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House-sitting – another way to travel – a solo travel report

by Marge Kelley, 24th April 2005

When your flat is too small to offer as a home exchange, what do you do? Offer your services as a house sitter instead! Solo traveler, Marge Kelley, has had success and ‘un-success’ with her house sitting assignments in England and Canada. Find out how she made house sitting work for her.

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The idea of house-exchanging has always intrigued me, but I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment. The thought of readying it for someone else to live in strikes panic in my very being. Making room for him/her/them would be almost as bad as moving. Would someone else treasure my tiny, one-person space, its proximity to good transportation, and its location within walking distance of the best gourmet food shop in my big city?

Anyway, most of the exchange ads I read want a house, and many want enough space for a family. So, although I know several people who regularly do house exchanges, I have never got around to going in that direction myself.

Recently, I decided that perhaps house-sitting might make more sense for me. In the past two years, I have checked out several possibilities and have had two house-sitting gigs, one in England and one in British Columbia. Both were arranged with friends, a distinct advantage.

House-sitting for Friends
My gig in England was in a tiny village in Buckinghamshire, a short distance northwest of London. Even the address was romantic – Rectory Cottage, Church Lane, St Stephen’s on the Marsh. The cottage was a delight, two hundred years old with whitewashed walls, once occupied by, as its name implies, the rector. The village was picture postcard perfect – pubs, a tearoom, a church, and a pond with swans. I spent my week there reading, exploring the village, walking along the footpath by the river to the next village, and sightseeing in the area, courtesy of my hostess’s friends.

The British Columbia gig was in a small town on Vancouver Island, had two cats in the package, and was for a month. I went with the idea of having a complete change from big city to small town living and, thanks to my hostess, was able to do so. Unfortunately, the cats didn’t like me, but we worked out a compromise – I fed them and issued the invitation to join me in front of the fire in the evenings; they declined, so we each did our own thing. I learned the charms of a small town, how to navigate a bus system where the buses run only once an hour. I spent hours curled up on the sofa reading. My hostess had introduced me to a friend of hers, and we did some things together. I used the local public library, took aquafit classes at the pool, and joined with a weekly walking group. When I tired of tailoring my comings and goings to the once-an-hour bus, I rented a car and set off to explore the area. I had a brunch for some friends who had moved from the East. A friend, another Connecting member, came over from Vancouver to spend a few days with me.

Success Stories
These are the success stories. In thinking back over the successful house-sitting gigs, I realize that there are several things which led to their success:
• Both houses belonged to friends.
• I was able to be in the house for briefings before the owner left.
• The owner thoughtfully introduced me to a friend or neighbor.
• The owner left a folder of maps, attractions in the area, restaurant suggestions, etc.
• I went with the idea of seeing a new place and spending my time in that place, not just using it as a base for touring.
• Before the owner left, I made a verbal arrangement with them regarding telephone bills, household supplies, etc.
• I left a thankyou gift to show my appreciation.

Un-Success Stories
The unsuccessful ones were places where I answered an ad, then went to visit the locale and discovered that it was not at all suitable for me. While traveling in England I went to see two possible house-sitting places. The main problem with both was the lack of convenient public transportation. A car would have been necessary, and I have no desire to drive in England.

Questions to Ask
What did I learn from the gigs I didn’t take? I now know what is necessary for me to have a satisfying experience, and I now know what questions to ask.

• Is a car necessary?
• Is there a good public transportation system? How long does it take to walk to the bus stop or train station? How often do the buses or trains run?
• If the house is not right in a town or city, how long does it take to walk into the town or city?
• Is there a grocery store within walking distance?
• Is there a library? A pool?
• Are there community activities that I could participate in?
• Are there good walking areas nearby?
• May I entertain and/or have a house guest?
• What chores need doing? Pets, garden, indoor plants?

Communication
I would also exchange emails and telephone calls with prospective house owners, and arrange to go to the locale in advance of the owner’s departure.

About the author: Marge Kelley

Marge Kelley is a retired teacher/librarian, now writer, living in the wonderful city of Toronto, who loves to travel and especially loves exploring new places through the adventure of house sitting.