Before beginning house sitting, I had traveled to several regions of the U.S. via a work exchange program.
“Work exchange” simply means exchanging work for room and board; it’s not unlike house sitting, where house & pet care is exchanged for a free place to stay. One communicates with hosts for work exchanges, and communicates with homeowners for house sits. Both of these pursuits are forms of long-term, low-budget travel, but a key difference between them is that work exchanges don’t allow for as much free time, as one typically works ~20 per week.
In my previous work exchange trips, I traveled to stay with hosts in the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, the South, and the Southwest. By virtue of road tripping to all my destinations and happening upon serendipitous opportunities, I also got to visit the Rocky Mountains, Southern California, Texas, and parts of the Midwest. After my last work exchange trip, I accepted a full-time job that was entirely remote. By gaining location independent employment I had significantly less free time, but I still had immense flexibility.
Work exchange was an impossibility at that point due to the time demand, but it occurred to me that house sitting was the perfect opportunity to keep doing long-term, low-budget travel.
Fortunately, I had a friend who was highly experienced in the world of house sitting, and she offered invaluable insights regarding my new travel pursuit. In telling her about my interest in becoming a house sitter, she referred me to the House Sitters America website. A few weeks after signing up and creating my profile, I received a message from homeowners near Lancaster, PA who wanted to chat with me about doing a fifteen-day house sit for them. Having only done short-term house sitting for friends and family up to this point, I had no reviews from any homeowners, so I felt lucky to have the PA homeowners initiate conversation with me. After exchanging messages and talking on the phone a couple times, I agreed to do the house sit.
A few weeks later, I took the six-hour road trip from Massachusetts to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
I arrived at the house sit a few days prior to the homeowners’ departure date so I could get familiarized with the house and pet care responsibilities. The homeowners were generous hosts, both with the meals they prepared and the stories they shared. Similar to my relationship with hosts whom I had stayed with during work exchange trips, there was an implicit sense of trust and gratitude between me and the homeowners, which made it easy to feel comfortable in my new environment.
Of particular interest in our mealtime conversations, I learned about the strong Anabaptist influences in the Lancaster area due to nearby Amish, Mennonite, and Church of the Brethren enclaves. When driving down local roads, I frequently passed horse-drawn black buggies and saw farming communities that looked like they were out of the 18th century. I would never have thought to travel to this region, but that’s why I love house sitting - often your destination picks itself and you’re exposed to things you wouldn’t have imagined.
After the homeowners departed on their trip, I was left to take care of 2 dogs, 3 indoor cats, and several feral cats that sheltered around the property outside. The homeowners set me up for success in being able to manage all the responsibilities, but it was definitely my most challenging house sit to date. The combination of working remotely full time while solely taking care of a house and about a dozen animals was not easy. This was also my first long-term house sit for a stranger, so I experienced the natural self-doubt that occurs when doing anything new that requires a high level of responsibility.
“What have I gotten myself into?” was a thought that arose in my mind initially. The adjustment period that occurred in the first few days of my stay was the toughest part of the trip, which I’ve found is true for any house sit. As each day passed, I felt more comfortable in my new routine and environment. After a week, I felt in the groove with my daily flow, and it was strange to think I had previously doubted myself.
My trip to Pennsylvania was a tremendous learning experience in realizing my capacity as a house sitter. Looking back, I feel a sense of pride toward my previous self who jumped into the world of house sitting with cautious optimism and a sense of trust that I’d be able to handle whatever came my way.
Despite the challenges of my first house sit, I left it feeling wholeheartedly inspired to continue house sitting.
I’ve since done several housesits that have lasted a month or more, actualizing my dream of using house sitting as a path for long-term, low-budget travel. When I did work exchange trips, I was the recipient of enormous trust and generosity, and my experiences in house sitting have been no different. The homeowners I’ve worked with have allowed me to experience unforgettable travels because of their openness to having a stranger take care of their homes and beloved pets.
Building trust with homeowners is a skill that every house sitter needs to secure great house sitting jobs. The better the communication, the more chance of a successful house sit experience for everyone.