One nomad’s opinion
By Rose Ernst
Perhaps you’re dreaming of leaving your job.
Perhaps you’re actually going to leave your job.
Perhaps you’ve already left your job, and are wondering how you can make long-term traveling sustainable, both financially and energetically.
You flip through Airbnbs in your favorite destinations but grimace at the rising rental prices.
You frown at the cramped spaces available and wonder if you’ll just land in a hollowed-out downtown with other nomads.
You’ve heard others mention housesitting before, but you’re worried about whether it will work for you.
I’ve been housesitting almost 30 times since 2019 (when I became a full-time traveler), and have stayed in short and long-term Airbnbs since 2013. I believe housesitting is a better option than full-time rentals for long-term travel.
Work and Living
Imagine you’re planning to spend a few months in Madrid.
You and your partner have a budget of $1500 a month. Even with monthly rates, it will be hard to find a place that has more than one workspace.
Now imagine flipping through potential housesits in Madrid. Instead of a crowded apartment in a noisy neighborhood on Airbnb, you find a villa near a park with two dogs.
Which would you choose?
If you’re traveling with someone else, like a partner, then having separate space is essential — both for work and alone time. It’s very hard to achieve this with monthly rentals. It’s doable, but not ideal.
Other People’s Clutter
If you’re visual like me, other people’s clutter can be very challenging. The same goes for a monthly rental, however. You need to look at the photos carefully.
Housesitting has a slight edge, because you can ask for a tour when you have a video call with the host before agreeing to the sit. You can usually get a sense of what it’s really like from that call. It’s important to do this because homeowners sometimes post the real estate photos of their home on the ad, rather than the house in its “natural” state.
So what if you arrive at the housesit and it’s bursting with clutter? You just find ways around it. You can (a) not use the cluttered room, or (b) take photos of how it looked (so you can put it back in the same way) and move it around to suit your needs.
If you arrive at a rental and it’s jammed with stuff, there’s not much you can do about it. And you’re out of pocket for the rent. Which leads us to the next point: housesitting is free.
2. Money, Money, Money
Housing costs are one of the largest lines in your budget, whether or not you travel full time.
Why not cut it so you can work less and save more?
What’s more, avoiding accommodation costs allows you to see much more of the world. For example, we love traveling in the United Kingdom, but that would be a ruinous proposition if we were living in Airbnbs.
Strangely enough, housesitting means that we often choose more expensive countries over less expensive countries. For example, we still haven’t made it to Albania (it’s been on my list since at least 2001) because there are so few housesits. Though monthly rentals are very inexpensive in Albania, we’d still have to pay rent, whereas in a more expensive country like Ireland for example, we wouldn’t pay rent at all.
While some housesits don’t involve caring for pets, the vast majority do.
And yes, caring for pets can bring a range of challenges for anyone, including health and sensory challenges.
Assuming you don’t have an allergy, I recommend you begin with cats.
Cats are ideal because they’re fairly quiet, independent, relatively odor-free, and can be left alone for slightly longer periods than dogs — especially if they’re indoor-outdoor cats.
Our most challenging cat thought he was a dog. He paced, meowed constantly, and had to be taken on a walk in the garden — on a lead.
But you’ll usually be sitting for cats who think they’re cats. A great place to start.
Now we arrive at dogs. Cats come with small apartments, and dogs with large homes.
I have two major challenges with dogs: barking and odor.
Hosts often forget their how much their dogs can bark — it’s become white noise for them.
If barking bothers you as much as it bothers me (a lot!), here are three ways to help:
1. Research which breeds bark less (e.g., larger dogs tend to bark less)
2. Read the housesit ad carefully. Watch out for words like “vocal,” “excitable,” or “anxious.”
3. During the interview, ask your host about the dog’s temperament. Then you can lead into an explicit conversation about how the dog interacts with other dogs and other humans, usually giving you an opening to discuss barking. If you just ask “how much does your dog bark,” you can offend the homeowner, and you might not get an accurate answer anyway.
4. If you have any doubts, make sure the home is large so you can be away from the dog if they bark.
Let’s not sugarcoat this one: you’ll need to deal with poop and sometimes stinky food. Beyond that, if you’re sensitive to dog odor, research breeds that smell less (e.g., poodles), but also notice whether the host seems fussy — in a good way — about dog grooming. Often, even typically smelly dogs won’t create problems if the owner grooms them frequently.
My favorite dog was a Goldendoodle who rarely barked and had absolutely no odor.
And now we’ve arrived at the upsides of pets over a sterile rental. If you like animals (otherwise you would have quit reading this article), pets can be companions and very calming. We form a little family during the months we’re at the sit.
4. Connection to Community
Locals already know your pets
When you walk the dog in the dog in the morning, they immediately make you a local.
We housesat a lovely ridgeback mix for a month in Italy this year. Every day, we’d walk past a shop where the owner would come out and coo “Ciro!” She’d give him a treat (not a dried-up biscuit, but actual prosciutto or mortadella), speak to us briefly, and then we’d be on our way.
In smaller communities, so many people recognize your dog and will greet you and welcome you. It gives you an immediate sense of being in a place and being able to ask others for help should you need it.
Hosts as guides
Similarly, depending on your hosts and the length of your sit, you’ll be given all the inside information about where to go, where to eat, shop, and even local gossip. We’ve had hosts take us to lunch, dinner, shop for us, arrange driving to shops, and everything else related to making our stay comfortable. They introduce us to friends, neighbors, and the community. This is well above and beyond what we’ve found with rentals, of course.
Since my other half loves meeting other people and honing his language skills, he’s taken full advantage of this aspect of sitting. At another sit in Italy, our lovely large house was a few miles from the grocery store. My partner soon became friends with the neighbor (had more or less been adopted by the family by the end of our three months) who would pick him up regularly and drive him to the store. He practiced his Italian and did our grocery shopping — and I got to stay at home and write. Perfect!
This same family invited us to pick grapes and help make wine during their annual grape harvest. How many times will that happen with an Airbnb?
You may be thinking that this sounds like a lot of social interaction. It can be if you want it to be. Otherwise, you can decide what you want.
Your hosts want to make your stay as easy as possible for you, which also cuts down on daily stress about the best places to eat, how to take a bus to the train station, and more complicated issues like finding a local doctor.
The Bottom Line
In truth, I occasionally crave the anonymity and lack of responsibility of a monthly rental (but not the price). But it’s quite rare, and within a week or so of moving there, I usually miss having furbabies around.
The vast and unique spaces, saving money, having temporary pets, and enjoying being a part of a local community are all reasons to try housesitting — even if it’s just once in a while.
I recommend taking your time to get to know the various platforms and enjoy flipping through all your amazing options.
And when you’re ready, why not give it a go?