Staying in another country for free and cuddling cute pets? House sitting seems like kind of a dream gig from the outside, but what is it actually like to move into a stranger’s home and take care of their pets for a few days, or even a few months? Here are a few insights from my first house sitting experience in Spain.
Aside from the rent-free accommodation, one of the main reasons I wanted to try house sitting was because I miss having pets. I grew up with lots of different pets–dogs, fish, birds – but I’ve always been reluctant to have them as an adult because they don’t mesh well with my ever-moving, unstructured lifestyle. Not all house sits involve taking care of pets, but I’m happy ours did. I loved having the opportunity to bond with the home owners’ four dogs. I felt like I got to enjoy all the perks of being a pet-owner for a few months, but without the long-term commitment of actually having pets.
Similar to many of my teaching jobs and work exchange experiences, this house sit was also an excellent chance to visit an area of the world I would probably never had gone to otherwise. Before this house sit, I could barely point out Gibraltar on a map, and I had idea that Morocco is just a quick ferry ride away from southern Spain.
The town where we lived, Los Barrios, was a pretty average small Spanish village and that’s part of what I loved about it. Without the influence of tourism, the locals were amused enough by us to indulge our terrible Spanish; we could buy a bag of fresh churros from a street vendor and bring them to the nearby café to eat with our coffees; and an evening of Cruzcampo beers and tapas rarely cost more than 10€. We weren’t doing spectacular, Instagram-worthy things every day, but it was the kind of low-key cultural immersion that fits perfectly with our slow style of traveling.
While we generally enjoyed taking care of the home owners’ dogs, the responsibility of caring for them felt magnified because they weren’t our own. We often found ourselves having disproportionately large freak-outs if one of the dogs sneezed, or doubling back after leaving the house to triple-check we had actually locked the door.
We knew the location when we accepted the house sit, but there were definitely moments when the countryside setting felt a bit isolated. Although it only took us 10 minutes to walk into town, none of the residents we met spoke English; and gesturing wildly or making statements about the weather in broken Spanish didn’t exactly fulfill our need to socialize.
Most unfortunately, near the end of the house sit, we got tangled up in a legal dispute when some squatters tried to move into an unoccupied cottage on the home owners’ property. We ended up having to take on major responsibilities that we had never anticipated, and quite literally hold down the fort until the home owners’ could come back to take care of the issue. Although what happened to us is far from a typical house sitting experience, it’s a critical reminder that house sitting is an easy job when everything goes according to plan but it can be seriously complicated when something goes wrong.
Despite the downsides to house sitting, it’s still something I’m eager to try again in the future. I think it can be an amazing experience if you go into it with well-informed expectations, a clear sense of your responsibilities, and back-up plans for every worst-case scenario. It’s an awesome way to make traveling more affordable, as well as experience a different perspective on a country by actually living in it for a while.