One avid traveler says she’s discovered the best of both worlds: exploring a new country while still having some of the comforts of home—most notably feline companionship.
Madolline Gourley is a contract writer and editor based in Brisbane, Australia. She frequently travels to the U.S. where she provides live-in pet care in exchange for free accommodation, sharing her tales on her blog, onecatatatime.co.
The 30-year-old says she discovered this way of travelling through former colleagues who told her of a woman from the UK who was living in Brisbane rent-free via housesitting.
Madolline promptly Googled “housesitting” and saw there were official websites to facilitate the exchange. “They all looked pretty legitimate,” she says. “I just signed up and went from there!”
There are a number of sites Madolline regularly uses, including trustedhousesitters.com and mindmyhouse.com. They all operate similarly: homeowners will list their property, location, the pets and care required, and the dates they need house/pet-sitting. “It’s kind of like a job-ad in a sense; everything’s there, and then you just hit ‘apply’ if you’re interested,” she says.
Before her stay, Madolline usually meets with homeowners virtually. “Half the people I’ve sat for, they want to Skype or FaceTime beforehand,” she says. “You get to see them, and you get a sense of their actual personality.”
There are listings looking for a house-sitter willing to look after a variety of pets, including dogs and farm animals, but because Madolline’s only ever owned cats, she only applies for cat listings. “I don’t think it would be right to live in someone’s house for free and care for their pets if you don’t have any experience with that animal,” she says.
The owners prefer the idea of leaving their cats at home, even with a stranger, Madolline says, in order to maintain “a familiar and safe environment, without causing too much disruption to their routine.”
For her part, Madolline seeks out listings including cat care because she’s discovered that though she prefers solo travel, it can get lonely.
“I do miss having a companion,” Madolline says. “A cat is the next best thing. Like people, you get reserved cats, and then you get cats who just love you…every situation is different as you’d expect.”
While she is house- and cat-sitting, she stays in communication with the owners, sending them written updates, as well as photos and videos each day of the cat “doing cute or funny things.”
Since December 2017 and her first cat-sitting trip in San Francisco, Madolline has cat-sat in Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Nashville, Birmingham, and San Francisco again to care for the same cat, to name a few locations. She remembers each of the 30 cats she’s babysat so far, including their names and faces.
“It’s just proven to be just such a great way to travel,” Madolline says. “Having the cat to come home to gives you a sense of responsibility, so it is a holiday, but you still feel kind of like you’re living there…you have stuff to tend to each night, like the cat and chores.”
Each stay can vary in length of time. Madolline’s longest single house-sit was about two and half weeks in duration. When planning her travels, she’ll string a series of cat-sitting gigs together, with her longest trip lasting two months.
“Travelling from Australia, across the country, you don’t really want to have to pack up and go off to one or two nights [but] anything starting with three nights, I will consider. Most of the trips I take, I manage to get three, four or even five sits each time, all in different cities and states,” she says, adding if on the way to her next destination she can’t book a sit, then she’ll stay in a hotel.
While she loves taking care of the cats she sits, Madolline says she also appreciates the opportunities that come from not staying in a hotel, such as being in a neighbourhood instead of a downtown area.
“You have all the creature comforts of home, like the TV, the washing machine, the fridge,” she says. “It’s a very interesting, colourful, eclectic environment, and I just love seeing different things in people’s houses, like different products that I can purchase and take back home.”
Even after her travels, Madolline often stays in touch with homeowners she has sat for, keeping in touch with about a third. “We follow each other on Instagram or we have each other on Facebook, so I still get to see what their cats are doing even though I’m not looking after them.”
Madolline says the friendships she has formed with the owners has been rewarding. “It isn’t just a business kind of transaction without any money, if that makes sense,” adding that many owners are “genuinely interested in you and your life and they want to stay in contact.”
“One of the couples I sat for in Seattle, they’re probably late 60s, 70s, and I’ve gone on to catch up with them a few times when I’ve been around,” Madolline says. “Without house and pet sitting, I wouldn’t have some of these friendships I have now.”
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