How house-sitting makes it possible to spend holidays with free accommodation

Going on vacation is expensive – but the growth of online communities will help you do it for free.

There is a merry band of vacationers who travel far and rarely pay for accommodation.

The costs of a week’s holiday in New Zealand – even staying in an Airbnb or a locally owned home – can quickly add up, the The New Zealand Herald reported.

Yet Australian couple Christopher Ojala and Andrew Redfern have done it three times, all without paying a penny for their accommodation.

Australians are house keepers, who have traveled across New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Mexico, all tending to the homes of strangers.

“Housesitting gives you a completely different perspective than going somewhere as just a tourist,” says Mr Ojala, who also runs the 17,000-strong House Sitting World Facebook group.

“You can see new places from a local’s perspective.”

I know that feeling. As a house keeper, I woke up to views straight out over the Firth of Thames, a large bay on New Zealand’s North Island, and watched yellow-eyed penguins come in from the sea. as part of my nighttime routine in the Catlins on New Zealand’s South Island.

I’ve stayed in seaside tarps (a Kiwi vacation home), tiny country homes, and state-of-the-art city abodes – and all I’ve had to do in return is take care of their pets.

This is where the hook lies. Most house sitters aren’t about homes at all – they’re more about pet sitters in someone else’s home.

As it is a win-win situation for both parties, money rarely changes hands.

Instead, it’s a system built on trust between strangers – which is also why the house sitting community thrives in New Zealand, in particular.

“People in New Zealand trust other people a lot more than in many other countries,” says Mr Ojala.

“It’s okay for people to have strangers in their homes. Whereas in the United States, you almost have to pass several police checks just to be considered.

In my experience, Kiwis are also overly generous.

Besides sharing their homes, they are also keen to introduce guests to other sides of their lives, so they can truly live like a local.

I’ve seen owners share the spoils of their gardens, lend me their kayaks and cars, and even write me personalized guides to their favorite places in town.

Still, perhaps house sitting’s biggest sell is its affordability, but it’s not just an activity for broke backpackers.

According to Nick Fuad, founder of Kiwi House Sitters, about 25% of house sitters on the platform are over 60 years old.

It’s also a budget-friendly vacation option for families, especially during holiday periods when campgrounds are full and hotels charge peak seasonal rates, as Nancy Mcallister has learned.

Originally from Canada, Ms Mccallister met her future partner while housesitting on the South Island.

Since moving to Dunedin and settling down, she hasn’t given up on her favorite way of exploring the country. Today, she takes her companion and her 6-year-old son on her adventures.

“It’s a great way to be able to travel,” says Ms Mcallister.

The couple sit regularly in Queenstown and Wānaka and have even made a seaside home during school holidays in their home town.

For the son of his partner, the place does not matter.

“He just thinks it’s somewhere different. There are different toys and it makes for kind of a fun vacation,” she says.

Ultimately, caring for other people’s fur babies is a serious commitment and home care isn’t for everyone.

But those who do tend to like it so much they almost don’t want anyone else to know about it.

“My partner is like, ‘You shouldn’t tell anyone about this,'” Ms Mcallister laughs.

It’s a secret she wants to share, though: “Home sitting can open doors for world travels you never imagined.”

How to start as a house sitter in New Zealand

Sitting jobs are usually advertised on platforms such as TrustedHousesitters.com, HouseCarers.com, but KiwiHouseSitters.co.nz is by far the most active sitter site in New Zealand.

Whichever platform you choose, expect to pay around NZ$85-150 per year.

If you’re not prepared to pay the membership fee, concerts are also posted on the House Sitting New Zealand Facebook group.

Once you’ve found a potential home, arrange a virtual or in-person meeting with the owners and their pets.

At a minimum, talk on the phone so that both parties have a chance to ask questions.

“Do your homework before you jump in,” advises Ojala.

You have no experience? Do not worry.

Instead of home custody references, offer to provide personal or professional referees or a police certificate.

Even without references, your services will be sought after if you plan to keep your house during a school holiday period.

A quick scan of KiwiHouse sitters.co.nz reveals upcoming vacation stays ranging from a three-week stay in the Mackenzie region in a sprawling country house with an in-ground pool, to a little closer to home, where five days ago sit in an artist’s house in Titirangi, with use of kayaks.

Remember: Love of Animals is a Must “House sitting” is a bit of a misnomer — it really should be called “pet sitting”.

You will very rarely see an ad for pet-free homes, although the amount of time you spend caring for pets may vary.

Be sure to ask owners about daily routines and responsibilities, as well as how long they are comfortable with their pets being left alone.

If you plan to spend long days at the beach or nearby art galleries, avoid horses and dogs and look for a cat instead.

After all, while housesitting is the perfect way to immerse yourself in a new place, it’s not entirely a vacation.

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been republished here with permission.

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