How to Get a House-Sitting Gig (And Free Travel Lodging)

Sure, there's some work involved, but house-sitting is far cheaper than staying at a hotel.

Woman with laptop at poolside.

Depending on the home and its location, house-sitting isn't too shabby of a gig.

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Who is house-sitting for? House-sitting attracts all demographics, particularly mobile 20-somethings, but Cave says the biggest demographic by far is retired adults. "They're often homeowners themselves, or have been, so this is a good selling point when speaking to people whose homes they'll be looking after," Cave says. "They're also mature, presumably responsible and have a good amount of free time."

House-sitting is also popular among people who work from home, according to Cave. "People who work from home are there most days anyway, rather than sightseeing, and so looking after a cat or dog during those hours isn't a big strain and is often a welcome break," Cave says.

House-sitting is also for people who are flexible. "You're traveling on somebody else's schedule," Schneider says.

Good point. If you arrange to stay in someone's house because that person has a job assignment in another country for six months, but then that job falls through, the homeowner isn't going anywhere – and neither are you. Unlike a hotel, you can't ask the homeowner to put you in another room. You can, of course, try to find another house to sit for in a nearby or different location.

And because house-sitting is an unregulated industry in which strangers offer strangers their house in exchange for maintaining it and keeping it safe, and money generally doesn’t change hands, there aren’t a lot of rules governing it. At least, not yet.

Who is house-sitting not suited for? Conventional travelers. While house-sitting can make a vacation cheaper, you probably don't want to do it if you're going to be skipping from country to country for a few days at a time. If you have young kids and you want to show them the Parthenon, going with an old-fashioned hotel is still probably your best bet.

[See: Free Mobile Apps for Cheap Summer Travel.]

What can go wrong? Everything, but of course, one could say the same about staying at the wrong hotel or bed and breakfast. Schneider loves house-sitting – hence, the blog – but she admits she’s heard some horror stories, including homeowners who returned earlier than expected. Schneider says some house-sitters were surprised when a homeowner brought her ill husband back – and left him for them to care for while she continued on her travels. Some house-sitters have also had the homeowners' teenagers visit, staying at the house for a few days and then leaving.

But most house-sitting websites offer contracts, Schneider says, between the homeowner and house-sitter.

"One of our criteria is that no construction will be going on while we're there, and no family members are going to be there, either," Schneider says. "That's why a contract is important. You make your expectations clear upfront."

And could you wind up house sitting in a dump? Or staying in a really average, boring home? Smith says she and Thompson have house-sat in a few nondescript accommodations, like a flat in London, but generally, it's hard to be surprised by a home that turns out to be subpar.

"You get to see the photos first," Smith says, "and we've found that if people can afford to go away for two or three weeks at a time, they tend to have fairly nice houses."