I live for travel hacks — especially when they involve saving money. So, when I heard about a couple of women who have managed to stay around the world for free, my ears perked up. CBC / Via Giphy / giphy.com
I'm a travel writer, and over the course of a month, two women reached out to me — one on Instagram and one via email. Both shared how they've traveled the world without paying for lodging.
Meet K ristina Corniel and Madolline Gourley. Both spoke with me about how they travel the world without paying for lodging, what to watch out for, and a few handy tips for anyone who might be thinking about trying something similar. Kristina Corniel, Madolline Gourley 1. Their secret? You must like — no, love — pets. Or at least be up for housesitting.
Flights, car rentals, and gas can be expensive, but in most cases, lodging is the big-ticket travel item.
Rather than finding ways to spend less, Corniel and Gourley took the cost off the table completely by petsitting in exchange for housing. That's right: People around the world (who are often on a vacation of their own) offer up their empty home to pet sitters. Their pets can remain in the comfort of home, their plants are watered, and their home is watched over — for free. And in exchange, the pet sitter gets free lodging — and sometimes, a few other perks.
If you're not into animals, you can still housesit. Same perks, minus the fur babies.
Oscar Wong / Getty Images 2. In addition to providing sitters with free lodging, pet and house sitting also helps cut other costs — like car rentals, airport transfers, and food.
Every sitting experience is different, but some include things like use of the car and airport pickups.
"During my month-long house sit in Switzerland, I also got to use a car — and it was amazing because obviously that time spent on things like getting groceries [was cut] in half. It also helped us to travel and see WAYYY more of Switzerland," said Corniel.
Meanwhile, Gourley added: "Some owners are happy to pick you up from the airport and drop you back, provided they’re home in time. Others have treated me to grocery gift cards, and a hot meal or two. A few people have cooked me dinner, and others have leant me their public transport pass (a couple in Boston had a monthly ticket that I was free to use for the two weeks I was in town)."
And no matter what additional perks you get, you'll be able to save money by cooking at home rather than eating out.
Madolline Gourley 3. To start, build a profile on a pet sitting site. According to both Corniel and Gourley, TrustedHousesitters is the best.
There are actually quite a few pet and housesitting sites out there,
Rover, House Sitters America (and their sister sites in Australia, UK, Canada, and New Zealand), MindMyHouse, and House Carers.
That said, both Corniel and Gourley say TrustedHousesitters is the best. The site charges sitters an annual membership fee, which
starts at $129.
"My favorite is TrustedHousesitters. I think the quality of the homes is better. Rover does actually pay you to house sit, though, whereas with TrustedHousesitters, it’s just an exchange — free accommodations for free pet/housesitting," said Corniel.
Another way to go about finding a sit is by joining house sitting groups on Facebook. "I’ve recently taken to browsing house sitting groups on Facebook, and I just organized my first Facebook-found house sit," said Gourley.
@kristinacors / Via tiktok.com 4. It's probably best to pick one site and stick with it, because a big part of finding gigs is building up reviews.
Like Airbnb or Uber, pet and house sitting is reliant on reviews. Both the house owners and house sitters have a profile and a roundup of reviews from past interactions.
According to Corniel, "The name of the game is building an online reputation, gaining credibility, and getting people to trust you. The best way to do this is by having a lot of reviews. These reviews say a lot about how reliable, organized, clean, and responsible you are, and these are the characteristics people are curious about when it comes to pet sitting."
Madolline Gourley 5. But, if you're new, you might want to start by picking up shorter, local pet sitting gigs so you can quickly and easily accumulate your first few reviews.
"I’d recommend starting with a local sit. Or a sit that’s a lot closer to home as opposed to on the other side of the world. If it goes well, you’ll get a good review, and that’ll open a lot of doors for you," said Gourley.
And just because you have a few reviews doesn't mean you should drop off. Corniel says that having several
recent reviews is important. "You should consider doing sits from time to time to strengthen your profile." Alenapaulus / Getty Images 6. Another way to prove you're credible is by using your online reputation from other sites — like your Airbnb, TaskRabbit, or Uber profile — or even social media.
In today's world, finding out about someone is as easy as Googling their name. So if you're new to pet and house sitting, you might be able to tap into your online reputation to help you get those first few sits.
"When you’re starting out, the challenge is getting people to trust you without any reviews at all. I think the way that I tackled this challenge is by utilizing my online reputation from other sites," said Corniel, who has established a reputation as a travel hack expert.
"I tapped into the reputation I’ve created for myself on other platforms, and I think it really helped me land my first few gigs. These days, there are so many websites that basically leave this 'paper trail' and will help people get to know the kind of person you are."
Kristina Corniel 7. The site may run a background check and ask for external references to make sure you're legit. Paramount Pictures / Via Giphy / giphy.com
Since you'll be watching peoples' fur babies
in their home, some sites, like TrustedHousesitters, will run a background check and ask for external references. 8. That said, pet sitting experience is not required.
Both Corniel and Gourley said they had no official pet sitting experience when they started. Corniel, who tends to house sit for dog owners says, "I had experience taking care of my sister's dog and taking care of my own pets, but when I applied, I didn’t actually have any pets of my own, so I never had any official dog sitting experience."
Meanwhile, Gourley is a cat lover. When she started pet sitting, she said, "I’d never looked after anyone else’s cat(s) other than my own before signing up to TrustedHousesitters. I did, however, have about 20 years of cat ownership ‘experience’ before applying for my first house and cat sit."
Madolline Gourley / Via onecatatatime.co 9. And for your own safety, always read the reviews of the pet owners, chat with them, and even hop on a video call. In some cases, you may never see them in person. Other times, you might meet them before and after the sit.
The amount that you interact with the host can vary. According to Corniel, "I’ve had house sits where I never met the host — I just applied, and they accepted me as their sitter and communicated with me via email. I have had other house sits where I’ve had a Zoom call 'interview,' and then a host has made a decision about whether or not to move forward with me. I’ve also had a few where I met the host in person maybe a week before if I was in town. It’s very different each time."
She notes that the transition can also vary. Some hosts leave written instructions, other's leave video instructions, and some like to meet you in person to run through their pet's routine and the intricacies of the house and have you meet their pet.
Gourley says that "I’ve met every person/couple I’ve sat for bar one. I did FaceTime this particular lady prior to my arrival, so that gave us the opportunity to ‘meet’ and run through everything. Some people let the sitter stay a night or two before the sit starts so that gives you the chance to go over all your responsibilities, pet care routine, etc."
Oscar Wong / Getty Images 10. One secret to avoiding any problems is to carefully follow the routine the pets are used to.
Pets, like people, enjoy routine. And since you'll want to avoid any sort of issue or emergency during your sit, Corniel's pro tip is to "keep the pets' routine. I really try to religiously follow their routine that way you don’t run into any problems."
Madolline Gourley 11. And make sure you're comfortable with the number and type of pets you'll be tasked with watching.
Early on, you'll want to be clear about what sort of pet sitting gigs you're interested in, and which ones feel like too much.
During her first pet sit, Corniel was tasked with watching four dogs. Luckily, she was traveling with someone else and had help. Corniel typically gets dog sitting opportunities, but says, "I secretly kind of want to care for goats, chickens, and ducks because I’ve never lived on a farm before, and I’m someone that is super curious about the lifestyles other people live, and I would love to experience farm life!"
Meanwhile, Gourley, who only watches cats, says three cats is her max. "Two is the most I’ve cared for — and I’d be willing to look after three — but anything more than three cats seems like a bit much."
Leewayh0 / Getty Images/iStockphoto 12. If you're traveling internationally, you might want to look for longer sits — at least 2 weeks. The sweet spot for domestic sits is a week+. 13. But don't book flights until you've landed the gig.
Both Corniel and Gourley wait until the pet sitting is confirmed to book flights. The dates of the sit will determine when you need to arrive and depart. Plus, Gourley says, "There’s always a possibility the sit will fall through, but that hasn’t happened to me."
@kristinacors / Via tiktok.com 14. And because of travel delays, you might want to arrive a day early so you have a buffer. 15. It might be worth it to look for a sit that's close to downtown — especially if you don't have access to a car.
Some sits allow the sitter to use the car, but others don't. And while Gourley says, "I have taken a few sits where I’ve needed a car (and happily booked one so I could do the sit)," it's an added expense. Because of that, she says, "I’m more inclined to go for sits in neighborhoods that are closer to downtown because it makes it easier to get around."
If the home doesn't include access to a car, it's worth checking where the nearest grocery store is and looking into the city's public transportation system.
Hisham Ibrahim / Getty Images 16. In addition to taking you to new places, you'll get the scoop on local recommendations and have an "in" with the community.
A pet sitting highlight for Gourley, who is Australian, was spending the holidays in Boulder, Colorado. "It snowed for a few days, and I finally got a white Christmas."
She also notes that "Lots of people also give you neighborhood recommendations for the best cafes, restaurants, and things only the locals would know about."
@kristinacors / Via tiktok.com 17. If you're planning to sit internationally, it's worth noting that house sitting can be interpreted as work by border control, which can lead to problems. NBC / Via Giphy / giphy.com Story continues
Sits in other countries can be a bit more complicated, as chances are you're not legally allowed to work in the country you're visiting. And even though you're not getting paid, the exchange of housing for your services can be seen as "payment in kind" by border officials.
a blog post on TrustedHousesitters, "In the many hundreds of thousands of international sits that have taken place on TrustedHousesitters, there have been a very small handful of cases where house sitting has been interpreted as work by border control officials."
That said, there are
a few things you can do to avoid any sort of problem.