The Highs and Lows of My First Housesitting Experience

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.

The Highs

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.

The Lows

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.

The Takeaway

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.

 

Jessica Dawdy

Jessica Dawdy is a serial expat who has been slowly working her way around the world since 2011. She’s lived in 7 different countries, doing everything from painting houses to teaching English. Catch up with her travel stories and expat adventures at Ways of Wanderers. Read more about Jessica here.

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18 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows of My First Housesitting Experience”

  1. I’ve pondered house sitting recently, so it was nice to read about somebody’s experience. The squatting thing must’ve been a little terrifying to experience, but it’s good to read about a time that wasn’t picture perfect because it gives others the full experience.

  2. I wish we were successful in our housesitting attempt! We had signed up for the program, wrote a descriptive profile, had friends leave us references, but were still unable to secure any assignments as competition is fierce! In many cases we didn’t even get a reply from the owners.

  3. How would one go about housesitting? Are there sites similar to Airbnb that matches housesitters with people who need their houses watched? Or is this only an opportunity if you do this for friends/family? Thanks!

  4. As pet lover, I’m fine with housesitting other pets. But what makes it a challenge is when you’re doing it abroad. It’s interesting actually when you’re traveling on a tight budget.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jessica!

  5. I think you won a lot of converts for this post, Jessica! 🙂 I’ve had questions about house sitting too and you did a good job answering them before I even asked. Will forward your blog to a friend who’s been aiming to go house sitting for a long time now. Hope this can help her out.

    Mark

  6. Thanks for the honest look at housesitting. It’s always interested me and is a great way to see an area but it doesn’t come without worry, like you pointed out. I’d be the same way about caring for other people’s animals. And what a nightmare with the squatters! Hope you’ve had some fantastic experiences since then!

  7. Wow that’s some seriously bad luck you had there. What are the chances of someone invoking squatters rights whilst you’re looking after a couple of dogs?!

    Glad to see that you’re still open minded about house sitting though and all the great things about it. Hopefully next time will go more smoothly! 🙂

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