Friday, April 28, 2017

Sitting Pretty – Alrica

One of the best discoveries we have made in our travels is not a building or a natural wonder. It is an idea of sharing and it has led to some of our favorite experiences: house sitting.

The basics are these: someone wants to go on vacation, but they have pets, livestock, and a home to be looked after while they are away. (Sometimes it is not all of these, though there is always a home.) They are seeking someone to care for these elements. Others, like us, are looking to experience a new part of the world and to save on lodging costs. No money is exchanged. Housesitting is particularly popular in some of the more expensive areas to live like Australia, the US, and the UK, but they have them all over the world. We have housesat in South Africa, France, Australia, Thailand, UAE, Scotland, and England.

Syarra with Pepsi in Australia

We use a website called Trusted Housesitters, but there are others. New "house sits" are listed by the home owners, and the seekers can then apply to them. The website sends me two emails each day with new sitting opportunities and I scan through them looking for locations and dates that fit our schedule and interests. If you are looking at popular locations, you want to be on top of it, usually one of the first three to apply. The home owners for easier or more interesting sits can get dozens of requests very quickly, and if you aren't one of the first, it is unlikely they will even read yours.

Then the owners look through the requests and decide who might be a fit for them. If I haven't heard anything in a few days, and I really want it, I send a follow-up. If they think we might fit, they message us, and usually a Skype call is arranged. We talk about what the responsibilities are and what the locale is like. We look at questions like: Do we need a car, or can we borrow one? What are the precise dates and when should we arrive (for more complicate sits, we try to get there a couple days early to go through the routine before the owners leave), and when should we leave. And if everyone likes everyone else, it is decided and we start making plans.

We have just left a house sit in Derby, England, where the couple had two dogs but really wanted to take their entire family including grandkids on a vacation. They got to enjoy the sunny beaches off Africa while we stayed in their home and took their two staffies on daily walks and gave them lots of love and attention. Actually it was a bit more complicated than that because their daughter had a puppy that needed watching and one of their staffies got an infection and required daily medicine. Still, walking dogs along city streets and through parks is a great way to see life as if you belong there.

This is Apollo, our Clydesdale in Scotland.

Erich and Syarra get to enjoy walking the dogs in Derby, England with my youngest nephew!

Housesitting for us has been a wonderful way to explore how locals live. We take on the responsibilities and lifestyle of people who start out as strangers but become friends. It is a step up from airbnb's and a completely different experience from hotels. Since a family lives there, the home comes completely stocked with everything one needs to live. Many of our housesit hosts were families that included children. What a wonderful opportunity to play with other kids! And we learn things from just talking to our hosts. Like in Scotland it is illegal to feed kitchen scraps to your chickens! And in UAE, the speed limit is actually 20 KPH more than the posted limit. And all of our hosts have shared their insight into what to see in the area. Always good to have that perspective.

It is definitely not the same as staying in a hotel. Pets have come with all of our housesits (though some don't include pets) and the animals come first. Our sits have included dogs, cats, horses, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, cockatiels, rabbits, hamsters, turtles, fish, and beetles. In France, we looked after 12 horses, 18 chickens, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. That meant several hours each day cleaning out stables, feeding animals, moving horses from one pasture to another. If we spent the day out exploring castles, evening stables needed to happen before we ate our own dinner. Our schedules need to revolve around theirs. It has been a wonderful chance to learn responsibility. In each place, we each have chores to do and we each support each other in making sure that the animals are well taken care of and well-loved. Not all house sits are labor intensive. One of our homes included just two beautiful cats who would curl up and watch TV with us after a day of sightseeing. We have gotten to share the world with these short-term pets. Like hiking with the dogs in a regional park in South Africa or climbing sand dunes with the dog in UAE. Syarra even got to work on her horseback riding in France. And after loving animals for several weeks, it is sometimes hard to leave them behind.
Climbing the dunes with Orlando in UAE.

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