So, you’re curious about house sitting. The idea of staying in other people’s homes for free is pretty enticing…but what’s the catch?
Even though no money changes hands, house sitting isn’t entirely free. Here are the actual costs that come up when you’re house sitting full-time.Is house sitting really free? Here's the full story on what it costs to be a full-time house sitter Click To Tweet
When I signed up for Trusted House Sitters I was worried that I was throwing money away on a membership fee. I figured the price was less than a single night in a hotel, so it was worth the gamble. It’s really paid off for me.
Just about every house sitting site has a membership fee. It keeps people from creating and then abandoning accounts.
Housing between sits
Even when I’m fully booked as a house sitter, the start and end dates rarely line up perfectly. Plus, I like to have time to meet the homeowners in person and not have to worry about travel delays.
Some full-time house sitters will stay in hotels between sits, which can get expensive quickly.
I’ve found that many homeowners offer for me to stay with them before and after the sit. They’re happy to get to know the person they’re entrusting their beloved pets (and home!) to. I’ve had plenty of hosts share meals with me and very much treat me like family. It’s been a really wonderful experience. It might sound like it’d be awkward to stay with a stranger, but if you understand the magic of CouchSurfing, you’ll understand why I always jump at these opportunities.
As a long-term CouchSurfer, I have more friends scattered around the world than is normal. Even when I have a friend to stay with in a city, I sometimes use CS as an opportunity to meet someone new. This is especially tempting at the start of a long sit when I’m looking for a new group of friends.
Traveling between sits
Slow travel is less expensive than fast travel, regardless of where you’re staying. The longer you stay in each place, the less you spend traveling between places.
Even if I don’t find a long-term sit, I’ll book several sits in the same area and get to experience different neighborhoods in the same city. I also like booking sits in nearby cities and CouchSurfing in the places in-between. Usually the cost of getting between sits is $100 or less. Given that I’m not paying for housing and I’m only moving every few weeks, this is still far less expensive than living in one place.
Before I agree to a sit (or even apply) I check transportation costs. Sometimes flying can be really cheap, but other times its not. I don’t want to have to choose between shelling out a ton of cash for a flight or cancelling a sit I’ve already agreed to.
Lots of house sitting opportunities are in car-dependent places. As someone who doesn’t have a car, this limits the number of sits I can apply to. Even people who do have a car may not want to drive to a far-away house sit.
There are still plenty of house sitting opportunities that don’t require a car. Quite a few sits are in downtown locations where a car would be a hassle.
Plenty of suburban homes have everything I need within biking distance — and most homeowners have a bike they’re happy to lend me. I’ve even had neighbors offer to drive me around or pick things up for me so I don’t have to carry groceries home. Of course, there’s always Lyft, Uber, and Zipcar.
Other times, homeowners lend me their car. Lots of families have two — or more — cars. Others simply have me drop them off and pick them up from the airport.
Vacation lifestyle creep
It’s normal to splurge a bit when you’re on vacation. No one wants to miss out on something cool because of the price tag. When you’re on vacation, you do a lot in a day and the costs add up quickly.
It’s different when you’re working remotely. Sure, I enjoy the sites in every place I visit, but I’m spreading it out over several weeks.
I spent a bit of money on touristy things during my first few months as a house sitter. The usual budget vacation tips can keep this under control, like going to free nights at a museum and using reciprocal memberships. Staying with a local often means the use of memberships and great tips for what’s worthwhile.
Most of my cut-able expenses were just going out to eat all the time. Eating out or going out drinking became less exciting the longer I traveled. This is especially true in cities where I don’t know a lot of people. When I’m reuniting with old friends I go out often, sure, but now it evens out.
The more places I visit, the more I want to experience what’s unique about them. After a while I can’t remember which hipster restaurant is in which city, so now I usually skip them. The spots that provide local color are just as likely to be a hole in the wall as they are to be an exclusive restaurant.
At this point, the amount of money I spend going out is generally the same as when I was living in one place — or a little less.
It’s not required, but I leave a gift for my hosts. It doesn’t have to be lavish, it’s an expression of appreciation. When someone treats me like a welcome guest and opens their home to me, I want to behave like a guest.
It can be time consuming to look at opportunities to house sit, apply, and coordinate it all. Even when homeowners reach out to me, I still have to check things out to make sure it’s a good fit. There are a lot of Skype calls and even in-person meetings. If you’ve ever looked for a job or done online dating, it can be a lot like that.
Even when you arrive, there’s finding things in a new kitchen and getting used to a different neighborhood. Figuring out what you can recycle. And learning the quirks of every home and pet! Oh, and actually caring for the house and pets.
It gets easier after you learn what questions to ask. Occasionally I’ll still encounter an appliance I have to Google or some other strange house thing, but after years of CouchSurfing and home exchanges I can usually jump into any home and know how things work.
Sometimes it does feel like extra work, but most of the time I enjoy it. House sit notifications feel like a reminder of endless opportunities. I really like meeting new people and am good at coordinating it all. I love exploring new places. Whenever it feels like a bit too much, I know it’s time to slow down my pace and find longer sits.
Any time you’re traveling, you want to make sure your credit card will work (and not charge foreign transaction fees) and you won’t get hit with an unexpected phone bill.