House Sitting Our Way Through Europe

Terra: “I want to travel to castles, dine on duck confit and endless baguettes, go to the opera, lounge on sunny beaches, and (of course) have a strong wifi signal.”
Nate: “That sounds great! I will start booking our trip.”
Terra: “And oh, I want us to do this for a fraction of the cost of our trip last year.”
Nate: “Let me think on that for a while.”

Think on that I did, but I knew the answer almost from the start. Two beautiful, simple words that have forever changed our lives by reducing the cost of travel: House Sitting. If you’d like a refresher on how we stumbled upon house sitting, this post could be helpful. But the basic tenets are pretty simple: Family A (let’s call them the Owners) has a need and will usually (but not always) be away from their residence for a time, and will usually (but not always) need animals taken care of. Family B (the prospective house sitters) has a desire to travel the world and see interesting sites. (our preferred house sitting site) is the medium by which Families A and B meet securely and decide if there is a match.

the Parisian kitties Merthin and Souan eating very slowly

Through our house sitting adventure in Paris last year, we discovered that the joys of house sitting go so far beyond the reduced cost. Here is a top 5 list of  why I’d recommend house sitting to anyone, whether you want to travel for 1 week or 1 year.

our little puppy that we are leaving with my parents…the one downside of house sitting


Reason #5: You get a more realistic, non-touristy view of life in the region

Anytime that you look for a hotel or VRBO, what is the first thing that you do? If you are anything like me, you find the coolest place in the city…the one that’s right in the middle of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, or in the Jewish Quarter in Budapest, or…you get the point.

House sitting turns all of that on its head. On a high level you do get to choose the region you want to go (do I want to go to Paris or the Loire Valley?), but you don’t necessarily get to choose where in the city you want to stay. Or I should say that the more specific your requirements are, the longer it will take to find a match.

Last year, we found ourselves in the 19th Arrondissement in Paris for nearly a month house sitting for a couple with 2 cats. You can read all about these adventures in previous posts, but suffice it to say that I’m convinced that, had we followed a more typical path, we would have never found ourselves in the 19th. It’s just too far out from the main tourist areas. But the experience of living there – of getting to know the fruit-stand lady and the boulangerie owner, of discovering hands down the best park in Paris (Parc des Buttes Chaumont), of finding an amazing North African restaurant as well as an amazing US-style brewery on the Canal St. Martin, and on and on – would never have transpired.

There is something we feel we understand about the Parisian culture as a result of our house sitting experience that we simply would not have otherwise experienced.

Canal St. Martin in Belleville

Reason #4: You make lifelong friends 

Let’s be real – travel for long periods of time can be a lonely experience. You typically don’t know the language very well, you certainly don’t know the cultural nuances, and until you’ve been there for many years you are basically an outsider looking in on another culture. No one really cares when you come or go to this city or that. It can feel like the only people who ‘care’ are the ones trying to sell you a necklace or trinket!

The very nature of the house sitting process sets you up for a completely different experience. Typically after making the match you connect over Skype or email and really get to know each other.  You have someone waiting for your arrival – and excited to meet you as well! I believe that people who welcome house sitters are a very specific, naturally trusting and generous type of people (in other words the type of people you want to connect with). We’ll discuss more about this in future posts, but we are absolutely blown away by the generosity of every single family that we have connected with through house sitting.

And it doesn’t end there. Even though you don’t necessarily spend a lot of time with the Owners, you develop a special bond that can last over the years. It is so exciting for us to build a network throughout Europe and beyond simply by providing a timely service to a family that we would have never otherwise met.

our friends Marvin and Lisa that we did a bit of house sitting for

Reason #3: You can provide a service while you are ‘taking’ in cultural experiences

Vacations are typically about ‘taking’. We take in the sites, we take in the culture, we take in the food (and a lot of that!), we take, take, take. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but we find that life feels more balanced and enjoyable when there is a balance of give and take. For us, house sitting accomplishes this balance. We have a purpose beyond just lapping up as many cultural experiences as possible. In a sense, too, house sitting gives us a micro-ability to represent our own culture, to give to another culture and be a part of the global community. Okay, I’m getting a little cheesy here…but it’s absolutely true.

We still ‘take’ a lot when we travel, but being ‘needed’ by someone else feels like an entirely different and more enriching experience.

our companion Athena last year

Reason #2: You can live more like you would at home

Typically when we think ‘vacation’, we think days on end on the beach with zero responsibilities and an escape from the 24 hours news cycle (see point #3). While there is nothing wrong with this, it seems that this desire primarily comes from the chaotic lives that we lead. But after 4 or 5 days of that, do you ever find yourself wishing you could go back home again?

The #1 problem that we’ve had with vacations in the past is that we too quickly lose the rhythm of life. 5 days pass and we’ve eaten out a ton, are on a completely different sleep schedule, and haven’t worked out. At times it is easy to ask what the purpose of all of this indulgence is – it certainly isn’t making us healthier!

Again, house sitting comes to the rescue for this. Whether it’s a morning and evening walk with the dog, cleaning up after the cats, or making sure the turtle gets fed, there are responsibilities each day. And because you are living in someone’s house, they have everything you need to live like a normal person – making coffee in the morning, eating in once or twice a day, and whatever other rhythms you have established that makes you feel normal. This balance is especially important to maintain when you are travelling for long periods of time. In fact, I think that this helps decrease the homesickness that people get when travelling; I think the feeling is partially because of the complete departure that we usually experience from our daily routine.

just enjoying a normal day with the cats

Reason #1: You can simplify travel planning and logistics

Searching for house sits has become somewhat of an obsession for me. For our upcoming trip, I knew we had roughly three months to work with, but other than that I didn’t have any parameters. From there, then, I gladly took on the challenge of putting together the puzzle pieces. Within a week or two I had 85 of the 90 days in Europe planned – all in amazing places. How cool is that?

Logistics become easier as well. When we arrive in Germany next week, the owners are meeting us at the airport and taking us to their house. Then they are taking two days to help orient us to their area. That simply wouldn’t happen in a normal travel situation (or you’d be paying a lot of money for it!). And even in cases when we can’t be picked up, they go out of their way to let us know the information we need to make the successful journey.

House sitting allows us to do cool things like this (from our day trip to the Loire Valley)

We realize that house sitting isn’t for everyone. But if you ever say to yourself, “I would travel, but it’s so expensive”, or “Travelling can be such a lonely experience”, or if anything resonated from my points above, I would definitely recommend exploring this method of travel! We are so glad that we did.