Housesitting in Europe: Everything You Need to Know

Housesitting in Europe: Everything You Need to Know

Everyone has heard of Paris, the romantic city on the river Seine, famous for its Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, and more, but little mention is ever made of its neighboring towns. Just a short train commute from the city center, less than nine miles as the crow flies, sits the charming little suburb of Vaucresson. This affluent community is lined with stately homes occupied by those who commute into Paris each day for work.

Nicknamed the “green city”, life in Vaucresson can literally be a walk in the park. Since our main reason for being here as sitters is Jack, our canine companion who we are caring for, twice-daily walks on the shaded parkland trails are the perfect escape from the summer heat. Along the way, Jack meets up with other furry friends while cyclists, joggers, and others meander by.

Today we discovered a nice surprise in our temporary little neighborhood. Bright yellow signs stapled to trees showed up overnight announcing a special message to all. The signs indicated that parking would be forbidden on the very street that we are living on, to allow for the famous Tour de France cyclists to race by on July 24. People come from around the world to France every July to witness the three-week race that features some of the best cyclists in the world, but we would get to see it right outside our front door.

Back inside the three-level, five-bedroom, stone French chalet that we are living in for free, I fed Jack while my husband, Clyde, prepared for our next task of the day. Off we went to the weekend market to stock up on juicy fruits, vegetables, and fresh breads that we stuffed into our rolling cart before we walked back to the house. Even the bananas we bought featured a sticker claiming them to be the “official fruit of the Tour de France,” making me feel like we had landed in a special town.

Since we are living without a car the rest of our supplies come from a small grocery store in the neighboring village of La Celle-Saint Cloud. Situated along a tree-lined plaza with a pharmacy, doctor's office, café, restaurant, bakery, and even a tiny lending library, we manage to find all that we need.

From our house, the center of Vaucresson is a fifteen-minute walk where we can hop on a train into Paris, which was one of the selling points of landing this housesit for us. The train whizzes through the French countryside and then opens to a spectacular view of the Paris skyline where the Eiffel Tower takes center stage. Upon landing in Paris, we can catch the metro to numerous spots around the city.

As evening approaches, I prepare dinner in the kitchen of our temporary abode, saving us money on expensive dining out. Our hosts left us plenty of spices, oil, wine, cheese, bread, fruits, and vegetables to carry us over until we could make our first run to the store.

After dinner, we head into the natural areas around town again, with Jack, for our evening walk before he settles in for the evening. Clyde and I curl up on the couch to watch a movie on Netflix before we turn in after another fulfilling day.

With Paris on our doorstep, free accommodations, and a sweet, adorable, dog to cuddle what’s not to love about Vaucresson, France.

Homes here can be had for a mere $1 million or $2 million, yet our stay is free.

What’s it like to be an international housesitter? Spend a day with us below:

How to Get Started Housesitting

Clyde and I had never traveled outside of the U.S., except for the border towns in Mexico for him and some short trips into Canada for me. Then in 2010 when Clyde began thinking about early retirement on his small pension moving out of the U.S. seemed like our only option. With the help of International Living, we took the plunge and moved to Panama in 2011 and never looked back. We enjoyed life in Panama for five years until we took our first-ever trip to Europe and returned to Panama as changed people who longed for more travel. But how could we afford to travel when we were living on such a small budget? And then a friend suggested we try house and pet sitting. She knew someone who was living rent-free around the world, staying in other people’s homes, and in exchange, she would care for their pets and house.

We signed up on our first house-sitting website and created a profile that included our experience with animals, home ownership, photos, ages, occupation, and more. Literally, within a few weeks, we were offered our first sit in Ajijic, Mexico where we spent one month with a cat. The next month we were off to Ambato, Ecuador where we lived in the shadow of a volcano with Jethro, a blue tick hound dog. And our third sit was in Costa Rica where we walked two dogs on nearby beaches while we enjoyed some fun in the sun.

We were hooked and decided to sell our house in Panama with everything in it and walked away with two carry-on-sized suitcases each. For the next two years, we lived as nomads and traveled the world as international house and pet sitters. Our adventures in house sitting took us to Thailand, Italy, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Egypt, Kenya, Portugal, France, Switzerland, Germany, and more.

Our expenses included food, flights to and from the sits and usually we would rent a car in each location to make exploring easier. Because of the money, we saved by not paying for accommodations we could afford to take side trips before or after the sits.

After living two months free in Egypt, we could afford to explore the pyramids of Giza and cruise the Nile River. Just a short flight from Egypt was Israel, so we booked a tour to explore the Holy Land. Bangkok was close to Cambodia and Hong Kong so why not see both while we were in that part of the world. I had always dreamed of going on a safari in Africa so when we landed a sit in Kenya a safari was both affordable and a must.

And it was from a sit we did in Portugal that helped us to explore the country, settle down a bit and make it our next home, from which we can continue our travels.

As I write this, we are enjoying life in the suburbs of Paris in the village of Vaucresson, France which we share with Jack, a mellow, sweet dog. The chateau has five bedrooms, and three and a half baths and is spread out over three levels, plus a basement and large garden.

Since we are experienced sitters with excellent references, we are part of an elite group of vetted sitters on a Facebook group called The Housesitting A-Team. The couple that spent last summer at this house with Jack posted the sit in this group and we jumped on it.

The group was created by Yvonne and Michael Bauche who co-authored the House Sitters Ultimate Program that you can purchase from International Living here.

Are you intrigued and ready to find out more? Keep reading and I’ll tell you all that you need to know.

What Exactly is Housesitting?

Housesitting is an agreement between two parties, a sitter and a pet or homeowner. The sitter agrees to take on the responsibility of caring for animals, keeping the home clean and tidy, and keeping in contact with the person they are sitting for should any problems arise. Housesitting is NOT just a free place to stay for vacation and typically there is no exchange of money. I have seen ads on housesitting websites asking the sitter to pay for utilities; while some sitters may agree to this, we do not.

And while some agencies and individuals do care for animals in exchange for money this is not what this article is about.

What are the Responsibilities of a House Sitter?

Terry and Clyde's accommodation is free and in exchange they have agreed to care for a sweet dog named Jack.
Terry and Clyde's accommodation is free and in exchange they have agreed to care for a sweet dog named Jack.

Most of the sits posted on the various websites include some type of pet sitting, although we have done a few with no pets. Some homeowners prefer to have a presence in their home while they are away to ensure safety or just in case something happens. What if a home is left unattended and the roof leaks or a water pipe bursts? What if the vacant home is vandalized or a fire breaks out? Many things can go wrong when a home is left vacant, and it is for this reason that many people wish to have a sitter.

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that it can tie you down. Whether it runs on four legs, swims in a tank, or lives outside in a pen, all animals require food, love, and care. While most of the sits listed on websites are for dogs or cats there are many other animals that people keep as pets. We have cared for alpacas, pigeons, fish, chickens, a tortoise, a guinea pig, a rabbit, and countless numbers of dogs and cats.

And while there are kennels or boarding services for dogs and cats most animals are much happier if left in the environment that they are accustomed to, their home. They merely need to get used to their human being gone when a stranger steps in to give them belly rubs, walks, and food.

How to Get Started as A House Sitter?

Many websites serve to match up sitters with pets or homeowners who need them, and all require a fee to join. But think about how expensive hotels can be and the price of membership for one year might just be the same as a night in a hotel. Besides that, when we do a sit, we have a kitchen to use that is often stocked with spices, oils, vinegar, and pots and pans so we save money by not eating out.

Trusted House Sitters is the largest site with the most sits, but that also means that they have the most competition. Getting a house sit does require work and when we were sitting full-time, I was online often looking for our next sit. To get a sit, I had to be one of the first to apply, and write a compelling email selling our services and this was all after the pet/home owner had read our profile on the website. And do keep in mind the time differences around the world. When sits come out in Europe or Asia the time difference compared to the U.S. can be 8 to 12 hours ahead which means that many people might have already applied for that great sit in Paris while you were sleeping in Seattle.

So How Much Does It Cost to Sign Up to Be a Sitter?

The Most Common Sites are:

  • Trusted House Sitters — $169 to $259 (Offers Worldwide Sits)
  • Nomador — $116 (Many Sits in France)
  • Mind My House — $20 (Many Sits in the UK)
  • Most of our sits have come from Trusted House Sitters with a few coming from other sites. When we were sitting full-time, we were active on six or seven different websites.

The First Step is Setting Up a Profile!

Creating your house sitter profile is just as important as writing a resume to get that perfect job or finding your true love on a dating website. Think about who you would want to leave in charge of your precious pets, your home, and your stuff. Some homeowners (or apartment dwellers) will allow sitters to use their car, a nice perk but one that comes with much responsibility.

Take your time and showcase all that is wonderful about you. What type of work do you do? Are you in a position that shouts responsibility like a medical professional, teacher, policeman, fireman, or vet tech?

Have you been a pet owner before or cared for other people’s pets? Are you clean and tidy to ensure that you will keep the home in that condition? Are you handy with tools should a problem arise during the sit? Could you give medication to or care for a sick animal if needed?

For example, the headline of our profile says, “Retired Firefighter/Paramedic and His Wife Are Ready to Travel the World, One House Sit at a Time.” I mention in our profile that I am a clean freak and like to keep my space neat and tidy. Clyde, as a retired paramedic, can deal with a sick or injured animal if necessary. Because we are retired, we have time and are not worried about getting back to work. And since we are older, we are more responsible than a twenty-year-old that might use the home for parties.

Our profile includes photos of us with animals, specifies that we are fully vaccinated against COVID, non-smokers, along with our excellent references given by those we have done sits for. Many pet owners also want the sitter to have a background check to ensure they are decent human beings. Of course, at first, we did not have any references, so we asked friends to write us personal references.

Applying for Sits:

And now the fun part! Browse through the thousands of sits around the world and start applying. Your application will be among many, possibly hundreds that apply so it is important to be one of the first ten to twenty who show interest otherwise your response will never be seen.

What Should Your Reply Say?

The most important thing that the pet owner wants to know is that the sitter will take good care of their animals, so your reply should be all about their pets.

For example, I typically start my reply with something like this. Please allow us to come give walks and belly rubs to Fluffy your adorable poodle and care for your home as if it were our own. Then I continue with my introduction. We are Terry and Clyde, a responsible, retired, American couple living in Portugal, just a short flight from your house in France. Although it certainly helps that I am a professional writer, you do not have to be a published author to write a decent email selling yourself to the pet owner.

Depending on how many inquiries the pet owner had, there could have been hundreds, you may or may not hear back from them. Don’t worry, it happens to us too. Sitters believe that we get the sits that we were meant to have, not necessarily the sits that we thought we should have.

If You Get a Reply! What’s Next?

When you do get a reply from a pet owner expressing an interest in having you as their sitter, what comes next? If you are still interested thank them for their reply and ask to do a video chat to meet face to face. We find this essential! It allows us to get a better idea of who they are and lets them do the same. Then we ask questions such as:

1. How long can the cat or dog be left alone? If they say never, we will pass on the sit.

2. Where does the dog or cat sleep? While some sitters like to have the animals in bed with them others, like us, do not. So be clear about this before you accept a sit.

3. If the pet is a dog, we ask how it reacts to other animals and people. We would not accept a sit with a dog who would be aggressive to us or others.

4. How long does the dog need to be walked and how often? High-energy dogs may need a sitter to walk with them for hours or even run with them. Most dogs get walked once or twice a day with quick potty breaks in between. Sits with puppies require much more time with the animal and many more potty breaks so we try to avoid those. And does the dog get walked on or off the lead? This is another tricky point since the dog may not respond to the sitter as it does to the owner. We prefer to keep dogs on the lead, at least until they become very familiar with us.

5. Is the use of a car included with the sit? This is a nice perk, but it does not happen often and should be accepted with extreme caution. Cars are costly and anything can happen. Are you as the sitter willing to be responsible should this occur? Ask about insurance and if the driver is covered or the car. Here in Europe, our car insurance from Portugal will cover us on any car we use while sitting or if we cause injury to someone.

Why is Housesitting Appealing?

House and pet sitting have allowed us to explore the world, one house sit at a time and without emptying out our bank account. Because we are living in someone's home, we get to experience life as the locals do and not like tourists. We shop for groceries at local markets, walk dogs around the neighborhood, cook meals in their kitchen, and experience life not as a tourist but as someone who lives in that community.

In Munich, Germany we welcomed in the New Year on the famous Marienplatz and chugged a pint of beer at a Hofbräuhaus. A view of the snow-capped Swiss Alps was delightful to see from our living room at a sit outside of Geneva, Switzerland. The sweet smell of Belgian waffles filled our nostrils at every supermarket close to our Belgium sit and it was hard to resist buying them when we walked by.

A hilltop home in Italy, once inhabited by the bellringer of the church next door offered stunning views of the rolling countryside. We slept in the shadow of a castle, cared for alpacas in Tuscany, and roamed the streets of ancient towns—all while living rent free.

Our lives of international travel are what dreams are made of and what I never imagined we would be able to pull off, but we have. Travel is not just for the wealthy but for those of us who are willing to find a different way.

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