Keith and Laurie Brammer are a recently retired couple from the USA who have spent the last year house sitting their way around the world. They are currently enjoying a three month house sit in Anguilla in the Caribbean, before heading off to Pasadena, California for a Christmas and New Year house sit. Next year they will be returning to Javea, Spain for a repeat house sit, all thanks to TrustedHousesitters. Here they share some lessons they learnt during a year of house sitting.
Get used to saying "Goodbye"
Pet sitting is not for the faint hearted. You get really attached, really quickly to the pets you are caring for. You give them oodles of love and next thing you know, you are walking out the front door having to say goodbye to your new best friends. And it's not just the pets you'll miss; it's the beautiful beach you walked every day, the wonderful grapefruit picked fresh every morning for breakfast, locally baked bread overflowing with juicy raisins, the friendly and helpful neighbours you met along the way. It's the same feeling you might have experienced when you were close to graduating from high school. You were feeling sad to be leaving good friends and experiences, but also anxiously looking forward to future adventures (in this example, the next house/pet sit).
Work to stay in shape
We are on the road so much, it just doesn't pay to belong to a health club back home. So, we have to be creative when it comes to aerobic and weight training. Walking tours and hiking are a great way to stay in shape. We've climbed Mount Maunganui in New Zealand, paths along Torey Pines in San Diego, not to mention hour-long walks with the dogs in Santa Fe. In addition, Laurie takes along her DVD player and workout tapes. When she can't take along her weights, she substitutes 5 litre water jugs and fills them with water/sand/gravel. During a three month stay in Australia and again during a three month stay in the Caribbean, we paid for a short-term membership at the local health club. It was a great way to start the day.
We all know about the strict baggage restrictions on airlines. But if they are liberal, take extra bags if there is no surcharge. This defies all the travel advice you've ever read. But we are happy we packed our extra (cheap) paperback books that we bought on Ebay; our portable DVD player to keep up with daily exercises (thanks Biggest Looser trainers Jillian and Bob); sturdy hiking boots; the tri-pod for all the beautiful sunrises and sunsets; our GPS system (see below); and layers of clothes for changing weather conditions.
Getting to know you...getting to know all about you
Skype has been a terrific way for both parties to get to ‘meet’ each other prior to committing to a house/pet sit. We use the time carefully to listen to the homeowners needs, the health and/or special needs of the pets, and the homeowners overall approach. In turn, it gives the homeowners a good sense of who we are and what we bring to their specific pet/house sitting needs. Typically at the end (assuming the Skype session has left both parties feeling comfortable), we agree to move forward. That means the homeowner will finalise their travel plans and we as the pet/house sitter will not apply for or consider other house sits during the time we committed.
Turn Left. No, the other left.
Invest in a GPS system and buy used chips (Amazon.com typically has great deals) for the country where you are traveling. These country-specific GPS chips saved us lots of time, made sightseeing easier and helped us anticipate tricky roundabouts in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia. Can you turn right at a red light? Be sure you know the traffic rules for the country so you stay safe.
Got a bee in your bonnet?
We grew up living with mosquitoes and know how they can make misery of a Wisconsin summer. But do you know the season for sand flies or fire ants in the country you are visiting? Dreaming of a sit in the Arizona high country in June but deathly afraid of snakes? Longing to enjoy the beaches of Queensland but not sure when stinger season is? Not saying you should let a bug or a reptile stop you from applying for and/or accepting a house sit, but just be aware of critters you might encounter during your stay.
Carry business cards wherever you go
Many people we talk to friends, neighbours in the cities we visit, relatives have never heard of this concept of pet/house sitting. We view it part of our responsibility to educate potential homeowners of the concept. While hiking the Miradores of Javea, we talked to a woman who was out walking her two dogs. As we chatted, we shared with her the fact that we were pet sitting. She was very interested as she travels a lot and with large dogs could use a live-in pet sitter. Same thing has happened taking walks in the neighbourhood and even at the grocery store. Our business cards promote not just us, but the TrustedHousesitters web site. The more pet owners and homeowners that know about this incredible service, the better for them, their pets...and house sitters like us.
Weather (sic) to brave it or not
Vanuatu sounds wonderfully romantic. But are you really prepared for cyclone season? Parts of Arizona can reach over 120 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the summer. A homeowner in Santa Fe told us they had a Canadian couple apply for their house sit because they wanted to escape the cold in Canada during December. They would have been awfully cold if they arrived in Santa Fe with capris and tank tops in December! We saw a house sit listed in Wisconsin starting January 11. Three of the worst snow falls in history were in January over 12 ½” in a single day!! Great if you love skiing or building a snowman; but difficult to shovel or drive in. (We lived in Wisconsin for 30 years and love the state no matter the season). But you have to decide weather (sic) or not to let the weather impact your decision to apply for the housesit. Do your homework upfront before accepting the house sit so that you are prepared.
Clean as a hound's tooth
The homeowners' have been on the road for weeks, or months. They deserve to come home to an exceptionally clean home. Before the homeowners' arrival, we do a thorough cleaning and we mean thorough. Tasks like vacuuming and dusting and cleaning toilets and the showers are quite obvious. But we go a step further; cleaning the inside of the microwave for any little splatters, cleaning the bottom tray of the toaster and also the inside of the refrigerator including the vegetable/fruit trays. Obviously we wash all the sheets and towels that we have used. We are very proud that our references often include the fact that the home was in as good -- or better -- shape than when they left. At one housesit, we even power washed the driveway as the homeowners had received a notice in the mail from their homeowners' association that they would be fined if the driveway wasn't cleaned prior to their return. Keith's pool cleaning experience has been invaluable in keeping the homeowners' pools in tip-top shape.
Get involved locally
During our three month Caribbean house sit, Laurie joined the local craft/sewing group. It's a group of local ladies who meet once a week to work on projects that they then sell for fundraising. The money raised in the past has gone toward equipment for the local hospital and the local food bank. Not only does it feel good to be doing something for the local community, but it's a great way to meet residents who have lots of touring suggestions.
Hold the mail
We had everything carefully organised and arranged regarding our mail and our bills. Like many, we bank online so that's not a problem. But imagine our surprise when we by chance a found out our mortgage company sold our mortgage to a new company. We would have continued to pay the monthly payments to the wrong company for five months while we were out of the country house sitting. Fortunately we received an online notice from our insurance company informing us that the mortgage changed and we immediately contacted the mortgage company who told us that they had MAILED a notice to us even though they are set up to send us e-mail notifications regarding our account.
It's a small world after all
In the first 12 months of house sitting we have met terrific folks. The young couple from San Diego who took us out to dinner the first night and continue to keep us updated on the health of one of their dogs. The New Zealand couple who hosted a welcome dinner introducing us to their family and then proceeded to give us the most beautiful coffee-table photo book on New Zealand. Then there's Ken and Karen who were thoughtful in letting us use their Costco card and library card while they were gone. Lucy in Santa Fe helped us refine our online pet sitting profile by offering constructive feedback and is always available to provide a reference for us. The Melbourne homeowners, who despite the fact that his mother passed away six days prior to our arrival, called to assure us that they were still keeping their commitment to the three month house sit. John and Debbie who let us use their car to experience the Great Ocean Road a one of the highlights of our time in Melbourne. Alex and Judith in Florida who sent us photos of the birth of their new baby even before we had met them for the house sit and who baked us apple strudel for our drive back home. John and Sandra took time prior to the house/pet sit to show us some of the local sites in Javea and take us to dinner with their friends at a beautiful rustic restaurant in Spain. Tony and Judy in Anguilla greeted us with a batch of home-made rum punch; an appropriate welcome to the island. These folks, their neighbours, their families have all made us feel most welcome to their cities, their countries, their neighbourhoods and most importantly to their homes. We feel most fortunate to have met these homeowners and delighted that we helped make their holiday/vacation enjoyable knowing their home and/or pets are well cared for.
With thanks to Keith and Laurie.