Ainsley Micallef doesn’t have a fairy godmother, but listening to her travel stories you might think that she does. The 40-year-old recently returned to after spending 12 months in Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica; a “bucket list” trip where she lived in a succession of deluxe homes.
“I stayed in gated estates with pools, gyms and tennis courts, beachfront luxury apartments with rooftop pools, resort-style homes and penthouses,” says Micallef. As an international housesitter, this accommodation didn’t cost her a cent.
House sitting within is booming as people try to save money on living expenses, but online sites also list opportunities to live in other people’s homes overseas. Savvy travellers can create an online profile and connect with home owners in desired travel locations, offering home and pet care in exchange for free accommodation.
Brisbane’s Sue Pearse did just that and has been house sitting in different countries ever since. “We always knew we wanted to travel full-time. We just didn’t know how we were going to fund it,” she says. That changed when she read about international house sitting on a travel blog, and she and husband Dave decided to try it out. She describes the nomadic life they’ve created as “one continuous bucket list tick”.
Particularly close to Pearse’s heart is a three-month stint in a 350-year-old converted barn in the Brittany region of France. Having always wanted to live in a French community they both jumped at the opportunity. “We certainly pinched ourselves … Every day we commented ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is the life we have’. It completely fulfilled every dream we had of being in another culture.”
Their house sitting responsibilities were minimal – taking care of a low-maintenance cat and keeping an eye on the place. The rest of their time was spent driving a hired Fiat throughout the region, and getting to know their new neighbours.
For Pearse, making these social connections greatly enriched the travel experience. “Straight away we were getting invitations to lunch and dinner. We were busy!” she says. Socialising with new friends helped them learn more about the culture: “Little things that you don’t know if you’re just there for a day or two.”
This was also the case for Micallef, who made so many friends in the Mexican beachside town of Playa Del Carmen that she sees it as a second home. “I was considered a local in Playa Del Carmen and plan to go back there. I created an amazing group of friends.” Part of this was thanks to the welcoming attitude of home owners, who introduced her to friends and even let her use their bikes and car to get around. Related: A guide to a rent-free lifeRelated: The psychology of house sittingRelated: Awkward house sitting moments
While house sitters reap obvious benefits, the advantages do go both ways. Home owners can engage with house sitters via email or Skype to receive updates on their home and pets, and there’s the added bonus of having someone on site if problems arise. Pearse says she and her husband have repaired fences after a storm, and sorted out a water leak that might have otherwise caused extensive damage to the home.
It’s taking these responsibilities seriously that helps build a good reputation. “I’m very quick to say if you don’t like animals – don’t do it!” Micallef says. “It’s a reciprocal arrangement that needs to put the animals first.”
For those happy to meet these obligations and looking for affordable travel, Pearse has nothing but encouragement for potential house sitters. “I’d say just do it. Read other people’s blogs ??? I’ve got a blog. Every day I’m learning about a new couple or single people who are doing it; people with children are doing it. It’s not just for retired people. Go with your style, go with your heart.”