10 July 2014

This blog post is by Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder and director of The Career Break Site.

I was privileged to be invited to appear on the panel of a live webinar discussing housesitting.

The webinar was hosted by Thomas Mason.

The panel featured:

Thomas began by talking about the share economy and how housesitting is becoming a big part of that. Lamia told us that there are around 720,000 housesits around the world every year - so there's plenty of choice if you're thinking about doing it!

Janine told us how she found out about housesitting a few years ago after meeting a couple who had done it. She's researched the topic independently and uses housesitters herself, being the owner of 5 dogs, 3 cats and 37 chickens! "Housesitting lets you live the life of a local, finding out about secret places and seeing the world on a budget."

Lamia got the housesitting bug after an Australian friend visited and told her she'd saved $35,000 on her year of travel through housesitting! "It has shrunk the world - we have people from all over the earth talking to each other." She told us that most people don't pay for a housesitter: "It's an exchange, so people come to their own arrangements."

David, an expat and dog expert, talked about some of the difficulties involved in getting a housesitter - because he is the owner of 2 rottweilers, which don't exactly get a good press! "It's a challenge - people just don't want to know." Lamia helped out by saying you can look at the specific experience of potential sitters, as they have people like veterinary nurses on their books, who wouldn't be fazed by such things.

Ruth told us about being a single mum and how housesitting means she can afford to travel with her 9-year-old son. "We're currently in our 29th country! We use the money we save on accommodation to travel to our next destination." Ruth is a very experienced housesitter and is currently in charge of a number of sheep!

Then we came to me and I talked about how I set up The Career Break Site after taking my own career break and finding there wasn't much information available for people like me. "When you take a gap year as a grown-up, there's so much more to think about, like your job, your car, your house, and of course, your pets."

I carried on by saying that the most popular countries for career breakers are Australia and New Zealand because of the ease of getting a working holiday visa there - and tying in your work with the free accommodation that you get through housesitting maximises the affordability of your trip. The money you earn and save can be used for the next bit of your career break, whether that's volunteering, more travel or whatever.

Although this means a lot of career breakers are in their late 20s and early 30s, the average age is slowly creeping up. Janine said she was seeing a lot of people travel after taking early retirement.

We got a question from a viewer about insurance, and Lamia said you don't need specific housesitting insurance, but you do need to tell your home insurance company that you're going away and will be getting a housesitter.

I was asked where good places to housesit are and I said apart from Australia and New Zealand, Europe is good because of the ease of working there (British people don't need a work permit in the EU). It's also popular because of the language learning opportunities.

Ruth told us her favourite place was Fiji followed by Ireland (although that was mostly because she really liked the dog they were looking after!).

Then we had a question about the role of social media in housesitting. Janine said it was useful as "word of mouth is really important. The opportunities are there, so use social media to find out about things!" Ruth agreed - she's keen to share the information she learns while travelling to help others, through her blog and Twitter.

We also discussed planning and I said getting tips from the experts (like our panellists) was invaluable, as was leaving plenty of time to plan.

Our next question was about security. Ruth offers references (and also takes photos of the house for her own security). Janine also recommended using references and said Skype interviews between homeowner and sitter are great as you can establish a personal connection. Lamia agreed and said HouseSit Match offers guidelines which include getting to know each other as much as you can. She herself is having a housesitter come and visit soon so they can can get to know each other face-to-face. You can also use police checks and look at people's social media profiles.

Someone asked if, on a long housesit, was it OK to go away for a night or a few days? Ruth said no, as you have a responsibility to the pets and the homeowner. "Cats are easier - we sometimes take long day trips when we're looking after cats that we only have to feed once a day, but at the moment we're looking after a dog that needs medication. Do your touring before you housesit!"

Our next questioner wanted to know who is responsible for bills etc. Lamia, Ruth and Janine told us that homeowners generally provide all the pets' food, but will often ask for a contribution to utility bills - each agreement will be slightly different though. Ruth has been asked to pay for internet access before as well, because she does a lot of blogging.

Everyone agreed you need to be clear and have things in writing before the housesit. Lamia said "HouseSit Match provides template contracts which have been created by lawyers in the relevant country." Ruth has used these contracts. "They include what steps need to be put in place in case something goes wrong."

Finally, we talked a bit about the benefits of long-term travel. Janine said that the affordability of housesitting opens up all sorts of possibilities and enables you to travel to exotic destinations. I talked about the skills you learn - being a housesitter shows you are trustworthy and can cope with challenges. Also, simply having the initiative to get out there and do something different can really impress employers. Lamia told us she was surprised by the range of ages and backgrounds she sees - the benefits of travel and housesitting are available to a wide range of people, not just the young or rich!

As we closed the seminar, Lamia told us she'd just housesat in Paris and was off to Northumberland next. Janine was remaining in France, David in Marbella, and Ruth is off to Morocco. And I went to watch the football! (Sadly not in Brazil, just on TV).

Thank you to HouseSit Match for organising the seminar, Thomas for hosting, my fellow panellists for their insights and advice, and finally, to you for joining us or reading this. If you've got any thoughts or questions on housesitting or long-term travel, leave them in the comments below!