Since I started traveling around the world in September 2014, a lot of people have asked me how I’m financially able to travel for so long and whether or not I get tired of constantly traveling. In addition to saving tons of money on airfare by travel hacking my way to earning thousands of frequent flier miles, I also spend a fraction of the money other tourists do on accommodation.
I don’t get tired of traveling because housesitting and couchsurfing have allowed me to deviate the norm from my travel routine—and at little to no cost. The only thing I end up spending is time; time doing the things I do at home, like watching movies, cooking food, and hanging out with friends. The difference is I’m hanging out in a totally new place with new friends—and sometimes their pets!
I have to give a shout out to my buddy Dani over at Globetrottergirls.com for turning me on to housesitting. Before I knew her personally, I was following her blog where I first learned about housesitting as an option for free accommodation around the world.
After paying a small annual membership fee to Trustedhousesitters.com* (see a special deal below!), I stayed in two New Zealand cities for a week each for free. I say free because these two stays easily paid for that fee and then some. As I extend my membership, there will continue to be the option to stay for free in other homes all over the world for as short as 1 night to as long as several months if I so choose!
How does housesitting work and what are the benefits to the housesitter?
Essentially, you are exchanging a service for free accommodation. The service you provide can be as easy as ensuring you lock the door of the house and shut off the oven when you leave to taking care of pets/farm animals, mowing the lawn and tending to gardens while the homeowners are away. You should always know what you’re agreeing to before you decide to stay.
In Wellington, New Zealand, I stayed for a week over the holidays watching a family’s home, plants, and 2 year old greyhound-pit mix named Nelson. Nelson was great company to have around while I was missing my family back in New York. While the homeowners were visiting relatives in Auckland, I was baking in their kitchen, Skyping with my friends and family back home, and hiking the Karori skyline walkway with Nelson.
After the New Year, I hitch-hiked my way to Christchurch and stayed for a week in a family’s home while they went on vacation to Australia. I was glad to be a part of helping them go on their first vacation in 5 years! While they were chasing crocodiles on safari, I was cooking yummy meals, lounging in their sunny yard, and playing with their three extremely well-behaved dogs, Nina, Ramy, and Kes, and very affectionate cat, Tommy Parker.
Although it’s not expected, some housesits like this one will surprise you with additional benefits like the keys to one of their vehicles, spending money for groceries, or a gift after they return from their trip—all very welcomed surprises!
Why should homeowners hire a “stranger” to housesit their home?
Think about a time when you needed to go away for a few days, a week, or more. Perhaps you have a garden or a lawn you would be neglecting, pets needing care and attention, or maybe you just don’t like the idea of your precious home left vulnerable to break-ins or the furnace breaking down while you are away.
Hiring someone to take care of these things or watch over your home for you could get insanely expensive. It’s often a lot to ask neighbors, friends or family to do this for you—they all have lives and homes of their own to tend to!
But housesitters can fulfill these duties for you safely and for free. There are thousands of responsible individuals, couples, and families signed up who are happy to look after things for you in exchange for a place to stay while they are traveling or on vacation.
Having a “stranger” stay in your home is not as risky as it sounds. Housesitting websites set up a system of referencing and police checking to give homeowners confidence in their selected housesitter.
Homeowners can browse the profiles of interested housesitters, read through homeowner’s references from previous housesits, and select the perfect candidate of their own choosing. Accidents can happen, though, so homeowners are best advised to have insurance to cover possible damage caused by guests staying in your home.
As a housesitter, I browsed listings in the locations I wanted to visit. I sent emails back and forth with the homeowners, set up Skype calls with them, and even met them in person before beginning the housesit term. This process is a great way to make sure everyone is comfortable with the arrangement ahead of time.
*Interested in signing up for housesitting? (SPECIAL DEAL!)
I am not paid by Trustedhousesitters.com to advertise for them – I’m just really enthusiastic about this service and want to “share the wealth” of this great resource with others. If you are into the idea and want to sign up, please consider following the link I have provided in this post when you go to pay for your membership.
Following this link will show me your appreciation for the tip because Trustedhousesitters will give me 2 free months of additional membership for each person who signs up! The link will ALSO provide you with a 20% discount! Win-win for all!
I can hardly begin to express how fantastic couchsurfing.com has been over the last several months. I have met many local people, immigrants who have taken up residency, and other travelers from all around the world living and working in the places I visit. I have made close friends with some of them and had incredible experiences as a result of their generosity.
How does couchsurfing work?
Couchsurfing.com is a completely free networking site. There are no membership fees—you register with the openness and intention to meet other open-minded people and have off-the-beaten path experiences.
The first rule of couchsurfing is not to treat your host like a hotel clerk or their home like a hostel. Typically, your hosts are going to be offering you a place to sleep because they want to interact with you—so your only payment to them is your time. I usually like to offer to cook a meal for them or I bring them a bottle of wine/case of beer to show my appreciation.
How do you know you can trust your couchsurf host/guest?
Similar to housesitting, couchsurfing has profiles to browse and a referencing system. You can tell fairly quickly if you want to host someone or be hosted by someone because of what others have written about them and what they have written about themselves. I never choose to stay with a host because they have a real bed and are close to the city center. I choose hosts because they have lots of positive references and have a profile with similar interests to me. After all, it’s about connecting with new and interesting people and having an enjoyable stay with them, not with their home or location.
How comfortable is couchsurfing?
The accommodation when couchsurfing is not always as rugged as the title suggests. Being prepared for anything is good advice, but typically hosts will tell you what the sleeping arrangement is before you arrive. I’ve slept everywhere from a floor in a sleeping bag next to 3-4 other travelers in a city center to a full-sized bed in a private room on a quiet residential street. All led to experiences I would not trade for a hotel room even if someone else was paying!
By the way, if you think this is only for “young people,” you’d be wrong. I’ve seen senior (65+) couchsurfers and 18 year old couchsurfers. All are in it for the same reason—to deviate from hotel tourist traps and experience the area the way the locals do.
What to expect from a couchsurfing experience?
You should only have expectations with regard to what you work out with your host beforehand. Two big expectations to solidify before you arrive is (1) the time frame of your stay; and (2) the amount of interaction you’ll have with your host during your stay. The rest is up to you.
I usually explain my expectations in my introduction when I request to stay with them. I then ask my host what they expect from me. Sometimes, you'll be lucky enough to have a host who goes above and beyond accommodating. For instance, Jenny and her roommates cooked for me while I stayed with them in Wellington. Jenny even brought me a homemade smoothie while I caught up on some blog writing from their balcony. What service! I felt like a queen on a pauper's budget (thanks, Jenny!).
Having no expectations beyond some basics beforehand is what couchsurfing is really all about. The best experiences come from the ones unexpected and unplanned.
Another example was when I was invited to stay in the home of a young woman, Michaela, in Christchurch, New Zealand after I had finished houstsitting nearby. From her profile, I knew she was studying speech therapy and she used to be involved in film. Much to my nerdy delight, I found out Michaela was a crew member who ran cables for the cameras that shot the Lord of the Rings trilogy on location all over New Zealand back in the day! Much better than any overpriced LOTR tours—she happily shared insider information and stories about her experiences working on set.
I was also surprised to learn Michaela and I had similar interests in how we wanted to spend our time during my stay. We chilled out watching movies some nights, explored Christchurch during the days, and even took a short drive out of town to some great scenic locations. She gave me tons of information about what Christchurch was like before the recent earthquake damage and showed me Re:Start, a pop-up container mall developed where tall buildings once stood.
I have Michaela to thank for showing me Castle Hill in the mountains outside of Christchurch. I went there twice after the first time with her and consider it one of my favorite locations in the south island.
Housesitting and couchsurfing continue to keep my travels fresh, fun, and financially sustainable. I know I will be using these services during my travels for as long as they are available. I hope others do, too!