Two months ago, on 15th Feb 2020, we published issue 30 of House Sitting Magazine, and published our previous blog post here on Long Term House Sitters, taken from the intro to the magazine. Who could have predicted our world would have changed so much since then?
Vanessa and I suspected the coronavirus was going to impact our lives in some way, as we'd been following progress in China and other countries since late January.
But we didn't foresee the huge changes which have been thrust upon us all over these past 60 days.
I imagine that everyone reading this issue of the magazine will have had to make significant changes to their plans, or adjust their lifestyle in some major ways. We all have.
Life for us all right now probably looks very different to the plans we had for our future just a couple of short months ago.
These extreme changes make publishing this issue of the magazine a very different experience to the previous one. The uncertainty around what the future holds for travel and house sitting makes it difficult to decide what content to include.
Obviously we want to help our readers keep abreast of current developments, and also to be able to have some ideas about how the future may turn out.
Therefore we've changed the focus of this issue to a degree, in order to factor in the events unfolding around us. We have a few articles from our readers about how they are dealing with their "new normal", as well as a couple of articles looking to the future, hoping to shed some light on how our chosen lifestyles may be impacted.
We've tried to keep the tone as upbeat and positive as possible, but we also want to maintain a realistic view at the same time, so some of the articles may not paint such a rosy picture of the future as we would all wish for. I sincerely hope that we're wrong with some of the more dire predictions.
Vanessa and I have had to return to work as online English teachers, as we now renting accommodation, and obviously don't know how long we may have to continue to do so.
Therefore, we're going to have less time to devote to the magazine, so have decided to make a (hopefully) temporary change to our publishing schedule.
We're going to change to a once-every-3-months model for a while, as we go through a period when there will be a lot less travel and house sitting. This means we'll have time to settle back into our work routine and secure our financial position before we get to work on the next issue, which we now plan for 15th July 2020.
We really don't like to do this, but we all have to make sacrifices at times in order to deal with the challenges life sends our way.
Our hope is that you enjoy this out-of-the-ordinary edition of the magazine, and we would love to hear your thoughts on the current situation, and possible future outcomes.
We are sure that as flexible and resilient house sitters, you're coping admirably with any challenges you are facing, and we wish you all the best for the difficulties and changes ahead.
The Sun (British newspaper) ran a story branding the comic 'The Seven Penny Nightmare'.
Over the long hot summer of 1976 the British press whipped themselves up into an outraged fury over the UK teenage boys' comic "Action". My friends and I bought a copy every Saturday... price 7 pence.
The comic featured violently gory stories which paralleled movie and real-life favourites of the era:
Hook Jaw (Jaws)
Death Game 1999 (Rollerball)
Dredger (Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry)
Blackjack (Rocky / Mohammed Ali)
Parents worried, according to the newspapers, about the impact this graphic violence was having on impressionable young minds. However, I remember my dad enjoying a flick through my copy of "Action" every now and then.
As kids, we just couldn't wait each week to see how high Hook Jaw's bloody death count would be. It was all detailed in glorious colour on the centre pages.
KIDS RULE OK!
The un-doing of the comic came towards the end of the year, when the new story, 'Kids Rule OK', caused concern to the point of debate in the House of Commons over the outrageous violence. In a world where older people were getting killed off by a deadly virus, teenagers were free to run amok. And they did, brandishing chains and knives, and generally causing mayhem.
On Saturday 23rd October 1976, thousands of boys across the UK were in for a big shock. There was no sign of "Action" on the newsagents' shelves. It had been banned.
Several weeks later, on 4th December, the comic returned in a much watered-down format.
'Hook Jaw' had been moved from the centre pages, so blood only flowed in black and white, and the deaths took place 'off-screen'
'Look Out For Lefty', a football story which was my least favourite, now took pride of place on the colourful middle pages
'Death Game 1999' had been re-branded as 'Spinball'
'Kids Rule OK' had simply disappeared, replaced by some bland racing cars drama
I continued to remain a loyal, though slightly disappointed reader. The comic limped along for another year or so, but when I look back I can't even remember what happened in stories like 'Slater's Steamer', 'The Loner' or 'Jinx Jackson'.
Nothing from the tamed post-ban issues is burned into my mind like the horrific surprise death of Rick Mason, Hook Jaw's long-time heroic adversary, from one of the pre-ban issues.
END OF AN ERA
The post-ban version of the comic died with a whimper at the end of 1977.
The cover of the 12th November issue of "Action" announced 'Exciting news inside!'
The 'exciting news' was that "Action" would be no-more. It was to be merged with "Battle", which featured mainly war stories.
I never bought a single copy of "Battle-Action".
My comic-buying days were over.
Vanessa and I have recently started the process of downsizing again! We head off to the States in April, and will be selling the little van we've had for the past 18 months.
We've gathered quite a bit of 'stuff' and need to lighten the load again.
For me this will be the fourth major downsize in my life, although this time it is on a much smaller scale than the previous three.
DOWNSIZE #1 - MOVING "DOWN UNDER"
My first huge downsize was in 2001, when my wife and I decided to move from the UK to live in Australia. We were in rented accommodation at the time, so had furniture to sell, along with all the things we'd both collected over the course of our lives to that point.
We sold pretty-much everything we had. For me the hardest things to let go of were my various sets of sports equipment - climbing gear, motorcycle clothes and equipment, wetsuits - all sold at car boot sales for far less than I felt they were worth.
And my collection of music CDs. I digitised most of my favourites, so still had access to much of my music.
However, one thing I couldn't bring myself to sell was my collection of "Action" comics, along with the Summer Specials and Annuals I had kept in pristine condition.
I boxed them up carefully and stored them in my mum's attic.
DOWNSIZE #2 - A LIFE FOR SALE
In 2008, in Australia, after my wife and I separated, I decided to downsize again. This was by far the most radical downsize of my life, and became a very public event.
After the divorce I'd realised it was time to sell up and move on, as that part of my life was obviously over.
I had the idea of selling my 'whole life' on eBay, and when I announced my intention to do so, the worldwide press coverage was astonishing.
I planned to sell everything as one single item, and leave Australia with just one set of clothes, and my wallet and passport.
I'd forgotten that I still owned a collection of comics, stored in mum's attic back in the UK.
DOWNSIZE #3 - PARADISE SOLD
Vanessa and I met in 2013, and lived together on my little island home in Panama for a year. The island was already up for sale when we met, and we knew our future would revolve around travel and house sitting.
It took a while to find a buyer, but when we sold up we left pretty-much everything with the new island owner, setting off with just one backpack each in May 2014.
This was my third major downsize, and was by far the easiest emotionally. This time I had very little attachment to any of the 'stuff' I owned, and it was very easy to just walk away and leave it all behind.
But my comics were still there, tucked away in the darkness.
A PERIOD OF INACTION
Vanessa and I have spent most of the past 18 months house sitting here in the UK, and have had much more time to spend with friends and family.
My mum has asked on several occasions, "When are you going to get rid of that box of mouldy old comics in the attic? It's probably full of moths."
I've put off dealing with this for over a year, using the old "I'll get around to it when I have time..." excuse.
The real reason was that I just couldn't bear the thought of getting rid of this vivid part of my youth. The idea of just putting them in the recycling was unthinkable.
Over Christmas I realised the "I don't have enough time" excuse was no longer valid. With some longer sits coming up I did have time. I got the box out of the attic and crammed it into the over-stuffed van with the rest of our belongings.
Maybe, I reasoned, being 43 years old, and having had their 1970s moment of infamy, they might be collectible..?
I did some research online... going back to eBay again... and discovered there were quite a few issues of "Action" listed online. Prices were encouraging, but none of them seemed to actually be finding buyers, and I wondered if there really was a market for them.
The box remained in the back of the van for several more weeks, as I failed to act, reluctant to face the potential disappointment of nobody wanting to buy my childhood memories.
It was a heavy burden to carry, both physically for the van, and emotionally for me.
TIME TO LET GO
At our last house sit I buckled down and got to work, photographing each cover, and listing them online. I set my prices way lower than those that didn't seem to be selling, and was pleasantly surprised by the response.
I got messages, questions and comments, and a lot of bids and offers too.
The best sum I received for a single issue was £12.50... not bad compared to my original 7p investment. Most pre-ban issues sold for £4 to £5, and post-ban issues for £3.
My biggest success was with the 8 Annuals and 4 Summer Specials I owned - I believe a complete set of every special ever printed. They were still in pristine condition, and a buyer in the States purchased the lot for £260.
Overall I'll raise around $600 when all are sold... not bad for "mouldy old comics in the attic." (Mum's words, not mine!)
I'm down to the last 15 issues still to sell as I write this.
It's not all about the money, although it will come in handy, of course.
I am just happy that the comics have gone to people who really appreciate them, and who will get a lot of pleasure from them.
It would have been far harder to put them in the bin, knowing they'd be pulped, never to be seen again.
Isn't it funny... the things to which we have the biggest attachment?
I have known for years that my box of childhood memories was going to be one of the hardest things to deal with.
Before I listed them for sale I really did feel worried that they wouldn't find a buyer, and that I would find it all an emotional wrench.
But once the sales started coming in my mood lightened, and I became quite enthusiastic, enjoying mailing the comics to their excited new owners.
And once again, as in previous downsizes, I have been amazed by the feeling of lightness and freshness that comes with off-loading this huge chunk of the past.
I only have 15 more issues to sell, and they'll soon all be gone... well, almost!
Apparently I'm not quite 100% ready to let everything go...
I'm keeping one copy, and plan on framing the front cover. It is one of the iconic issues, with Hook Jaw causing terror and mayhem in New York. Quite fitting, I think, as New York is one of our next destinations.
Maybe one day I'll have a wall to put my framed cover on.
Ian (and Vanessa)
(currently house sitting in Maidenhead, UK)
Find out more about the story behind "Action" in these two great articles:
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
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)
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!
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:
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.
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!
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:
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.
Ian and Vanessa
(currently house sitting in Finchingfield, Essex, England)
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.
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.
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:
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,
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)
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.
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:
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.