All Posts by Ian Usher

A change is as good as a rest

December 2019

We were invited to arrive at our current house sit in Yorkshire the night before our home owners departed for New Zealand. It's nice to have plenty of time for a thorough handover, but it's also lovely to be invited for a cozy dinner. We had plenty of time to chat with our hosts, and had a very enjoyable evening, getting to know them and Picola the cat.

The conversation covered a wide range of topics, including, of course, house sitting and the range of lifestyle possibilities it can offer.

As many of you know, Vanessa and I are full-time house sitters. We have no home base and very few possessions. We often book sits back-to-back, while occasionally scheduling breaks between sits for our own travel adventures.

One common question which almost always comes up in any house sitting conversation is, "So, how long do you think you'll continue to live like this? Do you have any plans to settle down?"

In our mid-50s, we see many years ahead of this lifestyle of freedom, and when we check in with each other once in a while, neither of us has yet expressed a desire to settle.

So, our hosts wondered, what is it about this transient lifestyle that we find so appealing?

For me there are several possible answers:

  • seeing new places
  • meeting new people
  • spending time "at home" somewhere new
  • caring for a wide variety of animals
  • an on-going life of travel
  • a satisfyingly minimalist approach to life
  • lower living costs
  • a sense of adventure

It's quite a list of positives.

But for both Vanessa and myself, we feel many of these reasons boil down to one succinct reality...

We both thrive on change.

The Shambles, York City, UK

The Shambles, York City, UK

What's our ideal length of sit?

Over a period of a year, Sept 2018 to August 2019, we took on the challenge of achieving 52 house sits in 52 weeks. We really enjoyed the constant change, the new places, the range of wonderful animals we met. But towards the end of the year we were a little tired of the endless packing and unpacking of our little van.

Conclusion: 1 week sits (or less) - a little too short

For a couple of years before that we took on fewer longer sits, sometimes as long as three months. Often we were keen to move on to new adventures before the sit came to an end, although it was great to settle in to an area, get to know some of the neighbours, and really feel "at home".

Conclusion: 3 month sits - a little too long

At the moment we're finding our perfect "Goldilocks" sit - not too short, not too long, but just right - to be somewhere around 5 or 6 weeks.

We're here in North Yorkshire for 5 weeks, and we've already been over to the local community hub, and the local pub, which at two doors away is a little too convenient! The budget is taking a bit of a hit!

We'll be here over Christmas and New Year, and we're close enough to my home town that my mum will be able to come and celebrate Christmas with us - with the pre-arranged consent of the home owners, of course.

By early January we'll be ready to move on to the next part of the adventure. That part is planned and set, but plans from March onward were loose, with our only booked commitment in June/July.

Living life like this, embracing changes when they come, does mean that you have to have a very flexible approach to future plans.

So often we think we have everything mapped out, then something else comes along, and we dive in to re-jig everything to come up with a new plan.

For example, during this couple of months of UK winter we had planned to buy a large van and begin the process of converting it to a campervan. Our plans was to spend much of the rest of the year in the camper in the UK and Europe.

But about a month ago Vanessa spotted a 3 to 4 week house sit in Brooklyn, New York, listed on Trusted Housesitters. We've always said if an opportunity to spend time in New York came up we'd take it.

Brooklyn Bridge, New York, USA

So Vanessa fired off an application as quickly as possible, and after a Skype chat, we secured the sit. It all happened very quickly, and we had to once again re-assess our plans once we had made the commitment.

Maybe we could stay in the States afterwards for a further 3 weeks, which would take us right through to our 6-week repeat sit in the Caribbean, on the beautiful island of St. Vincent.

After lots of hunting through different flight options and routes we had a new plan. Norwegian Air could get us direct from London to New York in April for less than GBP £165 each. We found a direct flight from there to St. Vincent in June, which was a bargain too. And a return to the UK from New York in August was a further £165 each, thanks again to Norwegian Air!

The only piece of the travel jigsaw currently missing is getting back from the Caribbean to New York. We're looking at options to spend a few days in-between sits in Trinidad & Tobago.

The flights we've booked will probably work out cheaper than simply flying from London to the Caribbean, which was our original plan. We've managed to add on a 3-week New York sit, and 3 weeks of travel time in the States at no further cost. What a win!

It's amazing, and thrilling, how quickly plans can change like this.

I think that is my best answer to the "what do you like about this lifestyle?" question - It's the wonderful and exciting unpredictability of the future.

Live life as an adventure

I've always believed that life is meant to be lived as an adventure, and house sitting helps make this true for us.

Of course, our campervan project has to be put on hold until we come back to England in early August. But it will be much easier to do the conversion over the summer months, instead of in the depths of winter.

Once the conversion is complete we'll head south into Europe, hopefully to find somewhere a little warmer to spend the winter than this year.

Well, that's the plan for now...

Best wishes, and Merry Christmas,

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in North Yorkshire, England)

  • December 15, 2019

We pulled it off…

October 2019

Well it finally happened, the first ever House & Pet Sitting Conference came into being over a gloriously warm and sunny September weekend, on the outskirts of Swindon in the UK. Both newcomers and seasoned sitters converged to listen to over 20 experienced house sitting travelers talk about the house sitting lifestyle.

Was it a success? You bet it was!

After many months of work (and our fair share of setbacks), it all finally came together and exceeded all our expectations. We’ve had very favorable feedback, so it seems on the whole that our delegates, sponsors, speakers and volunteers (pictures below), also had a great time.

What impressed us most?

Apart from the amazing contributions from everyone involved, I think the biggest factor to emerge in the post-show reviews was the power of so many like-minded travelers and house sitters coming together in one place. The power of sharing stories, advice and inspiration in a “real” environment shone through.

A HUGE THANK-YOU TO EVERYONE WHO HELPED, ADVISED, PARTICIPATED, CONTRIBUTED AND ATTENDED – YOU ALL MADE THIS THE SUCCESS IT WAS!

In a world of increasing “digital” contact, and in what can be a lonely travel lifestyle when constantly on the move, creating a space for us all to be together appeared to be a definite highlight of the weekend.

The Final Countdown

Our repeat sit in London finished a week before the conference opened its doors, and so we headed to the sanctuary of house sitting friends, Kate & Simon (Terrific Sitters) in Marlborough. This was when it really hit us – this event was actually going to happen… and in just a few short days!

In the conference “hub” upstairs we found a number of parcels waiting to be opened. They contained sponsor products, merchandise, printed posters, lanyards, a selfie frame … and we were a bit like kids on Christmas morning as we inspected the contents of each box. 

Work began in earnest, printing and preparing signage, tickets and itineraries, organizing the raffle prizes, preparing for the networking dinner, putting together table plans, and uploading the final slide presentations into SlideDog (the software used to manage all speaker material and interlude videos).

Then messages began to arrive from speakers and volunteers, and we knew we were at the point of no return.

Delays and last minute changes in the schedule meant Ian and I were still both avidly practicing newly compiled talks and producing the accompanying slides, in-between the other demands of the pre-show organization.

We really couldn’t have done it without Simon and Kate who kept us sane throughout the week and made sure we (and all our gear) got to the hotel in time for the first pre-show meet-up on Thursday. They helped us be as prepared as we could possibly be.

Our community, working together

This first event really was a coming together of the house sitting community, a whole team of people who helped make it happen. Neither Ian nor I had previous experience of running a conference, so everything had been a steep learning curve.

We were (and are) so grateful to have been able to pull on the collective knowledge of our house sit “colleagues”, who together solved a number of problems we encountered once we arrived at the hotel.

You can read more about that in the next article… about how “house sitting teamwork” saved the day, and as told by Allen Trottier of Reliable Housesitters (sponsor, speaker and techie genius!).

Our original intent was to use some of the speakers and delegates (who generously offered their extra time), to help with the many “volunteer” jobs needed to keep the show on the road! But we were blessed by the generosity of two couples, Brooke & Buddy (TrailingAway.com), and George & Michelle (TheRealHousesitters.com), who appeared like angels, and dedicated all their time at the conference as “crew”.

This meant that, apart from the techie guys, most others were able to simply relax and enjoy the presentations, dipping in with help as and when needed at registration and breaks. It really was a demonstration of the adaptability and flexibility of house sitter skill-sets.

Talking of crew… they were all very easily noticeable thanks to the fabulous T-shirts designed and organized by Michelle McDines – known to many as The Happy House Sitter.

Michelle contributed 2 talks at the conference, stepping up when we needed to fill a gap, and she was the creator of the fun and innovative “Sit or No Sit” interactive presentation!

And so it began…

… and the first House & Pet Sitting Conference came into being. Although at the start we were tired, weary and worried about how things would be, almost everything went to plan. I don’t think there was a speaker among us without some nervousness, but everyone excelled.

The networking breaks were a great success, with lots of people finally meeting after years of knowing each other digitally, and the food was better than we had anticipated!

Of course there were hiccups, that’s inevitable with first events with no fall-back budget, and I’m sure with more people and relevant skills there would have been some things done better.

But we are proud of what we pulled off, and happy that so many people enjoyed being a part of this first event, helping to make it the success that it clearly was.

And among a number of us staying on at the hotel on the Sunday night, we seemed to have earned a reputation as gin drinkers… the G&Ts just kept appearing in our glasses until we finally made it to bed! So thanks everyone who helped with our post show R&R – it was the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend!

A different perspective

If you’d like to get another perspective on the event as it unfolded, take a read of Lamia’s (HouseSitMatch) diary of the two days here: 
https://www.housesitmatch.com/blog/housesitting-conference-photo-diary-21-22-september-2019/

Would you like to see what we saw?

We know that many of you were unable to attend because of prior house sitting engagements, but some will have got a taste of the weekend as our “Roving Reporter”, Jodie Burnham (Roaming Income) went live on our Facebook page.

But it was thanks to the amazing technical team of Ian, Allen, Philippe, Buddy and George, that we were able to video all of the event. In fact, the reason I’m writing this month’s “welcome” is because Ian is currently editing all of the content – it’s a long process when you have 3 camera angles and a dedicated audio track! The great news is it will be available for you to watch from the comfort of your home or house sit!

Not only will you get to see all the educational sessions, you’ll have access to all the talks from experienced international house sitters, travelers, and life coaches; you’ll be able to watch all the inspirational house sitter videos; and see the Q&A session with our sponsors.

This event really wasn’t just about house sitting, it was as much about lifestyle and how to sustain and fund your unique version of independent travel or retirement with the help of house sitting.

If you’d like to watch the conference (at a low introductory price for magazine subscribers), you’ll find more information here:

https://HouseSittingMagazine.com/HPSCVideos

And, while we are still loading up the videos for the final two sessions, you’ll also get three of our online video courses included as an extra bonus – everything you’ll need to get you underway with the house sitting lifestyle.

That’s not going to be for much longer though! The price will increase and the courses will revert to their individual prices, the moment the last video is uploaded.

On reflection

There was a lot of talk at the conference about making life choices, stepping into your “courage zone”, and living a life of freedom that removes the stress and anxiety of 9-5 “normal” routines.

So it was a bit of a surprise maybe for some when Ian talked about feeling a little bit of a “fraud” towards the end of the weekend. We ourselves have struggled this year, falling back into tortuous work routines, overstretching ourselves, and losing touch with the freedom of life we’d previously created.

This hasn’t been an easy year for us – losing my dad after 6 long years of illness, taking on the challenge (and succeeding with) “52 sits in 52 weeks”, and the responsibility of preparing for this event, the first House & Pet Sitting Conference, have all taken their toll.

Unexpected situations created unexpected stresses, and our time since the conference has also been a time for reflection. This year has been a stark reminder of how easily life can change, in ways we least expect.

So we’ve taken the time to reassess our needs, our expectations and how we want to move forward with our own freedom lifestyle. We’ve changed some of our earlier plans from this year – it’s an ongoing evolving process as always.

What we are clear about is that life will be kept simple for a while, with no major new challenges on the immediate horizon!

But more on that next time!

  • October 16, 2019

Back for more…

August 2019

Over the past year we’ve done many more repeat sits than we ever have before.

We’ve been trying to keep on track with our “52 house sits in 52 weeks” challenge, so we’ve been doing lots of shorter sits, many just over a weekend. Some of our home owners seem to take these short breaks quite often, and after a successful first assignment, we’re often invited back again.

There is a nice feeling of familiarity in returning to the same house, the same pets, the same routines. Handovers are much easier, and on several occasions we’ve just collected a key and let ourselves in after the home owners have left.

The pets seem to settle quickly too, and in most cases it seems like they remember us. This is easier to gauge with dogs rather than cats, of course, as most cats seem to exude a casual attitude of, “Oh, you’re back, are you?”

As we prepare to publish this issue of House Sitting Magazine we have returned to a house and menagerie of animals we looked after three years ago.

In fact, this was where we worked on publishing the very first issue of House Sitting Magazine. Here is the picture we posted of Hamish helping Vanessa with that first issue, in June of 2016.

I was really looking forward to coming back, as Hamish is such a fun little dog. He likes to tear around the house and garden with a toy, teasing us, wanting us to chase him.

And he just loves to run. Across the road from the house there is a disused railway line that is now a public bridleway and cycle track. We follow the track for a couple of miles in either direction, Hamish loping along tirelessly as I cycle beside him, just keeping pace with him.

In one direction there is a pub which serves great beer and very tasty fish’n’chips. We go that way more often than the other!

Back at the house Hamish is equally helpful as Vanessa works on this issue of the magazine. Here’s Hamish helping out with issue #27, three years after we first met him.

At this sit we also have a small flock of 14 sheep to monitor, two pigs to look after, plus a hamster and a couple of fish. However the pay-off is worth it. We have a swimming pool, a hot-tub, a tennis court, and a home cinema in a beautifully converted attic area.

Three years seem to have flown by since we were last here, but when we look back at all the places we have been, the animals we have looked after, the people we have met, and the homes we have lived in, we also seem to have squeezed a lot of life into that time too.

And we wouldn’t change any of it. House sitting really has helped us create and enjoy a wonderful lifestyle.

So if you’re on the fence, wondering if house sitting might be something you’d like to try, we hope to inspire you to jump in and give it a go. In fact, if it’s inspiration you’re looking for, we believe there is no better place to find it than the very first House & Pet Sitting Conference. It’s only a month away, and if you’re in or near the UK in late September, we encourage you to come along. Find out more here:

https://HouseAndPetSittingConference.com/

We hope you enjoy this issue of House Sitting Magazine.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in Droxford, Hampshire)

  • August 15, 2019

Planning for our next challenge!

June 2019

Our #52sits challenge is beginning to draw to a close… less than three months to go. Can we achieve our goal of squeezing 52 house sits into 52 weeks?

As I write we’re about half way through sit #44, a lovely repeat sit in Essex. We normally look after two friendly, easy-going black labs, but they are away on holiday with their owners in Cornwall. So this week our only real responsibility is to keep the fantastic heated swimming pool clean. We’re hoping for some sunny weather, so we can make the most of it.

Through spring, and now into summer we’ve tried to get out and about as much as possible on our bikes, but we kept running into the frustration of having to unpack almost everything from the van to get the bikes out.

Last month this prompted me to take a look at our vehicle, and the packing system we employ.

When we arrived in the UK last year we bought a Citroen Berlingo, a small car-derived van which is great on fuel (diesel), can carry lots of clothes to cover all UK seasons, and can also cope with a couple of bikes for use during the better weather.

Our original packing system involved putting the bikes in first – it’s a bit of a squeeze – then fitting everything else in around them. So getting the bikes out involves unpacking everything. Once the bikes are out, everything else has to go back in.

After our ride everything would have to come back out again, the bikes would get put back in, then everything packed carefully around them again.

Surely there’s a better way?

My new plan was to design some way of fitting the bikes down the centre, with our other stuff in boxes down the sides. Ideally, we would still be able to access all the boxes without getting the bikes out, but would also be able to get the bikes out without having to completely empty the van first!

Vanessa added an extra request if I planned some van re-modelling… could we have a little outdoor kitchen to make tea and coffee while out and about on our adventures?

So, keen to tackle my new task, on one of our longer sits I pulled everything out of the van and got to work with the measuring tape, and researched my purchase requirements on amazon.co.uk.

With a generous offer of two sheets of plywood from a friend of Vanessa’s mum, construction began. Our original carpet was removed, and a new wooden base put in place, I was ready to add in a small cabinet with a sliding drawer for a small cooker and water container.

Here’s Vanessa enjoying her van-made coffee, overlooking London from Greenwich Park, right by Greenwich Observatory.

Wooden guides now hold all our boxes in place, and also provide support for the bikes between the “kitchen” and the “storage area”. I was still having trouble with the two bikes catching together, as the pedals of one would get caught in the chain of the other, or handlebars would catch on seat posts or brake cables.

I had some further thinking to do. I bought a pair of folding pedals on Amazon, which I added to my bike. This now mean there is much less chance of the pedals catching. My final modification was to add a higher guide rail for the second bike, which means the handlebars clear the first bike completely, and the pedals fit in neatly.

It all works very well. We can get both bikes out quickly and easily whenever we fancy a ride. But we can also leave them in place and get out all the stuff we need for each house sit.

I’ve really enjoyed the simple project. It’s been quite a while since I tackled any real hands-on DIY… maybe you can tell from the pictures?

My success has inspired bigger dreams

For a while we have been considering adding a camper van into our lifestyle mix, but the prices of secondhand campers here in the UK is prohibitively expensive on our budget.

Maybe a better solution would be to create our own camper from a larger trade van, kitted out exactly as we would like, to make it suit our lifestyle?

Once again, I’ve thrown myself into research, watching many YouTube videos made by people who have done exactly this.

We’ve narrowed down our vehicle requirements to a few options. Sticking with Citroen, as we’ve been happy with our Berlingo, we could base our project on the Citroen Relay (called a Jumpy in Europe). This is the same vehicle as a Peugeot Boxer and a Fiat Ducato, so there are lots of second-hand options available. There are also similar sized vehicles from Ford and Vauxhall. VW and Mercedes are also possibilities, although usually at a higher price.

All of these offer high roof versions, tall enough to stand up in without having to hunch over.

So now it’s back to the drawing board…

  • How would we fit two bikes in?
  • Would we have a permanent bed, or one that converts to a table?
  • Do we create a “stealth” van that can be parked anywhere?
  • What about a solar system?
  • Where do the water tanks go?
  • How do we create a work area for our laptops?

It’s a big project, but one that we both feel very positive and excited about. And with so much info available in videos and blogs (and in this issue of House Sitting Magazine!) from people who have already done this, we’re confident that we can build a mobile home that is ideally suited to our travel and lifestyle requirements.

At the moment we try to make house sits fit together without large gaps in-between, so that we don’t have to spend too much on pricey hotels. With a fitted-out van we could schedule gaps between sits without worrying about where we’d stay. This would enable us to fit in more “between sits” travel and adventures.

We’ve been studying our current house sit commitments, and have a full summer of short sits. Then, of course, we have to factor in putting on the House & Pet Sitting Conference in September. After that we have a three week repeat sit in Wiltshire, followed by a month repeat in the south of Spain. So realistically we wouldn’t be able to begin this project until October or November.

The idea of another winter in England doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, particularly if it involves a lot of work outside on a van. However, it is probably the best option, as we’d be ready to travel by early spring, and this would really open the whole of Europe to us for 2020.

So, it’s an outline plan at the moment, and as is often the case, plans have to be flexible enough to incorporate unexpected opportunities, or simple changes of mind.

Maybe we’ll be joining the #vanlife crowd later this year.

At the moment we certainly hope so.

Best wishes,

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in Finchingfield, Essex, England)

  • June 16, 2019

A fresh perspective

April 2019

House sitting offers many great lifestyle choices.

You can apply for long sits on tropical islands, offer to look after homes in remote off-grid locations, or focus your efforts on securing city centre apartment sits.

Assignments are offered in many countries around the world, and often you can have too much choice about where to head for next.

Last year Vanessa and I decided to return to the UK for a year or so, perhaps longer, after both spending many years in other parts of the world. We wanted to spend a bit more time closer to family, and to catch up with old friends. With some big family occasions coming up, this seemed like the ideal time to return “home”.

It’s been a pleasant surprise over the past few months to find that house sitting has enabled us to see our own home country through completely fresh eyes.

We’ve been doing lots of short sits, and have looked after bigger homes in the countryside, cottages in small villages, regular homes in towns, and even a lovely flat by the river in London.

Each assignment has been unique, and many of them have been in places neither Vanessa or I have visited before.

We’ve had a wonderful array of pets to look after, including, of course, lots of dogs and cats, but also horses, chickens, ducks, sheep, goats and fish.

We’ve felt like tourists in our own country, and have really enjoyed the sense of discovery that comes each time we move to our next location.

I can’t say I was too enthusiastic about spending a chilly winter in England. After all, that was one of the reasons I emigrated to Australia back in 2001.

But winter is just about over now, and it has been quite a mild one, although we have had to build a more substantial wardrobe of clothes than we usually carry in more tropical destinations.

With the weather improving as we move into spring we’ve decided it’s time to get out and about a bit more, and to really start to explore.

So while in North Yorkshire at the start of April we became members of the National Trust, which manages all sorts of properties and countryside all across the UK.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Annual membership is GBP £120 (approx. USD $160), but you can opt to pay monthly at no extra cost, so our first month’s membership comes in at £10.

Our first National Trust visit was to the spectacular Yorkshire Dales destination, Brimham Rocks. I had been here as a child, but couldn’t remember it at all. We were both greatly impressed.

There’s no entry fee to visit the rocks, but car parking is £6 for up to 4 hours. However, as NT members, all NT car parking is now included as part of our membership.

Before we left our Yorkshire house sit we visited Fountains Abbey and Studley Water Gardens, picked simply because it was close to our house sit. We were both greatly impressed again!

The ruined abbey is huge, bigger than any other I have seen in England. And the water gardens nearby are sculpted to perfection, and very tranquil. As members our entry and parking are covered. If we’d just turned up as non-members we would have had to pay £16 each.

At our next sit, in Chippenham, Wiltshire, we spent an afternoon visiting the little village of Laycock, and the scenic Laycock Abbey, just a couple of miles from our house sit location.

Laycock is very picturesque, and has been used as a location for quite a few movies. A couple of the Harry Potter movies feature scenes filmed here. Harry’s parents’ house can be seen in the village, and Laycock Abbey doubled as the interior of Hogwarts in the first two movies.

Our membership saved us £4 for the carpark, and £14.50 each for entry to the abbey.

The upstairs part of the abbey was used as a country home for many years, and one of the most famous occupants was William Henry Fox Talbot, who lived there in the 1800s.

He is known as inventor of one of the first photographic processes, and a picture taken of one of the latticed windows at the abbey is believed to be the first ever photograph taken using techniques that are still used today for non-digital photography.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_photography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fox_Talbot

We took a picture of the same window, and for a short while had the most recent copy of a picture of the view captured by Talbot all those years ago, in the first photo ever taken.

So we’re only just over 2 weeks into our first month of membership, and our monthly tenner has saved us £71 so far. Not a bad deal at all.

I suspect we’re going to squeeze a lot of value out of the National Trust over the coming summer!

If you’re traveling or sitting in the UK for any length of time I’d suggest you do the same!

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

We hope you enjoy this issue of the magazine.

Ian and Vanessa(currently house sitting in Egham, Surrey, England)

Picture: Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

  • April 18, 2019

Courage, change, challenge… and a conference

February 2019

What would you give to be happy and free – to live how you want, on your own terms? Maybe you think it’s just not possible.

Well, you’d be wrong.It does, however, take courage to take on new challenges, to make changes to your life.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help, by inviting you to join us at the world’s first House & Pet Sitting Conference, where you’ll get to connect and network with others who are all living successful house sitting lifestyles.

Vanessa and I are no strangers to stepping out of our comfort zone. We believe life is richer when you challenge yourself to learn something new, to develop your skills and abilities, to scare yourself a little every now and then.

Last year, for example, as we transitioned between our final house sit in Australia, heading back to the UK, in we spent two weeks in Thailand learning how to sail, before heading to the Caribbean to sail down the chain of beautiful islands known as The Grenadines, in a chartered boat.This year we’re over halfway through our self-created challenge to complete 52 house sits in 52 weeks. We thought this would be a huge undertaking, but once started we’ve actually been finding it easier than we’d imagined it would be.

In fact, this is often the case with challenges that seem insurmountable at first glance. More often than not the secret to success is just to get started. Most people who fail to achieve their goals do so not because the goal was unachievable, but because they failed to even make a start.

Here at House Sitting Magazine, and in our House Sitting Magazine Facebook Group, the most common question we get is about how to get started as a house sitter. We’ve got plenty of articles that can help, and we also offer a video course on how to become a great house sitter.But nothing can match in-person inspiration in a conference setting to really motivate and help you achieve your dreams.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with Tim and Louise at House Sitting World to create the world’s first conference dedicated to the house sitting lifestyle.

Once again, we’re stepping outside our comfort zone, taking on a new big challenge, facing our fears. We’ve never run a conference before, and have a lot to learn.

And we invite you to come along and join us. Take on a new challenge for yourself, to learn and grow.

The conference is aimed at people interested in discovering more about house sitting, and wanting to know how it might fit in to their hopes and dreams for their future lifestyle. There will be lots too for those who have already begun their house sitting journey.

We aim to inspire, inform and educate.

Our goal is that you will leave at the end of the conference weekend with a much clearer picture of how and where house sitting might work for you, and a knowledge of exactly what steps you need to take next to move forwards towards the future you want to build for yourself.

You can find out more about the conference here, and if you’re quick you might be able to secure one of the few remaining 1/2 price “early bird” tickets:

https://HouseAndPetSittingConference.com

So if you are on the fence about house sitting, or worried that it won’t work for you, then you now have a choice:

1) You can come along to the House & Pet Sitting Conference, be inspired by those who’ve already won their freedom, and learn how to start making the changes that will catapult you towards yours,

or…

2) You can do nothing, and a year from now, nothing much will have changed for you. You’ll still be stuck in the same rut, trapped by the same mindset, insecurities and lack of financial freedom.

That’s because change requires action and an investment in yourself.

We believe that if you’re in the UK in September this year, the House & Pet Sitting Conference will be the most affordable and effective way to invest in your future lifestyle success.

We hope to see you there, and we look forward to facing new challenges together.

In the meantime, this issue is packed full of inspiration from first time house sitters! Take a read and see just how many people are benefiting from the house sitting lifestyle – when it’s done in the right way!Best wishes,

Ian and Vanessa

(currently on Sit #28 of our #52sits challenge, in Devon, England)

  • February 16, 2019

Win-win-win

December 2018

The end of another year is fast approaching, which often brings on a period of review and reflection.

  • How has your year been?
  • Did you achieve everything you hoped?
  • What are your plans for next year?

Once again, as Vanessa and I look back over the year we have enjoyed, and the lifestyle that house sitting has enabled us to create, we feel very fortunate.

A year filled with travel, adventure and fun

In January we bought a car in Australia and took a summer road trip through the southern part of Western Australia.

In March we enjoyed a bit of island-hopping in Thailand, and spent two weeks learning how to sail, gaining our Offshore Skipper qualifications. Then in August we chartered a yacht in the Caribbean, sailing together around the beautiful islands of St Vincent & The Grenadines…

… and these are just the travel adventures we have fitted in around some wonderful house sits in beautiful locations:

  • an olive grove in the beautiful Australian bush
  • a country farmhouse on the outskirts of a small English village
  • a hilltop house in St Vincent with a stunning view of the Caribbean
  • a cottage at the foot of the mountain ranges of North Wales
  • another olive grove in the south of Spain

By the end of December we will have completed 27 house sits in 2018!

What a year it has been!

And of course, it’s all thanks to house sitting.

Home owner liberation!

However, every house sitting story has more than one side, and we’ve spent a lot of time this year looking at how our home owners’ lives are improved by the house sitting exchange.

We were in Perth in Western Australia at the beginning of the year, where we we fulfilling a promise we had made to friends two years earlier. Looking after their house and pets allowed them to take a long-dreamed-of campervan vacation for 4 weeks in New Zealand.

Back in England in April, we looked after a country property for home owners new to the concept of house sitting. They enjoyed their holiday in Madeira, guilt-free, thrilled that their dogs could stay at home instead of being cooped up at a boarding kennel.

Our two sets of home owners in the Caribbean enjoyed trips back home to see friends and family in the UK, Germany and the States, delighted that their properties we occupied and secure, and the pets cared for.

After our sailing adventure in the Caribbean we returned to the UK in August, ready to take on a new challenge. We had set ourselves the goal of achieving 52 house sits over a period of 52 weeks. We had several reasons in mind for tackling such a big project.

Vanessa and I enjoy a challenge. And this idea sounded like it would be fun. We both like to embrace change. Moving on from one place to the next makes life feel like an ever on-going adventure. We have both enjoyed this aspect of our current challenge very much.

But we also knew that by taking on a lot of short house sits we would be able to help a lot of other people enjoy their own adventures and holidays.

And this is where we have found our 52sits journey to be so much more fulfilling than we had ever imagined it would be.

As I write this we are just beginning our 18th sit of (hopefully!) 52. Several of these sits have been for people who have never used house sitters before. Each of them have said that their lives have been changed by the experience.

All have spoken of a new-found freedom.

They can now post an assignment on a house sitting platform, choose a suitable sitter from the applicants, and go away on holiday, confident that all is being properly cared for back at home.

No longer trapped

One couple told us that they felt “trapped”, having built their lives around their pets – 4 dogs, several chickens, lots of fish, and a horse! Before they found out about house sitting, a break of a couple of days was they best they could ever manage… and this involved imposing on friends and family to look after the menagerie of animals.

We were their first sitters, and they were a little nervous about the whole idea. But when they returned to a clean house and happy pets they were over the moon. Plans have already been made for future holidays, and we have been booked for a repeat sit. It is so rewarding to be part of creating that sense of liberation for them.

One of our sits was for a couple heading off abroad for a beach wedding in The Canary Islands. The two dogs they owned would have meant this dream would have been impossible to achieve if they hadn’t discovered house sitting.

All our home owners, whether new to the concept, or old hands at the game, have been so positive about their experience with the house sit assignments they have listed, and about the sitters they have met. Some of our home owners have been using sitters for several years, and can’t imagine how they would manage without the freedom that using house sitters gives them.

Of course, there is also a third side to the house sitting exchange, as the pets benefit immeasurably by getting to stay in their homes and maintaining familiar routines.

We’ve found, without exception, that pets very quickly accept us as new temporary carers, and that by maintaining the regular daily patterns they are comfortable with, the stress of the home owner being away is kept to a bare minimum.

As we often say, house sitting is a win-win-win – house sitters, home owners and pets all benefit immensely for this exchange.

And over the course of a year, we’ll get to see this happy exchange of value 52 times.

Our challenge began this year on 1st September, so we’ll finish on 31st August 2019, one year later.

We hope you have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year, and we wish you the best for whatever goals you set for yourselves in the months ahead.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in Surrey, England)

  • December 16, 2018

52 house sits in 52 weeks

October 2018

  • Do you ever set goals for yourself?
  • Do you enjoy new challenges?
  • Do you welcome changes to your routine?

I think as house sitters, most of us probably do welcome changes and challenges. After all, settling for a period of time in a new house, with new pets, is an intrinsic part of our lifestyle choice.

Vanessa and I discuss this from time to time, and when looking at our past choices, we see that we are very similar. Before we met, Vanessa travelled extensively, and has lived in England, Wales, Spain and France. I too have travelled a lot, and have lived in England, Australia, Canada and Panama.

Ten years ago I had my “15 minutes of fame”, when, after a difficult divorce, I decided to list my “whole life” for sale on eBay. I made international headlines, and appeared on TV shows in the UK, USA, Australia and beyond.

In many of these interviews about why I was doing this, I was often asked what I would do once I sold my life.

My answer was that I could do anything I liked, as I would be completely free of all ties. I made a bucket list of 100 goals – things I had always wanted to do, people I wanted to meet, places I wanted to see. And on 3rd August 2008 I set off on a two year journey in an effort to achieve as many of these goals as I could.

I called my adventure “100 goals in 100 weeks”, and I blogged almost every day for those two years, and made lots of videos.

I ultimately achieved 94 of the 100 goals I had on my list, although by the end of the 100 weeks the journey had become much more about the people I was meeting, rather than ticking goals off a list.

You can see more about this adventure on my website here:

https://IanUsher.com/stories/100goals

or for a more personal telling of the story you can read my book, A Life Sold. There are links to the book on the 100goals webpage.

A couple of months ago, as the ten year anniversary of the start of this big adventure approached, Vanessa suggested we should come up with another adventure to challenge ourselves.

And so the idea for “52 house sits in 52 weeks” was born.

Could it be done? It would certainly be a logistical challenge, and would involve a lot of changes, but we were both enthusiastic about the idea.

So we planned and organised, and on 1st September 2018 our adventure began. As I write this it is 12th October, and we’re already on Sit # 6, looking after Springer Spaniel Sammy, aging cats Maximillian and Clementine, and 2 rescued ponies Gecko and Mini.

We have quite a few sits booked ahead now, but also have some gaps in the schedule still to be filled.

In terms of challenge, adventure and FUN we have certainly found what we were looking for!

So why take on such a challenge?

Apart from our own desire for adventure, we feel that doing something unique will help spread the word about house sitting. One of our goals is to demonstrate that house sitting is a great way for pet and home owners to find freedom to travel, as well as for house sitting pet lovers to do so too.

Our stated goals for our 52sits challenge include, to:

  • inspire people to travel more and explore lifestyle option
  • raise awareness of house sitting and the positive benefits for all
  • encourage more home owners to be confident in allowing house sitters into their homes
  • explain the importance of using respected house sitting platforms
  • organize more meet-ups between house sitters on the road
  • promote the benefits of the sharing economy

UPDATE 2020: Our goal was achieved! In fact we managed to squeeze 53 sits into the year from 1st Sept 2018 to 31st Aug 2019.

We hope you enjoy this month’s magazine, and we look forward to hearing about your travel and house sitting adventures.

Best wishes,

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in the UK)

  • October 18, 2018

All aboard!

August 2018

My first introduction to sailing was as a child, when my father bought a small Mirror Dinghy, now considered one of the classic small boats on which newcomers can learn to sail.

On summer weekends he took us to Selset Reservoir, high in the northern hills of England, where we would try to get the little boat to go in the direction we wanted. I was never really very enthused about going, and most of my memories are of cold and wet Sundays. But there were some glorious days too, when the wind was up, and the little boat seemed to fly across the water.

Family holidays often included adventure activities, and for many years we went to England’s beautiful Lake District, where we tried all sorts of outdoor pursuits. The activity centre we stayed at was right on the shore of Lake Windermere, and there were plenty of water sports on offer.

However, I became quite hooked on climbing, and enjoyed caving too. 

When I look back I see clearly how much these early holidays have shaped the rest of my life.

At college I did a teaching degree, majoring in Outdoor Education. For three years in Liverpool I learned how to teach climbing, canoeing, mountaineering, caving… and of course, sailing.

Later, I worked in an outdoor centre in the Lake District, similar to the one where we had holidayed years before. Once a week we would take the kids out sailing in small boats called Toppers, which were great fun on windy days.

However, since those days over 30 years ago, I have had little to do with sailing. I’ve always quite fancied the idea of a Mediterranean sailing holiday – beautiful clear waters, warm sunny weather, bright sandy beaches, and little island bars and restaurants – but have never got around to it.

When Vanessa and I met the idea of sailing re-surfaced. She had done quite a bit of crewing on racing sailboats in the UK with a previous partner, and liked the idea of further sailing adventures.

The house sitting lifestyle we live affords us the opportunity to schedule gaps between our house sits, and in 2017 our plans began to take shape. We booked a two-week sailing course in Thailand for March this year. It was an intensive fortnight, and we learned a lot.

We hoped we had learned enough, as we then booked a two-week charter in the Caribbean, scheduled to coincide with the end of two back-to-back house sits in beautiful St Vincent & The Grenadines.

Horizon Yacht Charters were confident enough to take our booking, and we looked forward to getting aboard our 11m (36ft) Bavaria yacht, and setting sail on the high seas.

The charter company is based in the marina visible from our house sit, so it was easy to pop down to check the yacht out before our charter started, and make plans for our provisioning.

On the day of departure we stocked the boat with food and drink, and received a very thorough briefing.

Fellow house sitter Doug Dyer, sitting with Johanne on Bequia, our first planned stop, offered to come over and help us with our first afternoon of sailing. We were very grateful for his expertise, and his help in getting us on our way on Day 1.

That first evening we anchored in Admiralty Bay and met up with three other house sitting couples currently looking after homes on Bequia.

The next day six of us sailed together, navigating around the beautiful coast of Bequia. Vanessa and I then anchored in Friendship Bay on Bequia for the night.

The next morning our adventures really began, when we set off on the long windy crossing to Canouan, the next island in the Grenadines chain.

Over the following days our confidence and skills grew, and we started to settle in to the routine aboard. It was fun finding a spot to anchor, then going for a snorkel. We usually cooked dinner early and would watch the sun set with a rum and cola in hand – all very tropical.

During the first week we visited the beautiful Tobago Cays and sailed all the way down to Petit St Vincent, the last Grenadine island in St Vincent & The Grenadines. We actually crossed into Grenada, visiting Petit Martinique to refuel and re-supply, but as the island is so close to Petit St Vincent, no formal paperwork is required.

For our second week we happily meandered northwards again, calling in at bays we had missed on the way down. We even stopped for one night in the new Glossy Bay Marina – I think the endless-water hot shower there was a highlight for Vanessa!

Back in Bequia again, almost at the end of the journey we met up with our fellow house sitters once again, before making the final crossing back to the main island of St Vincent.

We were extremely proud to be able to return the yacht in the same condition in which we picked it up, and proud too of what we had learned and achieved along the way.

What a fantastic experience.

Our Caribbean adventure is over, for now, but I have a feeling we’re not quite done with sailing yet. We’ve already been looking at charter prices for the Mediterranean next year.

We return to the UK next week, where we plan to base ourselves for the next year or so.

And while writing this story, I got a little distracted looking at Mirror Dinghys for sale on eBay. I even felt a wistful longing for a grey, windy Sunday afternoon at Selset Reservoir.

I guess I’m more like my father than I thought.

  • August 18, 2018

Touchdown! How to arrive in style and comfort

June 2018

  • Do you have a system or routine when traveling to a new country?
  • What preparations do you make in advance so that you arrive and enter a country with the least amount of discomfort?
  • What’s the first thing you do when the plane lands? And… what apps do you use to make things easier?

Vanessa and I are now house sitting on the tropical island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. The island nation of St Vincent & The Grenadines is made up of 32 islands, of which only a handful are inhabited. It’s a beautiful place, relatively untouched by tourism when compared to Barbados, where we sat for three months last year.

We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived here, yet our entry to this small country was smooth and trouble free. I realized that this was, to a large degree, due to the advance preparations we made long before we left the UK to begin our current house sitting adventure.

I’ve been an international traveler for almost 40 years, and have arrived at more new places than I care to count. Over the years I’ve developed a system that gives me the best chance of having a reasonably stress-free arrival in any new location.

I’ve honed and adjusted my arrival routine as times have changed. The internet has arrived and smartphones now connect us instantly to a world of information and useful tools.

Here are 12 tips to help you avoid hassles and pitfalls when arriving somewhere unfamiliar for the first time.

PART 1 – Accommodation & Transport

1. Book your first night of accommodation in advance

If you’re not being collected at the airport by your home owner for a house sit assignment, then it’s a good idea to have your first night of accommodation already planned in advance.

We use Booking.com to look for hotels, or Airbnb to find a room in a private home, or maybe a small apartment. Both of these usually provide plenty of options to suit any budget.

Check that wherever you book is easy and inexpensive to get to using public transport, or simple for a taxi driver to find.

2. Plan your transportation in advance

Spend a little time researching options to get from the airport to your first night’s accommodation. Often when taking a taxi from the airport you will pay a vastly inflated price. This is sometimes because the taxi companies have to pay an airport tax to pick up there, and this is obviously passed on to you, the customer. A higher price is sometimes quoted simply because you are a new arrival, and have no idea what a taxi should really cost.

So, know what the actual fare should be.

WikiTravel is a good place to start your research.

Here, for example, is their post on Panama City. Taxis will cost around $30 from the airport to the city. A local bus can be found for $1.25, but paying the fare means finding a local with a travel card and paying them the cash equivalent:

https://wikitravel.org/en/Panama_City

You have to make your decision based on your budget, and take into consideration your comfort level in new locations and situations.

TripAdvisor forums often have lots of advice from other travelers, but make sure it is up-to-date info, as many of the posts date back several years.

Planning ahead significantly reduces your chance of getting ripped off. Always check taxi fares with the driver in advance, of course, before you get into the taxi.

3. An airport taxi secret to save money

I discovered this little trick while in Cusco in Peru, and it has served me well many times since then.

If you join the line of people outside Airport Arrivals you will most likely pay a much higher taxi price for an official airport taxi, as the taxis usually have to pay a hefty fee to the airport.

Instead, make your way to the Departures drop-off area, and wait for a regular licensed taxi to drop off a customer heading for a flight out. The taxi will usually be happy for you to hop in, as he now has a fare for his journey back to the city.

In Cusco this meant paying around $3 US for the journey to town, instead of $20 US.

4. App – Uber

Instead of paying inflated taxi prices, try using the Uber app to pay much more reasonable rates for the comfort of door-to-door service. Uber isn’t available in all countries and cities (they’ve now withdrawn or been banned from certain cities, including London), but where Uber can be found, you’ll usually make a significant saving.

Of course, you need access to data on your phone to do this… we’ll come to this later.

5. App – download MAPS.ME for offline maps

This is one of my favorite apps. I use this ALL THE TIME and love it. It is completely free, and works offline for any areas that you have already downloaded the maps for. Plan ahead, and make sure you have got all the maps you will need on your phone or tablet before you begin your journey.

You can use the phone’s GPS to track your journey to your accommodation – perfect to check that the taxi isn’t taking you on an unwanted tour of the city, or for making sure you get off the bus at the right stop.

You can pin locations on the map too, so pin your hotel or Airbnb, so it is easy to find.

We use Maps.me to get to hidden-away beaches, and to find secluded hiking trails. The level of detail is fantastic, and in places like St Vincent, or Thailand, we have often found there are more roads and trails marked on the map than on Google Maps.

That’s because Maps.me uses OpenStreetMap.org for it’s map info. You can actually add detail to this open source resource yourself, and I often add tracks and other landmarks to maps as we discover new things.

You can download areas of Google Maps for offline access, but I’ve had trouble with this before, and you don’t want to arrive in a new city and find the downloaded offline map is no longer available.

PART 2 – Internet Connection Options

6. International roaming

Before departure to your new destination, check your current home country cell provider’s options and prices for roaming abroad. Many people are on a plan that makes it simple to use their phone abroad at a reasonable price. Make sure to check rates for all countries you plan to visit to be sure there will be no surprises.

If you are on a “pay-as-you-go” plan you may find roaming costs to be prohibitively expensive, or that your data gets eaten up very quickly.

7. Airport WiFi

Obviously, the simplest way to get online when you land in a new country or city is to use the airport WiFi… if there is WiFi available, of course.

Some airports are great, and offer easy, quick, free internet access. Some require you to create an account, download an app, wade through lengthy adverts, or get a code from the information desk.

Relying on the airport for your connection is not ideal, and could potentially leave you unable to access anything online.

One of the biggest disadvantages of counting on the airport connection is that as soon as you head outside to meet your Uber driver, you’ve lost your internet connection. Surely there is a better option…?

8. Local SIM cards

If your mobile phone is unlocked, and therefore able to accept SIM cards from other cellphone networks, you’ll often find a vendor at the airport who can sell you a local network SIM card. Once set up you’ll have a local phone number, and with the right package, access to mobile data too.

Research the different cellphone companies in advance, so you know which one will suit your needs.

The major downside of relying on this method is that there may not be the option to purchase a SIM at the airport, or if arriving at an unusual hour, the shops may be closed.

You may also run into language barriers, and the initial setup of the SIM may be quite complicated.

9. FlexiRoam

We recently started using FlexiRoam for mobile data, and have been very impressed with the service in several countries we have tried it in so far.

FlexiRoam offers international data roaming packages which work in over 100 countries. You have to buy a Starter Pack, which has a small data chip which sticks onto any SIM card. This allows the SIM to data-roam onto a huge choice of local mobile networks.

When you enter a new country you simply switch to the FlexiRoam SIM, turn on data roaming, and connect via the FlexiRoam app. We simply switch on after clearing customs and are instantly online.

We bought a 5Gb data package, which is valid for a full year, and seems to be lasting well. We don’t use it all the time, because as soon as we get to our Airbnb, or our house sit assignment we usually then have access to WiFi.

Initial setup was a little tricky, but once resolved FlexiRoam is easy to use. Get set up well in advance of your trip, instead of trying to resolve everything when you land at the airport.

PART 3 – Money

10. Know the currency exchange rate

We use the XE.com currency app, and check exchange rates before we depart, so we know roughly what to expect when changing cash or withdrawing funds from an ATM.

This can also help if for some reason you can’t get hold of any local currency, and have to negotiate a taxi fare in Euros or US$.

11. Withdraw cash from an ATM

I don’t think we’ve passed through an airport yet which hasn’t had an ATM somewhere. Even in Cuba we found a cash point shortly after landing, and had local cash in our pockets before we exited the arrivals hall.

We usually try to withdraw the local equivalent of around $100 in cash, maybe more depending on our expectations of prices, based on our research. This should be enough to get you through the first few days, and find your feet.

We recently opened an account with Starling Bank, a UK online-only bank. They offer an amazing deal for travelers. Zero fees for foreign currency withdrawals, zero fees for MasterCard transactions in any currency, and 0.5% interest on any balance too.

The exchange rates are fantastic, usually coming in at mid-market rate, which is way better than you’ll get at a bank currency exchange booth. Occasionally you may still be charged a fee for use of the ATM by the foreign bank.

For US citizens we’ve heard great things about Charles Schwab Bank, which even refunds any ATM fees charged by the foreign ATM.

12. Currency exchange

If for some reason you can’t get cash from the ATM, then a cash backup is wise. We always try to carry some US Dollars in good condition, small denomination notes that we can change at the airport currency exchange bureau. You probably won’t get a very good rate, but having some local cash is better than none at all.

You’ll need some small local notes or coins if your travel plans from the airport involve local buses. Ask for these when you change your cash, instead of just accepting large denomination notes.

IN CONCLUSION

It’s all about planning ahead and being organized…

This is how a perfectly planned arrival in a new location might look:

  • Once the plane touches down you pass through Passport Control and go to collect your baggage. 
  • While waiting you can connect to the internet, via airport WiFi if available, via FlexiRoam if not. 
  • After collecting your bags, clear through customs and avoid the taxi touts.
  • Find an ATM and get hold of some local currency with zero fees, ideally with your Starling Bank card (UK residents) or your Charles Schwab Bank card (US residents).
  • Order an Uber online, if available, or check that you are quoted the correct price by a taxi driver. 
  • Or head for your chosen method of transport, such as bus, train or subway.
  • Make your way to your pre-booked accommodation, following along on your pre-planned route on Maps.me to make sure you don’t get lost.
  • Arrive at your accommodation, settle in, then head out to explore your new location.

This is exactly how our arrival in St Vincent went, and we settled into a lovely apartment just on the outskirts of town less than two hours after touching down.

Plan ahead to make sure you arrive every time, relaxed, organized and unstressed.

  • June 17, 2018
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