Most of the conversation surrounding house sitting is that it’s free.
“House sitting is such a great way to travel the world…for free!” We hate to break it to you, but house sitting it isn’t free. Nothing is.
It makes for a better story - ones you’ve probably already read - about how a retired couple travel the world for less than $100 a day, or live a millionaire lifestyle and only earn $10,000 between the two of them.
It is possible to live quite well by traveling the world and house sitting - we’ve been doing it for about three years now, and want to be real honest with you about this kind of lifestyle. There are some hidden and not so hidden costs to house sitting that tend to get overlooked.
Hidden Cost #1 - Transportation
We try to avoid house sits that don’t have a car for us to use unless we are in a city with easy access to public transportation - mainly for the safety of the pet.
The thought of waiting for a taxi or bus or Uber with a sick cat or dog is terrifying. If something happens to the pet - and things DO happen, especially with cats that are free to roam outside - we want to be able to get care for them immediately. We’ve been to the animal hospital in several different countries now, and each time we were fortunate enough to have a car.
From a personal perspective you may want your own vehicle - especially if you aren’t within an easy walk of a grocery store or transit line. The vast majority of our house sits have been rather remote and up to three months in duration, so not having a car provided is not an option as it can be quite expensive to rent one.
Of course there are additional costs a vehicle even when the homeowner provides you with one - sometimes insurance and road tolls, but always petrol. And petrol can be quite expensive in Europe. So if you are able to explore a bit, this can really add up. Not to mention and a good cleaning before so the homeowner returns with a shiny car!
Hidden Cost #2 - Exploring the culture through food
We love to eat. One of the best ways to explore a new culture is through cuisine. While you will likely have a kitchen at your house sit, you’ll probably still want to eat out at local restaurants and maybe even take a food or walking tour.
If you are in a place like Norway, where the food and alcohol cost are higher than you are used to, you’ll need some careful budgeting if you don’t want to break the bank. This means making some concessions, of course.
If you are like us, you’ll be eating out and wandering into various cafes for local delicacies, all of which adds up.
Hidden Cost #3 - Utilities
Our house sit in Brittany, France insisted that we pay for the electricity we used while sitting for two cats and 22 chickens. When we agreed, we didn’t really know that the entire house used space heaters, and since it was an old farmhouse, was drafty as hell.
We conserved where we could by unplugging everything not in use and wearing layers and using the fireplace.
We even went so far as to charge our phones in the car during trips to the grocery store and exploring the area!
As a general rule, we don’t look twice at house sits that require us to pay anything given the level of service we provide by keeping their house safe and clean and their pets happy, but this is up to you.
To be totally honest though, this house sit in Brittany inspired us to write How to Avoid a Bad House Sit.
Hidden Cost #4 - travel to your destination
This is probably the biggest expense of them all. Travel isn’t cheap, as everybody knows. If it were, more people would probably do it! We mitigate this expense a little bit by traveling more slowly than most people, even for other full time travelers like us.
We also try to get house sits in places we know we already want to go, if that is possible, which helps justify a longer flight. So while we were house sitting in Portland, Oregon for three months one winter, we knew we wanted to visit Taiwan and S. Korea and Japan.
We were lucky to get three house sits while there, which helped offset the costs of travel a little bit.
But sometimes we get a house sit in an irresistible location (like Norway) that is far away from us, and we slowly make our way there throughout the course of the year.
Hidden Cost #5 - House Sitting Websites
There are a load of house sitting websites, and all of them charge a different yearly or monthly amount, but the biggest site with the most availability is Trusted House Sitters, and they charge $119 a year for a subscription.
This isn’t a huge upfront cost, but I know we were reluctant to shell that amount out without any guarantee of getting a sit. In fact, we didn’t have any luck getting a sit until we drastically revamped our profile.
Once you factor in what an apartment or hotel would cost per night, this fee seems rather nominal, and for us it’s paid for itself many many times over, both financially and emotionally.
Hidden Costs of House Sitting
We don’t think that any of these costs are really prohibitive to house sitting - otherwise we wouldn’t do it. But you need to look at house sitting from every perspective and not just the ones that glamorize the lifestyle. To summarize:
Transportation: You’ll want a car if you aren’t within walking distance of a grocery store or vet should anything happen to your pet.
Exploring the Culture: One of the best ways to learn about a place is through their unique cuisine.
Utilities: Sometimes homeowners request that you pay for the energy you use.
Travel to Destination: This is probably one of the biggest expenses when considering house sitting. Flights can be quite expensive.
House Sitting Websites: to get a house sit, you’ll want to pay for access to the best websites where the sits are posted. This will seem like a nominal fee once you secure your first sit.