why was I back again so soon. I said the January–April trip was spent holidaying around the country. That only confused him more. It’s as if he was like Why would anyone spend that long vacationing in the United States? I told him I was able to get around to so many places because I looked after people’s cats—unpaid, of course, and through a legitimate house sitting website—in cities and towns I wanted to visit. I said these trips are taken in between paid contract jobs back home, but ‘contracting’ seems to be a concept a lot of Americans can’t quite wrap their heads around. This immigration officer—and he wasn’t the only one—had hard time understanding why I’ve had so many different contract jobs, and why I only work three or four months at a time. My last lengthy contract job finished in December 2021. I then spent the next month cat sitting in Sydney before heading off on an extended trip to the US. It’d been close to two years since I was in the States and I wanted to get to as many places as I could within the 90 days granted to tourists travelling on an ESTA. After my final sit in Portland—which finished on the morning of 4 April 2022—I returned home to Australia where I worked until the end of the financial year (i.e. 30 June 2022). The immigration officer now wanted to know where I found these house sitting opportunities. I tried to show him the TrustedHousesitters app hoping it’d reinforce it’s a legitimate way for budget-conscious travellers to get around. He wasn’t interested. He said someone else would look it over. I was told to step aside and another officer would take me in for further questioning. As I was waiting for whatever was going to happen next, I thought back to a story I read where a young Australian guy was detained upon entry into the US. This guy was strip and cavity searched, spent 30 hours in jail, and was sent back to Australia as soon as he could get the money together for a ticket back to wherever he flew out from. This guy’s final destination wasn’t even anywhere in the United States. He was going to Mexico.

Another officer instructed me to follow him to a closed off part of the immigration area. My passport was taken and I wasn’t allowed to use any of my electronic devices—no-one being held in this area was allowed to. All I could do was sit and wait, and hope I’d make my flight to Philadelphia. The officer told me to take a seat and wait until my name was called. Twenty minutes later and I found myself dealing with a much younger immigration officer. He said he ‘got’ I wasn’t being paid, but house sitting went against what’s permitted on an ESTA. He said something like cat owners would have to pay someone—I assume he meant an American—to look after their cat if it wasn’t for me. He then asked me to detail what I do for work in Australia. He wanted to know how much cash I had on me, where I had intended to go on the trip, what I do on these trips, how long I’d been doing this for, etc., etc. He seemed particularly interested in what I did in New York City: “How did you spend your time there?” While I couldn’t remember every single thing I did in February 2022, I told him I liked to walk around all the different neighbourhoods. I went to a Broadway show, a few galleries and museums. The next thing I knew, he wanted access to my savings account. Then he wanted to see the transactions I made using the credit card I had with me in NYC. The transaction history mustn’t have been sufficient because now he wanted bank statements for the January–April 2022 period. All the additional information he requested was skimmed over. I don’t think he even knew what he was looking for other than international deposits for my house and cat sitting ‘work’.

Screenshot of the TrustedHousesitters app

A lot of the questions he asked me could only be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, and no explanation allowed. I was cut short on several occasions and reminded I could only answer yes/no. “Do you know it’s illegal to obtain employment while on an ESTA?” Yes, I know that. But is feeding a cat, changing its water and tending to the litter box really considered employment in the United States of America? I told the officer TrustedHousesitters operates on an exchange model where both parties pay an annual membership fee to use the platform. No money is given to the sitter, and my flights and transport aren’t paid for by anyone other than myself. He laughed and said these kinds of websites can say whatever they want* to get customers in. He’d clearly forgotten the part where I told him I’ve been using house and pet sitting websites for about five years. I thought if I likened it [house sitting] to couch surfing, he’d come around. He didn’t. He said couch surfing isn’t permitted on an ESTA either.

The immigration officer said he was going to speak to his supervisor about my situation and that I’d be questioned by another officer later on. I was then told to:

  • Leave my backpack and carry-on down the hall.
  • Take off my sneakers because shoelaces aren’t allowed in ‘detention’. I could either remove the shoelaces from my sneakers or get another pair of shoes out of my carry-on. The officer told me I had to be wearing some kind of footwear so I asked if gumboots were OK. He looked very confused by ‘gumboots’. “The shoes [gumboots] people wear when it rains…” I said to him.
  • Put any of the physical cash I had on me on me. The dress I was wearing didn’t have pockets so I had to get my parka out. Cash had to be carried with you wherever you went.
  • Wait for a female immigration officer to show up so she could pat me down in private.

What annoys me most about all of this is I had all the relevant documentation—a valid passport, a completed passenger attestation, an approved ESTA, my international COVID vaccination certificate—needed to travel. I also had a return ticket back to Australia for 11 September 2022. The very detailed itinerary, with the addresses of where I was staying and for how long, was in my backpack. No-one asked to see any of this. Not once. Not the first officer in the general processing line and not the last officer I spoke with. They could’ve called any of the people I was house and cat sitting for, and asked about the ‘arrangement’.

On time: LAX to Philadelphia flight; On time: Philadelphia to Montreal

It didn’t take long for a female immigration officer to signal at me to head towards her. I followed her into another room where we were joined by a second female immigration officer. The second officer would witness the pat down. The first officer—the one who told me to follow her to the pat down room—started by asking if I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure whether to be offended by this question or cut her some slack because I was wearing a loose-fitting dress. I was, however, going to be travelling for 30 hours and began to wonder what other women wear on their journeys to the other side of the world. The next thing I remember was being asked to hand over my cash. The first female officer counted it in front of me. I then had to initial some paperwork saying I agreed with the total amount and quantities of each of the notes/bills I had with me. I was told to hold the $1,000 CAD in one hand while putting both hands up against the wall. The first female immigration officer told me my hands were not far enough to the right. Then they were too close together. My feet needed to be farther apart. The pat down part took less than five minutes.  The first officer told me I was now allowed to sit. “Tongue up,” she started yelling. I thought she was saying “Thumb up”. I realise “Thumb up” doesn’t make much sense, but neither did “Tongue up”. She failed to mention the next part of the process was having my mouth looked at. She got annoyed each time I misunderstood her instructions or asked her to (politely) repeat what she said. The same officer told me to take my nose ring out. “No jewellery allowed in detention.” She got even madder when I tried to put the nose ring in my purse rather than just throwing it in my backpack.

At some point between speaking with the first immigration officer and being patted down, a Qantas worker was called in to sort out my luggage. Someone in Homeland Security must’ve dismissed her the first time because she was called up again about 10 minutes later. One of the immigration officers asked her when the next flight to Brisbane was leaving. The Qantas worker told the officers there were no flights tonight, but one was leaving for Sydney in a few hours. I found it interesting all of this was discussed pretty much right in front of me before I’d been given a second interview. It’s like the second interview was just to tick a box rather than consider—or even do some research into—what I was saying.

Detention and my second interview

As I was being led to the ‘detention’ area, the first female immigration officer asked if I was pregnant. Again. This time, however, the pregnancy question was followed by “Have you recently had an abortion?” This line of questioning seems totally inappropriate to most people, but my first thought was something like: What has abortion got to do with my immigration status? You guys think I’m here taking unpaid employment opportunities away from Americans. I gave a verbal response of “No”. Nothing else was said and we kept walking. The officer told me I could help myself to the assortment of chips, cookies and dried fruit snacks they had, and I could use any of the toothbrushes, multiple mouthwash varieties, sanitary pads and body lotion supplies while being held in detention.

I went to use the bathroom—the first time since disembarking some four hours ago—and came back to my name being called out. It was now time for my second interview. This immigration officer told me the interview would be recorded by the room’s CCTV-like camera and on an audio device. I was asked to raise my right hand and agree to it being recorded. The officer started by asking the same questions the first immigration officer did. Of the few different questions he threw at me, the ones I can remember include:

  • Are you on any medication?
  • What are your parents’ names?
    Do they ask people who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s for their parents’ names?
  • How much do you earn each month?
    This one didn’t go down well as I get paid weekly, sometimes even fortnightly, depending on which agency I’m contracting with. The take home pay can vary week-to-week based on how much work there is.
  • Have you ever been arrested?

It didn’t take this guy long to tell me I was being refused entry to the United States. I remember thinking: Seriously? There was no point in arguing, or crying, or saying anything, because he wasn’t going to change his mind. He probably didn’t care to invest any more time into the matter. Being refused entry to [pass through] the United States meant I wasn’t going to Canada. Not only had my travel plans been ruined, but I was potentially disrupting other people’s plans in the process.

Waiting

The second interviewer returned to fingerprint and photograph me, and he documented things like my weight, height, and hair and eye colours. I found it interesting he didn’t actually weigh or measure me, or couldn’t observe my hair colour and eye colour for himself. I wasn’t exactly sure which hair colour to give him since it changes so often, but I told him my natural colour is blonde.

Screenshot of Madolline's profile on the TrustedHousesitters app

That same officer handed me print outs of the interview transcript, and he told me to initial and sign them. I asked him if I could read through everything before signing. The officer said I could, but he pointed out my flight would be leaving in about 15 minutes. I didn’t want to miss that flight because it’d mean spending another 24 hours in detention. I quickly initialled each of the pages and asked if I could get a copy. He responded with something like he’d arrange for copies to be added to my file. I was given the option to call the Australian Embassy or make a quick personal call before being walked to my flight gate. I had to tell the officer the name of the person I was calling and give him their phone number. He said he’d be present for the entire call which wasn’t a problem—all I was relaying was that I’d been refused entry and I’d be home soon. I couldn’t get through to my mum because I didn’t have an international SIM in my phone at that point. I asked the officer if I could use his desk phone to call her and he told me I can’t make an international call from that phone. I decided to try calling a good friend through Facebook Messenger. I told him what’d happened and asked him to let mum know. I also took the opportunity to message the person I was sitting for in Montreal. I told them I’d been detained, interrogated, refused entry to the United States, and I was being sent home to Australia in the next few minutes. I wouldn’t be coming to Canada and I was sorry for any trouble this was going to cause for them.

Straight back to Australia

I wasn’t given any particulars about the journey home** or what this all means for future travel to the United States of America. The second immigration officer didn’t even tell me I was going home via Sydney. I only knew about this because I heard what was said between other Homeland Security staff and the Qantas worker earlier in the evening. My passport—which could only be returned to me when the Sydney-bound flight was 10 minutes from touching down—was stamped with: Refused in accordance with INA section 217 R27038. That refusal stamp is the only ‘evidence’ I have from the whole ordeal.

*TrustedHousesitters is still of the opinion a tourist visa is sufficient and will not update their international house sitting advice
**The majority of this post was written on the 14-hour flight back to Sydney, Australia.

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

My long-awaited international cat sitting trip has come to an end

I’ve spent 74 of the past 75 days house and cat sitting my way around the USA where I co-existed with all kinds of cats, including former street cats and purebred Ragdolls.

I’ve looked after 15 cats and nine different homes in seven cities across the country. I started out in Seattle before making my way to Austin, New York City—where I got sits in Chelsea, South Park Slope and Prospect Heights—Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and Portland.

This was the first trip I’ve done where I’ve picked up additional sits while travelling. I usually have them all organised before leaving Australia so I was a bit nervous about having a 16-day gap between sits in Salt Lake City and Portland. While I was checking TrustedHousesitters, House Sitters America and housecarers.com every day, nothing suitable came up on any of the websites until I arrived in Salt Lake City at the end of February. The two last-minute sits just happened to be listed on TrustedHousesitters at the same time and they lined up almost perfectly with my existing travel plans. Both ladies proved to be super accommodating of my schedule and offered me the sits.

Some of my favourite cats from the trip were ones I didn’t end up blogging about. I stopped writing after New York City for a few reasons:

  1. The sit in Salt Lake City was relatively short.
  2. The following two sits weren’t part of my original plan so I spent most nights researching what to see and do while I was in town.
  3. I really didn’t have it in me [to write] after being out all day and still dealing with a bacterial sinus infection.

Introducing the other cats I cared for

Bones, the Salt Lake City cat, will be remembered as the most affectionate and needy cat I’ve cared for. Bones liked to be on me at all times and he loved to sleep under the covers. Getting a good night’s sleep in Salt Lake City was a bit difficult as I didn’t want to accidentally squash or suffocate Mr Bones during the night. He’s pretty small and fragile so it’d be easy to do without realising.

Bones is estimated to be around 20 years old, but vets aren’t 100% sure because Bones has no teeth. He’s doing well for an older guy—he can still jump up onto the bathroom vanity, and had no problems following me down to the basement and back up again. I was a little worried about how he’d hold up during my stay—being 20 and all—but we didn’t have any dramas.

I then spent the next week or so looking after a former street cat called Aldo in Denver. Aldo’s half Maine Coon and it shows—he’s a bigger guy and he has the strong, solid build you see in Maine Coons. He was another super affectionate cat which surprised me because he used to live on the streets of the Bronx. Aldo enjoyed weaving in and out of my hair, and rubbing his head against my shoulders when I sat at the dining table. He was also real fond of sitting on my laptop.

My next two cat friends were also rescues. Biological sisters Ares and Olivia were adopted as kittens from a lady who runs a shelter out of her house in Chicago. Ares is bigger than Olivia, but she’s a lot more reserved. She startles easily, too. Olivia, on the other hand, is very outgoing and playful. She enjoyed sitting in the bathroom and kitchen sinks, and spending some alone time on her jungle platform. Michelle, the owner, let me stay in the apartment even though she’d returned to town for two separate overnight stays. Michelle is a flight attendant and is used to what she described as ‘the [travel] lifestyle’ so she was more than happy to offer up her space in exchange for good cat care.

Chicago was somewhere I really wanted to get to on this trip. I did consider spending a couple of days there during my 16-day house sitting gap, but I wasn’t keen on paying between $300 and $400 AUD/a night for a hotel. Thanks to Michelle, I got to spend 10 days there without spending a cent on accommodation. I didn’t know much about any of the neighbourhoods before I arrived, but her Lake View location was a great place to be based. It was central to several bus stops, the Sheridan train line, cafes and restaurants, and a Whole Foods.

The final house and cat sit of the trip took me to Sellwood in Portland, OR. Sellwood’s a very cute, very American-looking neighbourhood. It reminded me a lot of ‘the suburbs’ you see in American movies despite only being about 10–15 minutes from downtown Portland.

This sit was actually the first one I secured for the trip and I remember doing a Skype call/interview for it when I was house sitting in Sydney. I was told the Sellwood kitties are on a very particular diet because the male cat, Frido, experienced a life-threatening medical situation back in December. He was unable to pee because his urethra was blocked by struvite crystals. Since then, owners Sophie and Johnny switched Frido and Pippi from a dry food only diet to a much healthier one. They get thawed out turkey meat twice a day.

Frido was the more outgoing of the two cats, but Pippi was the braver one. Pippi hid from me on the first night, but she had no problem navigating the new butterfly toy Sophie ordered for them. Frido was a little scared of it and didn’t attempt to swat the butterfly for a couple of days.

Next stop

It’s now time to head back to Australia after two and a half weeks in Portland. This trip saw me house and cat sit in several cities I’ve been to before as well as cities which have been on my house sitting bucket list for some time. I’m not sure when or where I’ll house and cat sit next, but I’m always on TrustedHousesitters thinking about how I can make it work.

How to become a house and pet sitter

How to become a house and pet sitter

A lot of people have asked me how they can get started as a house and pet sitter, and it’s really not that complicated.

I managed to get the first house and cat sit I applied for despite having no house sitting experience. What’s crazier is I was in Australia and the sit I applied for was on the other side of the world. What made the San Franciscan couple pick me? I’m not sure, but I’ll share what I do know applying for sits.

Please note the house and cat sitting ‘jobs’ I take on are not a form of paid employment.

Sign up to a house sitting website

I’ve signed up to several house sitting websites over the years, but remained loyal to TrustedHousesitters. Aussie House Sitters has become a recent favourite largely because Australians still can’t travel overseas. This doesn’t mean it’ll be your go-to, especially if you’re not looking to house sit in Australia, but it got me a sit in Darwin last Christmas.

Have a look at each of the websites before you decide which one to sign up to. TrustedHousesitters is good for those looking to travel to multiple countries while country-specific house sitting websiteslike Aussie House Sitters and House Sitters Americamight be a better option for those looking for something closer to home.

Work on your profile

Your sitter profile is like your resume. It’s where you should highlight what skills and attributes you possess, and talk up any house sitting experience you have. If you don’t have any experience, don’t worry too much. TrustedHousesitters has a ‘References’ section where people in your life (e.g. an employer) can comment on your character. I asked about three or four people to leave me a reference, and I think they helped a lot.

Personalise your preferences

Owners can search for sitters without putting an ad up hence why it’s worth specifying the places and pets you’re interested in when you create your profile. You can select more than one pet type and as many locations as you like. You can also select no pets, but that seems like a strange thing to do.

Upload photos with pets

Most people on house sitting websites have pets which is why it’s a good idea to upload a few photos of you with the animals in your life. If you volunteer at a farm or animal rescue, or foster animals in your home, these are other photos you could include as well. Remember to mention you volunteer or foster on your profile, too. If you don’t own a pet, it’s OK to upload a photo with someone else’s so long as it’s an animal you’re comfortable with.

Start applying

Once you’ve found a sit you’re interested in, respond to the ad. I think your initial communication to/with the owner is just as important as your nicely-worded sitter profile so keep it short and sharp.

Don’t send the same message to every owner you reach out to. Personalise the message. Mention their pet’s name, tell them why you’re keen to house sit in that location. If their pets have special needs, let them know if you’ve administered injections and/or are confident in medicating animals.

Be prompt

You’ve got to be quick. I’ve found some owners give the sit to the first person who responds to their ad. Others start reviewing applications after they get three or four responses. If there’s an ad that interests you, message the owner as soon as you can because it might be taken down by the time you get home.

Other things to consider

These are a few things I’ve learned on my house sitting journey and I thought they’re worth touching on.

  • You’re not going to get every sit you apply for. I’ve been unsuccessful many times.
  • Half the people I’ve sat for have wanted to Skype or Facetime before confirming me as their sitter. Others felt my application letter, profile and reviews were enough to make a decision.
  • Owners might suss you out on social media—make sure there’s nothing inappropriate on your accounts. Or at least make them private.
  • Even though most sits are more about pet care than home care, some sitters will be asked to maintain the pool, mow the lawn or weed the garden. Most ads touch on what chores are required and more detail is provided at a later stage.
  • Sitters need to be flexible. You can’t ask to arrive a few days earlier or leave halfway through the sit because that works better for you. You need to work in with the owner’s schedule.
  • Things can go wrong. Appliances break, pets can go missing, get sick or die; pipes burst, you might accidentally start a small fire. You need to be prepared to make yourself available to have these things fixed or take the person’s pet to the vet. This can put a damper on your holiday, but it’s all part of being a sitter.

Final bit of advice

It’s really not that hard to get your first house sit. You just have to be able to sell yourself and back up those claims with experience (or kindly worded references). It’s like applying for a job. Don’t overthink it and just go for it.

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

Cat sitting amidst coronavirus hysteria in New York City

I arrived at Clare’s Brooklyn apartment after my bus from Baltimore was not only 45 minutes late, but made four stops along the highway because the engine was overheating. After stopping for a fourth time, another Greyhound bus pulled up to let us on.

I was then successful at navigating my way around Port Authority, where the bus terminates, until it came time to find the correct subway platform. Little did I know there was four floors of trains at this station. I did, however, work this out after five minutes of only 7-line trains passing on either side of me.

When I eventually got to Clare’s, I was greeted by one of her cats. Little Hans. He’s very social, but Clare later told me he can be funny about the company he keeps. We went on to discuss Clare’s travel plans. Clare was booked to go to Italy, but she decided to change her plans last week. She was now going to Spain. We ran through most of the things I needed to know about the house and cat sit before I showered and went to bed. We ran through the other stuff—like rubbish, the several keys and mailbox—the next morning.

Day one

Clare left for the airport on Wednesday evening and was sitting on her Barcelona bound plane, waiting for it to take off, when Donald Trump announced the European travel ban. She said half the plane got off and she followed not long after. Clare messaged me to say she’d be coming back home that night. She returned to the apartment at about 11.30pm and we discussed what we were going to do. She was considering rebooking flights to somewhere in Mexico, but we decided to chat about it again in the morning. This was the first time coronavirus had affected my plans all trip. I went to bed thinking I didn’t want to be in her space after her travel plans fell through. I was prepared to leave and return home earlier than expected, but I was hoping it didn’t come to that.

Day two

The next morning, Clare read US citizens and permanent residents would be allowed back into the country if they chose to continue with their European travel plans. She rebooked her flight for that night. Clare then looked at the CDC website where they’d changed the status to red—‘Widespread sustained (ongoing) spread and restrictions on entry to the United States’—for most of Europe. Spain was off. Her plans, and mine, were uncertain again.

I left for the day and told her to message me whatever she decided to do. I said I could leave as early as Friday if she decided not to bother booking something a third time. I didn’t want to leave because I was having such a good time in New York. But, in reality, I wouldn’t be needed as a house and cat sitter. Clare messaged me while I was on my Tenement Museum tour and said she was now booked to go to Mexico on Friday morning.

Clare left for the city of Merida on Friday morning.

The cats

Enough about coronavirus. Both of Clare’s cats are former street cats. Little Hans, the older of the two, was found in Clare’s mum’s yard while I’m not 100% sure about Bonnie’s story. I do know she was pregnant when she was originally taken in by someone else.

Hans is very friendly. He likes to sit on the bed with you and knead into your chest. He’ll sit with you—on the same chair—when you’re at the dining room table. He’d place himself under the covers most nights, but would jump off the bed only to return about half an hour later.

Bonnie, the black and white cat, is a lot more reserved. But she’s very vocal. It took her a day or two to warm up to me. And even then, she was still a bit wary of me. Bonnie loves to be petted and her favourite spot is on Clare’s bed. She’s super special because she has one stumpy leg. That leg doesn’t have any toes. If you think of a pirate peg leg, that’s what one of her back legs looks like. It doesn’t cause her any pain, or interfere with her day-to-day living, and Clare thinks she was born like this.

Little Hans and Bonnie don’t really interact with each other—they just do their own thing. They don’t fight over food, or for attention, but Bonnie did hiss at Hans a few times.

About a week later

I was checking news.com.au each day to see what was happening with coronavirus in Australia and the US, and I learned I would have to self-isolate upon my return to Brisbane. That means spending 14 days at home. I then got a notification on Facebook about the US potentially stopping all incoming and outgoing flights within the next 48 to 72 hours. I thought it’d be best to leave as soon as I could. I called Delta on Monday morning to change my Thursday flight to Tuesday. I’d be flying out of LAX at 9.45pm on Tuesday.

Places to go

I have been to New York before so a lot of these recommendations wouldn’t necessarily appeal to a first timer. And some of the things I had planned to see where either closed, or non-operational, because of coronavirus. It was strange to see the streets, subway stations and trains empty, but it made getting around a lot more pleasant.

I wanted to see more of Williamsburg and Clare’s neighbourhood, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Clare’s neighbourhood offered a convenient base for my time in New York City. It was close to several subway stations, and there were food options aplenty on nearby Nostrand Ave and Fulton Street.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

I haven’t walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, but Brooklyn Bridge Park was good enough for me. It gives you a great view of the Manhattan skyline and it was a short, direct train ride away from Clare’s place.

Tenement Museum

Turns out the Tenement Museum is close to where I stayed the first time I visited NYC. I even went to the gift shop on that trip, but I didn’t realise it had a museum attached to it.

A workmate actually recommended several of the tours, but I ended up going with Under one roof. It was interesting to hear about the different families who lived in the tenement (‘tenement’, as I learned, pretty much means ‘apartment building’) in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and how they’d come back as guests on the tour. I learned there was a Chinese Exclusion Act that was repealed in 1943. This then meant the US granted visas to up to 200 Chinese people each year.

Chelsea Market

The first thing I saw at Chelsea Market: ‘We have decided to close our store’ sign at the entrance to Anthropologie. I had a feeling this meant most things in Chelsea Market would be closed as well. But this was not the case. Thank God. My favourite stores in Chelsea Market were Posman Books (reminded me of Kinokuniya bookstore) and Pearl River Mart. Pearl River Mart sells a lot of Japanese things—Gudetama staff, Japanese sweets, etc. And I found a good Thai restuarant, Ayada Thai, inside.

The High Line

The High Line is directly above Chelsea Market. It’s a public space/park built on a former rail line. It goes for about 2km, and offers nice views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan. 

Smallpox Hospital ruins

I found out about the Smallpox Hospital ruins on Atlas Obscura. It’s located on Roosevelt Island which lies between Manhattan and Long Island. The island’s meant to be overrun with feral cats, but I only saw one. While the hospital ruins mightn’t interest everyone, if you keep walking down to Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, you’ll get a different view of the city. The park is free and wasn’t overrun with tourists (coronavirus could be to blame for this).

Museum of Sex

This one probably isn’t for everyone, but the Museum of Sex had a very interesting abortion exhibition. One of the ladies I learned about on the Witches of Old New York tour, Madame Restell, featured in it. Madame Restell spent 40 years performing abortions in New York City.

The museum also details the history of pornography and there’s a lot about webcamming.

Chinatown and Little Italy

I feel parts of Chinatown and Little Italy kind of overlap, but it’s a fun area to walk around. Street art everywhere you look, fun shops, and plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes.

World Trade Centre

I did a 9/11 memorial tour and museum visit (highly recommended) when I came in March 2017. As I was walking to Target on my first day, I happened to pass through the World Trade Centre site again. I could see there was all this new artwork, and they’d added tables and chairs. It offers a nice space to just sit back and people watch.

Williamsburg

I spent my last day wandering around Williamsburg. Mainly to look at street art. Williamsburg’s known for its street art scene. Candace, from my Charleston sit, also gave me a list of vintage stores to visit, but—of course—these were all closed because of coronavirus. I was really hoping to check out Catland, a curiosities-type store. But, again, it just wasn’t meant to be this time ’round.

Next stop

My stop next is home where I, like everyone flying into Australia, must self-isolate for two weeks. I’m not complaining about spending the next two weeks at home with my cat, but it does suck not being able to leave for a snack or coffee. Or groceries. And I’ll miss documenting all the coronavirus craziness in New York City.

I’m not sure when I’ll take off again, but let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

Charleston: Cat sitting two cats with two very different personalities

I spent the last 10 days cat sitting two rescue kitties, Jasper and Mia, in one of the cutest homes in downtown Charleston.

Candace, the home owner, offered to pick me up from the airport after my 30-hour journey from Brisbane. We hadn’t spoken or Facetime’d prior to my arrival, but when she pulled up in her Prius, it felt like I was being picked up by a friend. We’re about the same height, and both have nose rings and red hair, but Candace is way more arty. She’s such a kind and vibrant person, and I see her as a bit of a Charleston icon.

We drove straight to Candace’s place where she showed me around, and introduced me to her husband, Will, and one of the neighbours. Sarah, directly across from Candace and Will, is an African American lady who’s lived here forever. Turns out it’s Sarah’s 85th birthday soon. Candace said she wrote Sarah a ‘Happy 58th birthday’ card. Sarah laughed, did a little dance and said she feels young on the inside. Candace said Sarah’s always there to keep an eye on what’s happening and not much gets past her. I was then introduced to Jasper, the tabby-looking cat, and Mia, the petite Siamese, before calling it a night.

Despite living together for six years, Mia doesn’t like Jasper at all. They eat in separate rooms to avoid Jasper scoffing down Mia’s serve. And when you open the door to check how Mia’s going, Jasper barges in to lick whatever’s left behind. I’ve never met such a food-driven cat before. It’s entertaining, but it can get messy when you’re trying to scoop the cat food out at dinner time.

I’d often catch Jasper in the sink after I’d put the empty bowls in there. Sometimes he’d even go under the sink to rummage through the recycling bin. Licking the rinsed cat food cans. And he doesn’t just love cat food. Jasper enjoys human food, too. Candace and Will told me to put my food in the microwave or pantry if I need to step away otherwise Jasper will help himself to it. Just the other morning I caught him trying to rip open the plastic packaging that encased my Target cookies.

Jasper and Mia also have automatic feeders. One each, of course. But this is mainly to stop Jasper overeating. He’s on a strict-ish diet to keep his weight steady. I remember going to use the bathroom at 3am one time⁠—the feeders go off at 5.30am—and Jasper was patiently waiting beside his automatic feeder. He likes to check it multiple times throughout the day in case food has been magically been dispensed. And sometimes he’ll stick his paw in hoping for a few extra biscuits. Both cats drink from glasses, not bowls, like the two cats I looked after in Nashville.

Candace and Will’s home is in a very walkable part of Charleston. The closest cafe’s less than 100 metres down the road. You can walk to Hampton Park in about 10 minutes and the main attractions in downtown Charleston in about half an hour. There’s a bus stop around the corner and it’d probably get me downtown in less than 10 minutes, but I remember Candace saying the buses out here aren’t the best (i.e. mightn’t show up or are running late). Charleston seems to move at a slower pace, with most stores not opening ‘til 10am and even later on Sundays. But I think that’s what people like about this place—it has an easy-going vibe, and the locals are warm and friendly.

Places to go

Downtown Charleston is where most things are happening/located, but these were my favourites.

Historic Charleston City Market

This kind of market can be disastrous. Think Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. But this Charleston one has a lot of locally made stuff and quality souvenirs. I told an older lady about my cat sitting travels while deciding which Charleston prints to buy from her.

Old City Jail

So doing the Charleston Haunted Jail Tour is the only way to see inside the Old City Jail. Kind of annoying and kind of definitely overpriced, nearly $45 AUD for a 45-minute tour, but it’s interesting.

America’s first female serial killer, Lavinia Fisher, was hanged here in 1920. Her and her husband preyed on solo travellers who stopped in at their roadside inn. The tour guide said the Fishers killed between 70 and 100 men, but it may have been a lot more.

Rainbow Row

I think everyone would recognise Rainbow Row from Instagram. As the name suggests, it’s five or six colourful homes along East Bay Street. They’re just up from Waterfront Park (pineapple fountain). Wandering around Rainbow Row’s surrounding streets was even more enjoyable because there’s beautifully constructed homes everywhere you look.

City Lights Coffee

This is where Candace works part-time as a barista. City Lights Coffee is set in an intimate space in the heart of downtown Charleston. It’s just up from the markets.

City Lights Coffee’s meant to be a great people watching spot, but I can’t comment on this because I was chatting to Gregg, the South African owner, and Jackie, the other barista, the whole time. All their regular customers sit together and chat the day away—I’ve never seen this before. It was cute. It was very Charleston.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

I remember the name from when I visited Los Angeles two years ago. I just never had the chance to make it to their Larchmont Village location. Jeni’s is located on the main strip in downtown Charleston. Two ‘half’ scoops costs $5 (and tax is included!) and their salted caramel flavour is actually salty.

Nathaniel Russell House

I got free admission here thanks to another one of Candace’s connections. Nathaniel Russell House has been restored to how it would’ve looked back in 1808. Everything in it is incredibly elegant, most likely bespoke and very European. Mary Lou, an immaculately presented lady, was my tour guide and I could imagine her living in this place. She told us the Russell family lived here for three months at a time before Nathaniel Russell returned to Rhode Island for work. Nathaniel Russell was a merchant and slave trader. He had 18 slaves living in—and working from—his Meeting Street residence.

In and around Charleston

Other places I enjoyed visiting in Charleston were Angel Oak Tree and Magnolia Cemetery. Magnolia Cemetery’s walkable from Candace’s, but a car was needed to get to Angel Oak Tree. And I did a day trip to Savannah. I hired a car because the bus was $30 USD each way and the train $49 each way, and their departure/arrival times weren’t great either. The car cost about $90 USD for the day, which seems expensive now I think about it, but I guess I’m paying for convenience.

Next stop

I’m on my way to Baltimore right now. I’m not house or cat sitting there, but it’s an in-between stop for a few days. Then I’m off to New York City for a week-long cat sit in Brooklyn.