House-sitting is a growing travel trend that matches responsible holiday-makers with vacant homes, or with pets that need looking after in their own homes while their owners are out of town. It’s becoming the go-to budget option for travellers who want more freedom than they’d necessarily get from a hotel or holiday let.

It’s ideal if you’re retired, as it offers a cost-effective option for travel, where you can live like a local. In return for a free place to stay you’ll be expected to look after the house, and may be needed to take on tasks such as dog walking. The homeowner can relax, knowing that their ‘lived-in’ home is less likely to attract intruders while they’re away, and their pets and plants will be well looked after.

Typically, these are mutually beneficial arrangements, where there is no charge for either homeowner or house-sitter. For longer stays, homeowners may charge for household bills, and a security deposit may be required. Some house-sitting websites also charge an annual registration fee.

How house-sitting works

After email introductions, you’ll more than likely have a video call to ‘meet’ the owners, and their pets, if you’re pet-sitting. You can discuss what’s needed and the details, and it will give you the opportunity to ask questions too. Naturally, the owners will want you to feel comfortable, and likewise you should feel at home for the duration of your stay, leaving it in the same condition as when you arrived.

How long can I house-sit for?

Every adventure is different, and opportunities can vary from a weekend break to several months while the homeowner is away. If you’re new to house-sitting, you might want to start with a shorter break to get a feel for the responsibility of staying in someone else's house. And a weekend would still give you plenty of time to explore your new surroundings, or just enjoy a change of scenery from your own pad. Longer stays allow you to really immerse yourself in the neighbourhood and you’ll have the opportunity to explore and appreciate the area far more than if you were on a traditional holiday. It’s also a great way to ‘test the water’ and try out a new town or city if you’re thinking about moving there.

Perfect for independents

House-sitting and pet-sitting will allow you to ‘look through the keyhole’ at an alternative way of life, in a completely different place, with little commitment and without breaking the bank. Offering so much more freedom than staying in a hotel or B&B, it’s an adventure with home comforts thrown in.

Getting started with house-sitting

Perhaps you have a childhood dream of pottering around a castle in Scotland, or escaping to a traditional fisherman’s cottage in Cornwall. If you’re flexible on dates, there are a host of options available. Not only will you save money by slashing your accommodation expenses, you’ll be able to whip up your favourite meals in someone else’s kitchen.

Before you dive in, consider offering your services to a neighbour or friend in order to get a feel for the duties involved. References are important so look for ways that you can build these up. With at least one good house-sitting reference under your belt, you’ll begin to build a trustworthy profile.

Create a profile

There are plenty of websites that match owners and sitters, including trustedhousesitters.com, housesittersuk.co.uk, mindmyhouse.com and mindahome.co.uk.

Experienced travel writer and journalist, Andrew Forbes, has stayed all over the world as a house-sitter. “It gives people the opportunity to live a normal life whilst exploring a new destination.”

He advises starting with somewhere close to home to build confidence and endorsements on your profile. A high number of member recommendations will make you more desirable.

“It’s best to get as many professional sitting (or character) references on your profile as possible, to build your reputation as a trusted house-sitter. A friendly profile photo helps, too.”

A house-sitting arrangement between strangers requires a high level of trust, especially if you’re just starting out. Andrew recommends enthusiasm and attention to detail in your listing, as this indicates you’re taking the opportunity seriously and will be just as considerate as a house guest.

Pampered pets

Many listings on house-sitting sites are from animal owners looking for responsible minders to stay in their homes while they’re away. In exchange for free accommodation, you’re being asked to take care of someone’s worldly possessions and their beloved fur (or feathered) babies. Pets are creatures of habit and prefer their regular routine – but busy, inexperienced neighbours or family members may not be able to commit to the task. Therefore, many pet owners are happy to share their homes in return for their pets being regularly fed, walked and loved.

Home comforts

House-sitting is a great way to explore the world. With hundreds of properties to choose from, your new neighbourhood could be a star-studded postcode in central London or a remote farm in the Lake District. You can also find opportunities abroad. See who is looking for a house-sitter and you could soon be planning a city break, a trip to the countryside or a weekend on the coast.

Of course, there may be teething problems, such as remembering where the plates are kept, figuring out how the oven works, and locating the bathroom in the middle of the night without stubbing a toe, but you’ll soon feel at home. And the feeling you’ll get from waking up with a new view from your bedroom window, without the usual accommodation costs, is hard to beat.