If you have been reading this blog for a while, then you know we are crazy cat people who will do anything to get our feline fix. We've been stalking cat cafes and feeding street kitties for the better part of six months.
So, it's probably not going to surprise you that we just completed a pet sitting assignment, caring for two cats over two weeks in the UK. We weren't paid, but got to stay in a cute village for free in return for a few minor cat-related tasks: feeding, litter changing and, of course, cuddling.
Some might read that and be intrigued. 'Free travel accommodation AND adorable pets?!? Where do I sign up?'
Others might cringe in horror. 'OMG, stay in an actual stranger's house and scoop poop? Is that really a thing?'
Yes, this is an actual thing and a well-known hack (tip) in the long-term travel and retiree communities. We are huge fans of pet sitting while traveling and I'm going to break it all down for you here.
Must Love Dogs (or Cats or Horses or Rabbits or Chickens...)
First and foremost, this is pet sitting. While there are some assignments that are house sitting only, the majority involve dogs or cats so being an animal lover is vital. Pet owners want their fur babies to receive lots of TLC and that should be a primary motivator in taking on such an assignment.
If you are that kind of person, then looking at the pet sitting opportunities online is like being a kid in a candy store. There are so many cute dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens, you might need to brush your teeth after the sweetness overload.
Not limited just to traditional pets, there are opportunities to look after rabbits, fish, guinea pigs and birds as well. Those looking for more action can select sits with farm animals like horses and chickens!
Livin' La Vida Local
For a more personal and meaningful experience when traveling, a pet sit can be ideal. Living as a local can help you immerse yourself into the culture and that is difficult to do when staying in a hotel or the main tourist district.
Pet sitting can also be a great way to experience slow travel, which we find very relaxing as it helps balance out the often hectic pace of packing up and moving every few days. We can establish a bit of a routine and go deeper into a location instead of just skimming the surface.
Another benefit is the potential to develop personal relationships with the owners and even neighbors. Many pet sitters and owners keep in touch after the assignment, which can be beneficial if you would enjoy a repeat visit at the same property with pets and people you know and trust.
Love Don't Cost a Thing
A huge advantage to pet sitting during travel is the free accommodation it affords. Pet sitting can help you experience an expensive area where hotels or even Airbnbs might be out of reach for a budget traveler. Additionally, many of the sits are in beautiful homes such as chateaus in France, luxury condos in Dubai, country cottages in England and ranches in Australia.
Choose Your Adventure
If an active vacation or getting off the beaten track is tops on your priority list, pet sitting might be the way to go. The most common house sits are available in the United Kingdom, USA and France, but there are plenty of exotic locales to tempt you such as Yellowknife, NWT Canada, the beaches of Greece or the mountains of Switzerland.
Plus, it's something completely different. There is excitement in trying new and interesting things and even if you find you don't love it, it is a great experience. You might just learn something.
Go for it!
How Did We Do It?
Several sites offer the service of connecting home owners and prospective pet sitters, but Perry and I joined Trusted Housesitters for the following reasons.
- Largest number of sits available
- Built-in reference system
- Positive reviews from owners, sitters and external sources, like Trust Pilot
- Well organized website that is user friendly
- Daily email with new pet sitting listings
A few others to check out include Mind My House, House Carers, and Nomador.
Step One: Check it Out
We spent a few days searching listings to get an idea of what was out there before we signed up and paid the $95 annual fee. That may sound steep if you are a budget traveler or just looking to take a two week vacation, but if you amortize that over a 14 day stay, it works out to just under $7 per night. For us, this was something we planned to do several times over the course of a year and well worth the up-front expense.
Step Two: Build a Profile
Pet sitting is competitive, and a great profile is crucial to stand out from the crowd. Many great resources have been written to help you create one that will get you noticed, and while I will hit the highlights here, for more in-depth information, take a look at this website.
Stand out and quickly convey your experience, trustworthiness and love of animals. Some owners get up to 50 applications for one sit, so this is important.
Select close up shots that show you are trustworthy, friendly and good with animals.
Provide an 'elevator speech' with your unique experiences and why that would benefit prospective owners. I amended ours recently with a direct quote from our recent pet sit. Two paragraphs is just about right.
REASON FOR PET SITTING
Tell owners why you want to pet sit, but reply thoughtfully knowing that owners want someone who will care for their pets and home as though they were their own.
Don't just stop with your house/pet sitting experiences and interactions with animals, be sure and talk about your abilities, knowledge, skills and expertise that might be relevant as well. Do you have a green thumb? Know how to fix a toilet? Good with your hands? Fluent in the local language? These are attributes that may be valuable to an owner and can help you stand out.
Last, but not least, the most important step: you must have references. It is the number one thing owners look for when deciding who to choose to look after their home and pets. The more references, the better.
The best references are from completed pet sits on the internal Trusted Housesitter network, but the next best thing are pet/house sitting references from friends and family. You can also use a character reference from a landlord or employer. Just be sure to add something!
Here is our front page with headline, introduction and photos. It also shows how many internal network references we have (2) and external references (2) as well as our security verifications.
Step Three: Apply and Interview
Before we left on our trip, I completed two assignments in downtown Chicago to gain some experience and secure an internal Trusted Housesitters reference in addition to my external references (thanks Traci and Sue!).
Once overseas, we traveled for a bit before deciding to apply for a pet sitting assignment. The opportunities in continental Europe are fewer and more competitive and we didn't land any we applied for. Undeterred, we focused our attention on the UK and applied for five different opportunities since there are three times the number of sits compared to any other country.
We selected the sits to apply for based on date. We had a two week range to work with as the other three were filled with personal travel and visiting with friends. We also selected just cats for this sit since the UK has lots of them and we wanted to have that experience. Generally, you need to be more flexible than this, but in our case, it worked out.
Next, we narrowed it down to the counties surrounding Cambridgeshire so we wouldn't have too far to travel. No way to sort for that, it was a manual effort.
There were five potential candidates and we applied for all of them. Two had already been filled. One didn't reply back. We heard back from two and set up a Skype interview with one the very next day.
The interview was pretty low key, more 'tell me about you' than 'tell me about a time when you resolved conflict' variety.
We asked a few questions about the cats' needs and likes to convey that it was all about the cats and we were focused on their needs, not just ours. We liked the owners and they liked us. They emailed us 20 minutes after the interview to offer the sit.
The main lesson learned here is that applying for pet sits can be a bit of a numbers game-- don't be discouraged if you don't land the first sit(s) you apply for!
Step Four: Enjoy!
The luxury of staying in a house after many tiny apartments on the road was a thrill. Even better, we were in a small village where we could walk to the store or local pub and take long walks in the country whenever we wanted. There were regular home-cooked meals and even a bit of TV watching while the cats sat on our laps. We caught up on projects amidst this rare spell of peace and quiet. It felt so good to live 'normally' for a few weeks, and being in the UK with that comforting familiarity brought back great memories.
The verdict? We absolutely loved it and can't wait to pet sit again.
If you are interested in pet and house sitting, click on this link to receive 20% off a yearly membership on Trusted Housesitters.
Thanks for reading!
Next time on Gobsmacked: How the Grinch Toured Bucharest