We are currently en route on a train from London to York, our stop for the next three nights. After York, we are on to Edinburgh, and then Paris. Throughout our trip I’ll be blogging about what our adventures in specific places as well as what we’ve learned in general; this post is of the latter variety.
As I’m sure many of you have experienced, determining ‘how’ to travel is as important as where you travel. By how I mean what type of lodging, booking in advance versus booking on arrival, and how much of a percentage of your budget you’d like to devote to lodging. This has to be done in a way that fits with your comfort level, budget, familiarity with locations, and level of experience as a traveler – all accounting for seasonal adjustments in levels of tourism, etc.
Since this is our first go at lengthy international travel we landed on a bit of a mixed approach on booking in advance vs. arrival; there are some stretches (like our current one) that we have planned, and there are others (like most of September) that we have a general outline of where we’d like to go, but nothing is booked yet. We decided that we want to have some stretches to experience each, and hopefully determine which mode better fits our personalities.
We’ve also landed on a mixed approach on our type of lodging. I would love to stay in a 5-star hotel each night and feast on crab meat and ice cream while relaxing in a hot tub under the stars (well, maybe not all at the same time), but while that meets all the other qualifications it most certainly does not check the ‘budget’ box. On the other end there are services like couchsurfing.com. I don’t know much about this because we quickly determined it didn’t check our ‘comfort’ box, but it basically involves a network of hosts who enjoy opening up their houses and sharing a couch or something similar, usually for free I believe.
To date we’ve stayed at Airbnb’s, and this will continue through Edinburgh and sporadically throughout the remainder of the trip. Typically Airbnb’s involve having a bedroom and access to a bathroom in a host’s house or property, though there are all sorts of variations into what that means. The cost is based a number of variables; anything from how desirable the location is to how tiny the place is to distance from city center to number and/or quality of reviews for the host, but even in London in the heart of Notting Hill in the middle of summer we were able to find a great place for under $100/night.
In fact, our Notting Hill experience perfectly exemplifies why we generally enjoy Airbnb’s. We stayed in a beautiful and quiet Notting Hill apartment literally two minutes from a convenient Tube station, and we got to experience the neighborhood in a way that would have been difficult in a standard hotel. The best part, however, was our chance to interact with our host, Linda. She is a fun and fabulous lady who we got to know over the course of 4 days, and who bent over backwards to make our stay great. She even did our laundry! (the laundry part is not standard…) If any of you are traveling to London I will send you a link if you’d like.
Even 3+ months of Airbnb’s add up though. We asked ourselves if there was a way to travel on the cheap without sacrificing comfort? One of the more intriguing possibilities that came up was housesitting.
I knew very little about what housesitting really was when I started my research into it. Does it involve watching plants, cats, dogs, horses, mowing lawns, or keeping plants alive? (a combination of any of the above) Does any money change hands? (not usually) And so on. But first I had to figure out where to look.
There are several widely recognized housesitting websites, but being in technology myself I’m almost always going to choose the one with the best user interface and easiest to understand and navigate. Of the ones I’ve seen so far, the best site hands down is nomador.com. I decided to build a profile, pay the $30 (or so) annual fee, and start applying for housesits. (You technically can apply for the first three housesits for free.)
This is where it started getting interesting. “Hi. Please watch my cat with renal failure for 2 weeks.” (no thank you). “Watch our 16 cats, 4 horses, gerbils and hamsters. The cats basically take care of themselves, and the rest are easy!” (ummm…no) “Please watch our 2 cats in our apartment in Paris while we are gone on holiday for a month” (ooohhh…now that sounds interesting!). Some of the listings are really quite hilarious and would be a full-time job. Others seem really interesting and fun!
I started applying like a crazy man. “Stay at a house in the Alps built for Napolean III with amazing views.” Applied. “Watch our gerbils and hamsters and other miscellaneous animals 5 minutes from the beach.” Sounded a little questionable, but 5 minutes from the beach! And then….silence. A new realization dawned on me; this is a thing that A LOT of people want to do, and is in fact quite competitive. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “this is like applying for a job without previous job experience!”.
I took a look at and sharpened up our profile, and then applied some more with a renewed vigor. Eventually luck broke our way. A previous rejection had their selected housesitter fall through for some reason, and they needed a back-up. It was the opportunity to watch 2 cats in Paris for almost a month. And we were like ‘Absolutely!!’.
We can’t wait to see what our experience holds in Paris, and we are excited to be providing a service for this couple while getting to stay in one of the most amazing cities in the world for free.