For many travelers, staying in a decked-out New York penthouse, a luxurious chateau in southern France, a rustic Italian villa, or a bona fide British castle (featured on Game of Thrones, no less), is prohibitively expensive. But if you happen to be an animal lover with a case of wanderlust, the price for such unique and high-end accommodations can be free—you need only take good, loving care of a pet or two.
This is thanks in part to Andy Peck, 45, an animal lover with the travel bug. In 2010, he looked after two cats and three dogs in a villa, complete with vineyard and pool, in Galacia, Spain, and an “aha” moment was born. Peck realized there was no service to link pet owners with sitters they could trust—people who love animals and would love the opportunity to care for them in exchange for a place to stay, either in their own neck of the woods or while exploring the world—and set about to remedy this. He spent the next two years with his fiancée, Rachel Martin, backpacking around the world, testing and promoting the concept, and together ultimately co-founding the website TrustedHousesitters.com.
It is now a network of more than 50,000 members, with housesitters and homeowners in 150 countries, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
“There are millions upon millions of pet-owning households around the world for whom the worry of leaving a beloved animal at home alone or in boarding impacts how long, how far, and how often they travel,” says Martin.
One of the best, most unique features of the online service is that it’s a “sharing economy,” meaning that no money changes hands between subscribed pet owners and sitters. Rather, “soft” assets are exchanged—things like time, care, a love of animals, a comfortable home and, often, a desire to see far-off lands.
“It’s a win-win solution—homeowners can travel with complete peace of mind that their home and pets are being cared for, while sitters can road-test different areas and save money on accommodation costs,” Peck says, adding that sits can last anywhere from “a few days to more than a year, with house sitters being able try out living in different styles of properties, from city-center apartments to country cottage retreats.”
The pets in question range widely as well, from standard-issue cats and dogs to rabbits, horses, chickens—even alpacas.
“To date we’ve facilitated more than a million nights of pet sitting in more than 150 countries—meaning happy pets of all shapes and sizes staying at home in their own beds while their owners are given the freedom to travel,” Peck says.
Martin adds, “Vet experts generally agree that animals are happier, more comfortable, and less stressed in their own, familiar space, even when their owners are not present and there is someone else caring for them. Not to mention the fact that owners will likely feel less stressed, too, knowing their pet is happy, comfortable, and safe no matter where in the world they happen to be.”
Here’s how it works: for $99, homeowners can create an unlimited number of secure listings (for different properties or different time periods) on TrustedHousesitters.com, detailing their house and pet-sitting requirements. The listings are then sent by email to registered sitters who have indicated they are looking for those particulars—say, certain types of pets at a certain time and in a particular region. Homeowners can then shortlist the sitters that respond to their listing by experience, references, background checks, and other comprehensive information.
In this way, a sitter’s profile is key.
“It really starts with your profile and making sure it demonstrates and reflects your quality and trustworthiness as a sitter,” Martin emphasizes. “It’s important to spend some time creating your profile, adding any previous experience you may have with pet sitting, references, photos, and even videos—as much detail as possible that will make a pet owner feel good about letting you into their home and into the life of their pet.”
Once sitters start to gain experience through the site, they receive reviews from pet owners they’ve sat for, much like the rating systems on Uber and Airbnb. This helps sitters build up a favorable reputation on the site and expand their opportunity to sit for more owners.
“The site really regulates itself, though we have put a lot of time and effort into ensuring it’s a positive experience for everyone,” Martin says.
Far from being removed from the process, she and Peck have continued to pet sit since founding TrustedHousesitters, applying for sitting opportunities through the website just like everyone else.
“For example, we’re off to Colorado in 10 days to look after a dog named Hamish,” she says, adding that, besides her love of discovering new parts of the world, a strict no-pets policy in her current apartment building adds extra motivation to the mix.
“Not only is this really a brilliant way to travel,” she says, “It’s also a wonderful way to enjoy the company of pets.”
5 Reasons Housesitting is the Perfect Way to Travel
Though many people—animal lovers included—dream of seeing the world, the high cost of travel may stop them before they get to the boarding gate.
Here’s how housesitting helps you flex your passport while keeping your travel expenses in check:
1. Save on accommodation
The most obvious benefit of housesitting is the money you’ll save on hotels and holiday rentals.
2. Stretch your budget
Many owners of architect-designed homes, beachfront properties, and city penthouse apartments register their homes on TrustedHousesitters.com every day. Sitters stay for free in these high-end properties and enjoy a standard of accommodation that would normally be beyond the average traveler’s budget (that Game of Thrones castle, for one!)
3. Discover new places
By being flexible about where you housesit, you can discover amazing locales you may not have thought of visiting otherwise.
4. Make new friends
Many house sitters make lifelong friends, not only with the homeowners they sit for but with friends and neighbours, too.
5. Live like a local
Housesitting lets you experience an area in a way you wouldn’t staying in a hotel.
How To Become a Successful Sitter
While your future plans may include traveling abroad, think about starting local (as in close to your home) first, especially as a beginner sitter. This way, owners may meet with you first, in person, putting your application above the rest.
Go above and beyond what is asked and expected of you. A home-cooked meal or fresh-cut flowers upon the owners’ return are thoughtful ways to show off the great job you’ve done.
Write a great profile, highlighting why and how you are the perfect person to mind an owner’s home and pets.
If you can offer references from past sitting experiences, great. If you’re a first-timer, don’t fret. TrustedHousesitters allows character references from people who know you well and can vouch for you.
Treat their home as you would treat your own, keeping the pets well cared for, the property clean and tidy, the plants watered, etc. Do your duty—and do it well.