You’re a nomad, and you’re looking for a way to defray your housing expenses. Have you considered housesitting? You can find free places to stay all over the world in exchange for taking care of a home, and often some pets.

Is housesitting for you?

The allure of free rent may be enticing, but housesitting is also a big responsibility. Homeowners don’t just want you to hang out in their house. At a bare minimum you’ll need to keep the home clean, and generally you’ll have to do much more. If a crisis occurs, say a toilet explodes (it happened to us!) or there’s a damaging earthquake or other natural disaster, you’ll be the person who will be responsible for ensuring for taking emergency measures.

Usually, a house-sit will involve taking care of pets. If it’s a cat, you’ll have to do things like cleaning the litter box. If it’s a dog, you’ll have to take it for walks and scoop poop. If you’re caring for horses you may need to muck out stalls. If it’s chickens, you may have to clean out soiled bedding. In many cases, the animals will require other attention and care, like playtime and affection. And if there’s a health crisis, you’re the one that will have to get the pet to the vet.

You may also need to take care of the yard and the garden, which can include mowing the lawn, deadheading plants, watering, trimming hedges, and so forth. You’ll also have to take out the rubbish on appointed days, take in mail, and possibly other duties.

If you’re comfortable with that level of responsibility, then keep reading to learn how to get started.

Common terminology

Homeowner: The person who owns or rents the home where the housesit will take place.

Housesitter: The person taking care of the house.

Sit: An individual housesitting commitment, which can be anywhere from one night to a couple of years.

Step one: Sign up for a housesitting site

Much like AirBnB connects people who have homes to rent with people who are looking for homes, housesitting sites connect prospective housesitters with homeowners looking for someone to take care of their houses and pets. Most housesitting sites still have a vibe like AirBnB in its early days. Prospects take time to get to know each other before committing to a stay and trust is paramount.

Your instinct may be to sign up for many different sites in order to increase your prospect of getting a sit. Full disclosure: I signed up for four myself! But my first six sits came from one site, which happened to be the site I was focusing on the most. Save yourself some money and start with just one.

But which site? The two biggest sites are Trusted Housesitters and Nomador. Both sites feature housesitting opportunities from around the world, and each has a significant strength in a specific geographic area.

Trusted Housesitters began in the UK but has since gone global. If you go on the site you’ll find the sits weighted most heavily toward the UK, followed by the US and Australia. Don’t despair if you’re looking to sit in Southeast Asia, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada or continental Europe; there’s many there as well.

Nomador began in France and has more sits in France than any other country. However, it also has especially strong representation in continental Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, as well as many countries that were once French colonies. Nomador also has an excellent series of cross-cultural guides that will tell you what to expect if housesitting for someone from another culture.

There are many more international housesitting sites. The majority have far fewer housesit listings, but also less competition for housesits.

There are also country specific sites for Australia, Mexico, Canada and the US. In Australia in particular, housesitting is very popular and nation-specific sites have even more listings than Trusted Housesitters or Nomador.

Housesitting Magazine has a thorough listing of smaller and regional niche housesitting sites.

First step: Your housesitting profile

Your housesitting profile is the equivalent to a resume or a LinkedIn profile without the stuffy formality. If you want housesits, you need to focus on the things that would make someone want you to watch their house.

Your housesitting profile should include a photo of you that makes you look as approachable and trustworthy as possible. A professional headshot is too intimidating. A margaritas-on-the-beach shot may make them concerned about whether you’ll turn their house into party central. Aim for something in between. Something with you walking a dog or cuddling a cat hits an especially good note.

When you write your profile, emphasize any experience you have housesitting and caring for animals. Homeowners want to know that you are a trustworthy, reliable, conscientious person who will care for their home and their “furbabies” (a term you’ll see a lot around housesitting sites). Successful housesitters have profiles that focus on what they can do for the homeowner rather than how much they love to travel around the world for free.

Some tips on what to include to improve your chances of getting a housesit:

  • Highlight your love of pets
  • If you have experience dealing with difficult pet situations, mention it! Have you trained puppies? Fed medication to cats? Cleaned the eyes of a bichon frise on a regular basis? Cared for elder pets? Cared for lots of animals at once? All of these are beneficial to mention.
  • If you have farm animal experience, and are willing to look after farm animals, make sure to mention which farm animals you’ve cared for and what you’ve done
  • Other things to mention: do you have experience caring for a garden or for plants?
  • If you’re old enough that you seem unlikely to host raging parties, yet vigorous-looking enough that they’re confident you can keep up with their pets, it is a distinct advantage
  • You can include some personal details about yourself such as your interests and hobbies; some point of commonality may be the thing that makes a homeowner pick you over your competitors

A number of housesitting sites allow you to gather reviews from people you’ve sat for locally and post them on your profile. Use this! It’s just like a hotel or a restaurant; the more five-star reviews that are next to your name, the better.

Many housesitting sites offer validation for housesitters. There’s several different levels, from the basics of confirming an email address all the way up to a police check. If you do not yet have any or many reviews, it’s especially helpful to get as much vetting done as possible to increase homeowner trust.

Finding your first housesit

Now it’s time to find a place to housesit. Sits in cities like London, Paris, Sydney and New York City are fiercely competitive and receive 20 or more applications. If you are not one of the first three and don’t have a robust profile, you probably won’t be picked. But there’s an entire world outside of those cities that you can apply for. If you’re willing to go to a smaller city, a village or an offbeat location, you will have less competition and a higher chance of being selected.

The more diverse situations you are willing to apply to, the more you increase your chances. My options are limited because there are only certain breeds of dogs I’m comfortable caring for, I max out at two cats, and I have zero experience with farm animals. The broader your parameters, the more likely you are to find that first sit.

Some people have four or more pets. If the headline says “Dog lover wanted” or “Looking for an absolute cat lover!” it’s very likely they have at least four animals.

Some people have unusual pets. For example, I saw an ad in which someone was looking for a housesitter to “cuddle my donkey.” This was not a metaphor; one of the housesitter’s duties would be to snuggle with the donkey every day so it didn’t get lonely.

How to approach potential homeowners

If your profile is the equivalent to your resume, your initial message to a homeowner is the cover letter. Make sure to review their ad carefully. See what specific needs they have and what jobs need to be done. Then focus on what you can do for them, as well as any unique skills or knowledge you bring to the table that fits with their ad.

It was my unique knowledge, in fact, that paved the way to my first housesit. In the ad, the homeowner specified that they kept kosher and that housesitters couldn’t bring pork or shellfish into the house. I messaged the homeowner and mentioned that since I was a vegetarian I absolutely wouldn’t break any kosher laws, but that if they kept separate plates for dairy and meat, as some Orthodox Jewish families do, I’d be happy to stick to the dairy plates. They were so excited that I understood kosher laws and considered them important that they immediately booked me.

If the homeowners contact you for an interview, try to do it over video call. The Skype interview is just as important for you as it is for them. 99% of housesits are amazing, but a recent discussion of worst housesitting experiences on a private Facebook group led to stories about filthy homes and poorly cared for animals. (It’s not just on one side: homeowners had their share of nightmares too.) The unifying theme: “I never did a Skype call before I accepted the sit, and boy did I regret it!” Remember, you’re checking them out too, and you have as much power as they do. If something seems off, just say no.

Start local, get global

You may be dreaming of a free six-month stay in a mansion on Ibiza, but it is unlikely that will be your first sit, or even your sixth. If you want to dip your toe in the waters of housesitting and build up a positive review history, start by applying for sits in your local area. There are often sits that are posted last-minute, with a week or less to go. Those sits have far less competition.

I’ve watched some last-minute sits, even in prime locations, go begging. As I write this, I’m on Cape Cod just after Memorial Day, and I’m going to a gorgeous local home in a prime waterfront location morning and evening to take care of their cat. They could not find a sitter, knew that I was local and asked if I could stop in. Let me repeat: Waterfront location. Cape Cod. June. And they couldn’t land a sitter.

What you need to know

Make sure your homeowner tells you everything you need to know, in detail, before you start your sit. Trusted Housesitters has an excellent home guide format that they ask homeowners to fill out.

Pet things you need to know include:

  • When and what are they fed?
  • What is the contact information for the veterinarian?
  • Do they need any medications?
  • Do they have any unusual habits?
  • Do they need to be played with? Any favorite toys?
  • Do they seek attention and affection?

House things you need to know include:

  • Are any rooms off limits to the pet? To you?
  • What’s the wifi password?
  • Do you need to take care of any plants? If so, what is the watering schedule?
  • Do they need you to take in the mail?
  • When does the rubbish go out?
  • What are the contact numbers for handymen if an emergency arrives?

Ensure you get a good review

Go the extra mile with your housesit to ensure you get a good review.

  • Email or text a photo of the pet(s) every day so they know how their furbaby is doing.
  • Follow the pet care rules diligently. Pets need a routine, and some will have severe digestive problems if their food is switched up in any way.
  • Keep the house tidy, and make sure to do a round of cleanup before the homeowner returns. If you can make it a little cleaner than it was when they left, all the better! Take out the trash, wash the sheets, do the dishes, etcetera. (Demineralizing the showerhead may be over the top, but my partner has actually done this.)
  • Restock the cabinets with any food you consumed during your sit.
  • Many housesitters make a meal for their homeowners’ return, leave behind baked goods for them, or buy them flowers. Imagine what would make your life better if you came back from a long trip, and then do that for them.
  • And always, always leave a thank you note.