Housesitting 101 by Rachel Nordgren

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Over lunch in early 2017, a friend told me about housesitting. We had been talking about AirBnB and travel in general, and then she said size worlds that would literally change my life: "Have you heard of Trusted Housesitters?"

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My head snapped up from Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, spine ramrod straight. "What?"

"Yeah, it's a website where people who are going on vacation advertise that they need someone to watch their house."

I don't totally remember what else we talked about that day in that Panera booth, a weak winter sun gleaming outside. But, I do remember that after I got home I promptly spent the entire afternoon poking around the Trusted Housesitters website and got nothing done with work. I was tumbling down the the rabbit hole, utterly entranced.

There were people all over the world - France! Fiji! England! Mexico! Italy! - who were willing to let a responsible person or couple stay in their home for free in exchange for keeping an eye on things and watering the plants or walking the dog. There were even some quaint looking farmsits, too.

It was one of those things that seemed almost too good to be true, except that it was totally logical. People pay for house and pet sitters, and people pay for places to stay when they travel. It made sense that you could match those two needs in an even exchange.

Hans and I did our first housesit in the spring of 2017...five weeks in an exquisite country that felt like a dream come true. It was during that housesit that we started dreaming about the possibility of using housesitting as a way to travel around Europe, which had been a goal of ours since we got married.

And now? I'm writing this post in the living room of a home north of London where we're watching a darling dog named Poppy until the end of the month. Hans and I (and Banjo!) have been housesitting through Europe since November 2017. I love talking about this way of travel, so I thought I'd put together some answers to the most common questions we get about housesitting.

If you're interested in unique travel and love animals, read on!

How do you get started as a housesitter?

There are multiple housesitting websites and agencies out there, but the only one we currently use is Trusted Housesitters. There is a yearly membership fee of $120 for the site, which is roughly the cost of two nights in an average hotel. You can also get 20% off your membership signup by using this link or entering our referral code RAF70595 at checkout. Homeowners also pay a membership fee. After that, you set up your profile, add personal information and photos, and list your experience.

Worth noting: you are unable to apply for housesits on Trusted Housesitters unless you are a member of the site. You can browse available housesits without becoming a member, though!

To help build additional trust with potential homeowners, especially when we were just starting out and didn't have any reviews on our profile, we asked three people to provide references for us through the website. We also paid a bit more to have the extra verification of a professional background check done for our profile.

It's best to provide as much information as possible! Think about what you would like to know about a person if you were inviting them to stay in your home and look after your pets. Be honest and thorough.

Need some ideas? You can view our Trusted Housesitters profile right here.

How do you find housesits?

The Trusted Housesitters website is a wee bit clunky, but once you get the knack of it, finding housesits is pretty easy! You enter the location you're interested in (or you can search by the map function), and then filter the results by dates, length of sit, animals or lack thereof, etc. For those of you with kids, you can also search for housesits that have advertised themselves as family friendly.

After you're found a housesit that looks interesting, click on the listing and read through to see if it's going to be a good fit. Homeowners will fill out an intro, information about their home and location, and specifications about their pets and/or other responsibilities, along with a couple of photos.

If all that still looks good, go ahead and apply! Introduce yourself, tell them why you applied to their housesit, talk about why you think you would be a good fit, and invite them to get in contact with you if they've got any questions or would like to set up a video chat.

After one particularly sticky situation with a homeowner, we always ask to do a video chat before committing to a housesit. It can help you get a feel for things, and give you a sense of whether or not it will be a good fit. You're not going to be a perfect match for everyone, and that's okay.

If you get accepted, hooray! Check out this fantastic post about the 10 things you should do after landing your first housesitting job.

Do you get paid for housesitting?

Through some agencies, maybe! But through Trusted Housesitters, we do not get paid. We actually prefer it this way, because it means we're building relationships as we travel and not just conducting business transactions. We end up feeling like we're coming to stay at a friend's house instead of showing up for a job.

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We have seen some listings where homeowners have offered to pay their housesitters for extra duties like particularly large farmsits, but it's definitely not the norm.

How long can you housesit?

We've seen everything from one or two night sits all the way up to a year. People need housesitters for quick trips and summer vacations, but also longer trips to visit family or do some traveling themselves. We've also seen 6+ month housesits where people are going on a sabbatical for work or need someone to look after their vacation home.

How do you know it's safe?

99.9% of the people on Trusted Housesitters are lovely, honest, kind human beings who love their animals and want them to be well taken care of. The website is review-based, meaning that you can see what other people have said about a homeowner if they have had previous sitters. The website is still growing, so there are lots of new homeowners who have never had a housesitter before, so a lack of reviews isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I would recommend taking a careful look at the housesitting listing and photos. Do they give enough information for you to get an idea of what their home and pets are like? Do the pictures show a home that looks safe and clean? How do they describe their animals? If anything seems "off" to you, trust your gut. Either ask the homeowner specifically (perhaps they just forgot to clarify something in their listing) or pass on the housesit altogether.

Also, Trusted Housesitters has a 24/7 helpline for their housesitters to help in case of an emergency, veterinary or otherwise.

Some other tips...

  • Check the site often! Some people list that they need a housesitter months in advance, and some people wait until the last minute. You never know what you're going to find.
  • Housesitting is not like staying in an AirBnB. The homeowner will likely set you up in their guest room or spare bedroom, and you might share a meal or two with them before they leave, but don't expect them to cater to you. You are their guest, but you are also there to do the work of looking after their home and pets.
  • Leave the house just as clean (or cleaner) as it was when you arrived. It's just good manners.

Final thought: If you want to be a tourist, housesitting probably isn't for you. The homeowner likely doesn't want someone who is only going to do the bare minimum and leave their animals home alone for long stretches of time. That doesn't mean that you won't get out and about at all, but the wishes of the homeowners and the welfare of the pets should always be your first priority.

Personally, we really like housesitting because high-paced touristy travel isn't really our thing, and we'd much rather immerse ourselves in a place and get a feel for what it's like to actually live there. We genuinely love traveling this way because it feels slower and more authentic. There's a time and a place for tourist travel (hello, we did London and Paris in one week!), but housesitting isn't it.

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Interested in joining Trusted Housesitters? Get 20% off your membership signup by using this link or entering our referral code RAF70595 at checkout. Using our referral link or code gives Hans and I a discount on our own membership, so thanks in advance!

If you want to see some of the places we've traveled to with housesitting, head right on over here.

Where would your ideal housesit be? Let's chat in the comments below!

xoxo,
Rachel

#NomadicNordgrens April 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

#NomadicNordgrens April 2018 Travel Update

Welcome back, lovely readers, for another round of travel tales! March was a bit of a surprise for me...we actually had family activities to be a part of for the first time in 6 months! Hans has German and Swedish heritage, and some of his extended family still lives in Europe.

Thanks to Hans' mom, we were able to get in touch with the German relatives and spend some time with them in April. I mostly nodded and smiled and tried to remember the names of all the cousins, but I loved watching my husband get to uncover his heritage roots a bit. We'll be visiting his Swedish family later this summer!

Want more of our travel story? Check out our updates from JanuaryFebruary, and March. You can also take a peek at the #NomadicNordgrens hashtag on Instagram, and sign up to be on our monthly email updates list.


After our grand adventures in London and Paris during March with Dean and Roxann, we headed to Leer, Germany, where we stayed with Thilo, Hans' longtime friend and high school foreign exchange student. It was wonderful to spend time together! We celebrated Good Friday with him and his family before heading to Bielefeld (still in Germany) to meet relatives from Hans' mom's side of the family.

Our German relatives also gave us a warm welcome and showed us the old Bentemann farm as well as some significant towns and landmarks. We are so grateful for their hospitality, and for how much we learned about the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Region. We sort of felt like we were on a private tour with the best guides in Germany! Thank you so much to Annelie, Steven, Karin, Friederich, Ulrike, Elisabeth, Heinz, Karin, and Gustav for making us feel right at home.

The photo above was taken at Externsteine, a massive rock formation near Lippe in Germany. You can't really see any of the rocks in the picture because Banjo's furry face is in the way, so we suggest clicking on the link to check them out!

After Germany, we headed to Zürich, Switzerland for about two weeks to watch a lovely menagerie of animals for a couple named Julie and Eric. Fun fact: Eric is actually from Kansas! After Switzerland, we spent a day exploring Liechtenstein (the world's sixth smallest country!) before heading back to the UK, where we will be for the rest of the summer.

As always, we feel deeply thankful for everyone who has welcomed the three of us into their homes and lives during our travels. In today's crazy and often discordant world, we are grateful for the continual reminder that kindness knows no boundaries and there is much more that unites us as humans (and canines!) than divides us.

On to the photos!

1. The inscription on the Bentemann family home in Germany
2. The church in Hiden, Germany, where Hans' great-grandfather was baptized
3. Hans' German family!
4. Rachel cuddling with Ivy, one of Eric and Julie's dogs in Zürich
5. The Alps, being far more gorgeous than is socially acceptable

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: connecting with his German family and re-connecting with Thilo
Rachel's favorite: Rachel is starting to think this is a dumb and restrictive question, but if forced to choose she would probably say visiting the Sparrenburg Castle in Bielefeld
Mutual favorite: it's a tie between enjoying the sheer beauty of the Alps and seeing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a live orchestra performed the music as the movie played

Best in Food

For Good Friday (technically still in March, but who's counting?), Hans' foreign exchange "parents," Udo and Dagmar, invited us to join them for a lovely family dinner. We enjoyed a simply delicious meal of salmon with a creamy filling, rice, and sauteed spinach all accompanied by a heavenly cream sauce and glasses of ice cold white wine. For dessert, chocolate...because duh, it's Germany. 

Hans' real German family made sure that we ate really well, too. We were treated to all sorts of traditional German dishes, like braided Easter bread, local meats and cheeses (including a hard cheese with peppercorns in it that Rachel adored), potato pancakes called "pickert," and of course, bratwurst! 

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A Note From Banjo...

Ma hoomans tell mee dat dis iss zee only paart oof da neewslitter dat peeple actoolly reed. Dat meens my hoomans kood chuk da rest of dis ting 'nd speend moor time pettin me orr gimme moor of da speshal treets dat dee niice peeple in Gerrmuny gaav us. I rode da train AND da toob in Lundun 'nd I wuz reely brave beecuz da toob soundeed lik eet wuz gooona eat me but I staid kalm 'nd karried oon. We arr bak in Engelund 'nd I lik it heer becooz der arr lotz of sheepz.


One of the biggest surprises in our travels has been how much community Hans and I have found abroad. When we started out, I mistakenly assumed that we'd get really lonely and sick of each other, because we would only have each other for company. While it's true that we spend basically all of our time together (and we do get annoyed with each other sometimes), we've also been pleasantly surprised by the relationships we've discovered and strengthened with other people we've met.

Have you ever visited extended family abroad? What was your experience like?

#NomadicNordgrens March 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

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Hello again, friends!

Every month, Hans and I send out an email newsletter to our friends and family, updating them about where we are and what we've been up to. To keep you lovely readers in the loop, I've begun posting those newsletter updates on my blog as well. Make sure you haven't missed January or February's updates!

Want to know where we are now? Make sure you check out the #NomadicNordgrens hashtag on Instagram, or sign up to receive our monthly email updates as we send them out.


Hooray, Springtime is (almost!) here!

March was a bustling month! After leaving the farm in France, we dropped Banjo off with our friends Paul and Jenny in Le Vast (because taking a dog into England is rather a pain with paperwork, and we would only be there for a little over a week) and then crossed the channel. We housesat for a lovely woman named Lizzie near Petworth, and had the pleasure of watching her two darling dogs, cuddly cat, and a characterful French hen named Florence.

After leaving Petworth, we spent a night in London before picking up Dean (Rachel's father) and his girlfriend Roxann from the airport. They flew over for a whirlwind week with us...we covered London, Normandy, and Paris! It was so good to spend time with Dean and Roxann. We saw a lot, too! Some of our favorites were Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Normandy beaches, and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night!

(we also ate far more pastries than is dietarily advisable, and we regret nothing)

After they flew back to the USA, we headed North to Leer, Germany. In high school, Hans did a foreign exchange student program with a guy named Thilo from Germany. They’ve kept in touch all these years, and we spent a delightful week in Leer with him and his family. After that, we made our way to Bielefeld to visit some of Hans' extended family. We'll tell you more about them next month!

On to the photos!

1. Hans the Giant
2. Roxann, Rachel, Dean, and our guide Leo on our Parisian bike tour
3. Hans, Rachel, Dean, and Roxann by the Tower Bridge in London
4. During Dean and Roxann's time with us, Banjo got booted out of his normal spot in the car and had to squish at Rachel's feet...and was superbly disgruntled about it
5. The Golden State Coach at the Royal Mews in London

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: touring Utah, Omaha, and Gold beach with Dean
Rachel's favorite: basically all of London, but in particular going to a sung Eucharist service at Westminster Abbey and seeing the Crown Jewels (so sparkly!)
Mutual favorite: spending time with Dean and Roxann!

Best in Food

You guys. The French have food figured out. In Paris, we took a "Bike and Bite" tour with a phenomenal guy named Leo. We cycled around the central Arrondissements of Paris and gathered supplies for a (cold!) picnic by the Seine. We visited a fromagerie with hundreds of varieties of cheese, where Leo selected half a dozen types for our picnic and had us sample a bright blue confection with lavender flowers in it.

After that, we picked up charcuterie and baguettes before heading down to the banks of the Seine. It was a history lesson (Leo knows Paris like the back of his hand) and quintessentially Parisian picnic all wrapped into one!

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A Note From Banjo...

I h8 Deen. I had da hole bak of da car 2 myseelf untel he and Roxxann shewed up. I had to be squeeshed ento where my lady hooman puts hir pawz. HIR PAWZ. Iss not comfee down dere, u kno? Im not a cheewahwah. Iss all Deens fawlt. He deednt geev me any of his crisoonts eeder, 'nd he ate lik, a hooondred. I got 2 stay weef my freends Poul, Jeeny, May 'nd Alfee 'nd I got lotz of petz. Dey deednt make mee squeesh ento the pawz spot.


I still have feelings for that cheese shop in Paris, you guys. Take me back!! March was incredibly busy and fun, and we felt like tourists way more than we usually do. While we are generally in favor of slow travel that feels more rooted down to the places we are in, there is something to be said for the excitement of seeing as much as possible in one short week. I think there's space for both kinds of travel, and advantages and disadvantages to each. One thing is for sure, though...I definitely want to spend more time in Paris, preferably when it's warmer!

Have you been to Paris or London? What did you enjoy? Let's chat in the comments!

#NomadicNordgrens February 2018 Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

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Welcome back, friends! Did you enjoy the January update? The journey continues with our February update, which was our time on the farm in France.

As always, if you're looking for more travel musings you can check out our #NomadicNordgrens hashtag or sign up to receive our monthly updates in real time right here.


February was fairly quiet for us, which was a lovely change! As fun and exciting as travel is, it's also really nice to unpack our bags and settle into a routine. We've been looking after a small farm in Laz, which is in the Brittany region of France, near Quimper. There are 10 horses, 7 sheep (and three lambs that have been born this month!), a lovely dog named Harry and a super cuddly cat named Robinson. It's kept us pretty busy!

On to the photos!

1. Banjo frolicking through a nearby field after a storm left a gorgeous rainbow in the sky!
2. The Le Vast Cascades
3. Two brand new baby sheep! We've named them Nottie the Brave and Her Ladysheep Effie von Fluffenstuff III
4. The French version of a grocery store wine aisle
5. One of the lovely horses we've been taking care of!

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: chopping firewood for the wood-burning stove in our gîte, and sitting by the fire reading Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Rachel's favorite: going horseback riding through the French countryside
Mutual favorite: taking care of baby lambs!

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Best in Food

We've eaten a lot of meals at home this month, like the one pictured above. However, at our AirBnB in Le Vast, our hosts Paul and Jenny graciously invited us to share a family meal with them on our last night. They invited a couple of neighbors, and we were treated to one of our favorite dinners of this entire trip so far! Paul and Jenny used to own a restaurant, so the food was excellent.

We had prawns roasted over an open fire, a goat cheese and pear salad with honey and balsamic vinegar, delicious risotto and fish that we think was called St Pierre, more varieties of cheese than we could possibly keep straight, Belgium waffles with a dark chocolate rum sauce for dessert, all accompanied by 5 bottles of wine. A decent portion of the evening's conversation revolved around the merits of various wines and cheeses because it's France.

It was a beautiful evening. We felt truly blessed by Paul and Jenny's hospitality and stellar cooking!

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A Note From Banjo...

I want 2 stay heer furever. Der are big doogs called "horsees" dat I lik to play wif. My hoomans wont let me chase dee sheeps and dat sux, but I lik looking at der fluffy bumz. I git to run and run and run with Harreey. But I want to chase dee sheep insteed. At nite we sit by dee fireplace and iss warms. Sometimes I eet hoorsee poo and my hoomans git mad. I wood stahp if dey let me chase dee sheep. I want to chase dee sheep. I need to chase dee sheep. Halp me chase dee sheep.


February felt deliciously slow, quiet, cozy. The farm was definitely a lot of work, but incredibly rewarding at the same time. Because I work online, it's always refreshing to reconnect with things that are tangible, solid, earthly. Although, because I work online, Hans ended up doing a lot of the tangible farm work, ha! But it was always a lovely and satisfying feeling to end our evenings together with our feet up in front of the fire, glasses of wine in hand, after delivering dinner to nearly two dozen animals and tucking them in for the night.

Do you enjoy slow-paced travel? Why or why not?