How to Housesit Now
When I first started housesitting in September 2019, I thought it would be a short-term way to travel, write, save money, and enjoy cats.
Little did I know it was going to become my way of life — at least for now!
After a few housesits and a trip to the Azores, followed by lockdown in Portugal, we realized we could continue traveling indefinitely. As a language professor, my partner’s classes had shifted online, and we did not want to fly back to the United States for a variety of reasons, including making the journey during the first Covid wave.
As restrictions began to lift in June 2020, our Schengen visa extension expired in Portugal. The UK was a natural place for us to go since we could stay for six months and was only a short flight away (almost all other options with a short one-flight option were closed to us). Best of all, we had a housesit waiting for us, even as we were unsure whether we’d ever actually land in the UK.
Our first post-Covid housesit in Brighton with two large fluffy cats showed the incredible generosity of housesitting homeowners. Our host allowed us to quarantine in her home as she left for her trip.
As restrictions gradually lifted during the summer, we had several housesits in the UK, though we tried to minimize unnecessary movement and interactions throughout that time. Homeowners' lack of concern often surprised us, but they always respected our mutually agreed-upon boundaries regarding Covid interactions. If you were in the UK during that summer, you will remember how erratic and confused government messages surfaced nearly every day.
So what pandemic lessons will likely transfer to a post-covid period, especially if you’ve had the good fortune to be vaccinated?
I’ve left out commonsense advice about considering your environmental impact in all senses of the word (e.g., sustainability to spreading Covid). There’s no need to pontificate about it.
You can also read my pre-pandemic article on housesitting here.
1. Molasses Travel
We’ll start with the obvious. For those of you who are slow-travel remote workers, you already know the benefits of staying in one place for longer: community, routines, productivity, and saving money. In a post-Covid housesitting environment, this is even more important. We’re all aware of how often flights are canceled, but even local bus schedules have changed. That means the closer or easier it is for you to get to your next housesit, the better. It also means you’ll have less chance of spreading or catching any mutating viruses, even if you’re vaccinated.
2. Scrunch and Bunch
In the past, it was fairly easy to set up consecutive housesits months in advance, with few gaps in between. From what I’ve seen in watching the largest global site, TrustedHousesitters, there are two divergent trends. One is to schedule many months in advance. While this may seem the same as it was before the pandemic, it’s actually not because many homeowners are just somewhat randomly planning to travel, without having firm plans as they might have in the past. This makes it somewhat risky to commit to a housesit on both sides, especially if you’re not currently in the country you’re planning to visit for the sit.
The other pattern is to have last-minute, shorter housesits pop up. Admittedly, these were also a feature of pre-pandemic times, but these sits are just as risky (from both the homeowner and housesitters’ perspectives) in some ways as the ones months in advance.
So what should you do? In addition to slow travel, you may need to be prepared to scrunch and bunch your housesits. For example, if you take a sit in London, try to find other sits near it, knowing that you can travel between them easily. This also makes it easier if one falls through — you can book a place to stay in between easily and not have to spend money or the covid-traveling headache to move somewhere far away. In fact, you could plan a month-long airbnb (and get the lower rate) before or just after your sit that you could extend either way should the housesit be canceled at the last minute. This is what I mean by scrunch and bunch — line up sits for a month and then paid accommodation for the month afterward (or vice versa). This was a strategy before the pandemic, but it makes even more sense now due to possible travel complications.
3. Your Housesitter Profile Location
Most housesitting websites require you to list where you’re based or located. In the past, this wasn’t a major complicating factor in finding a sit because many homeowners were willing to “risk” you as a sitter, even if you were currently located in another country. For example, two of my pre-pandemic sits in Wales and Cyprus were planned when I was located (both physically and on my profile) in the United States. There wasn’t any question of whether I’d be able to travel to those countries.
Now, however, homeowners are nervous about agreeing to a housesitter outside their country or even outside their locality. This is understandable, so you have two options:
(a) only apply to sits in your current location/country
(b) change the location on your profile.
There are obvious downsides to the first option if you’re trying to plan ahead. For example, we know we must leave the UK in July (we cannot hope to have another extension — this is already our fourth!) and already have plane tickets to Estonia. Though there aren’t many housesits in Estonia in the best of times, it would make sense to change our profile to Estonia if wanted a sit there. If we applied to such a sit and the Estonian homeowner was interested in us, then we could explain the situation to them and let them make the decision.
Either way, it’s something to be aware of if you’re applying to sits outside your “home” country, or even within your home country.
4. From Plan B to Plan Z
I’ve always loved travel planning, especially because it often counterintuitively allows for serendipitous moments. Obviously, 2020 made that challenging in the extreme, so I had to let go of my need to plan.
If you’re a nomad/remote worker who needs to move because your visa demands you leave a country, what should you do? Consider renting a place for a month in the new country you’re traveling to and then looking for housesits as soon as you arrive. This will give you and the homeowner peace of mind.
Beyond that, you basically need to be able to run out a list of scenarios of what to do should your plans go haywire (because they probably will). If you’re a planner, this is a golden opportunity! Research alternate plans, but hold them lightly and don’t get too emotionally invested in any one of them working out.
5. Consider Travel Refunds
I know you’re already thinking about this, but post-Covid travel requires quite a different mindset and one that is actually unexpected.
Let’s take flights, for example. It used to be that the more money you paid, the more flexibility you’d have when changing your ticket. What’s especially confusing about this post-Covid is that this doesn’t actually hold true anymore. I’ve had at least five flights canceled or I’ve canceled them and in all cases, I’ve had refunds (except sometimes small fees attached to the ticket) or been able to reschedule. What’s odd about this is that it held true across the maximum refundable tickets (the most expensive) as well as the least-refundable (least expensive) tickets. I’d say read the fine print on this, but I don’t think even that will help.
So what should you do? Research the new refund policies carefully because you may be better off taking the risk of buying a cheaper ticket. Don’t just assume you should buy the most expensive refundable ticket. The same goes for train tickets and the like.
5. Trust Your Gut
Housesits are so competitive right now (at least in the UK) that sometimes you need to just apply and read the housesit details later. Once you do, however, it’s more important than ever that you read the details about the homeowner’s travel plans carefully. If they’re not listed but you have a call with them, make sure you ask them about it. As I said above, they may just be throwing out dates they hope to leave but they’re not set in stone. Similarly, you can ask if they have flexibility in their dates if the sit is perfect but the dates don’t align exactly with your own.
What do I mean by trust your gut? I mean you need to trust your intuition about whether the homeowner’s plans are in the realm of fantasy or are they actually viable? This wasn’t something you needed to consider much before because you could safely assume they could be flexible with their own plans. If they’re planning to travel to a country that is currently restricted, spend some time asking them if they have alternate backup plans (this is what we had to do last summer — one sit, in particular, had great backup plans inside the country). If your sense is they may be overestimating the likelihood they can actually leave, don’t agree to the sit.
Yes, this introvert is telling you to over-communicate with the homeowner. Wouldn’t this have been a good idea pre-pandemic, you ask? Not necessarily. Some homeowners like regular communication with photos, while others prefer to just not check their phone much before or during the sit. In a post-pandemic era, it’s even more important that you keep the homeowner informed of where you’re at and your progress toward them. Something as simple as catching the right train or bus is important information now because of irregular schedules.
You also need to establish how you’re going to make the “handoff” rather than having a pre-pandemic relaxed approach. Are you going to interact with the host when you arrive? Will you wear masks? Are they going to leave the next morning? If you won’t meet them, what will you do if you cannot enter the house (a pre-pandemic problem, but sometimes made even stickier by post-pandemic issues!).
7. Gentle Boundaries
Expect the unexpected. The first night we arrived at a Somerset housesit last summer, our host wanted to drive us to the store (very kind because there wasn’t any transportation) but he didn’t wear a mask in the car. Then the family wanted to make dinner for us. Normally, this would be a welcome and wonderful aspect of housesitting, but it became awkward because we felt we couldn’t say no. In hindsight, we should have communicated our mask-wearing/social distancing expectations before we arrived so these unexpected events did not take us off guard.
8. At the Sit and Afterward
This last point is probably less important now that we understand how the virus spreads a bit more, but cleanliness is even more important — and different — than ever. Before I left our sits in the summer, I made sure to put notes saying “clean” on certain items so they knew what had been sanitized. But some cleaning points were counterintuitive. For example, I’d normally wash, dry, or air dry our bed linen and put it back on the bed. But then I realized that I’d be handling it if I put it back on the bed, so I just asked the homeowner what they’d prefer (they usually wanted us just to put it in the washer, which makes sense). It’s these little things that make a difference to them and to you after the sit. Plan to spend more time cleaning and communicating about the cleaning with the homeowner as well.
Hopefully, these tips will be helpful in encouraging you to plan your next sit with confidence. One thing that doesn’t change is expecting the unexpected, such as losing a terrier down a badger hole (after four hours of waiting, she decided to grace us with her presence).
Regardless of where we are next year, watch out for literal and proverbial badger holes as you housesit and you’ll be fine. Enjoy!