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Don’t Mind My House; I’d Rather Mind Yours

by Melissa Lilly

My husband and I have lived in Vegas for 10 years. We are both happily retired. All of our children and pets are now grown and gone. Our condo in the Las Vegas Country Club is 3 blocks from the Strip and 15 minutes from McCarran airport. It’s an affordable place to live on a […]

My husband and I have lived in Vegas for 10 years. We are both happily retired. All of our children and pets are now grown and gone. Our condo in the Las Vegas Country Club is 3 blocks from the Strip and 15 minutes from McCarran airport. It’s an affordable place to live on a fixed income and there is always something to do.

But after two or three weeks at home, we both begin to get itchy feet that want to wander. We are blessed with American Airlines benefits that allow us to fly standby. And so we begin to search the Mind My House website for our next great adventure.

We like to travel world wide, living as much like locals as possible. We have tried the time-share approach to discovering new places for the past 15 years. And while it is convenient to have a kitchen and explore the local markets, time-shares still provide shelter with other tourists trying to find an authentic experience. Our most recent time-share in Capri, Italy involved getting out early before the herds of day-trippers arrived on the first ferry from Naples or Sorrento. By sunset, the island became calm again, and I thank my lucky stars that I never have to book with a group tour again.

Traveling makes me feel alive! Adapting to new living arrangements activates my brain. Learning to communicate with an owner’s dog or cat is a challenge and a joy.
To tell the truth, I would much rather mind your house than stay at home in mine.

It was my adult daughter who discovered as she was desperately looking for affordable housing in the Bay Area between moving to a new apartment. For over two years, she begged me to pay the twenty-dollar fee to be a house sitter. I waited until I finally retired to have a go at staying in someone’s home for free, usually responsible for walking a dog, scooping cat litter or watering plants. Once this yearly nominal fee is paid, no more money is paid or due to the home owners.

There are several house sit matching sites out there. House Carers was the first establish in 2000. The largest international site is Trusted House Sitter, which is also the most expensive at $ 119.00a year. Nomador, which was started in France, focuses on European housesit for $89.00 a year. House Sit Mexico is growing due to the number of expatriots that have moved there for retirement. Australia has more house sit sited specific to that country than any other. A good resource for longer housesit, as Aussies seem travel for longer vacations, is

I have had many successful house sitting experiences with The search online is the beginning of the adventure. Each day I receive fresh listings sent out by the Mind My House site. It’s like shopping for a complimentary vacation. Usually there are pictures of pets, and hopefully some shots of the owner’s home. Our prettiest home was a five bedroom, four bathroom house facing the beach in Princeville, Kauai with the Four Seasons Resort Golf Course for our backyard. We stayed there for two months with a Highlander SUV included, although we were not allowed to drive the Mini-Cooper in the three-car garage that housed other toys like a sail boat, kayaks, surf and paddle boards. We watched two Australian shepherds.

Another beauty was a three-story house in Winterthur, Switzerland, twenty minutes by train from Zurich. The house was gutted and renovated by the owners- two Swiss architects. It had a cat door for a sweet Siamese cat who fished daily in the lily pond. It was an easy house to enjoy until the owner installed a worm farm for fertilizer in the basement. When we returned a year later, guess who had to feed the worms?

Some of the listings on just have to make you laugh out loud. Here are three real examples taken directly from the site:

1) Looking for someone who is not afraid to watch an old stone farm-
house over the winter in France, with animals to feed like 3 pigs,
3 sheep, 10 chickens, 3 dogs, 3 cats and bees. Better for a couple…
or possibly two. We would accept a small family to pick the kiwis
from the trees and store them…make jams, plant a few new fruit
trees after going to the local festival to get the trees. Sometimes
the electricity can jump so make sure the freezer stays safe.

2) A single or couple who genuinely loves animals who love attention.
Responsibilities include feeding the horses twice a day, checking all
is ok with them and the leaky water troughs. Some chain sawing
and wood chopping for the Canadian Coonara wood fire (?)
I would prefer it if you don’t eat the animals while you are here.
It’s a vibe thing to me.

3) Pets need a slave to look after them. Apply now.

That last listing was from Hertfordshire; U.K. where I’m pretty sure slavery is abolished. You just can’t make this stuff up! Searching for the best house can be fun.

Replying to an owner can be simple or complicated, as we try our best to make the house sit a good fit for all concerned. We chat and type and send references and pictures to build up a long distance relationship. Usually we Skype. No two situations are the same with house sitting. But basically in the end we agree to trust one another. It is the owners that place their most precious possessions into strangers’ hands. They are the most trusting. And we sitters also agree in good faith to stay in a safe and hopefully clean place, ensuring all is well while they travel.

Our first pet sit was five years ago with two beagle pups in Oakland, California. We didn’t know then that the first thing to ask about is the safety of the community.
When the owner handed over the house keys, she said, “You may hear something at night.” I thought she meant street noise from the bus route. She meant gunshots.
Of course, we survived. And so did the beagles and the houseplants and garden.

We have become real pros at picking great houses to mind since then. We have been to Montreal in a hip neighborhood with a vegetable garden that the squirrels ate.
We have stayed in a four bedroom house in Malibu with a large swimming pool and a tiny toy poodle named Samson who would wait to be invited to cuddle on my lap, but who was fierce enough to kill a rat in the vineyard.

Speaking of rats, there was one unforgettable home on Duncan’s Beach in Jamaica. The tiny calico cat brought a decapitated rat into our bed in the middle of the night. The house was a stone’s throw from the local fishermen’s beach, halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. It was a simple wood structure with a large verandah.

I washed clothes with the luxury of a washing machine that sang a mechanical tune when the cycle was completed, sounding like the ice cream truck melody back home. I hung the clothes on the line remembering my childhood game of running under damp sheets in the summer sun. All the clothes dried and were folded and put away long before the “bleaky” rains and trade winds began to pick up.

That night the sky over the Caribbean Sea turned green. Lightning drove long jagged bolts of white energy into the water, as if to electrocute the fishes. Birds flew frantically to find shelter, the wet cat glowered and refused food, and the dog jumped into bed with me. It was a storm trough over the North coast of Jamaica.

Thankfully, it was not a hurricane, but a storm strong enough to knock out the wifi. So instead of emails to the U.S., I was rained in and writing about the experience of coming to Jamaica to live the third world life like a local in the village of Duncans.

In Jamaica there is a saying: “One step forward, two step back.” We had met a Chinese Jamaican-American who was trying to get a washing machine part for a hospital of 125 beds with soiled linen and no washing machine. Imagine two very tired nurses washing yards and yards of dirty sheets and towels and bloody bandages by hand. I’m sure they hung the laundry out to dry before the storm arrived, only to gather wet sheets back into the hospital as the sky turned green.

That morning I turned green. I woke up at 5 am to the sound of the calico cat, Flo, about to throw up on the bed. The cat made retching sounds in the darkness beside me. “Damn”, I thought to myself as I got up to get towels from the kitchen. When I stumbled still half asleep back to turn on the bedroom light, I saw the body of a headless rat. Its tail was 5 or 6 inches long. It seemed much too big to have possibly come out of a little cat stomach. It lay in a pool of cherry red blood on the clean white sheets.

I hurried back to the kitchen, grabbed an empty plastic yogurt container and more towels. Back in the bedroom, I scooped the body of the rat into the container, trying not to retch myself, as the cat had done. The rat went into the plastic garbage bag in the kitchen, then out to the blue plastic bin by the side of the road, smelling of rat.
I gathered up the bloody sheets, saying a prayer of thanks for the washing machine.

We ended up cutting that two month long housesit short with the owner’s blessing because of the epidemic of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus and no screens or AC. Sometimes, it just feels so good to be home again; safe and sound in your own bed… until the next fascinating Mind My House appears, and itchy feet long to travel again.

If you are interested in this way of travel, check out House Sitting Magazine. There is even a House Sitting Academy that can help get you started on your first house sit.

Melissa Lilly

About the author: Melissa Lilly

Melissa Lilly is a freelance travel writer who lives near McCarren Airport in Las Vegas so that she can hop on a flight whenever and wherever a mindmyhouse offer strikes her fancy. A retired performing arts high school Theatre teacher, she's having the best travel time of her life!