How to Travel the World as a House Sitter

How to Travel the World as a House Sitter

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I started my Pinterest business so I could travel more. I love spending time in Europe, and I was so excited when I was finally able to quit my job and travel as much as I wanted!

But travel is expensive. And since I still wanted to keep my home base in Pennsylvania (I have too many books to ever want to live completely out of a suitcase, and my family is here), and Europe is pricey – plus I had no desire to travel to ultra-cheap tropical locations and melt (I like 60F/15C days!), I had to figure out another way.

One of my clients travels the world full-time through house sitting, and recommended Trusted Housesitters. I love cats, but can’t have them in my rental home, so house sitting seemed like an amazing way to spend time with cats and see the world.

You can sign up for Trusted Housesitters for 25% off by clicking my link or using my coupon code: RAF177753 – Affiliate notice: I only recommend companies and products I trust! I have a paid annual membership to Trusted Housesitters and will get 2 free months added to my account if you use my link.

I browsed through some of the sits before signing up and was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of sits in the UK, my favorite place in the world! Given that the site was founded in the UK, the majority of sits are there, as well as other English-speaking countries like the US, Canada, and Australia. But there are a number of sits in other countries as well – from European countries like France and Germany to more exotic locations like Thailand and Dubai.

I realized that even one short house sit a year could easily pay for my membership – I would make it back versus paying for 1-2 nights at a hotel. So I decided to sign up!

Getting Started with Trusted Housesitters

The “trusted” part of the site’s name is vital, as verifications and reviews pay a key role in landing the house sits you want. I set up my profile with an indepth description of who I was, why I wanted to house sit, and my past experience (which was a little thin, only one time house/dog sitting for a friend of a friend). I completed the Basic and Standard verifications (you have to pay an extra fee for Enhanced, which includes a criminal background check, and it has never been available for me to get – possibly only for UK residents?) and asked my roommate and landlord to write a short recommendation. I added a few photos (you can also add a video if you want – I don’t currently have one) and I was ready to start applying to house sits!

Since I didn’t have any reviews on the site yet, I started small – applying to short house sits (a week or less) based in the UK. I drafted a long application letter, explaining that I was new and showing genuine interest in caring for the pet(s) and exploring the area.

Trusted Housesitters offers a number of options to help you search through available sits. You can filter based on the pets you prefer watching, the dates you are available, the length of sits, and more. They have a map option too if you’d like to visually see where the sits are located. They recently came out with apps for iPhone and Android, which have most of the functionally of the desktop site.

The user interface is far superior to the other house sitting sites I’ve explored, with tools to make finding a house sit as easy as possible. One of my favorite parts of the site is that it gives you an idea of how many others have applied to a sit already, listing ranges of 0-3, 4-7, 8-11, 12-15, etc. Some sits get more than 40 applications! Others may only get one – and that could be yours!

Landing a House Sit

You will generally hear back about the house sits you apply for within a few days, though some people may take a week or more to get back to you! Rarely, you may not get a reply at all – this usually happens when tons of people apply to the same job (even if there were only a few when you first applied, go back and check if there are more). You’ll see “Reviewing Applications” when they’re still deciding, and “No Current Dates” if they picked someone already.

Another benefit of Trusted Housesitters is that home owners have to pay for a subscription, just like you. That means the listings are more likely to be genuine and the owners more committed to a booked sit. Other sites will sometimes let home owners join for free – which could mean more house sit listings, but you’ll sometimes need to wait longer for responses and perhaps do some double checking before making travel plans.

It’s very exciting to get an email back from an owner, saying that they’re interested in having you sit! They’ll probably have a few questions for you (depending on how thorough your profile and application were) and you can feel free to ask questions back. Some things you’ll want to consider:

  • What are the exact dates they want you to stay (sometimes they may want you to arrive the night before)
  • Flights and other transportation costs – you usually need to pay these!
  • Will you need a car or can you get by with public transportation?
  • House facilities (stairs to climb, washer included?)
  • Work expected (do they want you to mow the grass? How much work will their pets need?)
  • How long can you leave the house?

You don’t need to bring up all of these right away – just the ones that would make you turn down the sit if it’s offered. For me, I need good wifi and access to public transportation when house sitting in Europe.

In general, I’ve found that messaging back and forth is all that is needed for shorter sits, while longer sits they usually would like you to jump on a video call. Always try to be as open and transparent as possible – they are considering whether to trust you with their house and pets!

Once a home owner sounds interested in having me sit, I start to figure out if I can logistically make things work. Make sure you don’t agree to two house sits that overlap! Check travel times and other things you want to do around the house sit. Also, take some time to think things through – do you really want to house sit for this person, take care of these pets, and explore this area? Remember that you will be able to be more choosy about house sits after you get some reviews, but don’t take a house sit you have a bad feeling about.

The home owner will formally offer the sit within Trusted Housesitters’ messaging system, and you will accept it there as well. But you DON’T have to accept it right away, and you can still send additional messages without accepting. If it’s going to be more than a day before I accept, I let them know why (usually just making sure it will work for my schedule – which could mean you’re waiting for another sit you’ve applied to to get back to as well).

Don’t accept a sit unless you absolutely know you can make it work, aside from any unforeseen emergency coming up. The owner shouldn’t mind waiting a few days with it pending for you to make sure. And if you have accepted a sit and something does come up, let the owner know as soon as possible so they can find a new sitter in time.

During and After the House Sit

Congrats – you landed your first house sit! Now it’s time to book your travel! I always like to let the owner know when I book my flights/trains, etc. It will give them peace of mind that you are actually coming!

Your sitter should provide a welcome guide that walks you through the basics of things within the house and about their pets. Here’s when you can ask all those non-essential questions – if the welcome guide doesn’t answer them for you! You’ll also want to check how often they want updates from you, and how to send them. Sometimes, they’ll even give you lots of tips about things to see and do in the area – plus the best restaurants, nearby grocery stores, and the best way to get around.

Often, they’ll have a friend or neighbor listed in case you run into any problems during the sit. Sometimes they’ll welcome you with a meal the evening before the sit, especially if you’ll be staying in a guest bedroom for their last night in the house. They may even be willing to pick you up from the train station or airport! You’ll have a chance to meet the pets and be walked through their daily routine, and find out all of the little quirks of the house.

Try to ask any additional questions while they are there at the house. I like to phrase things like, “How do you usually do” whatever you’re asking about. I like to try to keep things similar for their pets and house if possible, but don’t feel like you have do everything exactly the same! Usually you will have been able to get a sense of how particular people are from their listing. Some things do have to be kept to a strict schedule, especially if pets need medication or special diets.

And then, enjoy the house sit! Make sure to take advantage of where you’re staying and explore the neighborhood and general area. But do spend a good amount of time with the animals, especially during the first few days as they get used to your presence.

Keep the owners updated with any issues and general status reports (you did ask how often they wanted to hear from you, right?). Snap a quick photo or two of their pet(s) as well if they seem likely to miss them. I also like to mention anything they seemed to be worried about before they left (yes, I did put the bins out on Wednesday night for garbage collection!).

Also, take advantage of the money-saving aspects of staying in a home. While you may want to go out and try the local cuisine occasionally, cooking at the house will save you a lot. You can also do laundry, and if you’re a digital nomad like me, get your work done with a steady wifi connection.

Try to keep the place relatively tidy while you’re there (you never know when an issue may come up where you need outside help, and you don’t want their repairman or neighbor to see 2 weeks of dirty dishes piled up!), and if you’re staying a week or more, be prepared to do a deep clean before you leave (if you’re very lucky – they may already have a regular cleaning service that comes by and you won’t have to worry about it!). I also like to throw my sheets and towels in the wash before I leave, to save them the trouble of washing them when they will already have a bunch of laundry from their trip.

Make sure you know exactly when they are arriving back, so you can be completely ready to go when they arrive. They will likely want to just relax and enjoy being back at home, but they may offer to let you stay the following night, especially if they will be arriving late. Or they may be okay with you leaving before they arrive if you have somewhere you need to be. Past owners have even given me a ride to the train or bus station when I’m heading out, but don’t assume this. You will also want to figure in a little time for a final report and to answer any questions they may have about their pet and house.

Reviews and Continuing to House Sit

Once you’ve finished a house sit, you can request a review from the owners on Trusted Housesitters, and give them a review in return. Hopefully, if you’ve followed all my advice above, you’ll earn a 5-star review! Try to be gracious and informative with your reviews of the house sit. You are staying in someone’s home, not a pristine hotel. I would not rate someone less than 5 stars unless they misled you about aspects of their home and pets, or if there were serious cleanliness or safety issues with the home that they did nothing about when you brought it to their attention. I like to include helpful bits of information for future house sitters in my review as well – walking distance to town or a bus stop, etc. – that aren’t already in the listing but could help them make a decision about whether the sit is a good fit for them. I also thank the owners and include a bit about the pets in my review as well.

And now that you’ve completed a successful house sit, you can start landing others! Just be careful to follow tourist visa rules as you start spending longer times abroad. As an American, I can spend 90 days in Australia, 90 days in Ireland, 90 days out of 180 days in the EU, and 180 days in the UK at a time, generally, on a tourist visa. While that does give me a lot of flexibility, I shouldn’t apply for a 4-month house sit in France. Also, if you are getting paid for house sitting, you will likely need a work visa. Many blogs about house sitting say you shouldn’t mention it during passport control, even if you are sitting for free, as some border officials will consider “accommodation as payment” and want you to have a work visa. I instead talk about my planned tourist activities and have a scheduled date of departure from their country or from Europe in general.

As you accumulate more reviews, you’ll find it easier to land new house sits, and you’ll be able to be more choosy about the ones you apply to. But popular areas will still get dozens of qualified applications, so be sure to check the site frequently to get the gigs you want!

Have you ever done house sitting before? I’d love to hear about your experiences! Also if you have any further questions for me about it, be sure to leave a comment below! And don’t forget to sign up for Trusted Housesitters so you can start traveling the world!

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Interview With Digital Design Strategist Heather Brockell

Interview With Digital Design Strategist Heather Brockell

1. Tell me a little about you!

Hello, my name is Heather! I am 25 years old and live in Minneapolis, MN. A brief overview of me: I grew up figure skating, was a hockey cheerleader in college and I now perform part-time as a figure skater and singer and I work full time as a Digital Design Strategist. I am currently training for my first triathlon, travel as frequently as my bank account allows and watch the sunset as often as possible.

2. What were you doing before you decided to pursue starting your own business/location independence?

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in July of 2016 and landed a job as a figure skater and singer in an ice show based out of Florida. I loved what I did but I came across 2 issues:

  1. 50% of my job was based on skill and being able to perform all day every day. (Side note, there are very few days off in show business. For this particular show, we had 0-2 days off a month). The other 50% was based on how good I looked in itty-bitty costumes under spotlights that showed no mercy. It bothered me that so much of my job was based on what I looked like when I had spent so many sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days working to earn a degree.
  2. Shows are not permanent and because of that, my income was inconsistent. I wanted something to bring in income all year round but still allowed me to pick up and go anytime I needed to leave for a show.

3. What changed?

When I returned from my third contract, I was determined to find a way to earn money between shows. I looked into anything and everything like whether or not I qualified for Uber, seasonal jobs that lasted only a month, etc. but I felt like these were all temporary solutions and I wanted something long-term. In the midst of my search for a solution,I came across a Bucketlist Bombshells ad for a course that taught women how to work online and be location independent. Bingo. A light from heaven may as well have been shining down on it; I had found my answer. I bought the course within minutes and I haven’t looked back since.

4. What are some of the first steps you took? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I went through the courses and launched my business within 2 months. I started out on PeoplePerHour to build my confidence and once I had a few small jobs under my belt, I moved back home to North Dakota with the goal of landing bigger clients. This strategy worked like gold and I landed various jobs during my time there.

Are there things I would have done differently? Yes and no. I learned so much from every poor decision I made, I feel like it was worth making them but I can think of two things I wish I had known before I started.

First, I never realized how difficult the “business” part of it would be. When I started out, I was 100% focused on developing the skills I was going to offer. I never realized that that was only half of it. For anyone just starting out, there are two things you will need to learn:

  1. An amazing, knock-your-socks-off, out of this world service
  2. How to run a business that does 3 things:
    a. Gets in front of the right people
    b. Communicates and connects with your target audience
    c. Runs efficiently and makes enough money to pay the bills

Second, I was surprised by the amount of guilt I felt when I started. The image of my friends who work hard and HATE their job was like a movie reel that played over and over in my head. Each time I thought about how much I loved my job and how miserable they were, my guilt increased. I started working 12+ hours a day to cope with it and let me tell ya, that ain’t healthy.

I started using a planner from a company called the Best Self Co. and it revolutionized the way I define a successful day. I stopped clocking my hours and focused only on getting 3 major tasks done each day. Once I completed them, I was able to enjoy the rest of my day. Between the planner and the book “The 4-Hour Work Week”, I have developed a much healthier working relationship. When you work for yourself, it’s very easy to become a workaholic if you don’t set boundaries.

5. Tell me about your business! What do you do, who do you do it for, and why do you love it?

I do 3 things in my business:

  • Web Design
  • Branding
  • Copywriting

Many of my clients are involved in figure skating or athletics since that’s a big part of my inner circle, but I have also worked with financial companies, online TV shows, floral companies, elementary schools, etc. so my clientele has been very diverse. My ideal client is anyone who is a great communicator, does what they say they’re going to do and gives me clear feedback. (And giving me artistic freedom is always a bonus!)

I could write a book on why I love what I do but I’ll try to keep it concise. From a selfish perspective, I love being able to plan my own schedule, take vacation days without asking permission, not be a slave to my alarm clock and have the freedom to work from anywhere. I’ve been able to go home for birthdays, attend graduations, travel for weddings, visit my parents for a month at a time and take a 3 month road trip. I am also in a long distance relationship and I was able to help my boyfriend move, attended his graduation and fly to watch some of his hockey games in person.

Aside from the fact that I enjoy not being chained to one location, I genuinely love what I do. My friends joke that I’m the “mom” of the group because I’m constantly taking care of everyone. I feel like I’ve been able to put that to good use by doing what I do. A lot of clients I work with are very lost when they first contact me and I LOVE helping them grow their business or organization through their branding or website. My job is very fulfilling and I’m so grateful I live in a time that this lifestyle is possible.

6. Where have you gone with your newfound location independence?

According to official documents, I still live in North Dakota but I spend a bulk of my time in Minneapolis living with my sister. However, while MN is my home base, I frequently visit other places. This past year, I spent time in:
• Italy
• The eastern USA on a road trip
• New Hampshire
• North Dakota
• Oregon

This summer, I have trips planned to California, Alaska and Iceland. I have found that while I love traveling, I like having my home base to be around the people I love.

In the future, I would love to buy a place along Costa Brava, Spain, but for right now, I’m content with my life and the way it is now.

7. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far on this journey?

ONE lesson? Oh my, this is asking a lot, but I’ll do my best!

There’s no do-overs in life. You get the time your given here on earth and that’s it. You don’t have time to play it safe. I also want to point out that a lot of fears that hold us back are unfounded. Some businesses thrive on fear-based marketing. They make money by successfully planting “what if?” ideas in your mind (of scenarios that, let’s be honest, won’t happen) that convince you to buy a product or take an action. Just something to keep in mind when building a pros and cons list of a career change.

P.S.
I want to add that taking a risk doesn’t mean you have to quit your job, sell your house and travel full time. A lot of people do that and love it, but maybe your dream is to start an online business so you can be a stay at home mom who spends her free time baking cookies and attending soccer games. If that’s your dream life, go for it! Don’t feel like you have to fit any kind of mold that isn’t you. I will say though, be sure to travel at least a little bit. It’s the best education you could ever give yourself!

8. How have others reacted to this new direction for your life?

Very mixed but running off to join an ice show isn’t exactly the norm so I don’t think people were that surprised by it. I did get a few sassy comments like“it’s nice that you’re trying to start your own little business” but I just ignored them. Unless they were living a life that I wanted, I wasn’t interested in taking their advice. The people whose opinions I actually cared about were incredibly supportive and that is something I will forever be grateful for.

9. What people/resources have helped you the most?

First, I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t enrolled in the Bucketlist Bombshells course. It really did change my life and I’m so thankful I came across it. I also took a course called B-school which is rather expensive (not something I would take if you are just starting out) but has really been helping me refine my business.

As I said prior, surrounding myself with people that encourage me has also been invaluable. It is, hands-down, the most important thing to have when taking on a new challenge. I already mentioned a planner by “The Best Self Co.” and I also want to add three books that I have found to be very valuable:

• Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
o Perfect for any creative, especially if you feel guilty for pursuing a life you love.
• The 4-Hour Workweek – Timothy Ferriss
o For me, it started a little slow but it has a crazy amount of practical tips and tools once you get into it.
• Priceless – The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of it) – William Poundstone
o Uggghhh NUMBERS! This is any creatives nemesis when it comes to running a business but that’s not an excuse to ignore them. Again, this starts a little slow but push through it! You will learn a ton if you do.

10. Do you have any final tips for other aspiring digital nomads?

No one will ever give you permission to get started, you just have to do it. With that said, I would be wary about putting too much pressure on your business too early on. Starting a business is a lot of work and if you also have the pressure of paying your bills with it, it’s going to be stressful. My advice? If you’re working a full-time job that takes up most of your time, it will be difficult to build your business at the same time. Not impossible! Just hard.

If you are serious about quitting your corporate job, here’s what I would do: job hunt for a part-time job that will pay the bills and be easy to quit. Once you find it, quit the corporate job and work part-time until you feel confident your business can support you. Many people have not followed this and have still built incredibly successful businesses though, so take this with a grain of salt and do what’s best for you!

If you ever feel discouraged and want to quit, here’s my email: heatherbrockell@gmail.com. If you spend the time to reach out to me, I will return the favor and answer any questions you have for me. I can’t guarantee I will have all the answers, but maybe we can find a solution together. I have been blessed with an incredible support system in my life and I would love to return the favor and be that person to you if you need it.

 

Thanks so much for this interview, Heather! Be sure to stop by Heather’s site: Design by Heather Rae!

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Financial Snapshot for Later Travel

Financial Snapshot for Later Travel

Both freelancing and travel drastically influence your finances. If you haven’t done much of either yet, it’s a good time to look at how you spend your money to help prevent issues in the future.

Start out by keeping a written record of your spending. I like using Excel for this, but you can easily use Google Sheets or some sort of money tracking app. Make sure you track all kinds of spending – bank transfers/withdrawals, credit cards, and cash.

Assign each purchase/bill to a category. Have as many or few as you like, but pick a system that works for you and is general enough to use around the world (for example, instead of “gas” or “car payment” use “transportation”). Also, make sure to include your new business expenses in their own category.

I generally like to add up expenses monthly so I can then do averages based on the last 3 months, 1 year, etc. This will give you a good ballpark figure of what you need to make working at home – of course if you spend a lot on gas for commuting, lunches out, or clothes you only wear at work, it may be a bit lower.

Now, go through each category and think hard about what you will need to keep paying for if you are traveling frequently. You may need to make two columns – one for part-time travel, one for full-time. It all depends on what you want. I know that even if I am able to live outside the US all year, I will still want to make long visits home to see my family. So I will probably want to work out a solution with my roommates where I pay rent year-round (instead of renting a storage unit and having to get a hotel or something when I visit), but only pay utilities if I’m actually living here during the month.

If I was traveling most of the year, but still spending a couple months here at home, I imagine my home country expenses would include:

  1. Rent (Storage)
  2. Car Insurance (I would see if I could subsidize this by having one of my siblings pay to borrow my car – otherwise I would change my policy to the bare minimum so it would be a lot cheaper)
  3. Health Insurance (currently paid by my employer, I would need to figure out the best option for the months I am home, as well as abroad)
  4. Phone/Internet/Subscriptions (I have a prepaid phone plan through Straight Talk, so I can just pay for it when I’m home and use a local SIM abroad. Internet would hopefully be treated like a utility with my rental, so I can just pay when I’m here. Entertainment subscriptions will depend on the country restrictions – I would like to keep using Netflix, Hulu, and Google Play Music when I can)

So I will then add that monthly total (aside from health insurance, since I don’t know what I’ll be able to get, it’s under $400 when I’m not in the US) to my monthly business expenses and my estimated cost of living in another country (I’ll use Nomad List to get a rough guess, but then put together some actual monthly expense scenarios based on researched costs).

I also want to set aside a healthy amount for big expenses (plane ticket, new laptop, etc.). That will be in addition to my “quit my day job” savings threshold – which is generally recommended to be 3 months of expenses.

What expenses will you still have in your home country if you become a digital nomad?

 

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Holidays Abroad

Holidays Abroad

As I celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States, I cannot help but wonder what American holidays will look like for me in other countries. I’ve seen posts about expats trying to recreate their favorite holiday foods (to varying degrees of success) and feeling homesick on those days.

I’ll be spending this Labor Day in Paris, France. It will also be my brother’s birthday this year, so I will miss out on that. Strangely enough, this past year he missed my birthday – because he was in Paris, France. For both occasions, it was/will be our first visit to France, and both times we were/will be missing out on the other’s 33rd birthday.

I won’t be too disappointed to miss Labor Day, as it’s basically a day off work with a picnic to celebrate the end of summer. In my family’s case, we usually celebrate my brother’s birthday around that day as well. In the past, we would also celebrate my grandma’s birthday since hers was 2 days after my brother’s, but this will be the second Labor Day without her.

Most Americans celebrate Memorial Day the same way they celebrate Labor Day – in this instance, kicking off summer instead of ending it. As they bookend the season and both fall on Mondays, it’s easy to lump them together. But Memorial Day has a far more significant background – it remembers the sacrifice of all of those who have laid down their lives for this country. While I don’t know of any relatives who have died in combat, many of my relatives served and have since passed away.

My 5th great-grandfather, George Hart, was born in Germany, immigrated to the colonies, and fought in the American Revolution for independence from England. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II for the Allies in Europe. My grandma’s cousin actually bombed their grandfather’s hometown in Germany during the war.

So I’m sure if I’m staying in the UK during the 4th of July or in Germany during Memorial Day (or Veteran’s Day), it will feel very weird to celebrate. But generally those are more family holidays, so without them around, I would be less likely to celebrate anyway.

Most of the countries I would want to visit for an extended period do celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, so while I am sure the traditions are different, I will still be able to celebrate them easily within a different country. And I didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween, so I won’t miss it.

Thanksgiving will be a big one, and from what I’ve read, this is the one that often hits expats the hardest. It’s not only the homesickness and missing the great food – it’s also because this is the start of the Christmas season, and if they have no plans to go home for Christmas, the sadness spreads to this holiday as well.

Have you ever spent a holiday outside the country of your birth? How did you celebrate it?

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