All Posts by Ian Usher

Cuban travels

Last month we took a break from house sitting in order to visit Cuba.

Vanessa and I have both had Cuba on our travel list for a long time, and as we are currently based in Mexico, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take time out, and enjoy some travel adventures.

Cuba certainly didn’t let us down in terms of adventure, and we had some amazing experiences. Some were great, some were challenging, some were downright disappointing!

We were looking forward to meeting up again with Jane and Duncan, who produce baby boomer travel and house sitting website ToTravelToo.com – we first met up with them in Ajijic in Mexico.

Here’s Duncan enjoying a touristy snapshot moment in scenic Cienfuegos:

For me the cars are the most amazing thing about the country. There are thousands of old 1950s American cars varying from absolutely pristine condition, to “barely-held-together-but-still-running-somehow”

One of my major highlights was being allowed by a taxi driver to drive a 1954 Chevvy from Santa Clara to Remedios, a journey of about 50 kilometres. Only a cigar in my mouth could have made me feel more Cuban!

Vanessa’s highlights included climbing to the top of one of the ricketiest church towers we have ever seen in historic Camaguey, and looking out through the face of the clock across the whole city. She also enjoyed eating lobster and prawns on an almost daily basis at very affordable prices!

We enjoyed the challenges of figuring out two different currencies, of limited internet access, and travel timetables that could confuse a rocket scientist.

But we were a little disillusioned by the growing greed for tourist money that seems to be dividing the country deeply into the “haves” and have-nots”.

We’ll be telling you more about travelling to Cuba in next month’s magazine, and we’ll probably post a few articles on the HouseSittingMagazine.com website too, so check in there occasionally too.

Now we’re back in Mexico, in San Miguel de Allende, for a third sit at the same property, looking after our six cats once again.

This is our final sit here for the foreseeable future, and we are certainly going to miss it. It really is beginning to feel like home.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting for a third time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico)

Here’s Vanessa, about to take a truly traditional taxi ride from Trinidad to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

  • March 17, 2017

On the road again… January

Happy New Year!

Vanessa and I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a great start to the year.

The first 2017 issue of House Sitting Magazine is brought to you from Mexico (again), where we are currently between house sit assignments.

After changing our Cuba travel plans, we didn’t have anything booked for January, but were hoping something would come up. So we were very pleased to receive an offer in December to look after a house in expat favourite, Ajijic, on Lake Chapala, which is where we are right now.

However, this is only for the last two weeks of the month, so we still had to find somewhere to live during the first part of January.

AirBnB came to the rescue once again.

Note: If you want to know more about using AirBnB and get some great tips for making bookings, see “Filling the gaps with Airbnb” in this issue (Issue #7).

We found a beautiful little place just outside San Miguel de Allende, way up in the hills. We had a little house all to ourselves, with amazing sweeping views of the valley.

We were “semi-off-grid” and the whole rancho, which consists of several houses and an artist’s studio, collects and maintains its own water supply. In the day solar panels store energy from the sun, feeding excess power back into the grid. At night the grid supplies electricity back to the property.

We used a composting toilet which was very well-built and easy to use. And the water for our shower was heated naturally by the sun.

Although far off the main grid our hosts have a great line-of-sight internet connection, beamed from San Miguel, and we had a blisteringly fast connection.

Both Vanessa and I managed to fit in a few extra hours of online teaching to cover the costs of our short-term rental. We haven’t had to do too much more work though, as this place only cost USD $25 per night. What a bargain!

In the daytime we enjoyed some amazing remote hiking in the hills behind the property.

This is the view from the top of the mountain behind the house.

For anyone visiting the area, check out Rancho DaNisha here:
Cozy colorful eco friendly house

We hope you enjoy this issue of the magazine (Issue #7), and as always we look forward to your questions or comments.

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting at Lake Chapala)

  • January 17, 2017

Full circle: back to Mexico

For a change, we had quite a low key month. We took a break from house sitting to enjoy a couple of weeks in a lovely new AirBnB apartment in Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s west coast.

From there we took a bus to Guadalajara, where we spent two nights, allowing us to explore the trendy centre of Tlaquepaque, filled with galleries, museums, restaurants and bars (see feature image).

One more bus journey brought us “full circle” back to San Miguel de Allende, where we returned to our previous house sit location for a repeat assignment with six lovely cats.

Our home until the end of the year is a short walk to the city centre, and within easy distance of the fantastic local market. We also have a shopping mall nearby with a good supermarket, ten-pin bowling, and a modern cinema which costs just 22 pesos (US $1) on a Wednesday afternoon to see the latest releases.

Our household charges are six easy-going cats, along with a couple of strays that wander through the garden every now and then.

We have a third assignment lined up here too, mid-March to mid-April. San Miguel de Allende (often referred to as SMA) really does feel like it is becoming something of a temporary home town for us now.

  • December 17, 2016

Flying high

We hope you have had a great month. Ours has been filled with travel, adventure, fun and challenges.

About a week after we published Issue 4 of House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine our house sit assignment in Nicaragua ended.

Ahead of us we had four free weeks, with plenty of Central American travel pencilled in the diary. However, our first visit to the TicaBus office in Granada gave us a clue that there may be trouble ahead.

We were told that because we had visited Panama we would need our Yellow Fever vaccinations to enter either Honduras or El Salvador. Much frantic online research followed.

There was a lot of conflicting information online, much of it out of date, and it appeared that any current rules must have only come into effect recently.

We decided to take a chance, and after bidding Tabby the boxer, and our home owners farewell, we caught the local “chicken bus” (so-called because many local passengers travel with all sorts of produce, often including livestock!) to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.

At the TicaBus office there we ran into the same problem, and could not buy a ticket to Honduras. The only option was to fly over the two countries blocking our path, and head to Guatemala.

Some quick re-scheduling and a newly formed plan meant we would head out from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan, where we would have much more time than we had originally anticipated.

We were glad we did. What a stunning place. We spent six days hopping from town to town around the beautiful volcano crater lake.

At the end of October we headed to Antigua Guatemala where we planned to experience the amazing Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and visit the Sumpango Kite Festival on 1st November.

How this hasn’t made it onto the backpacker must-see popular festival lists, I will never understand. I (Ian) have been to a few of the big ones – La Tomatina in Spain, Full Moon Parties in Thailand, Carnivale in Rio.

The Sumpango Kite Festival is just as spectacular. The kites are huge, and with the right wind conditions they actually fly them too. I have never seen so many kites flying in one place.

The kites represent a connection from the world of the living to the spirit world where those who have passed on now reside.

The graveyards are full of people mourning those they have lost, and simultaneously celebrating the lives of past family members. It is a very touching mix of sadness and joy, as many in Central America believe that death is not the end, merely a transition to the next phase.

A large number of smaller kites are flown from the graveyard.

We bought a little kite from a couple of local boys, and flew it from the top of one of the tombs, Vanessa and I quietly remembering those who are no longer in our lives…

… until we got it stuck in a tree! We weren’t the only ones to lose out kite that day.

From Guatemala we headed back up into Mexico, where we have rented a lovely apartment by the coast at Puerto Vallarta.

It is here that we have been relaxing and putting the finishing touches to this month’s Issue of House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine.

  • November 17, 2016

Dive in to Nicaragua

We’re currently in the beautiful old colonial city of Granada in Nicaragua.

We have been here for about three weeks, and have one more week left at our current house sit before moving on.

At the end of the month we are heading north, up through Central America. We plan a few stop-offs along the way, in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, before our return to Mexico for a repeat sit in San Miguel de Allende.

Nicaragua has offered a variety of interesting experiences. Before our house sit began we dropped off our bags with the home owners and headed to the coastal town of San Juan del Sur, for a couple of relaxing days by the sea.

It is low season here, so we had the place practically to ourselves.

We spent another night in a hostel overlooking the stunning volcano crater lake of Laguna de Apoya, close to Granada. The water is crystal clear and beautifully warm.

We were very excited to find out that Nat and Jodie from House Sitting Academy were also house sitting in Granada at the same time. It was fun getting to meet them in person, and share some house sitting stories over a couple of big jugs of Sangria.

House Sitting Academy is hosting the first every House Sitting Summit, and we also enjoyed a poolside interview with Jodie, which you’ll be able to see if you sign up to this great event!

Our current charges, now the house sit is well under way, are a lot of fun. Tabby is a very lively and smart boxer dog with boundless energy, and our four cats are easy to look after, and demand very little from us.

We have a swimming pool too, which Vanessa is enjoying to the full.

Of course, we also have to maintain the pool, which I get to “enjoy”.

Just joking! I do like the process of looking after a swimming pool, keeping it clean, and checking the chemical balance to ensure all is working as it should.

There is a tremendous satisfaction in jumping in crystal clear cool water on a hot afternoon, knowing the pool is in great condition.

Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting in Granada, Nicaragua)

Tabby: "I've got my eye on you."

Tabby: “I’ve got my eye on you.”

 

  • October 17, 2016

Welcome to the jungle

Slowing down the pace in Panama

It has been a fun and interesting month for us. Since publishing Issue 2 of House Sitting Magazine we have moved on from our house sit in Mexico, and are now settled in a lovely waterfront property in the beautiful tropical Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro, in Panama.

It feels like we have come full circle on a journey that started over three years ago. Vanessa and I met in 2013, and at the time I was living on my own little island property here in Bocas.

Vanessa joined me on the island in July that year for what was supposed to be a two week holiday, and never went back! We haven’t looked back since.

You can read all about this in “Storyteller’s share”, further on in the magazine, a reproduction in part of TrustedHousesitters recent blog article that told our story, and that of four other travelling house sitters!

Ian's island in Bocas del Toro, Panama (2014)

Ian’s island in Bocas del Toro, Panama (2014)

While living in Panama back in 2014, we were also featured on a UK TV documentary about remote off-grid living. The show was called “New Lives in the Wild” – there is a link to our episode at the bottom of the page.

Back in Panama, we are currently looking after two characterful dogs, at the home of one of our former neighbours here in Bocas.

Turbo and Rosie, our two jungle dogs

Turbo and Rosie, our two jungle dogs

The house is completely off-grid. Solar panels charge a bank of batteries for our electricity. There is a backup generator if the sun doesn’t shine. All water comes from rainfall, of which there is usually plenty. Large tanks under the house hold thousands of litres, but we still have to be conservative in our water use, as long dry spells are common.

There is no road to the house. There is just a wall of thick jungle beyond the property boundary. We have to travel everywhere by boat, which has its own particular challenges – there isn’t a petrol station just around the corner, so fuel management is vital.

There are daily routines and regular easy maintenance tasks, but the reward in terms of a wonderfully unique experience are beyond measure.

As I write this welcome note for the September issue of the magazine on a sunny Sunday morning, we are looking forward to dropping the boat into the water, and heading around the bay to a beautifully secluded jungle restaurant tucked away in a remote corner of the archipelago. Steak, chips and beer will be the order of the day.

Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting off-grid in Bocas del Toro, Panama)

Ian catches up with old friends at Rana Azul restaurant

Ian catches up with old friends at Rana Azul restaurant

Vanessa helps out behind the bar when things get busy

Vanessa helps out behind the bar when things get busy

See our episode of Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild, filmed in late 2013 on Ian’s island, by clicking the “Play” button below:

Ian’s unique story means that there’s a lot of information about him online. In 2013 and 2014 we were featured in a couple of TV documentaries including the UK’s “Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild”. You can watch the video above if you’d like to get more of a feel of the type of people we are. Remember though, this IS television!

  • September 17, 2016
House Sitting Magazine

House Sitting Magazine – A FREE Online House Sitting Resource

House Sitting MagazineWe’re very excited to tell you about House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine – the only independent and unbiased digital publication dedicated to the world of house sitting and nomadic living.

It is published in a fully responsive app that will work equally well on your tablet or phone. You can subscribe FREE through Apple iTunes or Google PlayThe app provides each article in an easily readable format.

This magazine will open your eyes to the amazing lifestyle choices that can be experienced with the support of the house sitting community.

As full-time house sitters and international travellers, we have sold our homes and possessions to immerse ourselves in a lifestyle of freedom, travel and adventure. We are now able to enjoy our lives, living and working in a variety of locations around the world.

None of this would have been possible without house sitting!

We are passionate about sharing this amazing way of living by inspiring you with stories, news and information. All of which will help your own discovery of how to create and live your own version of a freedom lifestyle through house sitting. At the same time you will be helping home owners with pets enjoy their own travel adventures!

Whether you want more affordable vacations at a time of world financial uncertainty, a travel sabbatical, longer term travel adventures, or you are at the start of your retirement – you can benefit immensely from the savings and cultural enrichment found through house sitting.

As home and pet owners you can realize your own dreams by experiencing worry free travel when you leave your pets and possessions behind.

You’ll be able to consider both short and extended time away from home, knowing that your pets will be looked after by trustworthy people who love including animals as part of their own vacation.

These are exciting times for us as we embark on this new project, and we extend our thanks to Nat and Jodie of House Sitting Academy. When, because of other commitments, they asked if we’d like to take over the publishing of this magazine, it was an easy decision to say yes.

Now we are looking to you to help make this magazine a success, and a worthwhile resource for new and existing subscribers.

Your stories are key to inspiring others to venture forward and discover alternative ways of living and experiencing life, with all its unfolding secrets and surprises.

So what can you expect each month?

We will cover a wide range of topics, offering information and advice for both home owners and house sitters. Our contributors and experts will also be writing about pets, travel, lifestyle, freedom, income and much, much more.

Home and pet owners: For many of you travel is the number one motivator for leaving your home and pets with house sitters. Each month you will benefit from helpful guides and relevant reader stories. You’ll discover not only how to get the most from your house sitters, but also how to maximize your own travel adventures.

House sitters: If you need help getting started with house sitting, or assistance with how to maintain this as a lifestyle choice, you’ll find our monthly guides extremely informative. Tips and advice will always be on offer, both from community members and industry authorities.

Pet care: We will hear from pet care and behavior experts on a variety of topics. We’ll also look at the types and breeds of animals you might expect to look after while on assignment. In this issue you can learn more about German Shepherds.

Travel: Living like a local, making new friends and immersing yourself in different cultures is also key, so you’ll enjoy our travel features and monthly “destination guides” – always produced with house sitting in mind.

House sitting platforms: As more and more house sitting websites emerge, we want you to be able to make informed decisions about which will best suit your needs.

We will be getting in and among the international and country-specific house sitting businesses with “behind the scenes” interviews and comparative information. This month we visited TrustedHousesitters at their offices in Brighton, UK.

House sitting platforms will also get the opportunity to comment on the topics that are important to us all.

Lifestyle: If lifestyle change is a consideration, then you’ll get inspiration from others who have opted for an alternative way of living. You’ll find out how they have dealt with obstacles, created their income, and even how, for families, they have home schooled their kids!

And, of course, there will also be news, reviews and links to resources, all of which will help you enhance your own house sitting, travel or lifestyle adventure.

We hope you enjoy reading House Sitting – The ultimate lifestyle magazine

  • July 17, 2016
4

Making connections: “It’s not what you know…”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]You probably know the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In house sitting this is often the case.

It’s important to register with some of the main house sitting websites, especially when starting out on your house sitting adventures. However, this probably isn’t the only way you will find great house sitting assignments. Networking and word-of-mouth will also produce interesting possibilities as you expand your horizons.

Sometimes the best opportunities come via the most unusual set of random connections, and you never know where these contacts might lead you in the future.

Our current house sit is a great example of this. It was never advertised as we were contacted directly by the people managing the property. They wanted to know if we would be interested in overseeing a luxury holiday resort in Fiji for a month during the off-season, so they could go on holiday. They also had two dogs that would need caring for too.[/vc_column_text][us_gallery ids=”8858,8859,8860″ layout=”masonry” columns=”3″ indents=”1″ img_size=”us_img_size_1″][us_separator type=”invisible” size=”small”][vc_column_text]

So how did we secure this amazing house sitting assignment?

As we flew from Australia to Fiji I thought about the chain of events that had led to our connection with Sue and Lloyd, the managers of Serenity Point.

In 2012 I was living on a little island in the Caribbean, just off the coast of Panama. I was planning three months away over the summer in Canada, and needed a house sitter, so I sent out an email to friends and contacts. “Who wanted to live on a tropical island for three months?”

None of the people I contacted directly could actually take me up on the offer, as they were tied down by work and other commitments.

… it’s who you know.”

However, my friend Ryan in Australia eventually put me in touch with Cameron, another Aussie who had time on his hands. A couple of months later Cameron arrived in Panama to take over as I headed north.

I returned three months later to find that Cameron had integrated well into the local ex-pat community and had developed a big group of friends. One of those friends was Sam. She was house sitting my neighbours’ house, and when Cameron departed Sam and I became friends.

By the time my neighbours returned Sam had managed to secure another house sit, looking after a beachfront resort which was closed for a couple of months. The owners of the resort were taking some time off for a well-earned break, and Sam had to meet them to finalize arrangements.

As we were both heading to town on the same day Sam and I shared fuel costs by boat-sharing, and when Sam went to meet the resort owners I said a quick hello, before settling down to wait for Sam to finish her meeting.

A month or two later, when friends came to visit me in Panama, Sam emailed her property owners and asked if it would be OK for her to entertain us as guests at the resort for a night or two. I’d only said a brief hello to the owners, but they were kind enough to give us the go-ahead to stay at the resort, which was closed for business at the time.

Later, when Sue and Lloyd returned from their trip to the States I bumped into them at the local jungle restaurant, and made a point of saying a big “thank you” for allowing us to stay at their beautiful resort. Over the following months we kept bumping into each other and began to build a friendship.

A year or so later, Sue and Lloyd sold up and moved on, but we all stayed in touch via Facebook. When we saw that they had taken over the management of a beautiful spot in Fiji we expressed our envy.[/vc_column_text][us_gallery ids=”8861,8863,8865″ layout=”masonry” columns=”3″ indents=”1″ img_size=”us_img_size_1″][us_separator type=”invisible” size=”small”][vc_column_text]

We never expected to be invited to come and look after their dogs, Angus and Bella, as well as oversee the resort and staff during the off-season. So you can imagine our excitement when we realised that their dates fitted perfectly with our schedule in Australia and we quickly secured the dates by booking our flights.

[/vc_column_text][us_gallery ids=”8869,8870,8871,8872″ layout=”masonry” columns=”4″ indents=”1″ img_size=”us_img_size_1″][us_separator type=”invisible” size=”small”][vc_column_text]As you build your network of contacts, and as more people become aware that you are often on the lookout for interesting assignments, you too may be surprised by a wonderful offer out of the blue.

We’d love to hear your story in the comments section below. Tell us about a connection that landed you an unexpected house or pet sitting assignment.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

  • February 17, 2016