Queensland couple Neil McLean and Gai Reid journeyed to Europe to enjoy some authentic travel, ‘living like locals’. The result? They spent 300 days pet- and house-sitting their way across four countries, spending less than it would cost them to live at home. Plus they started a new business, Village to Villa – and even made a TV series about it!
Firstly, do some homework – decide where you would like to go. Close to home, even in your own city? A bit further afield in the same state? Maybe interstate to a warmer or cooler climate? Or overseas to one or more of your bucket-list destinations?
There are a lot of other options to consider, aside from locations. Do you want an inner-city experience where you walk to restaurants, cafes and other attractions? Is it a more relaxed country-town stay you’re after, where you walk down the street and people actually say hello to each other? Are you after the rural life, where you see the stars at night as the silence permeates the evening? Perhaps you’re wanting a location that serves as a base from which to explore an entire region over several weeks or even months?
Gai and I actually got started the other way around. There were places overseas we wanted to visit, and we stumbled upon pet- and house-sitting as a way of getting to live our dream. But first, we started with four sits here in Australia to ‘warm up’.
Are you a dog lover? Or do you prefer cats? Maybe you like both. Are you up for looking after horses and farm animals, or something a little bit left-field like reptiles or some type of exotic animal/s? The point is to decide what you’re prepared to do and where you’re willing to travel to and for how long.
To make a start on your pet- and house-sitting journey, you need to join an agency and begin searching for suitable assignments.
Most sites welcome listings from homeowners for free. To subscribe to an agency as a house-sitter varies in cost, but is generally between around AUD$50 and $130 a year. This entitles you to search the site for assignments and list your profile. Many sites also send email alerts when a new suitable sit is listed.
You’ll also need to write a profile on yourself and submit it with some photos. We also made a video showcasing our suitability. This is not compulsory, however we’re sure it has won many sits for us, due to the owners being able to see and hear our ‘case’. Many sites provide a guide for this process.
The best place to start is to google “house- and pet-sitting agencies”. Village to Villa has no affiliation with any agency, however we have found Trusted Housesitters the best for international searches (including Australia), because they have the highest number of listings in the greatest number of countries (about 150 at last count).
For Australia, we found Aussie House Sitters to be excellent value. Their site is easy to navigate, and they have comprehensive listings throughout the country. We also like Mindahome and Madpaws, however if you’re starting out, check out the top 10 in your search and find which site appeals to you most.
The conditions will be set out in the assignment. A word of advice here: make sure you read them carefully and fully understand the conditions of the sit.
Generally, the owners will expect you to care diligently for their precious pet or pets, which includes walking, feeding and being company for them. Some owners will ask you to do light garden duties, like mowing and watering plants, however the usual priority for the owners is the welfare of their pets.
The length of a pet- and house-sitting assignment varies from a few days to long-term, and therefore the obligations will vary.
There is a lot of trust involved. This is a two-way street. The owners are trusting people they do not know to come into their home and look after their precious pets and their entire property. On the other hand, pet-and house-sitters are trusting the owners that the home is serviceable, neat and tidy, and that the animals are not out-o-control monsters!
Out of more than 30 pet and house-sitting assignments that we've enjoyed, every one of them has been a wonderful experience overall, and many of the owners, both here and overseas, have become friends. But hey, that’s just us!
Personally, I like mowing lawns, chopping wood and light gardening, so we tend to do those things as a matter of course. I love walking dogs and playing with them, and patting the cats etc. Many assignments have involved chickens, plus occasionally ducks and geese. On one assignment we looked after a pet sheep named Arthur. As animal lovers, Gai and I tend to get close to the pets and are sad to leave in the end… but again, that’s just how we do it!
The golden rule is: Happy pets, happy owners!
To read more about Neil and Gai's adventures in global house-sitting, keep an eye out for their ‘Living like locals’ blog, with a new story featuring on Travel at 60 – and a new video on Youtube – every week. They also made a series about their time in Europe, called Village to Villa… Living like Locals, which you can see on Amazon Prime.