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I’ve been using Trusted House Sitters for years in my travels, and some of my favorite memories have been from pet sitting my four-legged friends. If you want to spend less traveling the world, don’t mind settling a bit more in one spot, and love animals, house sitting is the perfect opportunity for you.

What is House Sitting

House sitting is the arrangement of looking after the home and (usually) pets of another when they go on vacation. The benefits to the host are possibly even greater than those of the petsitter. Taking your pet with you when you travel can be ridiculously expensive, but so can hiring a sitter or putting your pet in a kennel. It’s a lot better to leave the pet at home in familiar surroundings. Having a guest in the house will also help to deter thieves. I read that in Canada, some insurance companies won’t cover the house if it’s been vacant for more than 4 days!

For the house sitter, the main benefits are two-fold. First, they have a place to stay and, on rare occasions, food provided. Second, they get to have the company of animals!

Selfie with Dog on the Isle of Skye

The disadvantage is your freedom of movement can be a bit limited. You’ll need to be available usually at least two times a day to feed the animals, although sometimes you can make arrangements (with the approval or help of your host) to have a neighbor feed the animals, or you might be taking care of something that doesn’t need daily attention (like a reptile or a cat with an automatic feeding tray).

It might be something as simple as a single dog or cat. It might be a handful of either or a combination of both. You might be looking after chickens, geese or donkeys. Some have snakes, others have fish, and a lucky few have horses. There is even a small handful just looking for people to water the plants.

Joining Trusted House Sitters

Trusted House Sitters (or TrustedHouseSitters as the company spells it as one word) is a website you can join in order to housesit for people who have animals they plan to leave behind while they take a vacation. Membership is $119 for a year, which gives you unlimited applications for house sits.

Trusted House Sitters launched in 2010 in Brighton, England where the average pet sitter charges $60 a day for looking after just one dog. The site very quickly built up, and now there are usually about 2,000 house sits available worldwide, about a third of which are in the United Kingdom…except when international travel is shut down. Some countries only have one or two opportunities, which means they’re probably in high demand.

Pets at House Sit on the Isle of Skye

Along with Couchsurfing and Workaway or Worldpackers, Trusted House Sitters makes up the Holy Trinity for unique and wonderful websites that budget travelers can use to help with accommodations. Each has its benefits. As much as I love meeting locals on Couchsurfing, or volunteering for my bed and board on Workaway or WorldpackersTrusted House Sitters just might be my favorite, and for a very simple reason. You get to pet sit! You have to love animals if you want to housesit; I know I sure do!

Finding a Good House Sit

House sits are posted several months in advance in some cases, but others are posted last-minute. Some get dozens of applications, while others might not have any. As with any application site, you just have to send your requests and hope for the best.

In my first three months using Trusted House Sitters, I sent out nine requests and had five responses, two of which accepted me and three who had just accepted someone else. That’s much better odds than I had on other sites.

There are a few tricks I’ve used to improve my chances of getting a host. Applying for a job several months away is a good idea if you plan that far out. Many backpackers, such as myself, prefer to stick to last-minute planning. The house sits that are months away tend to have fewer applicants, at least until you get closer to the dates. Hopefully, the host takes taken down the house sit when they find a sitter so you don’t apply for something that isn’t available.

Very last-minute hosts are the best, especially if you’re already in the area or can get there fast. Unless you’re in a big city like London or Paris, chances are they’ll have only 0-3 applicants (Trusted House Sitters shows the number in ranges like this). If there are more than about 10 applicants, I won’t usually bother applying unless I have particular skills needed for that house sit (working with horses, etc) and it’s in an area I really want to travel to.

Walking the Dogs

The length of the house sit will also make a big difference in how many people have already applied. Shorter house sits generally have more applicants by backpackers who are just going to be in the area for a few days and are hoping to find accommodations through the site while having a pet to take care of. There are also a handful of travelers who use Trusted House Sitters almost year-round and try to find long-term sits for weeks or months at a time. There are fewer travelers in the latter category, so you have a better chance to find a host offering a place for a week or longer.

Lastly, the more remote the location, the fewer the applicants. I often find that house sits in the heart of Edinburgh have dozens of applicants. On the contrary, hosts in the Highlands or on the Scottish Islands will usually only have 0-3 applicants. If you’re able to get out to these locations, your chances of finding a house sit will improve greatly.

Dundee Trusted House Sitters View

Some Tricks To Improving Your Chances of Getting a House Sit

Know How to Take Care of Animals

This one should be a no-brainer, but some people do try to use the platform only to get free accommodations, and taking care of the pet is almost an afterthought. Having extra experience with animals and how to deal with problems they can encounter will go a long way to improve your chances of getting a house sit. You can always specialize in a species, whether canine, feline, avian, etc. Most hosts will have a strict regiment to follow with their pets, but it’s good to know what to look out for with the animals so you can notify the host or vet of anything that needs attention.

If you really want to have some fun with house sitting, learn how to take care of horses, donkeys or other less common domestic animals. I’m eternally grateful to my five weeks on a horsemanship training farm in Sweden and all the other work I’ve done to take care of horses over the years.

Selfie Training Horse #4

Have a Vehicle

There are plenty of urban house sits which are well connected to public transportation. If the house sit is more rural, you’ll probably need a car. There’s a tiny chance your host will have a vehicle you can use, but that’s pretty rare. Just like with Workaway or Worldpackers, it’s always good to pay attention to the exact location of the house sit, what kind of publication transportation goes to it, and where nearby shops and other services are.

Have a Very Thorough Profile

As with other memberships sites, the best way to improve your chances of landing a good house sit is to have a complete profile. Don’t just say how much you love animals (that should definitely be part of it), but also include all the experience you have housesitting, any training you have had with taking care of animals, pets you’ve had, etc. Also give details on any dietary restrictions, if you have a vehicle, what your travel plans are, etc. The more, the better.

Acquire Recommendations

After each house sit you complete, try to get a recommendation from your host. Some hosts don’t really care if you have recommendations or not, and they probably won’t bother to leave a recommendation themselves, but it helps to get more of them if you can.

Be Willing to Accept Full Responsibility for the Pets and Home

House sits are quite often more than just taking care of animals. You might get asked to water the plants, receive parcels, or do other weekly activities (I once had to report solar panel readings regularly to the city officials). It should be a given to keep the house immaculate. I try to leave the house better than I found it, although there have been a handful of times when arrived into a rather shoddy situation.

Some of My Experiences With House Sitting

Two-Week House Sit in Dundee

My first house sit was in the Scottish countryside outside Dundee for the first two weeks of August. My host was leaving down to London for volunteer work and needed someone to take care of her two old dogs. One was a Jack Russell and the other was a Bearded Collie. They were nearing the end of their lifespan, and my host even commented that it wouldn’t be unexpected if the Beardie wasn’t around when she got back. What was truly unexpected was the level of exchange I received from her. I don’t want to set any false standards here for house sitting, but suffice to say, some hosts really take care of you!

The dogs weren’t up to taking walks in the countryside, but I explored the many trails myself – although I had injured my feet just before arriving. I also got to go down to St. Andrews with the vehicle she left for me to see the oldest golf course in the world, and make a couple trips down to Dundee, where I was dealing with various medical problems. Mostly I just stayed at the house, which was absolutely gorgeous!

Trusted House Sitters

Three Days in Rural England

Then at the end of September, I was accepted at a house sit in central England less than an hour away from Luton airport, where I picked my dad up for the beginning of his own international adventures. We only stayed four days at this location, but watching the year-and-a-half-old Terrier was an absolute joy. The dog, Holly, had unlimited energy. She just couldn’t get enough of retrieving the tennis ball in the backyard or going for walks in the surrounding fields where Alpaca grazed.

By far the best part of that house sit was in the evening. Holly would wait outside my bedroom door until I was comfy in bed, and the quietly push it open. She’d come to the side of the bed, lightly jump up, crawl under the covers and snuggle on my arm!

House Sitting Holly

Five Weeks in Brighton, England

After a couple more short house sits, I had my first long-term stay in Brighton, my favorite city in England. The only problem was that the house was five miles away from the city center and the beach. Well, another problem was that the kitchen and pantry were overstocked with food I was allowed to use, but most of it was several years out of date and my host had no intention of letting anything be thrown out, no matter how spoiled it was.

Selfie Walking Dogs in Brighton

I was taking care of two Staffordshire Bull Terriers (known as Staffies). They were young, and absolutely determined to chew on everything in sight, usually to the point of complete destruction of the object. I had to ensure the door to my room was kept closed at all times. Despite a lot of rain, I was able to make a few trips out to the beach, although it was a hard choice between walking the 10-mile round-trip or spending several dollars on a day bus ticket.

Six Weeks on the Isle of Skye

I went directly from my long-term sit in Brighton to an even longer sit on the Isle of Skye – my favorite place in the world! For six weeks, I took care of a Springer Spaniel dog, two cats, four ducks and eight chickens. Aside from taking the dog on a walk each day (with one of the cats sometimes accompanying us), I also had to collect all the chicken and duck eggs, clean out their coop, and feed all the animals every day. It was a lot of work, but more than worth it.

View from House Sit on the Isle of Skye

The location was absolutely stunning, overlooking a bay with the most gorgeous sunsets. The house was a four-bedroom B&B with a massive kitchen and even bigger living room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my own transportation for most of my stay, so I spent my days hitchhiking to my favorite spots around the island.

Selfie with Housesit Dog at Old Man of Storr

A Week at the Lanark Estate

A really interesting house sit was the week I spent on the Lanrick Estate in Scotland, not far from Doune Castle where they filmed Monty Python and Outlander. Lanrick Castle, as it was told to me, was built using the drug money that was acquired by the Scottish men who owned Hong Kong and used the territory to conduct opium runs from China to the West. The castle was torn down a few years ago after it went to ruin, but the Lanrick Estate is still gorgeous with the River Teith running through the center of the property.

Dog on Lanrick Estate

Where the castle was is now just a flat field, but you can still explore the ruins of the stables, the laundry house, the chapel and many other buildings. Fishermen are invited to rent the two fishing huts and spend the weekend in the river. The estate is also the perfect location for filming, but that’s a story for another article.

Lanrick Estate Ruins

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Further Reading

I believe that giving back in your travels is a huge plus, and I’ll always spend a few months out of every year doing volunteer jobs. Here are some more articles that cover volunteering, the pros and cons, and some of the experiences I’ve had.

Volunteering

House Sitting

I’m a budget traveler. Therefore, I’m always looking for the cheapest way to travel. Couchsurfing is definitely the cheapest lodging you can get, but it’s actually not the primary reason why I personally use the website.

Each type of lodging doesn’t just cater to a different clientele. They also provide different experiences. In a hotel, you’re usually getting pampered. Airbnb provides a self-catering experience, and sometimes a bit more. Hostels are as varied as they come, but you primarily meet other travelers in them. It’s Couchsurfing (CS) where you’ll find the real gold.

With CS, it’s all about staying with a local and getting a true taste of the culture. Even if they’re not from the city you’re traveling to, chances are they’ll have a good knowledge of it. Either way, you’re sure to have a personal and unforgettable experience.

When Did Couchsurfing Begin?

The story behind Couchsurfing goes back to 1999 when Casey Fenton flew from Boston to Iceland, where he didn’t want to stay in any of the “boring” hotels. Instead, he hacked a university database and emailed 1500 students, asking for accommodations. He received back dozens of offers, and thus the idea was born. Five years later, the website was launched, and it has since grown into a community millions strong.

What Can You Find On Couchsurfing?

Finding a place to stay in a city you’re traveling to is obviously the primary reason for Couchsurfing. However, the website has developed into so much more.

The secondary use I have of the website is finding events in the city I’m going to. Once or twice I’ve been able to find a host at the event when all my online requests fell through. The rest of the time I went to the events to meet and hang out with other travelers. Granted, if you’re staying in a hostel you might already have more travelers than you can talk to. Like I said, CS is a community, and it’s fun to meet the other members of it. After all, not all travelers are on CS, which is why I’m writing this.

The third option I use is to find other travelers in the city I’m in to meet up with. As a solo traveler, sometimes I just want another companion to explore with or share a 2 for 1 dinner. CS is a great place to find a short-term travel partner, if I haven’t already found someone at the hostel, or my CS host isn’t available.

Another benefit of CS is the groups. They certainly aren’t as numerous as Facebook, but they are pretty much all related to travel, travelers, or the city you’re going to in some way. Sometimes you need to jump onto an emergency hosting group for the city you’re going to after all your requests have failed. Otherwise, you can use the groups to find additional travelers to meet up with or find like-minded individuals in the town you’re spending an extended period in.

Lastly, you can use CS to find out information for the city you’re going to. Personally, I’ve never used this option, as I’ve always received my data from fellow bloggers and travelers.

Lunch with Couchsurfing Host in Schiedam

Pros of Couchsurfing

  • It’s free

While CS is inherently free, I still like to exchange with my hosts. That might be bringing them a gift from my last location, cooking a meal for them with my chef skills, cleaning their house or anything else they might need.

  • Some hosts invite you to parties, shows and other events

Sometimes the exchange I’ve received from my hosts has been far more than I was expecting. No less than half the CS hosts I’ve had around the world have invited me to a party of some kind or another.

  • You get a comfortable sleeping arrangement

Once or twice I’ve slept on a mat on the floor with my sleeping bag, but usually there’s a very comfortable couch, and sometimes even a spare bed available. I say comfy couch, as I actually prefer the soft foam cushions over the pointy spring mattresses that some hostels have. Even the mats have been comfortable. After all, we travelers can sleep anywhere (usually).

  • It’s personal

The biggest pro is simply that you’re in a real home. There’s a kitchen you can usually use, you’re not fighting with your whole dorm in the hostel for the shower, and you’ve got a personal buddy to help you with the town.

  • Couchsurfing references are great

Couchsurfing certainly doesn’t have the fallacies in the Workaway feedback system. References give a great picture of the host you’re going to be staying with. Most hosts will only accept guests with numerous references. If you’re uncomfortable with a host, you can always find another with better references.

Couchsurfing in Cyprus

Cons of Couchsurfing

  • Sometimes hosts are hard to find

The biggest problem with CS is it can sometimes be very difficult to find a host. If you’re arriving at a key tourist destination, or during the peak season, you might send out dozens of requests without even a single response. On the other hand, if you’re trying to find a host in a tiny town in early spring, such as I did in Middelburg, you might have a plethora of offers. But never give up. Someone is staying at those hosts who are booked. It could be you.

  • The mobile app doesn’t filter the distance of your host

One problem with the mobile app is that it tends to give a wider geographical range. You have to pay attention or you’ll end up booking a host in the next town over. Or you can make your own mistake, like the time I accidentally booked a host for a completely wrong city.

Is Couchsurfing Safe?

In this universe, there are no absolutes. It would be silly to say that CS is 100% safe. Whether it’s safer than your hometown is the subject of another post.

Let’s put it this way. Couchsurfing was developed by travelers, for travelers. Obviously, there will be a handful of people who are using the site for nefarious purposes, but they’re fairly easy to spot with the built-in safeguards. After all, a small portion of the population everywhere don’t have your best interests at heart.

Personally, I know of two cases of trouble with CS, other than guests staying too long when they couldn’t find their own apartment to move into, and only one of those was really serious. But that’s out of hundreds of friends of mine who are on CS whom I’ve talked to about their experiences.

It also comes down to having trust in your fellow man, but that’s also the subject of another post.

I’ll never forget my first CS host overseas. He was an elderly, ex-special forces Israeli living in London. His profile was a mile long and included things like speaking a dozen languages, traveling all over the world and being openly gay. It was the first day of my travels, and I didn’t really have a lot of options, or wherewithal for hostels. I showed up and found his entire flat was barely larger than the loft bed which dominated the center. But he slept in the couch below, and nothing bad happened.

Then again, nothing bad has ever happened to me on Couchsurfing. The only results have been life-long friends and wonderful experiences and stories.

Michael's Couchsurfing Shelf

Tips for Using Couchsurfing

The two key tips I can give for finding hosts are to build up your references and make your requests personal. If you don’t have any references yet, there are still hosts who will accept you. After all, everyone has to start somewhere. Another way to get references is to attend CS events, make some new friends and ask them to write you a reference. I want to see everyone on Couchsurfing, and I’m always happy to stay with a host who doesn’t have any references or write one for a friend newly joining the team.

When writing your request, put in a personal touch. Give enough detail so they know your plans. Some hosts get several dozen requests a day! How are you going to stand out? Read their whole profile, including the part about their home. Know what to expect, and find a common point of agreement. Mention where your interests overlap, and what you can contribute to their home. Most importantly, if you’re available, offer to spend time with them. After all, that’s what CS is all about.

There’s another tip I do to filter out the best hosts to request. As mentioned, I’m not too interested in references personally. Instead, I apply a filter to find hosts who have been active in the past month, or perhaps six months if the results are too low. Then I scan to find hosts who have a response rate above 50%. I don’t just look for ones who are “Accepting Guests,” but those who are “Maybe Accepting Guests” too. Usually, I’ll skip the first page altogether, especially in big cities, as those are the ones who get the most requests.

Finally, find hosts off the beaten path. Not only are they more likely to be available, but you’ll get to explore a unique environment.

Summary

Couchsurfing embodies what traveling is all about. It’s meeting new people, getting out of your comfort zone, experiencing a new culture and exploring the unknown. It’s simply a platform that every traveler should be part of.

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