This Traveller Found a Way to Get Free Accommodation Every Holiday – Here's How

That headline isn’t clickbait. I’ve managed to stay in New York City, San Francisco and cities a bit closer to home for next to nothing thanks to this largely unheard-of travel hack. So what is it? It’s house and pet sitting for strangers. 

I’ve used house sitting websites to land sits all over the USA and it’s rare I’ll pay for accommodation these days. My last international cat sitting holiday was cut short as COVID-19 started to wreak havoc on not just where I was staying (Brooklyn), but across the world. And while international house sitting is but a distant memory, I’ve relied on domestic house sitting opportunities as an interim travel fix.

There’s no shortage of Australians willing to open their doors to strangers, with new house and pet sits popping up in holiday hotspots like Byron Bay and Cairns each day. I spent Christmas and New Year in Darwin, the recent Easter break in Sydney’s Surry Hills, and I’ll be off to Newcastle soon. The Newcastle apartment is just minutes away from the water.

What does house sitting entail?

House sitting is where you occupy someone’s home while they’re away. That person is likely to have a pet—or pets—and you need to care for them as well. Pets are usually more work than the person’s home, but it’s a really good trade-off when you see the different kinds of places you can house sit at. Some of the more ‘wow’ homes I’ve stayed in include an architecturally-designed home in the Boulder hills, a harbourfront apartment in Boston and a cute, art-filled cottage in downtown Charleston.

Basic pet duties include feeding the pet, changing their water, giving them treats and attention, and cleaning up after them. Dogs must be walked while cats will need their litter box emptied and refilled regularly. Other pets may require daily medication/injections and I would advise against responding to these kinds of ads if you don’t have experience medicating animals. It’s a big responsibility and it’s not up everyone’s alley.

Some homes could also have a pool and/or garden, and the owner might want you to maintain them. You could be asked to accept deliveries or be home while something gets repaired. I’ve been there to sign for someone’s Christmas turkey, let cleaners in and out, and hang around while an apartment was sprayed for cockroaches. 

How do I get started?

Getting started as a house and pet sitter is easy. Sign up to one of the house sitter websites, create a profile, upload a few photos and videos (preferably with pets), and speak to your strong points.

There’s no limit to how many ads you can respond to and my only advice would be to get in as soon as you can. I’ve missed out on several sits because I was too slow‘too slow’ meaning I was the second or third applicant. It’s also very competitive right now so you really do want to be one of the first few people expressing interest in the sit.

What else do I need to know?

Lots of people assume house and pet sitting is paid. It’s not. There are some websites out there where you can get paid for your services, but I’m happy to do it in exchange for accommodation.

Another thing to keep in mind (especially right now) is plans can change at any time. Both of my recent sits had the potential to be cancelled because of COVID. If you’re looking to take a sit within your state, you should be fine. Now is probably the best time to explore closer to home. It’s when you want to do an interstate house sit where it has the potential to go pear-shaped. But don’t let that deter you, get looking for an Australian house sit and start planning your next [domestic] holiday.

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