House Sitting: How to Travel and Live Like a Local

House Sitting: How to Travel and Live Like a Local

As a retiree, I’m often asked how can I afford to travel as much as I do? The answer is simple: I house sit and pet sit in locations that I want to get to know better. House sitting is perfect for retirees who have no time constraints and offers a slower and more in-depth pace of discovery.

I had always travelled for work and enjoyed one decent holiday a year, but I knew I couldn’t afford to continue this lifestyle once I retired. I also knew I’d regret not travelling, so the perfect combination on my self-funded retiree income was to house sit at destinations I wanted to explore further.

That was 2009 when little was known about house sitting, and it wasn’t as popular as it is today. Initially, it began in Australia, USA and UK. Now it’s exploding globally throughout Asia, as well as Europe, South Africa, the Caribbean and South American countries.

I have house sat in all these regions and then taken the opportunity to travel around that region both before and after the house sitting. Sitting durations range from a few days to a month, and can even extend up to a year or more.

View from my house sit in Bodrum, Turkey. Image: © Nannette Holliday

Today, there are always new and exciting destinations popping up, and you can visit virtually anywhere your heart desires for the cost of airfares and food, thanks to the benefits of the internet and several major house sitting companies who have developed reputable services.

House sitting companies offer their ‘brokerage’ or listing services on the web. Sitters pay an annual fee to register their profile and services, while homeowners place their ads for free. Owners can also browse the people available and may contact you directly. Either way, the choice is yours — whether you take the job or not, where you go, how long for.

Make sure you interview the owners, just as they will be checking you out. You must feel comfortable about your surroundings and responsibilities. Before accepting, check your flight and other transportation costs to get to the house sit, whether you require a visa, or how long can you legally stay in the country without a visa, the weather and also the coverage of your travel and health insurance.

My travel and health insurance is included for six months when I purchase my flights on my Amex card, and this has been sufficient for obtaining a visa when required. However, what each credit card offers varies substantially so check if yours is suitable or whether additional cover is required. It’s too late if something unforeseen happens while you are away.

Sunrise from my house sit in Penang, Malaysia. Image: © Nannette Holliday

Many retired couples and singles, and especially writers and artists, are now taking up house sitting. I love living and integrating with the locals. I get to know what it’s like to live in various countries, what everyday life entails, learning more about my neighbours and their lives, the local store-owners and more.

It’s so much more rewarding than typical and often bland tourist accommodation. You can always have a meal or drink to check out a nearby tourist resort to see what the tourists are doing.

Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Image: © Nannette Holliday

My most amazing house sits have allowed me to experience a multitude of adventures that don’t usually occur on a packaged holiday or would have cost me many more dollars if they were available. These have included having a black bear regularly visit just out of hibernation; seeing Stage 16 of the Tour de France pass my door -- a spectacular affair and even better to be able to cheer Cadel Evans on his way to victory; see native wildlife roaming naturally around a nearby clearing; having iguanas sun themselves on my doorstep and sloths hanging around in the backyard; experiencing Ramadan in the UAE and Anzac commemorations in Turkey. 

I’ve enjoyed many a white Christmas and Christmas markets; the Northern Lights more than eight spectacular times in a four week period; explored local food and fish markets, eateries and many of Hong Kong’s lesser-visited islands; and toured a variety of wine regions in France, Spain, South Africa and California.

I’m always on the lookout for that unique opportunity. My next house sit is for three weeks in Daejeon, South Korea. I’m also planning travel around the entire country, just like I did after house sitting in Turkey. I believe in making the most of the opportunity of being in the region I'm in, especially as you’ve already paid the airfares and sometimes for a visa to be there.

Each house sit delivers new experiences, abundant rewards, delightful friendships, cultural exchanges, along with history and lifestyle discoveries. For me, they also provide the fodder, background and characters for my novels, and always a few magazine stories.

Just a small piece of advice, and while I’ve provided this warning to friends who have also taken up house sitting, you may or may not wish to follow it. To enjoy a house sit and the region, I do not look after farm animals or a menagerie of pets at any time. You become a slave to them and cannot enjoy your surroundings.

Cat sitting is the easiest kind of pet sitting. Image: © Nannette Holliday

Likewise, I don’t look after a dog in an apartment during the winter or wet season. Even though they don’t usually enjoy it either, they do have to go outside for their business and walks. Leave these pet sits for better weather so you can also enjoy the walks and your surroundings peacefully.

Also never accept a house sit where the owners want you to pay for utilities or any other service in their home, as it’s usually during winter in a cold region and you are paying to keep their house and pipes operable.

You do not get paid by the owners to look after their pets or homes, so you should not be paying them either. Remember you are doing them a favour by providing love and care to their fur-baby, and for them not having to pay for uncaring, unfriendly kennel services.

If you think you can’t retire and travel more, or even go to another country and continue working part-time — think again. If your business or work can be delivered remotely via the internet, try a little house sitting. Enjoy the benefits of a mobile office with the joys of local markets, wines and history at your doorstep.

My next house sit will be in Daejeon, South Korea. Image: Aminkorea | Dreamstime

Travel through house sitting provides more than just a change of scenery; the change of pace and living the local life is uplifting and refreshing.

While there are many house sitting organisations around today, I only belong to one now, Trusted Housesitters (, because they are well run, have an easy-to-navigate site and an excellent cross-section of countries and house sits.

There are many house sitting opportunities available in Asia these days. At the time of writing the Trusted Housesitters website had house sits listed as available in China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, UAE and Vietnam.

If you wish to join Trusted Housesitters you can use my referral code ‘RAF2502’ which will give you a 20% discount on the joining fee. Good luck and enjoy getting to know a town, region, or country and its people and lifestyle as a local at half the cost of a packaged holiday.

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