All Posts by Ian Usher

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

Between sit adventures

April 2018

How often do you examine your reasons for doing something?

Have you ever asked yourself why you became a house sitter… or perhaps more importantly, if you’re just at the beginning of your house sitting journey, why do you want to become a house sitter?

Maybe you love animals? Perhaps your passion is travel? Or is it about the people, places and cultures?

It may just be a financial decision. Or a way to enjoy a different type of holiday.

Perhaps you want to escape the rat-race, or live a lifestyle of relative freedom.

Or maybe you just enjoy change and challenge.

Vanessa and I try to make a habit of regularly examining the way we live, and checking in with each other, to confirm that we still feel we are both on the right path through life.

When we discuss our lifestyle choices, all the reasons listed above come up as part of our motivation for making house sitting a big part of our lives.

But there’s always another aspect that’s part of our decision-making process.

Because it isn’t just about house sitting!

That’s why we named our online publication: House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine

For us, lifestyle is the keyword here, and house sitting is just one part of a much bigger picture. House sitting is the basic glue that holds it all together… one of the key ingredients that allows us to live an amazing lifestyle.

We both love new challenges and adventures, so scheduling time in-between sits is very important for us.

In fact, Vanessa often uses the hashtag #BetweenSits on social media.

Last year we took time off from house sitting to spend a week with friends in the US Virgin Islands. We spent a full month traveling around Cuba. And between sits in Mexico we rented a beautiful off-grid house high in the mountains above San Miguel de Allende, where we spent every day hiking among the deserted peaks.

This year, between sits in Western Australia, we bought an old car and took an extended road trip around the south-western part of the state, camping out by quiet beaches and in peaceful forests.

And just last month, after leaving Australia, we scheduled another month “off”, spending time in Thailand. We did a little bit of island-hopping, but the main goal of this interlude was to learn how to sail.

We have both done a little bit of sailing in the past, but are by no means experts. For quite some time we have dreamed of hiring a yacht, maybe in the Mediterranean, maybe in the Caribbean.

But we don’t just want to be passengers… we want to do the sailing.

Of course, this means we actually have to be able to sail, and be qualified at a level that will convince bareboat charter companies to entrust us with one of their yachts.

After much online research we figured out that the International Yacht Training (IYT) “International Bareboat Skipper” qualification would suit our needs. IYT is recognised internationally, and has accredited schools all over the world.

Further research narrowed down our choices, based on courses offered, prices quoted, and our own travel plans, to either South Africa or Thailand.

While one school in South Africa offered slightly cheaper courses, Thailand was directly on our route from Australia back to the UK. We already had our tickets booked out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, so it was easy and cheap to schedule some time on the island of Phuket, where “Sail in Asia” offers several course options.

We picked the aptly named “Zero to Hero” package, which combines three separate modules to take you from zero knowledge up to “International Bareboat Skipper” level. The course also offers that option to include qualification for the International Certificate of Competence (ICC), which is required by many European charter companies.

If paid for in full a couple of months in advance there is a significant discount off the full price.

We rented a small apartment on Airbnb just up the hill from the sailing school training base, so we could simply stroll down to the beach each morning for our lessons, or to go out sailing. We received a great discount here too of 40%, as we took the room for a full three weeks.

The course was an intensive 14 day program, and blended classroom theory sessions with lots of on-the-water practical experience. Two other sailing beginners, Richard and Alex, joined us for the two weeks. The European and British instructors were calm and patient, but pushed us on at a decent pace, so we learned new skills every day.

The last day of the course set the four of us free on one of the school’s larger yachts, and we sailed to a neighbouring island where we had lunch and a swim… and a beer or two to celebrate our new-found sailing freedom!

It really was an amazing feeling of achievement to be able to get such a large boat from A to B, navigating all hazards on the way.

The whole course was a challenge, but such fun too.

If this is something that may be of interest to you, then Sail in Asia is a good place to begin your research. Find out more about Sail in Asia and their sailing courses here:
Sail in Asia

More details on IYT and international sailing qualifications here:
International Yacht Training Worldwide

We’ll be house sitting later this year in the Caribbean, in St. Vincent and The Grenadines. Again we have scheduled some time “off” from house sitting, and have confidently (!!) chartered a boat for two weeks from the end of July.

Again, we have managed to get a great discount, as it’s low season in the islands.

We have rented “Bonjour Matelot”, a Bavaria 36 built in 2006, from Horizon Yacht Charters:

https://horizonyachtcharters.com/bareboat/bavaria-36/

We’re looking forward to putting our newly-learned skills to some good use.

I’m sure you’ll hear how it all goes in the August edition of House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine.

Because it isn’t just about house sitting. It’s about being able to live a life filled with fun, adventure, and amazing experiences.

Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting in the UK, and catching up with friends and family)

  • April 17, 2018

Road trip Down Under

February 2018

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a great New Year?

We’re currently house sitting Down Under, in Western Australia. Christmas in the southern hemisphere feels very different to the traditional British Christmas we are both used to.

In November in the UK we felt bombarded by Christmas ads on TV, and every shopping centre was festively decorated, Christmas songs playing constantly on an endless loop.

Down Under, where wintery scenes of snowy weather are far from most people’s normal experience, the Christmas season is much less commercialised. Perhaps it also helps that we don’t watch any TV here.

Anyway, for us, Christmas and New Year passed relatively quietly.

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?

The end of one year and the start of the next is often a time for reflection on our lives, and many of us wonder if we are heading in a direction that is in true alignment with what we really want from life…

Did you make any big resolutions?

We’ll tell you of one of our decisions later on in this article – it concerns House Sitting Magazine

Radio and TV appearances

Here in Australia it is currently mid-summer, of course. We are enjoying the outdoor lifestyle, and our current pets enjoy quite a few visits to the beach, or long walks in the countryside.

In early January we were contacted by ABC Radio, and invited into the Perth studio to chat with Glynn Greensmith about our lifestyle choices, and house sitting in general. Glynn centred his interview around the idea of reassessment at the start of a new year, and around a central theme of freedom.

That was followed by a live appearance on Australian Breakfast TV. We had to be at the studio around 5.30am for make-up, and were live on air just after 6 am, chatting about our house sitting lifestyle.

You can see I have stuck to “Aussie-casual” style below the waist for the interview!

What an amazing experience!

Lifestyle re-assessment

In the run-up to the New Year we took some time to re-assess.

One of the conclusions we reached involves this very magazine. We have been publishing House Sitting Magazine for over a year and a half, and continue to offer it as a free resource. We are finding that preparing and publishing the magazine takes up a lot of our time each month.

We began our house sitting journey several years ago with the goal of enjoying more freedom, more leisure time, more adventure, and more time to spend together. I imagine many of you have done the same, or are considering a lifestyle that offers more of what you want…?

We found the life we wanted, and our passion for this lifestyle has led us to try to inspire others. When the opportunity to publish House Sitting Magazine came our way, we thought this would be the perfect solution.

But of course, the trade-off for taking on this labour of love, based on our passion for the lifestyle we live, means that we now have a less time to actually enjoy that lifestyle.

We toyed with the idea of charging for the magazine, but concluded that this wouldn’t really address our main problem… namely not having enough time for ourselves.

So we have decided on a halfway-house solution.

In order to win back some of our valued free time, we are going to publish the magazine bi-monthly. This will mean we can continue to maintain the same great quality, but will win back a full month of time each issue to pursue our own personal goals and adventures.

We feel sure that our readers will understand this decision. We know that many of you appreciate how long it takes to contact contributors, gather all the materials, edit everything, and pull together an interesting and informative publication each month.

So, with a full month of online teaching to fit into January, as well as some Australian travel and fun, we decided that the December 2017 issue would be the final monthly issue, and going forward, beginning this month (Feburary 2018), we’ll be publishing every second month. The next issue will be out in mid-April, with following issues in June, August, October and December.

This isn’t too different from what we have done in the past anyway. We skipped the February edition last year, while we spent a month travelling around Cuba. We skipped the November issue too, as we were on the move so much in the UK during that month – however, we did manage to produce a useful “Black Friday Offers” special edition.

So, we hope you understand. We continue to produce this magazine out of a passion for the endless lifestyle options house sitting can offer, and with the hope of inspiring others to take a leap, and find their own personal version of freedom.

Road trip

So what did we do with the extra bit of freedom we created for ourselves? We bought a car, put a foam mattress in the back, and hit the road. We had an 11-day gap between house sits, so we spent our time camping out on beautiful secluded beaches, and sleeping under the stars in amazing ancient forests.

There will be a few more pix from our journey scattered through this month’s issue of House Sitting Magazine.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.

Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting in Western Australia)

  • February 17, 2018
2

Malaysian delights and long-haul flights

This blog comes to you from sunny Perth in Australia, where Vanessa and I are finally shaking off the last effects of jet-lag after traveling halfway around the world.

One of the great joys of house sitting, at least as far as Vanessa and I are concerned, is the never-ending change. We both enjoy new experiences and new challenges. It is fun finding our way around a new neighbourhood, discovering the local market, or hiking in a different location.

Each sit also brings new connections and, of course, new pets.

We’ve had a busy couple of months since the last regular issue of House Sitting Magazine, which was published in October, while we were still house sitting in Barbados. At the start of November we flew back to the UK, where we enjoyed a sunny but chilly month, as we took on three short house sits, with a bit of time scheduled to catch up with friends and family too.

Our first sit was near Liverpool in a beautiful converted barn on the edge of a golf course. We had just one cat to look after, a gorgeous Bengal, Pixie. She was so independent, and behaved just like her larger, wilder lookalikes, but still offered the occasional display of affection.

From there we moved to a lovely house on a hillside, overlooking Matlock on the edge of the beautiful Peak District. Here we looked after Toby, a 4-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with lots of character.

Our final sit was to the east of London, in Gravesend, Kent, where big grey cat Marley provided endless amusement. He was another very independent cat who spent his time between two houses.

When he was with us he was usually either eating or asleep. I think we were just there to open doors for him, and provide food upon request!

We managed to meet up with a few other house sitters also in the UK, and enjoyed several great traditional British pub lunches.

Our next stop was Asia and this month’s magazine is loosely themed around this eclectic region, with a sprinkling of Christmas joy for those celebrating the holiday season.

We had booked three luxurious nights in the centre of Kuala Lumpur, the bustling capital of Malaysia. We stayed in a beautiful apartment (a great deal through Booking.com) with a rooftop pool looking out onto the KL Tower. It was only a short walk to KL City Centre where the iconic Petronas Towers stand, the tallest building in the world until 2004.

In the other direction a short distance away we found streets filled with small restaurants offering amazing curries and a wealth of other dining options. Our favorite offered the infamous Malaysian roti bread with curry sauce, and our first meal there, including tea, cost us less than USD $5… for both of us !!

Kuala Lumpur is a great stopover city when traveling between Europe and Australia, and is becoming something of a digital nomad hub too. No wonder, with cheap accommodation, great food, fascinating culture, and blazing-fast internet.

One must-do is to visit the Heli Bar at sunset. Perched on top of one of the higher building in the city centre, each evening the rooftop heli pad becomes a trendy bar for a spectacular sundowner.

Our final destination for the next three months is Perth in Western Australia. We arrived about a week ago and stayed with friends for a couple of days before our first house sit began. The weather is warm and sunny, as summer has begun Down Under, so it’s great to be in shorts and t-shirt again after being so well wrapped up for a cold UK November.

We’re currently looking after two very interesting Basenji dogs in the Swan Valley area of Perth, to the north of the city. Logan and Missy are very striking dogs who don’t ever bark, but “talk” to each other, and us, in little quiet yips. Logan occasionally lets out a very odd howl when he wants to get our attention. They are fun dogs to have around.

Logan (left) and Missy

Logan (left) and Missy

They potter around the house quietly, sniffing and inspecting everything, but are quite restless as they live mostly outdoors. If we decide to watch TV they usually have to go outside, unless we can finally get them to settle on the sofa with us.

Find out more about Basenjis here:
http://www.purina.com.au/owning-a-dog/dog-breeds/Basenji

Where are you this month, and where do you plan to be for Christmas?

We hope you have a great festive season wherever you are, and we hope you enjoy this issue of House Sitting Magazine.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in Perth, Western Australia)

  • December 17, 2017

House sitting and freediving in Barbados

We spent three months house sitting on the banks for the beautiful Boteti River in Botswana. We lived about 40 kilometres outside of Maun, gateway town to the Okavango Delta, one of the top safari desinations in the world. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Well, in some ways it was, but in other ways it provided some serious challenges.

One problem we hadn’t anticipated was the lack of exercise options. Vanessa and I are both active, and enjoy walking in the mountains, cycling, and the occasional scuba dive. My personal favourite for health and fitness is swimming. With access to a decent pool I like to swim a kilometre a couple of times a week.

Where we lived in Botswana we couldn’t really get out and walk too much. The house was surounded by deep sand, and progress was slow to say the least. We did go out for a couple of walks, but never managed to get too far.

There’s also the (admittedly slight) danger of running into a wild elephant, or getting eaten by a hungry lion.

Swimming was a definite no-no. We never saw the 3m crocodile that lived just down-river from us, but we saw plenty of hippos. Maybe you know this, maybe not… hippos are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal. Swimming in the river would not be a good idea.

We spotted this hippo just across the river from our house while trying out the neighbours’ new DJI camera drone

We spotted this hippo just across the river from our house while trying out the neighbours’ new DJI camera drone

Coupled with the lack of exercise options, we discovered that town offered a wide range of great food supplies. Maun is the supply town for all the tour operators in the area. Because so many of the camps and lodges in the Delta are very high-end – like $2,000 per person per night high-end – food standards are very high.

Gourmet delights

Shopping in town was a gourmet delight. And prices were surprisingly reasonable. We ate very well for three months. And drank quite a lot of wine too!

When we returned to England after three months away my mum, in her usual brusque northern way, didn’t beat around the bush. “Looks like you’ve put on a bit of weight!”

I had to agree.

And I decided I had to do something about it.

House sitting in Barbados

We’re now in Barbados on another three month house sit, and I have no excuses. I’m not going to get eaten by a lion anywhere on the island, and the swimming pool poses no threat whatsoever.

After our home owners departed I found a book on their bookshelf called “The Walking Diet” by Les Snowdon and Maggie Humphreys.

Walk back to fitness

“Walk back to fitness in 30 days”, the subtitle suggests.

I can do that, I thought.

So I committed to walking every morning for an hour for the first 30 days of our stay here. As the book suggests, this isn’t any easy-going ramble. This is hard, fast walking that gets the lungs pumping and the legs aching.

The first few days were a bit tough, but I soon settled into a routine. Vanessa joined me most mornings too. 30 days passed quickly, and I was proud to have stuck to the promise I had made to myself.

We’ve also found that we have been eating a lot less here, almost as much out of necessity, rather than simply by choice. Compared to Botswana – in fact compared to most places – food here is very expensive. Fortunately the cheapest options are also the healthiest, and we have been eating lots of fresh fish and lots of vegetables.

Oistins Fish Market, just down the road from our house sit

Oistins Fish Market, just down the road from our house sit

At the end of the first 30 days, the bathroom scales offered great news. I had shed over 8 pounds (more than 3.5 kilos). I could see in the mirror that I was getting back in shape.

Buoyed by success I have continued to walk almost every morning. I believe that exercise early in the day sets you up well for a good day of eating less too, because you are keen not to undo the morning’s good work.

Now, over two months into our sit, I have lost over 14 pounds (more than 6 kilos), and am feeling much fitter.

Freediving in Barbados

So when I discovered a freediving record-holder runs a course here on the island, I thought it was time to treat myself for doing so well.

Having done quite a bit of diving and snorkeling, I have always fancied trying freediving – swimming under the water for as long as possible on a single breath. I booked a two day course, and started practicing my breath-holding.

http://freedivingbarbados.com/freedive-course/aida-2/

The longest I have ever managed to hold my breath is 2 mins 15 seconds, so I was hoping with some training and correct technique I might be able to beat that.

The targets set by the AIDA (International Association for the Development of Apnea) 2-star course are a static breath-hold of two minutes, an underwater swim of 40 metres (horizontal) and a dive down to 16 metres.

When I spoke to Alex, who runs the course, he told me that with training and practice over two days, all of these should be achievable.

On the two-day introductory course, the maximum depth is set at 20 metres. I like a challenge, so obviously I mentally set my sights on reaching 20 metres, instead of just achieving the required 16 metres.

The first day involved quite a bit of theory and safety training, then we spent some time in the local pool, where we practiced relaxation and breath-holding. I was amazed to achieve a breath-hold of 3 minutes 34 seconds, and a distance of 55 metres swimming under the water.

Later in the afternoon, in open water, we got our first real taste of freediving, where we practiced some safety drills and got a taste of diving down to about 10 metres.

On the second day we covered more theory, then during a longer session in the sea we gradually increased the depth of our dives in two metre increments. By the end of the day we were getting to 20 metres, and the rescue practices to 10 metres now seemed comparatively easy.

On my last dive I really tried to relax, and pulled down the rope as calmly and gently as I could, trying to remember all of the tips and techniques instructor Alex had taught us. I easily reached the bottom of the rope and touched the seabed at 20 metres, feeling relaxed and confident enough to stay there for a few seconds to have a look around, before calmly heading to the surface.

I am incredibly proud to have a achieved what I did on the course, and feel sure I’ll be back for more some day. Instructor Alex was fantastic, and had just the right mix of relaxed coaching, coupled with pushing you to achieve what he knew you could.

If you’re ever in Barbados, and enjoy a challenge, take a look at his website. He also offers spearfishing courses:

http://freedivingbarbados.com/

My next goal would be to get to 24 metres, one of the requirements of the 3-star course, but they set a maximum depth of 30m. Hmm, I do like a challenge!!

Ultimately I would like to be confident enough to achieve 33 metres, as I would love to be able to freedive to the bottom of the amazing Nemo 33 pool in Brussels in Belgium.

Maybe one day…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemo_33

I am convinced that if I had tried this a couple of months ago, at the start of our three months here, I wouldn’t have done so well. Two months following the simple, easy-to-follow Walking Diet have certainly produced pleasing fitness results.

In this month’s issue of House Sitting Magazine you’ll find lots of other articles on health and fitness for travelers and house sitters.

We hope you enjoy it.

Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting and getting fitter in Barbados)

  • October 17, 2017

When disaster strikes

In early 2016 we took a house sitting position in Fiji. We looked after a small boutique resort for two months during the off-season.

There were no guests booked in, so the small team of staff had a long list of maintenance tasks to get on with. Our role was to oversee the staff, look after the swimming pool, and care for two bull dogs. Simple.

Unfortunately, the weather in the southern hemisphere had different ideas that season, and the sit ended up being far from simple. Cyclone Winston built slowly over a period of days, and after quite a bit of back-and-forth around the region, headed directly for Fiji.

In consultation with both the owners and the managers of the resort we came up with a plan. Important paperwork was packed away in a safe waterproof spot. Electrical items were unplugged. Chairs and tables were secured away, and everything was lashed down as tightly as possible. Once we had prepped the buildings as best as we could we headed out with the two dogs to find a safer location to sit out the coming storm.

Winston turned out to be one of the biggest cyclones ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. It utterly devastated some areas of Fiji and the out-lying islands.

Our resort fared pretty well. The eye of the storm had been predicted to pass right over our location, but had veered away at the last minute, passing by about 20 miles to the north.

We still had a huge clean-up task, and saving the swimming pool from turning green was a bit of a challenge.

But with willing staff we soon got on top of things. We even managed to save our neighbors’ pool from turning green in their absence – they had headed out to New Zealand for a week or so to avoid the storm.

18 months later, here in Barbados, we felt a certain sense of deja-vu as Tropical Storm Harvey headed right for our little island, where we are currently house sitting a lovely home with one cat (Heidi below) and a swimming pool.

We didn’t experience the same wind strength we had in Fiji, but the torrential downpour filled the swimming pool to the brim. Fortunately we had prepared in advance. Our home owners are well prepared for such events, and we’d had a thorough briefing before their departure.

On the evening the storm was due to hit we set up the emergency siphon pumps in the pool, and pumped about an inch (2.5cm) of water out. It is a good job we did this in advance, as the pool would have certainly overflowed otherwise. And because the pool sits on the same level as the house, the house itself would have been flooded.

When the storm hit around 2am the electricity went out, and we couldn’t pump our any more water. We just had to watch the level rise, hoping we wouldn’t have to try to stem a serious flood. With millimeters to spare the storm abated, and the electricity came back on.

We put the pumps on immediately and pumped about 5 more inches (12cm) of water away, averting disaster.

As I’m sure you are aware, Harvey grew to become a Category 4 Hurricane, causing utter devastation in Texas, with rainfall beating all previous records.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma has just passed to the north of Barbados, making a direct hit on Barbuda and the Virgin Islands which have been devasted. We’re still waiting anxiously to hear from friends house sitting there. It looks like Florida is probably going to be the next to face the wrath of this monster.

And a glance at the satellite imagery shows yet another storm building behind Irma. Apparently it is going to be a record-breaking hurricane season this year.

I know, I know, this all sounds terrible. It’s not all doom and gloom in the tropics, even in hurricane season. We have been house sitting in beautiful Barbados for almost five weeks now, and have only had one really wild night. The rest of the time the weather has been gorgeous, and we have enjoyed the beaches and headlands of this lovely island.

I am simply trying to highlight the benefits a home owner enjoys in such locations when they use the services of professional house sitters.

At times like this, when home owners are away, and disaster strikes, it is better to have a house sitter on site. When a sitter knows how to prepare for the worst, the outcome will almost always be better than if the property was left empty.

And as a house sitter, there is a tremendous satisfaction in knowing that we have saved the owners’ property from potential disaster.

There is lots more on this topic in this month’s issue (Sept 2017 – Issue #14) of House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed creating it.

Happy travels, and stay safe!

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in beautiful Barbados)

  • September 17, 2017
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Whoa! We’re house sitting in Barbados!

For months now I have had the song, “Whoa! I’m going to Barbados” playing in my head.

It’s an oldie. This video is from UK show Top of the Pops, broadcast in 1975, one day before my 12th birthday.

Now we are actually here, but you have to sing the words “house sitting” very quickly to cram them into the tune: “Whoa! We’re housesitting in Barbados. Whoa! Under sunny Caribbean skies.”

How did we manage to land such a beautiful house sit on such a gorgeous island?

Well, as is the case with some of the best house sits we’ve had, this one came via word-of-mouth.

We connected with Nat and Jodie of House Sitting Academy a couple of years ago, as we had both produced online video courses for new-start house sitters, and were interested in collaborating.

The business connection blossomed into friendship, and we eventually managed to meet up when we were all house sitting at the same time in Granada, Nicaragua.

Nat and Jodie had previously looked after this house in Barbados, along with shy cat Heidi. They had been asked to return to sit again while the owners made another long return trip to the UK. Unfortunately they were already booked for that time, but suggested they could refer other competent sitters to the owners. The “Inner Circle” is an exclusive referral system that is part of the Academy, and we spotted Nat and Jodie’s post in the group.

We were thrilled to be put forward, and even more thrilled to be given a three-month assignment here.

We have a beautiful swimming pool, a car to use, and this stunning secluded beach just a short 5 minute drive away, or if we’re feeling fit, an easy 35 minute walk!

The owners are often away on visits back to the UK. Just before us Jane and Duncan of ToTravelToo.com looked after Heidi for three months. We first met up with Jane and Duncan in Ajijic, Mexico, and then conspired to make our paths cross again in Cuba.

They have been kind enough to leave us a complete guidebook for the house here, including pool-keeping notes and observations, suggested hikes, and a list of great eating and drinking locations.

So as part of this month’s introduction to the magazine I just wanted to mention the value of creating meaningful friendships with your fellow house sitters.

Not just because you may get referred for a great sit, or some valuable house sit info, but because you get to spend time sharing stories and more, with people who “get it”, who live the same adventure, understand your lifestyle, and share many of your enthusiasms.

Facebook is a great tool for building these friendships online, and of course, our own group, House Sitting Magazine Group, is a good start point.

Other Facebook groups you could join include:

House Sitting World

House Sitting Cafe

Roaming Income Club

Freedom Junkies

But online connection is never a substitute for spending real quality time in the company of your fellow travelers, sharing a meal or a few beers.

But how do you keep track of where everyone is, and where they plan to be in the future?

This problem was what prompted us to develop a tool to do just this.

Allow me to shamelessly plug our house sitters meetup website, mapahub:

https://mapahub.com/

Mapahub allows you to make new friendships, discover who is nearby, and get-together with your house sitting peers. It also allows you to see future plans for other house sitters too, so you can see where paths cross next month, or any time in the future.

You never know where such great personal connections might take you in the future.

In just the past couple of weeks we have managed to arrange meetups with:

  • Tim and Louise (HouseSittingWorld.com)
  • Kathy and Vic (house sitters from Australia)
  • Jacqueline and Glenn (TheAussieLambs.com)
  • Doug and Johanne (JoyfulTravellers.com)

(3 pub meetings in the UK, and one at a carnival in Barbados)

And of course, it was one such personal connection that brought us to beautiful Barbados for three months!

After three months in Africa a bit of tropical Caribbean bliss is what we both need. It is also what our bank account needs.

With a super-fast internet connection here, we are both back to teaching English online. It is nice to see our Chinese students after a three month break.

Just three lessons each to teach this morning, then into the swimming pool, I think!

We hope you enjoy this month’s issue of House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in the Oistins area of Barbados)

NOTE: We have a couple of big announcements about mapahub this month. Find out more, later in this issue (August 2017 – Issue #13 of House Sitting Magazine.

  • August 17, 2017

Out of Africa

Another house sit comes to an end, and it’s time to move on again. We have reached the end of almost three months in the African bush, on the beautiful banks of the Boteti River, to the east of Maun in Botswana.

As is often the case we find ourselves feeling a mixture of excitement and sadness. We’re looking forward to new adventures ahead, but we are sad to be leaving this wonderful part of the world behind.

This has been our longest house sit to date, and it has been different to others in that we have got to know our neighbours much better than we usually do. Bruce and Yvonne, immediately next door, have become very good friends. We even got to spend a wonderful weekend with them at their guest lodge way out in the wilderness.

Omogolo Bush Lodges are in a very secluded location, and the first lodge they’ve built sits on a platform overlooking a waterhole which is kept filled all year round. In the dry season the waterhole is very popular with elephants, as it is one of the few easily accessible water supplies in the area.

Every day elephants come to visit. Some are regulars, some are first time visitors, but word seems to be spreading, and more and more keep arriving. You can sit on the balcony watching, sometimes just one or two big bull males, sometimes larger family groups.

The lodge is right at the water’s edge and the clean water piped into the waterhole spills into the pool just beyond the edge of the balcony. The more confident elephants will come almost to the balcony to drink the clean water pumping out of the pipe.

If you sit quiet and still they come so close, and are obviously very aware that you are sat close by.

The highlight of out weekend was the arrival of a large family group, including tiny babies. At one point we counted 27 elephants in the waterhole. Apparently a couple of days after we left there was a group of over 40 arrived.

This has certainly been one of the highlights of our stay here in Botswana, and a true “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. If you are interested in finding out more about this special place take a look at: http://omogolobushlodges.com/

Bruce and Yvonne also have a Botswana travel company and organized another three day excursion for us.

Just last weekend we drove further east, out to the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, where we had a couple of nights of adventure planned.

On the afternoon we arrived we were taken out to the bush where we met with an extended family of meerkats. You may have seen these cute creatures on TV documentaries. They are even more fascinating in real life.

The colony we visited were used to seeing humans around, and paid us little notice, going about their daily routine un-interrupted. They even took advantage of Vanessa as a higher lookout point.

Late in the afternoon we were issued our quad bike and rode way out into the middle of a huge salt flat, where we were to spend the night. We were the only two guests on the tour that night, so with just a guide and a cook, we felt like the only people left on Earth. It was utterly silent out there.

We cooked under the full moon, and slept on the ground under the stars. It was cold in the morning as we had breakfast, and we wrapped up warm for the ride back to civilisation.

We stayed at Planet Baobab, a wonderful resort built around the most fantastic trees we had ever seen. The baobabs are believed to live around 6,000 years, and the ones at the resort are thought to be between 1,000 and 4,000 years old. Nobody is really sure, as they don’t have rings like most trees, and age can only be estimated by measuring their diameter.

Our trip was booked through Omogolo Travels

Back at our house sit, we are now in the middle of our final clean up, preparing everything for the return of the home owners. They are back in two days, and we head off the next morning. We still have about ten days in Africa, time we set aside for traveling.

Our first stop is still in Botswana. A short flight from Maun will take us to Kasane, where we plan a wildlife river cruise. We then cross the border into Zambia and have a couple of days to explore Livingstone and see the spectacular Victoria Falls from the Zambian side of the Zambezi River. From there we cross into Zimbabwe where I’ll be celebrating my birthday at Victoria Falls.

Then its back to the UK for a quick visit and onward to the next house sit in Barbados.

So, yes, we’re sad to be leaving new friends behind, but as always the adventure ahead beckons us forward.

We hope you enjoy this month’s dose of lifestyle inspiration in House Sitting Magazine.

Ian and Vanessa

(just finishing our current house sit in Maun, Botswana)

P.S. Don’t forget to join our active Facebook Community to talk about all things house-sitting and travel:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/HouseSittingMagazine/

  • July 17, 2017

On safari in Botswana

As we publish the June 2017 issue (Issue # 11) of House Sitting Magazine it’s fast approaching mid-summer… or perhaps it is almost mid-winter where you are?

As lovers of warmer climates we tend to follow summer from northern hemisphere to southern hemisphere, and then back again. We’ll be doing that at the end of the year, when we head Down Under to enjoy Australia’s beautiful summer from December to February.

But this year we’ve taken a bit of a break from our routine, and flown south during the northern summer.

We’re in Botswana, in the southern part of Africa, and we’re having to wrap up in the evenings and early mornings now, as temperatures drop when the sun isn’t up. Days, however, are usually hot, with clear blue cloudless skies.

We took this unique and challenging pet free house sit as we wanted to experience the adventure of a few months in Africa. We’ve certainly been doing that over the past few weeks.

We’ve met a few of the neighbours and have enjoyed some great evenings with them.

We’ve had hippos in the river just by the bottom of the garden. And just last week we headed out on a three day safari into one of the big game reserves on the edge of the Okavango Delta.

Our home owners had put us in touch with Steve, a very experienced local safari guide, and he arranged an amazing few days for us. We spent two nights camping in the open bush where wild elephants could roam through the camp. The night sounds included the throaty roars of lions on either side of us.

We saw one lion, a leopard (too briefly to get a picture), hippos, giraffes, zeebras, wildebeests, impalas, a warthog, and more elephants than we could count. The endless array of birds was amazing too.

Steve brought along a chef / assistant called Prince who managed to produce gourmet dishes every day, all cooked on an open campfire. He even bought along his own home-made bread!

The whole trip was a real once-in-lifetime experience… or was it?

We’ve been invited to visit the neighbours’ brand new lodge in the bush next week. They have a watering hole right out in front of their balcony, and elephants visit every day.

Keep an eye on the House Sitting Magazine Facebook Group for more photos and a perhaps a couple of videos.

At “home” we’ve had a few challenges to overcome:

  • The new solar system isn’t performing as well in winter as it apparently did in summer, as the sun is much lower in the sky. By mid-afternoon the fence starts to shade the solar panels, so we have to monitor our use of electricity carefully. The solar company added two more panels to see if that would help for now.

  • Last week the petrol-driven water pump that pulls water from the river to irrigate the lush garden simply gave up, seizing solid. It had to go into the workshop this morning, and the diagnosis wasn’t good. We have a borrowed one for now, so the garden should be OK.

  • There has been an infestation of stink bugs, small harmless beetles. A very wet rainy season meant that they all hatched this year, and there are millions of them. They are everywhere, and each night we have to gather up hundreds of them from the walls of the house. They get in through the tiniest cracks and gaps.

  • And to top it all off, the swimming pool is now merely ornamental, as its too cold to use! Bah.

But despite the challenges, this truly is an amazing experience, and there is plenty more to come as we still have almost six more weeks left in Africa.

We hope you are enjoying your summer, or winter, wherever you are.

And we hope you enjoy this month’s issue of House Sitting Magazine.

Ian and Vanessa

(house sitting in the African bush, somewhere near Maun, Botswana)

 

  • June 17, 2017