The delights (& challenges) of pet sitting: Austin SXSW Edition

Liam Beauchamp

So, you've found a perfect house sit in a tropical destination and it won't be long before you leave the cold European or American winter behind. But have you considered what it's like to live in your dream tropical location? Have you checked the seasonal temperatures, rainfall and humidity in your piece of paradise?

Living in the tropics can be very different to a short vacation, where air conditioning and pest control are permanent features. When all you have to think about is getting from your hotel room to the beach and back!

Here we help you prepare for house sitting in tropical climates, so you'll have the best possible experience with no surprises!

Humidity is a home's worst enemy

High humidity results in constant dampness and moisture in the air. Wood starts to rot, metal rusts, and mould appears just about anywhere if not kept in check. Mould is not a result of unclean living, it's an inevitable downside of the tropical lifestyle, especially during the rainy seasons.

It's important to keep air circulating around the home. Fans are not very costly to run and windows and doors can be left open to allow draughts to flow through the home. Just make sure open windows and doors are locked or secured in place to avoid broken panes during windier weather.

Leave cupboard doors open on a regular basis to help prevent internal mould from forming on inside panels, shelving, and contents.

Talk to your home owners and listen to their instructions - some are happy to run air-conditioners or humidifiers, but for others the expense is too high, so you'll need to abide by their alternative recommendations.

Keeping your clothes dry both when wearing and after washing can be a real challenge too. Direct sun helps but don't leave clothes hanging out once the sun goes down, or they'll quickly become damp again!

Air beds and bed-linen and even put pillows in the hot direct sun to dry them after humid nights.

Are you comfortable with creepy crawlies!?

When vacationing in the tropics, hotels spray pesticides to keep the insects and mosquitoes at bay. Some home owners follow suit and have their homes periodically "debugged", but others, less comfortable with the over-use of chemicals, are happy to live alongside them.

Ants are attracted to any food remnants and trails of tiny sugar ants can be difficult to eradicate. Keep worktops clear of food and sugary liquids. Keep bins clean and food scraps bagged to avoid attracting unwanted bugs to the waste areas.  Maintain a clean kitchen and bathroom and you'll probably have minimal problems.

Tiny weevils love flour, rice, pasta and dried pulses etc. Store these food products inside plastic or metal boxes with close fitting lids. Often these items will be stored in the refrigerator in the cool where weevils can't hatch.

Cockroaches are pretty inevitable in the tropics, unless the drains are sprayed with pesticides. They aren't pleasant, but they generally only come out at night and love the dark, so you might not ever see them, unless you're a frequent visitor to the bathroom. Cockroach "bait traps" are commonly found and seem to be very effective. You may find drain covers too in showers and bathrooms - remember to put them back after showering.

Depending on the area and season you may or may not be bothered with mosquitoes, midges, no-see-ums and sand flies. However, it's good to come prepared. Mosquito nets, lotions and various plants can help. Don’t forget mosquitoes like stagnant water, so look for saucers full of water under pots, and puddles that aren't drained if you are inundated. Eliminate all sources of infestation.

Termites are incessant wood eaters and can attack floors, staircases, and even the framework of the house. You'll no doubt be told if there is a termite problem close to the property, but if you notice piles or trails of sawdust it's time to take some action.

Other common insects include wasps, hornets and spiders of all sizes. If you can get used to spiders, geckos and other tropical critters, they massively help keep down the mosquito and bug problems.

Geckos are also regular guests in tropical homes leaving their tiny droppings in the most unexpected places. Unwelcome pests for some, but on the whole we've found humans and geckos happily co-exist.

Snakes and rodents can appear from time to time, but both are generally wary of humans and will disappear once spotted. It's a good idea to use a torch though when walking in unlit areas during the evenings.

Many of these critters make sounds that can either endear you to the tropics or drive you crazy - especially if you are a light sleeper. Frogs, geckos and cicadas can create sounds that for us are an integral part of tropical living. For instance, waking up in the Panamanian jungle to the sound of howler monkeys is a special experience and one that we personally love!

The rainy season

Many expat home owners leave their homes during the wet season which may involve a time of hurricanes or cyclones. If this is a concern, talk to the home owner about any precautions that might need to be taken. For instance, storm shutters might need fixing to windows and doors, or you might need to consider evacuation procedures for you and the pets. 

Tropical rain can be quite spectacular in its intensity, so it's important to check for leaks. Keep buckets on hand to collect any incoming water. Be alert to flash flooding and check the swimming pool doesn't overflow (in absence of an automatic pump). Check that the drains aren't blocked by plant debris torn lose by strong winds.

Again, communication with the home owners is key to these situations being handled with confidence.

Once the rain subsides, mop excess water and check for damage. Humidity levels will increase, so get the fans on and the windows open (weather permitting) to air the home and dry it as much as possible. Open cupboard doors and wardrobes too.

Where there is a swimming pool, take regular samples of water, as heavy rainfall can upset the chemical balance and also bring about unwanted algae. You may need to adjust chemicals or contact your pool person.

Research to be ready!

Most house sitters use internet nowadays and so it's easy to do your research and be prepared. Before calling the home owner about a simple matter that you haven't talked through with them, check online or talk to neighbours.

Be sure a tropical lifestyle is for you

If you can prepare for the issues mentioned above then house sitting in the tropics will provide you with an awesome and enriching experience.

Vanessa Anderson and her partner Ian Usher, are full-time international house sitters, TrustedHousesitter Ambassadors and publishers ofHouse Sitting – The Ultimate Lifestyle Magazine. They have been travelling the world continuously since 2013. Having sold their homes in the UK, they prefer the freedom to house sit and explore the world, living as locals for extended periods in different countries.

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