For those who don’t know us, one half (Jen) is an uber planner while the other half of this house-sitting team (Hen) is more ‘go with the flow’. While long term house sitting gives us the flexibility to be both laid back about where we go, it’s not unusual to have a few sits lined up… or almost a year in advance worth of house sits if you’re us!
There are pros and cons to each approach, but what’s important is to know how to best organise yourself for an impending house sit and working out your travel plans. We’ve already gone over applying for your first house sitting job and how house sitting works in a previous post. Now we want to share how we arrange our sits and prepare for sits with tips and tools to help you be better organised and more confident going in.
How to arrange a house sit?
You’ve applied for the house sitting assignment either through reputable house sitting websites (we use Trusted House Sitters, Mind My House, and House Carers) or some people have found success using Facebook groups. If you have a specific place and/or time you want to be somewhere, set up search alerts on your phone and apply straight away for a sit you want to secure, there can be a lot of competition and it’s often the first people who get in touch who get the sit. These can be email alerts or app alerts that ping up on your phone, and we owe 90% of our sits to having these alerts set up.
The next step is normally a text-based conversation between you and the homeowner. At this point we always recommend asking for a Skype or WhatsApp based video interview, so you know exactly who you’re talking to and it’s an opportunity for you to get to know one another. We always have questions about each individual sit ready which cover things from internet connection, pet care and routines, the area they live in and do they need any work done around the house.
Example questions for a homeowner:
- What does your pet’s daily routine look like?
- If they have medication – How often/how they take their medication?
- How strong is your wi-fi connection – will I be able to work from home?
- Are there nearby shops and amenities?
- Would I have access to your car? If so, do I need to be on your insurance?
- What is your pet care and grooming routine?
- Are there jobs that you would done around the house?
- How long can I leave your pets in the house at any one time?
- Are there public transport links? (If no car)
- Are there any parts of the property I’m not allowed to go into?
There are overlaps here with your initial written application, but these are things that sometimes it’s better to cover in a face-to-face conversation with the homeowner to be clear on these essential points. Think about your needs and the homeowners needs and always be honest, if there’s something you don’t feel comfortable with then say it’s maybe not for you.
An example could be the length of time you can leave the pets for while you explore the local area is too restrictive. Sometimes pet owners make it seem you can’t leave the house, and this is unrealistic for sitters who might want to use the times they’re not working to see the area. Or you might be a retiree who doesn’t want to do manual work which can be demanding if it’s a farm sit. Maybe the remote location doesn’t have great wi-fi and you don’t want to risk not being able to work online. We’ve heard so many reasons from fellow house sitters for getting to the interview stage and then deciding, this doesn’t work for me.
Likewise, the homeowner might decide you’re not the best fit. We had one circumstance where the lady we were talking to decided to go with another sitter because she was a solo traveller and she only had a small apartment and a small dog, so it made more sense to not have a couple. These things do occur even when you think, yes, I’ve got an interview, so I’ll win them over with my sparkling personality! It’s not always the case, so be prepared on that front too.
You can also start to talk about travel arrangements to and from the sit at this stage which we cover in more detail further down, but it’s a great thing to offer coming early to the sit if you can be flexible to meet the owner/s properly and get to know the routine with them on hand. This is especially pertinent if you’re an international house sitter.
If everything does sound good, and according to both your needs then this is hopefully the stage you both agree to confirm the sit.
Travel arrangements for house sitters
This is the most finickity stage of arranging your house sit. If you’re full time, you might have a route in your head of places you want to be at a certain time and how long a sit you need. You might also be an occasional pet sitter who uses sits to travel nearby. If you have a home base and these sits are as a service in your local area, then obviously travel arrangements should be quite easy to organise.
Various kinds of sitters will have their own ways of organising their travel to and from sits, but what is a requirement of all sits is to be organised and communicate with the homeowner how you are getting to and from the sit.
Firstly, confirm with the homeowner how you will be getting to the sit. Maybe you have your own car, or if you’re using public transport you might also ask for their advice on the best local services to use. Ask the homeowner the best time to arrive, this is something we always do as sometimes they even want you there a day early. If you can’t be flexible on that you need to tell them. We’ve had circumstances we need to be on a specific train to the next destination, so we arranged to leave the car with the key in a specific location for the homeowner to pick up on the way home.
Usually for a long sit it’s best to arrive at least a day early, but we have a sit next summer who want us there three days early to hang out and get to know the area with them. It really can vary. Another thing about communication is that it does make you much more organised and seem like a responsible sitter, which is everything you want to convey to the homeowner. If you’re not clear on the finer details, they may think you’ll let them down by not turning up. Communication also gives you the sitter satisfaction in knowing what day and what time you’re expected and when you can book your outward travel.
Booking travel and cheap travel tips
The wonderful thing about this lifestyle is that accomodation is free, so you save on rent and bills. Travel costs are the biggest outgoings for any house and pet sitter, and of course food and any exploring you might do. So how do we save on house sitting travel costs?
Well you can have your own car, if you’re driving all you need is money for petrol and that’s something you can easily control. Having a campervan might also be a clever idea to save on accommodation costs between sits especially if you’re house sitting in Europe or the UK.
Right now, we are deciding on one of the above options for the next year as we’ll be based in Europe, but until now we’ve relied on planes, trains, and buses! Our friend Wanderlust on a Budget has a fab guide to finding cheap flight deals internationally.
To travel around Europe we have been using trains and buses to travel to try and be a bit more ecologically friendly by avoiding short haul flights, but also to save money and not pay for extra baggage on planes. Travelling like this is more time consuming, but if you have the flexibility, it’s often cheaper and more scenic!
Our top tips for cheap travel
- Be flexible – It’s always cheaper if you can split up the journey or travel on off-peak days. We try to avoid weekend travel if we can and if it can’t be avoided, we use the splitting the journey trick. For example, a train from Oxford to Edinburgh was £168 and went up to £306, with buses not much cheaper. Instead we got a bus to Newcastle for £80 and a train for the final leg at just £21.
- Overnight travel – Look at it this way, you don’t need to spend money on accommodation for the night and the prices are usually cheaper. We’ve done overnight bus and train journeys countless times and it’s maybe not the most comfortable, but it does save cash.
- Take food with you – Hidden costs on trains and buses are either being stuck in a train and only having the buffet cart or on the bus at the mercy of service stations. That monopoly on your hunger is something to look out for. We usually buy sandwiches (cos we’re British) or food from a cheap supermarket and take it with us.
- Don’t accept the first price you see – Yes, savvy cheap travel needs research and you need to use not one but at least two comparison websites to make sure you’re getting the best hot deals. We’ll list the websites and apps we use below!
- Avoiding crazy baggage costs – As we said by not flying, we do avoid the baggage costs. We carry two large rucksacks, two small rucksacks and a cabin bag although we may downsize next year. Often this tacks a large charge to our plane tickets, and it becomes crazy expensive. Sometimes plane travel is required though – coming up we need to be in Belgium the day after our Oslo sit so we need a plane or we’re swimming. We found that booking through the airline direct in the local language was cheaper than booking in English or through Skyscanner. This is a tip you can use all over the world and often the tickets work out cheaper.
- Cancellations and delays – If you have a delay it can result in missing a connection which yes, has happened to us and it was the most stressful time! Check the cancellation policy of the company you’re traveling with. Companies like Flixbus who operate all over Europe allow you to change or cancel the ticket up to 15 minutes before departure, but there will be a small fee to do that. This is also why it’s better to be flexible. We always try to make sure there’s at least an hour or two between flights, trains, or buses to avoid a last-minute panic. If you have to cancel due to an emergency, it’s best to phone the airline or whoever you’re travelling with and explain the situation and they might waive any cancellation fees. Speaking to an actual human does make a difference!
- Book incognito – It’s said that companies track your Cookies and hike up the prices. We think this might be a common myth, but you may as well give it a go when you book, because you just never know! It’s easy to do, just hit ‘Go Incognito’ and happy shopping!
- Book early or last minute – Another, maybe obvious tip is to book early, but booking last minute can be a way to snap up deals on seats they can’t sell. General rule of thumb is to buy flights twelve weeks prior to travel, but airlines will also have sales (January sales, Black Friday) and sell seats for cheap! We’ve managed to secure flights for the next week for a cheap price because seats were going spare. On long haul flights always book early because they only go up in price, you can also take advantage of deposit schemes on these types of flights.
- Emergency travel – There might be times where you need to get home for a family emergency, and we have heard of it happening to house sitters. In the US there are two airlines who offer bereavement fares – Delta and Alaska. They offer discounted, last-minute flights for people who need to travel because of a death in the family or a family emergency. Air Canada also offer this service, alongside Lufthansa the German air carrier. We would still look at low-cost carriers to see if that’s cheaper though. You might also be allowed to be on standby for an earlier flight if you ask at the airport, ask politely and they may sympathise and help you out.
The best apps and websites to use to organise your travel
We use various sites and apps to make sure we can secure the best travel deals, as travel is a huge part of our life with most sits only lasting a month.
- Comparison websites/apps – The most commonly used app for flights is Skyscanner, who have an easy to use interface on their app and for last minute flights they always bring the best deals, looking at various routes to get you to your destination. You could even decide on your next destination with the ‘Anywhere’ function which looks at the cheapest options from your nearest airport. If you’re free to travel between sits for a while this is also a nice option. The other comparison sites we use are Rome to Rio and Omio which both have apps you can install. For local services Rome to Rio is great, and it gives you a list of potential routes and modes of transport to work out the cheapest option, plus it forwards you on to local bus and train companies with accurate prices. If you’re traveling in Europe, Omio is a fantastic way to compare all modes of transport and buy your tickets through the app. We often book with them for cheap prices and to have our tickets handy in their app. Also take advantage of apps and set up search alerts for various journeys in case prices go up or down.
- BlaBlaCar – Car pooling is a cheap and sustainable way to travel. This app matches drivers and passengers going the same way. It’s much like hitchhiking but more safe and secure! You’re essentially giving the driver money towards petrol costs and BlaBlaCar is also great at the last minute if you need to get somewhere fast. They also allow you to set up ride alerts if there’s nothing at the time of searching and it’s available in 21 countries.
Gaps between sits – how to find cheap accommodation
We use accommodation price comparison and booking sites like booking.com, but normally a private room or apartment on Air BnB works out cheaper than a hostel! We are signed up to Couchsurfing but haven’t used it yet, but it’s a way to meet the locals too. We had a wonderful Air BnB experience in Milan where the host took us for a walking tour, and we had lunch together. A great hack is to book overnight travel, but between sits we do find we want to travel too so we’ve done things like stay with friends or perhaps rent a campervan. Another thing to look at is if you like the idea of teaching English, in Europe you can do English immersion camps with companies like Angloville and get free food and accommodation for a week for your conversational teaching services. We have an honest review of Angloville, and it’s something that you can do all year round if your dates match up.
How to prepare for a house sit
When we started our house-sitting adventures, we had to take everything with us because we are house sitting our way back home after a year of living in Slovakia, but there are some essentials we would recommend.
Essential house sit packing list
- Practical clothing – If this is a full-time lifestyle or you know where you’re going is in the countryside you don’t need dresses or heels, I (Jen) hardly even wear make-up. Hiking boots for long walks with dogs, waterproof jacket, and clothing with reflective material for night-time walks to ensure your safety on the roads. Don’t take obscene amounts of clothing either, keep your laundry limited and you always end up wearing the same thing anyway!
- Small hand-held or head-torch – This is so useful for night-time walks or even looking for the cat when you’re calling it in for the night. It’s something we use almost every day.
- Swiss army knife – This is great for any traveller, but we’ve used ours a lot as house sitters. Even if it’s to use the corkscrew to open a bottle of wine (you know, the real emergencies) and to cut the cord on a hay bale when the scissors have disappeared!
- Basic food supply – You might want to bring basic food before you get to the sit to survive the first day or in case you can’t get to the shop straight away. It’s helpful on short sits too because your time is already limited.
- Slippers and a pillow – It can be quite hard getting used to a different bed every month so a wee pillow you’re comfortable with might help and slippers are definitely good to avoid slipping on the stairs, keeping your feet warm and keeping a clean floor – we have a no outdoor shoes on the inside rule.
- Local sim and internet hotspot – If you rely on a good internet connection for your online work as you house sit these are both things to investigate before you arrive. It means you have help when you get lost and need internet to see where you are, and when there’s an issue with the internet in the house which has happened.
- Google Translate App – We use this because we’re constantly moving to a new country. We also use Duolingo to get the basics of a language before we arrive.
- First Aid Kit and Medicine – This is something we have used countless times as travellers and as house sitters. Even if it’s just for a cut – it’s extremely useful to have one and to keep it stocked up. We also take with us a big supply of anything we might need like painkillers or motion sickness tablets – Jen can’t travel without them!
- Passport and Driving License – These are essential items if you need to travel, they’re also things you’ll need if you’re using the homeowner’s car to get around. If you’re travelling the world it may be useful to apply for an International Driver’s License. We always put our ID in a safe place in the house too.
- Finally – a present for the owner is always a nice touch and maybe pet treats or toys. Always check what an appropriate treat is first, but it’s lovely to be thoughtful.
- One Extra Thing – Bring a can-do attitude and smile!! (Yes, we’re that cheesy!)
Travel and health insurance
You never know what might happen while on the road or on a house sit, so it’s best to be insured. If you’re European and part of the EEA, make sure you carry your EHIC card (European Health Insurance Card), it’s free to apply for and which means you can stay where you are to receive treatment if needed. It offers a reduced cost for medical care or sometimes free treatment.
You’ll also want bona fide coverage from an insurance company. The best deals we found are with World Nomads who have been endorsed by our friends out there travelling too. They offer travel insurance for travellers from all over the world both short term and long term (a year), and they have a standard base plan and an explorer plan. They build a quote around where you’re from, where you’re going and your age and it covers emergency medical expenses, out-of-pocket costs, personal accident, cancellation, missed connection, hijacking, rental car excess, plus much more! There are other companies who offer similar plans out there so shop around and use comparison sites to see where to get the best deal with good coverage.
When it comes to dos and don’ts of buying travel and health insurance – compare plans, check the out-of-pocket costs on the premium plan so you know you have the proper coverage and be honest about your health history. Another extra tip is check what coverage your tech will get, in some situations newer laptops and camera equipment might not be covered.
Arriving a day early to a house sit
We always offer to come at least a day early to a house sit, and if we can’t we let them know that straight away. It’s a terrific way to meet the owner, get to know the pet’s routine/s and it shows you’re a capable person who is trustworthy! We arrange a time to arrive so it’s not a surprise, sometimes the owner will pick us up in their car from a nearby station or we use public transport to get there.
Communication again is key. Usually if they ask you to come a day early, they might suggest you have dinner together or we’ve even been put up in a local hotel for the night, but don’t expect this automatically. Just relax into the sit, meet your new furry friends, and see it as an opportunity to ask any questions and get to know your owner.
Arriving on the day
This almost never happens for us, we usually always go a day early, but we do have an upcoming sit where we have to arrive on the day due to flights. It’s much the same as the routine of arriving a day early, you get a house tour, walk through routines, ask any questions and the owner will then leave – if you have a car you could offer to drive them to the airport which is something we’ve done before. Same goes for arriving a day early too. The main difference is it can feel a bit rushed and they’re stressed or trying to hurriedly run through everything before they go on their trip. If you can arrive in time to meet the owner and make them feel at ease as well as yourself then that’s what’s important.
Final tips for organising and arranging your house sits
Once you’re packed with the essential items, insured, organised your transport to the house sit and communicated arrival times with the homeowner, you can feel a sense of relief! Going in just think about anything you might need to know from the homeowner, sometimes the home tour brings up additional questions – like what happens with the recycling, what do you do with the cat litter or how does the heating system work? This is your time to ask it all in person and always make sure you swap phone numbers to keep in touch. We send a daily text to homeowners with photos of the pets.
Another big thing to think about is emergency funds and receipts, they should have bought all the pet food in but normally we’re left with money in case we need to buy something for the pets (more food, litter, puppy pads etc) and we keep receipts for everything we buy. It’s also good to take the initiative and ask to take the dog lead when you’re being shown the dog’s usual route and show the pets plenty affection, so they get used to you. Finally, just be confident and go in with a big smile and be ready for pet cuddles!
Good luck with your house-sitting adventures! Get in touch with us if you have any questions about how to start house sitting and you can follow our own adventures on Instagram.
There is an affiliated link in this article, but everything we have written is our own opinion and anything we get goes towards keeping this blog running. Thank you for following along!