Kelli and I have been house sitting around the world for 7 years.
As we settle into our Panama house sit I want to share a few upsides and downsides of circling the globe to care for homes and pets rent-free. Although this dream life feels freeing to experience there are downsides to house sitting internationally. Living rent-free in the tropics feels fun. Caring for pets abroad feels enjoyable because we love animals. Embracing new cultures enriches our souls.
But house sitting around the world is certainly not for everyone. Being blind-sided by dishonest homeowners can and does happen. We have heard horror stories – albeit in rare cases – from fellow house sitters describing nightmarish scenarios. Kelli and I enjoyed a thrilling house sit in Costa Rica that became our best and worst house sit. We loved living in the jungle but the homeowner largely misrepresented the alleged ease of hiking to and from the home to secure provisions for the week.
House Sitting Around the World
House sitting offers you a fun, freeing way to circle the globe rent-free but understanding the cons of sitting helps you make an informed, confident decision for yourself.
House Sitting Upsides
House sitting around the world is a fun way to circle the globe rent-free. Imagine living in exotic places like:
- Costa Rica
- New Zealand
without paying a penny for lodging. We landed house sits in each exotic locale.
House sitting feels enjoyable because most tasks feel easy to complete but the upsides of:
- being surrounded by loving pets
- spending time in comfortable, clean, well-maintained homes
- *not* owning the real estate and the myriad of headaches consistent with home ownership
far outweigh any work one needs to do to be a dependable house sitter.
We house sat in a $4.5 million apartment on Manhattan’s post Upper East Side.
Living there for free did not seem like torture. Exchanging the service of caring for 2 low maintenance cats seemed like a fair trade for living in a multi-million dollar, massive apartment in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in NYC.
Spending months in Bali villas, Qatar mansions and homes overlooking the sea in Fiji rent-free is a chief benefit of house sitting around the globe. Rent becomes expensive. Paying a mortgage feels expensive to me. What do you receive for rent or mortgage paid? Essentially, you avoid freezing to death or being water-logged by paying rent or a mortgage. But house sitting allows you to avert those fears, rent-free.
Being on a tight budget makes house sitting a no brainer. But even more prospering folks seek house sitting as a smart, inexpensive way to circle the globe. Why pay for lodging if free lodging awaits for your international travels? I could care less about ego-ownership or guaranteeing a collection of timber and concrete awaits for me in one spot on planet earth. Home is a state of mind, for me, at least.
Relatively Easy Tasks
Virtually all house sits require relatively easy tasks. Save more work-inclusive gigs – which you can remove from your house sitting searches if you wish – like running a bed and breakfast while the owners go on vacation, 95% or more of house sitting opportunities involve fulfilling basic, simple tasks like:
- walking and feeding dogs
- feeding and playing with cats
- straight forward, basic home cleaning on a weekly basis
Our only sit demanding a significant time and energy work commitment seems to be the 6 month Bali sit. We cared for:
- 4 dogs
- 30 plus chickens (only on weekends as Balinese staff cared for the chooks Monday-Friday)
- 3 cats
spanning a football field sized villa. One other couple assisted us due to the size of the property and frequent dog walks in the scrub surrounding the compound.
Every other house sit involved simple, quite easy to perform tasks not consuming much of our day.
House sitting is generally easy work. Walking and feeding dogs, playing with and feeding cats, walking and feeding goats and vacuuming carpets, sweeping floors and doing dishes are straightforward tasks most if not all of you perform in your house or apartment.
Travel to Places You Had Overlooked Previously
We never thought of visiting Qatar or Oman until someone picked us to house sit in each country. I never heard of Oman. Qatar sounded like a different world. But house sitting around the world sometimes pulls you to nations you previously overlooked.
House sits offer you greater lodging opportunities opposed to renting hotels, apartments or homes in some international spots. Could Kelli and I rent a home or apartment in Nizwa, Oman? Perhaps, but we would have a tough time finding a house to rent in the middle of the desert in a spot with few tourists or expats. However, we spent 2 months in Nizwa after landing a house sit to care for a cat in a generous-sized apartment in an Omani neighborhood.
We never could have experienced Nizwa, Oman and Middle Eastern living in such fashion unless we spent 2 months in a neighborhood with all Omani people and no tourists or expats. How could we ever rent an apartment in a remote jungle? We landed a sit for 6 weeks in wild Bribri, Costa Rica, a 3 hour hike into deep jungle. Good luck finding an Air Bnb in a spot where bullet ants and poison dart frogs are a dime a dozen.
House Sitting Downsides
House sitting around the world has downsides, too.
Each pro outweighs the cons but sharing the rest of the story lets you make an informed decision.
Imagine being the typical American – like the old me – who never let your pet off leash outside of your property. Walking with dogs off-leash in exotic spots with:
- spitting cobras
- eyelash vipers
- fer de lanz’s
- poisonous toads
- bullet ants
- poison dart frogs
feels scary, at first. However, you learn to not fear each creature because encounters become highly rare as you experience caring for pets in remote spots rich with wildlife.
My most dramatic house sitting experiences involving:
- a spitting cobra slithering into the chicken coop
- breaking up a dog fight
- having a dog quilled by a porcupine
- rushing a cat to the vet after its stitches burst and some innards fell out
- having a dog die on our watch, due to cancer
spanned 5 seconds to 60 seconds. The aftermath of each experience spanned 1 hour to 1 week. After that week, everything returned back to normal. But be aware that house sitting gets intense sometimes since you are in new settings rich with experiences of contrast.
Being Blindsided (Often Subtle Sometimes Dramatic)
2 weeks ago I noted what looked like a sea otter sleepily and lazily walking along the beach. But the sea otter was a porcupine. One dog actually bit the quills and suffered through housing a collection of razor-sharp, fish hook style quills, for a few hours until the vet removed the stabbing devices with a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
The homeowner has lived in this sleepy, seaside town for 10 years and never even heard of a porcupine in this region. We also learned how:
- a crocodile lives in the estuary 200 yards from the house and has killed and consumed expat’s dogs
- a pair of aggressive Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the neighborhood has nearly killed a few small dogs after brutal attacks
- poison toads capable of flooring dogs with a severe allergic reaction reside in the forest here
Each news item blindsided us. Nobody told us about each possible threat to the dogs who had been:
- playing in the estuary
- walking on the beach with the 2 Ridgebacks, off leash
- traipsing in the forest
I do not walk in the direction of the estuary, avoid walking the dogs when I have seen the Ridgebacks and nudge the dogs away from the forest after getting the news on these surprising aspects of the region.
Pet care feels stressful sometimes because house sitting in off the grid spots introduces you to bizarre, rare or outright obvious experiences to locals but completely alien experiences to tourists. Why would I assume an estuary served as home to dog-eating crocs in a heavily deforested region lacking wildlife? No one told me about the Ridgebacks or poisonous toads. Porcupine sightings during daylight hours are exceedingly rare.
Understand how house sitting in far off locales involves some blindsiding. Either be at peace with the sometimes chaotic nature of these sits or skip the international house sitting gig.
I rarely worry excessively. However, caring for someone’s beloved pets exposes a hefty number of worries in my being when new to a location.
Doing our Bali house sit triggered heavy fears concerning:
in snakey farm country dominating the hills of Jimbaran. I worried each night until the cats stepped inside of the house. Pythons could make easy work of cats. I also feared walking the dogs through scrub for the presence of venomous snakes, pythons and monitor lizards.
Even largely calm, relaxed individuals worry somewhat about caring for someone else’s beloved pets, especially in areas with increased threats. As I noted about being blindsided, whacky stuff that simply will not unfold in your typical US or European urban or suburban neighborhood does go down in the tropics. Dealing with stressful experiences triggers deeper fears regarding caring for beloved pets.
I felt horribly guilty when the dog died in Bali even though I – nor the pet owner – had any idea the dog had suffered from cancer for months.
Caring for someone else’s pets in spots with a higher number of dangers does not feel comfortable to most of humanity. House sitting abroad is not for everyone.
Rare Cases of Unclear Homeowners
Although rare in nature, two homeowners we house sat for became unclear during the process. One individual posted a highly negative review based on simple misunderstandings, flat out lies on his part and a few mistakes on my part. One other person completely mispresented the nature of the sit in terms of reaching a remote location.
But dealing with less than honest, unclear homeowners is rare. However, knowing that homeowners may not be straight with you even in infrequent circumstances prepares you for the ups and downs of house sitting.
Ultimately, you decide if house sitting around the world is for you. I love house sitting abroad because the downsides consume a tiny amount of your time and fear versus the vast amount of time and love you expend caring for fun pets in drop dead gorgeous, exotic, fascinating spots.
Do you house sit?
Have you considered house sitting?
What upsides and downsides of house sitting can you share?