Updated: May 15, 2020
Cover photo: Belle out dogwalking the two German Shorthaired Pointers on the Knepp Castle Estate.
A typical day on the Knepp Castle Estate went much like this one: we let the dogs loose to run through the pastures, watched ducks dive for food in the marshlands, saw a herd of native red deer curling up together on the hill, and on our return trip, ran into a group of native Exmoor ponies, including little foals.
Belle looked at me and asked, “I really want to pet them, but are they ridden horses?” They looked a little defensive about their territory after we called in the dogs running in the field, so we decided to let the ponies have their space.
This safari-like experience was the result of a process called rewilding at the Knepp Castle Estate, which the owners used to return the 3,500 acres of Southeast England countryside to its historic roots as a harmonious self-regulating ecosystem, complete with native animals, farmhouses, 16 miles of public footpaths, and even huge treehouses.
Thanks to Belle’s hard work building connections as a nanny, we had earned a job as house sitters in one of the many elegant, historic farmhouses on the estate while the family went away for a vacation in France.
Not only were we rewarded with 2 weeks of accommodation, valued at over $2,000, but we actually earned $150 during our stay. It was originally supposed to be $500, but something was lost in communication between Belle and the owners. If you ever negotiate terms on paid house sitting, use Golden Rule #6: Verify. Preferably in writing. Or via text, in our case.
Travel the World for Free While Keeping Your Home & Pets Safe
After this trip, Belle and I talked about ways we might save money traveling around the UK and Europe. The problem everyone faces when traveling is double rent. You pay once at home while you're not even there, and once for your vacation. Lodging on vacation costs double or triple rent because hotels are commercialized, and even Airbnb prices are inflated by fees, taxes, and owner profits.
House sitting is a clever solution to this problem by pairing up the mutually beneficial relationship of travelers and saving huge costs on both sides:
No cost for lodging while traveling, given the below.
Keep their unattended home and pets cared for and safe.
We love to travel and have two bunnies, so this is extremely useful to us!
We decided we’d try to get away any weekend we were open, but we didn’t know enough people to house sit every weekend and wanted to travel globally. After testing out several sites, we finally settled on Trusted Housesitters, which has a network in over 130 countries. The $119 yearly subscription pays for itself in lodging after one or two nights.
The fee also protects house sitters from bad experiences by keeping freeloaders and scammers off the site and brings in people who are serious about house sitting, even more so than Airbnb, which doesn’t require a subscriber fee. Through ID verification and reviews, you can further screen any potential sitters or hosts before you travel.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if something did happen, even accidentally? With your annual membership, Trusted Housesitters includes insurance property damage, theft, and public liability protection up to $1 million. Remember that you don’t have this protection if you arrange house sitting on your own. I recommend their website for this peace of mind, because insurance is one of the tenets of financial security, even if you never use it (this is Golden Milestone #6 - Get Financial Security).
Oxford: Our First Trusted Housesitters Experience
We had our first house sitting experience using Trusted Housesitters for a trip to Oxford that I’ve wanted to make since I moved to England. Oxford is famous for its university, but it also has a thriving city center and attractions nearby, such as the Hellfire Caves. Because it’s just out of range for a day trip, we hadn’t had the opportunity to visit.
Here’s how it worked: On TrustedHousesitters.com, you can sign up to ‘Find a pet sitter’, or ‘Find a house sit’. We initially signed up to ‘Find a house sit’, paying $119 for the 'Sitter membership'. Finding a house sit is competitive, so while you can apply to more than one house sit, you might have any number of other applications vying for the spot. This makes a profile showing how thoughtful and experienced you are very important.
My recommendation, if you are new, is to watch the number of applicants when applying and start small and closer to home before trying to snag your 'dream vacation'. Also, if you're planning a dream vacation, remember that you've committed to pet care! We purposely didn't use Trusted Housesitters for our upcoming Paris trip over New Years' Eve because lodging in Paris was scarce for those dates, we've booked a train, and we will be too busy being tourists and going to EuroDisney to properly care for pets. Also, keep in mind that in a worst-case scenario, owners or sitters might cancel, though it is against the code of conduct for one party to cancel without the other's agreement.
We requested a stay for a house sit in Oxford from a well-reviewed, established couple and Belle wrote a profile with plenty of details about our house sitting background, her nanny experience and qualifications, and our experience with animals.
The night before our visit, we read up on the house sitting ‘welcome guide’ posted by the owner, which was informative, accurately describing all their home and pet features and quirks in a way only an owner can know! Backup keys, vet emergencies, everything was covered. We then drove up to Oxford, planning on two days and one night. We met our home/pet owners and they were delightful, funny people, just like their welcome guide.
They gave us a key with a giant rubber fried egg attached (too silly to lose?), and showed us around their spacious, clean house, situated on a hill, overlooking a valley to another hill with sheep grazing on the top. For our stay, it was picture perfect. After a quick crash course on taking care of their friendly, fluffy cat and two adorable, well-nurtured bunnies, they were on their way to Southampton for the night.
Oxford is More Than Just a University
We went out to Oxford for the day and enjoyed seeing the oldest Botanic Gardens in the UK, where a hilarious group of college students were ‘punting’ in the large gondala boats, struggling to navigate the river with the large poles. From there it was a quick walk to the architectural beauty of the Radcliffe Camera, a round library in a cobbled square facing the Oxford University Church, which was free to visit.
Our neighbor, who once lived in Oxford, recommended Ben’s Cookies at The Covered Market, an eclectic mix of goods and shops which was a welcome break from outdoor adventuring. We continued on to the Oxford Castle for a whirlwind tour before grabbing food to go from Oxford Street Food in the large, modern, semi-open air shopping mall.
We’d have eaten more local food, but we were already stuffed from our amazing meal at the Dashwood Arms pub, where we had stopped at our house sitting owner’s recommendation. We enjoying having their input during our stay, much like an Airbnb experience, but because we were entrusted with their pets’ care, overall it seemed more personable than Airbnb. Nobody knows it better than a local!
Back at our house sitting engagement, we ate a late dinner, watched a movie on their Amazon Prime, then found a cat toy and had to laugh as their huge cat attacked it by rolling around with his feet in the air. We visited the bunnies in their large outdoor rabbit run and they were happy and healthy. We even found some good ideas for new snacks and games for our own rabbits.
The owners left us a couple of towels and a freshly made bed, which was more than comfortable. They told us to feel free to make ourselves at home with any of their amenities, or even have some food in the fridge if we needed to. The house and yard was far larger than any Airbnb or hotel room we’ve ever rented. It was a house meant for an entire family - more than enough for just the two of us, their cat, and two bunnies.
We had a perfect stay and they left us a 5-star review on our profiles on the website. We’ll do the same for them!
Letting Others House Sit Our Two Bunnies
Trusted Housesitters' high quality of house sitters, largest global network of stays, insurance protection, and sleek design of their app (best in house sitting) and website provided so much value that we decided to purchase the ‘Owner membership’ add-on to find a sitter for the extra $29 per year. We used it for our recent trip to see Windsor Castle while we house sat in a beautiful area in Windsor. At the same time, a young couple watched our two bunnies, Ivor and Poppy, while we were away.
Even though we house sat ourselves, I was wary of letting someone else house sit at our house for the first time, but Belle found an extremely well-reviewed couple and asked them questions until I was comfortable. It made us happier to think of the bunnies having someone there to look after them, and we didn't have to worry as much about them trying to dig under the neighbor’s fence (and finding the neighbor’s puppy on the other side!) while we were away for the weekend.
We kept in touch over the weekend, seeing videos of our bunnies being pampered and they took some of our local recommendations for the local pub and the country park. We returned to a house (and bunny house) as clean as we left it, with happy, well-fed bunnies. They left us a nice bunny-themed thank-you note and Godiva chocolates. They earned themselves a 5-star review! We got along so well that we met at our local climbing gym and made some new friends, which was a nice bonus.
We've only earned 5-star reviews as well, treating our house sits like our actual house. Belle used to work for an upscale English Bed and Breakfast, so she has all of the finishing touches I didn't know about, like envelope corners for that 'tidy' bed look.
How did paid house sitting compare to Trusted Housesitters? Here are a few differences:
Paid house sitting: Accomodation + wages.
Trusted Housesitters: Accomodation.
Paid house sitting: Privately negotiated.
Trusted Housesitters: Terms and conditions and Code of Conduct are set by Trusted Housesitters. Other items privately negotiated.
Paid house sitting: Purchase insurance separately.
Trusted Housesitters: Annual membership with Trusted Housesitters includes insurance property damage, theft, and public liability protection up to $1 million USD by global insurer Royal Sun Alliance.
Paid house sitting: Typically local.
Trusted Housesitters: Global, 2000+ house sits available at any given time.
Paid house sitting: Contact owner, meet before house sitting.
Trusted Housesitters: Contact owner, welcome guide, optional meet before house sitting.
We like paid house sitting as another option, but the ease of use for Trusted Housesitters makes it our first choice when looking for anything from weekend trips to longer sits of several months. I recently saw a house sit pop up on the website for just south of Paris on the Seine river, and even a castle sit in Spain.
Check out their website - it’s free to browse house sits available now!
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