For the most part, our experience with housesitting has been extremely positive.
At this point in our journey, we have completed eight housesits in seven different countries and are in the midst of starting our ninth. It has been an incredible way to travel the world on a budget, meet new people, and get to know a particular area of the world as more than just a tourist. I am so glad we have spent time traveling this way and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
However, that said, there are some downsides to housesitting as a method of travel.
Housesitting feels a lot like online dating. To be fair, Joel and I met via online dating so we are a fan of the forum. What I mean by it in this context is that sometimes, things just don't work out. We have applied for many a housesit that looked really exciting just to receive a response that the position has already been filled. Twice we have even gotten as far as interviewing via Skype for a sit and then rejected when the homeowners chose someone else. Rejection is never fun, even in what is ultimately a pretty low stakes scenario.
Housesitting means relying on the hospitality of others. This is really an upside and a downside. The upside is you get to meet new people, they usually introduce you to the area and give you information you might not learn otherwise, and often, you have a new friend for life. However, sharing space with other people can be difficult. We have always worked hard not to overstay our welcome - trying not to arrive too early or stay too late after people arrive home, but for those times when everyone is in the home, it can sometimes get awkward. The key here is good communication - try to overcommunicate if possible about what space you can use, whether meals will be shared or you are on your own, etc. Even then sometimes communication breakdowns will happen and hurt feelings will occur, just do your best to navigate them with empathy and think about how you might feel if the situation was reversed.
Housesitting means living in someone else's space. This might sound like the same one as above, but it's not quite. What I mean by this one is that even once you have the house to yourself, it's not really your space. You can't rearrange the furniture, disrupt anything too much, and sometimes it has been hard to really relax. We are always a bit on edge - making sure we don't break any dishes, stain any couches, or otherwise let any damage happen to their home. If something were to happen in the course of just existing in their space I'm sure most homeowners would be understanding, but for us, this aspect contributes to a bit of constant underlying anxiety.
Housesitting means scheduling travel around other people. Scheduling housesits just right so that we don't end up homeless in between can be tricky. For the most part, we have been able to line them up well, but we've had a few times we've had to shell out for an Airbnb or a hotel for a night or two. Sometimes our need to find a housesit for the right dates has led us to choose/accept a housesit we might not have otherwise, but luckily even ones we were uncertain about turned out well. It definitely makes planning quite a bit more stressful though when we aren't just working with our own schedule!
Housesitting means extra responsibility. We chose this way of travel so we knew what this entails, but it can be a downside to this way of travel. We aren't just on holiday wherever we go, we have to make sure the pets are well cared for, follow any specific instructions we've been given, as well as care for the home. Depending on the pets we are responsible for this can sometimes limit what we can do in the area or how long we can be away from the house during the day. (Dogs that need to be walked/let out, for example, mean long days away from the house aren't always possible.) We have always been up to the task, grateful for the benefits of housesitting and falling in love with the pets in our care.
We did have one unfortunate experience last year where the homeowners ended up unhappy with our performance. It was quite jarring to receive an email a month after we left detailing everything the homeowner thought we had done wrong in their home - some of them were unspoken expectations we failed to meet (making sure they had milk and bread upon their return), some were misunderstandings (they claimed we had not taken the trash to the curb for weeks when the truth was we never missed a week they just happened to return the day before things went out again), and some were just bizarre complaints that we chalked up to personal quirks. It was unsettling, but in the end, we responded politely and just moved on.
Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons.
I hope this post doesn't come off as overly negative, because as I stated in the beginning, our experience overall has been very positive and if we had it to do all over again we would. We have made lifelong friends, found a new career opportunity for me, seen more of the world than we ever dreamed of, and done it all on a budget to boot. We would recommend this way of travel to anyone who is interested, without hesitation. However, it's always good to see both sides of every situation, especially before jumping into something so big.
So what do you think? Would you ever want to travel this way? It can be a good short-term way to travel as well, you don't have to make it a lifestyle like us! What parts do you think you would love? What parts do you think would be difficult for you? Let's chat!