It’s no secret that recently we’ve been trying to make every penny that we’ve saved to travel stretch as far as possible, and since November of last year we’ve been taking our accommodation costs lower and lower by using some great cost saving tips from the travel community.
You probably know that we’ve long been lovers of Couchsurfing, and from November 2013 through to May of 2014 we’ve slept on the couches, sofas and spare beds of eleven different hosts through France, Spain and the UK. For us it’s probably the best way of meeting locals outside of walking up to strangers in the street and talking with them, but whilst we love it for the experiences it brings us, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t incredibly thankful for the cheap accommodation alternative it offers.
As of late, however, we’ve taken to another form of cheap travel accommodation in Europe that has taken much longer than it should have for us to begin using.
Rent Free For Five Months
Since November we’ve been staying in Germany, France, Spain and the UK for a total number of five months, for free and it’s changed not only the way we travel, but the way we enjoy and embrace local life.
Why it took us so long to start housesitting, we ask ourselves all the time, but since we’ve began it’s given us everything else and more than either of us could have imagined
One Main Benefit Of Housesitting
Since we started this blog just over two years ago we’ve often ask ourselves why we too didn’t get involved and started with housesitting a lot sooner by following in the footsteps of some of our favourite travel blog writers and a cheap travel lifestyle too who’ve often written and spoken about the great advantages housesitting has on how they save money on accommodation.
Many of them had long used accommodation rental services like AirBnb and Wimdu to book long blocks of time in apartments and houses throughout the world, but whilst they had somewhere to temporarily call home that not only gave them a chance to refresh from weeks of relentless hours on the road, but it also aided them in experiencing life just like a local would by visiting the best shops and restaurants around their – more than likely – less-central location.
Whilst this arrangement certainly has its advantages (as we found from renting an apartment in Kyiv for a week), it’s can still present quite the financial strain on even the most affluent of travellers. What housesitting provides is the same local living experience, but with a better financial saving for the traveller who can then spend that money saved from their budget on local experiences such as community gatherings, local restaurants, or perhaps a guided tour or two.
The Biggest Benefit
Personally, it’s using the money we’ve saved of our travel finances to live more like a local than a traveller that has made us fall in love with housesitting.
It’s helped us to learn just how the locals handle their day-to-day lives, watch their routines as they go backwards and forwards to work or to the shops to buy their weekly groceries. You see things that you might not necessarily witness during one or two days, or a week whilst staying in the next town or city of your around the world travels.
Just in the past few weeks we’ve gotten to know the locals and share our stories together of how we’ve gotten to where we are now. From them we’ve heard of the countries they’ve lived in, the places they’ve seen and the many things they’ve experienced. We see them as they do charity runs at the weekend, or take part in religious processions through the town. We see them farming each day on the rows and rows of olive and almond trees or the fields of more artichokes than either of us have seen in a lifetime. We’ve even watched as they move their livestock past the house we are sitting – not something either of us are used to seeing.
Of course another huge benefit for us both is the chance to enjoy having animals to look after, and following our volunteering experiences in Thialand and brief cat rescuing last summer, we’re always happy when our housesitting assignments require plenty of petsitting too.
The Growing List Of Housesitting Travellers
When we first started out we only followed a few travel bloggers who were taking cheap travel accommodation to the next level with housesitting, and the travellers we felt most compelled to follow were Dani and Jess of the now four-year strong Globetrottergirls, and the joint co-authors of the magnificent ‘Break Free: The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting’, of which we feel we would have been lost without on many occasions.
We were also really inspired by the stories and experiences of housesitters Talon of 1Dad1Kid.com, Dalene of HeckticTravels.com, Charli of Wanderlusters.com and Nicole & Michael of SuitcaseStories.com who’ve all been housesitting from between two to four years.
Now more and more travellers are getting behind the idea of local living with housesitting and are signing up, so why miss out on all the fun?
Our Tips To Cheap Local Living With Housesitting
We won’t lie and say that we hit the ground running when we started housesitting, but with a little bit of trial and error paired with the help and tips of our friends and fellow travel bloggers – not forgetting the incredible ‘Break Free: The Ultimate Guide to Housesitting’ – we’re now prepared for every situation that might come along. Now it’s our turn to pass some of those tips to you.
Emails Are Great, But Checking Is Better
Many of the housesitting websites that you can sign up for (we mostly use TrustedHousesitters) will allow you to set daily or weekly email alerts for your inbox so that you know which great house and pet sitting opportunities have just been advertised on their sites, however, if you’re reading at the end of the day, chances are that the housesitting assignment of your dreams has already been snapped up.
Our success so far hasn’t come from these emails, but rather from regular checks of the website, especially considering that some housesitting websites allowed signed up members to see new assignments 24 hours before everyone else.
Our tip that has really helped us to get in contact during those important few hours after a housesitting assignment has gone live is to keep a window of our internet browser open on TrustedHousesitters at all times, and just every now and again pop over to have a look if anything has gone live in the last 15mins or half hour. This is especially easy when you use a automatic refresh extension such as Auto Refresh Plus for Chrome.
One of the best tips to securing a great place to live like a local is to be more flexible, and we’re not talking about gymnastics here.
Whilst you’re scrolling through the assignments you might find yourself getting a little downtrodden as your dream destination just doesn’t come up, no matter how many prayers you mutter to yourself under your breath. Don’t worry, we’ve been there.
By being more flexible with the types of places you’re prepared to travel to you can really discover somewhere you’d never dreamed of, somewhere that is as far removed from the more tourist-filled cities that make most travel bucket lists, and a place you can really live like a local.
Because we’re travellers we’re more than happy to travel whatever distance is required for us to see somewhere different to what we’ve experience before. It’s how we ended up spending three months in the countryside of Spain with two outstandingly fantastic cats, plus it afforded us the time to learn how the smaller towns of Spain live outside of the shadows of their more trendy city counterparts like Barcelona and Madrid.
Choosing the less-trodden path isn’t always a pathway to success – as any hiker will tell you – so even though choosing a location away from the norm and expected can lead to amazing experiences, it’s always best to do your homework first.
The last thing you want to do is to find yourself in an area completely cut off from the world (unless that’s your thing of course), or the realisation that that ‘charming‘ neighbourhood that was advertised is actually a hot bed of criminal activity. What you need to do before doing anything after reading a new housesitting assignment is to Google your possible future location. It doesn’t take long to do so, and it might just save you a lot of stress in the future.
Another tip that we’re always using is to make the most of the internet by using Google Maps to get a feel for the area before you get there. By using the satellite pictures and Street View we’re able to really see how big the area is, if there are plenty of shops and markets for us to use and abuse during our relentless cooking (another huge benefit of housesitting for us), and other nice bits of information such as if there are parks or places for us to take walks during our afternoons.
Check Flights Before Anything Else
The last thing you want to find out after applying for a potential housesitting assignment is to then find out that the travelling costs of a bus or flight are going to be ten times more than you first thought they might be.
With so many flight comparison sites online now (we’ve been using Skyscanner for the past two years), it’s really easy to check in advance just how much it may cost you to fly to the assignment you’re currently looking at.
This has really saved us in the past when we’ve been so close to sending our messages to housesits, only to to look at the cost to travel by plane and see a big (almost four digit!) number.
You may like to read: How We Spent Less Than £600 on Accommodation This Year
Talk, Don’t Write
By far the best recommendation from all of the travellers who’ve been housesitting over the years is the use of Skype to talk with the house owner of the assignment listed. This way you get to ask all of the questions you have all in one short amount of time, rather than having to wait a day for all the emails to go back and forth before you get the answer you really wanted, plus, whilst you’re talking there might just be a question that pops up in the moment that could make or break the chance that you get the assignment.
Another big bonus of Skype is that it is not only free, but it also gets your face-to-face with the owner via webcam, but also with the house and pet you’re going to be sitting for.
All that’s required is the owner to open the call on a laptop or the Skype application for smartphones and tablets, and ask them if they’ll give you a virtual tour of the house. Not only is this one of the best ways of seeing what you’re getting before you arrive, it’s actually pretty fun too!
Use A Checklist
It’s perfectly human that you might forget to ask a question on the call with the owner, you can of course call again if they’re still free, or you can email them with the niggling query at the back of your mind; what you have to remember however is that you might not be the only perspective housesitter that the owner speaks to that day and letting that question go unanswered could make or break it for you.
The best way to avoid this and to be as professional as possible is to use a checklist of all the things you might be wondering about before the call. It only takes five minutes of sitting down some paper and a pen to work out just what you’d like to know.
We personally use a combination of the amazing checklists that come with the ‘Ultimate Guide to Housesitting’ eBook and a number of our own questions that relate to our dietary requirements, such as if there is a health food shop or Asian market within distance of the house.
Get Crystal Clear Dates
We’ve made the mistake before of not getting concrete end dates for a petsitting assignment that really had us in a bind when it came to our thinking about our travels after, or any potential housesitting assignments that might be coming up in the future. It was naivety on our part to not really settle on dates before hand and we’ve learned plenty from that experience to not let it happen again.
Be sure to get crystal clear dates from your house or petsitting owner, don’t leave it undecided or you might find yourself in a very sticky situation of not knowing whether you can leave the property or animals in a safe condition, plus the potential legal implications of leaving.
Make The Most Of It!
You probably don’t need to be told, but enjoy yourself!
If you’ve chosen to housesit it’s because you want to live like a local for a while, so make the most of it and get out onto those streets and start meeting people, start doing as the locals do and be happy to follow their lead wherever it takes you. It can take you on hikes you’d never find yourself doing, it might find you cooking local food in the most traditional way; enjoy every moment.
Of course, if you’ve chosen to housesit in order to maintain a location independant job, then do of course get started writing that eBook or writing all of those blog post that you’ve been meaning to write for the past 6 months; but don’t forget to relax and embrace where you are. That’s why you chose to travel in the first place, right?
Off To A Good Start
We’re both really glad with where housesitting has taken us in just the past 6 months. Of course, we’re also really happy how much it has enhanced our cheap budget travel style, but the biggest benefit of all is how close we’ve got to living like locals, and we couldn’t be happier!