1 August 2014

Housesit Match and The Career Break Site hosted a webinar on how to have a 'portable career' - working while you travel.

The webinar was expertly hosted by Thomas Mason (Twitter link) and included Nat and Jodie, who are professional housesitters and founders of the new Housesitting Academy. They joined the webinar from Barbados!

Lamia Walker was there on behalf of Housesit Match, and Rachel Morgan-Trimmer was representing The Career Break Site.

Here is a round-up of what was discussed, including questions from the audience.

What is a portable career?

Thomas started by asking Rachel what exactly a portable career was, and Rachel went over the ways that people could work while they travel.

These ways include:

  • Getting a working holiday visa for Japan, the USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand - the traditional way for young people to work and travel. The reason young people are cited is because these visas are only available up to a certain age (usually 30).
  • Working in Europe which is easy for a UK citizen as you don't need a work permit.
  • TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) - you have to get a qualification first and this will let you teach in countries that need native English speakers around the world. Many TEFL course providers will help you get a job once you qualify.
  • Seasonal work such as becoming a ski or snowboard instructor, surfing or sailing instructor, or even qualifying as yacht crew so your work, travel and accommodation are all sorted!
  • Blogging, journalism or photography as you travel - it's difficult to make money doing this, but it is possible as some people are proving!

How do you get started in housesitting?

Thomas then asked Nat and Jodie about their background. They said have made their career break into their lifestyle, having been forced into it!

Originally from Australia, they moved to Dubai to start a business and lost everything. They began housesitting in London (as it was closer to get to from Dubai than Australia!) and then went to France. Housesitting enables them to travel without a lot of cash, which they discovered when they started, as expensive travel simply wasn't an option.

They had 11 boxes of belongings in Dubai, and they left with just 2 bags each. They're now down to just 1 bag between them, so they're really travelling light. They say they've left their various belongings with homeowners around the world - one is now the proud owner of a pair of boxing gloves!

What exactly is housesitting?

Nat and Jodie then went on to explain exactly what housesitting is - and that it involves really looking after the place, whether it's doing the gardening, taking care of the pool, or of course, looking after the pets. They are keen animal lovers and say "for us, it's not a chore to look after animals."

They spoke about their favourite housesit which was in Brooklyn, New York, and said it was "like coming home".

Lamia took up the thread here, and said that housesitting enables you to "live like a local - you're stepping into someone's neighbourhood shoes". She said you can find local gems, and the owners can help by giving you a guide, not just to local amenities but to things like spectacular views as well. "You can discover a place in a way you've never thought about before."

Thomas asked Lamia how she got started in housesitting, and she said she would do it informally for friends. She also used housesitters herself as in her previous job, she spent a lot of time travelling. She wanted to be location independent which is why she set up HouseSit Match, which is a global network.

How do you afford a career break?

Thomas then went back to Rachel to discuss the financial side of career breaks and long term travel.

Rachel started by saying that, unsurprisingly, money is the number one concern of career breakers. "Most people who take a career break aren't loaded but they find a way of funding it."

She said saving up, planning and budgeting were all really important. Do extensive research, find discounts and check guidebooks to see how much you can live on per day in your destination. She stated that planning is really important because the more you do, the more money you can save.

Nat and Jodie then joined in by saying that people make assumptions about them, that they must be loaded if they can afford to travel the world, but actually, they had no income at all for 2 years! They say you don't need a lot of money compared to what you might spend staying put. For example, their one bedroom apartment in Dubai was $16,000 a year (Australian dollars) and in 10 months of constant housesitting in seven countries, they've spent $5,200 on everything (including travel and food).

One tip they shared was that having your own kitchen can save a lot on food. Southwest France they found was cheapest for food (meaning they could enjoy wine, cheese and chocolates!). Surprisingly, Costa Rica was the most expensive for groceries because of the recent influx of expats.

How much does housesitting cost?

Still on the subject of money, Thomas asked about the costs of housesitting. Lamia said it depends on the network you use - HouseSit Match only charges £35 a year for the basic listing. Nat pointed out that it's a lot cheaper than renting a place and Jodie added that it's less than 2 nights in a hostel!

How can you become a housesitter?

To prepare yourself and increase your chances of getting a housesit, Lamia says you should prepare yourself by getting references (professional and personal) and police checks. "Homeowners like to see the whole person." She says you need to become familiar with each other.

Jodie said they used the premium membership available on HouseSit Match because it meant they could add a video to their profile. The cost of it was met by a single week of housesitting!

How can you do this without losing investment in your career?

Thomas brought us a question from Jack in Guildford, who works in marketing and PR. He wants to take a career break, but doesn't want to lose the 'credit' he's already put into his profession.

Rachel reassured Jack that almost all career breakers feel this way! And that you aren't losing anything by taking a career break, instead you are gaining. You can gain specific skills, such as a language or how to run an event, which could help you when you return to your job, or when you look for a new one on your return.

She also spoke about the 'soft skills' you develop on a career break, like teamwork, solving problems, facing challenges, leadership etc. She said these are very valuable no matter what career you are in, and that The Career Break Site hears from people who have got a promotion as a result of the skills and experience from their time out.

Noting that Jack works in marketing, Rachel added that there's a lot available for people with his background, particularly in volunteering. Many projects need marketing people for things like fundraising and awareness raising.

Thomas added that a career break "builds character"and this shows on your CV. Rachel agreed - "simply having the initiative to do something different makes you stand out."

What about the language barrier?

This was a question from Cynthia, who was reassured by Nat and Jodie, who said you can just bumble your way through! You can connect through other means, such as sign language and pointing - plus, the pets don't speak English either! They had to look after one dog who only understood Dutch, and another who only knew Spanish!

What security issues are there?

Lynne in Spain wanted to know what the best practices are when you have someone living in your home, and Katie in Victoria wanted to know about financial compensation in case things went wrong.

Lamia stated that paperwork is really important - professional and personal references and police checks (they aren't required by they are advisable). It shows "due diligence" by the sitter. She suggests getting friendly on social media because "trust is the most important thing".

She also suggested that the homeowner documents the daily routines, etc, and to prepare your housesitting agreement together (HouseSit Match has templates you can use).

Nat and Jodie agreed with Lamia's point that trust and familiarisation is important. "It comes down to a feeling." They encourage sitters to consider whether the house suits their needs, because if it does, they can run it like the owners can.

Their Housesitting Academy offers a badge that sitters can get, to show their commitment to being a professional housesitter. and that they take it seriously.

"Everyone says they are caring and trusting" on a housesitting profile, so having a badge can make you stand out.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Judith from Chesham asked this question, as she had concerns she might not be able to go away when she's booked housesitters.

Lamia said that things do change, and life is variable - you should discuss with the sitters if things are likely to change. Some people even accommodate the sitters in the home while they're still there if they haven't been able to go away! "Your plan B should be in your written agreement."

She also suggested taking out extra insurance to cover cancellations.

What's a transition period?

Nat and Jodie talked about a transition period, where the owner can show the sitters how everything works, that is often taken for granted! It means the sitters turn up a day or 2 before the homeowners leave.

They suggest owners drive the sitter to the vet (the last thing you want when an animal is ill is to be fumbling through a folder), local parks, the dog's favourite walks, etc. It helps give the owner confidence that the sitter can manage.

One housesit they had was 4 hours from the airport so there was no chance of a transition period - the owner was dropped off by the same person who picked them up. When they arrived at the house, the total information left for them was a single sheet of paper with the cats' names!

Jet lag is also a reason for a transition period, but where the sitter stays elsewhere for a day or two, just to get a bit of much-needed sleep!

Should housesitters be paid?

It's not normal for housesitters to be paid, but if there are extra duties, these should be detailed in the agreement before the sit takes place. Nat and Jodie have been given gifts or taken out to dinner occasionally.

Any more ways to fund a career break?

Thomas came back to Rachel to ask for any more tips on money, and Rachel talked about money that you can get back before you travel - from council tax rebates, to a TV licence refund, to car insurance. She also mentioned the big one which is your income tax rebate (you're normally taxed with the assumption that you will work for the whole year, so if you don't, you can get that extra tax you paid back). "This can be a few hundred pounds, so it's really worth doing."


Thomas wound up the webinar by thanking everyone for taking part. The questions had come in thick and fast so there wasn't time to answer all of them! If you have a question for the panel, please ask in the comments section below, or contact HouseSit Match or The Career Break Site on Twitter.


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