If you don’t have the budget to take the trips you yearn for, you may want to consider housesitting.

Housesitting, particularly international housesitting, is generally unpaid work. You and the homeowner essentially barter what you have for what you want. By eliminating pay, you skirt restrictions on out-of-country residents, who would otherwise need a work permit or a Visa to have a paying job in a foreign land. But both sides get a substantial benefit.

The homeowner saves the cost of having a pet sitter, which typically runs $25 to $100 a night, depending on the number of pets and the city. The arrangement can also benefit the pets, which are less likely to contract an ailment, such as Kennel Cough, that bedevil animals boarded in a group setting.

Meanwhile, house sitters save the cost of accommodations, which is even more dear than the cost of pet sitting a big city. And since many housesitting arrangements span several weeks, this savings can add to thousands of dollars.  At the same time, house sitters often discover new towns and friends — furry and otherwise — that they never would have known if they’d traveled in a more conventional way. It can be an ideal way for animal-loving extraverts and digital nomads to travel.

Paid housesitting

Notably, there are paid housesitting jobs, too. However, these are typically close-to-home arrangements that are solely about taking care of pets and plants, not travel. The best site to list your paid housesitting service is Rover, which takes a 20% commission for helping you find work.

If you’re looking to housesit outside of your metropolitan area, you should expect that the deal will defray your expenses, not provide income. 

Housesitting sites

There are dozens of travel-oriented housesitting websites where you can advertise your house or your availability to housesit. Some sites concentrate on a single geographic region — the U.S. or Australia, for example. Others aim to be international in scope.

Most charge house sitters a monthly or annual fee to search the registry and apply for sits. However, the sites vary in their approach to charging homeowners. Some charge homeowners as much or more than sitters, giving them premium services, such as insurance coverage for their possessions. Others don’t charge homeowners at all, figuring that without homeowners advertising for sitters, there’s little reason for sitters to sign up. 

The best housesitting sites:

Nomador

Nomador offers a compelling combination of reasonable fees; great advice; and an abundance of users offering their homes and their services. The site has a free option that allows you to test the service, but will charge sitters up to $99 annually if they want to contact more than a few homeowners. The same deal applies to homeowners. You can list for free, but if you actively use the service, you’ll need to pay.

Other things that make this site stand out: It has a “stopover” option that allows house sitters to find free accommodations between sits; a fill-in-the-blanks guide to help homeowners assemble information that house sitters need; and a privacy-friendly identity verification service.

TrustedHousesitters

TrustedHousesitters is the most expensive of the international housesitting sites, but it also draws the most traffic. Indeed, where Nomador drew about 250,000 web visitors in April, Trusted pulled in more than 780,000. The site’s fees range from $129 to $319, depending on whether you want a basic membership, additional services or a “combined” sitter/homeowner membership.

Most of the extra bells and whistles seem too costly to pay for. However, the site’s $129 basic registration fee provides 24/7 telephone access to a vet. This makes TrustedHousesitters a good choice for homeowners with older and medically fragile pets.

HouseCarers

HouseCarers is one of the oldest housesitting sites, with more than 20 years in the industry. It is also one of the least expensive for registrants. Homeowners list for free. Housesitters pay just $50 annually. The site caters to retirees, looking for a cozy and inexpensive way to travel the world. However, the website isn’t particularly user-friendly and it appears to have fewer opportunities than Nomador and TrustedHousesitters.

House Sitters America

As the name implies, House Sitters America focuses on finding housesitting arrangements in the U.S. At a time when international travel is still dicey due to the pandemic, it’s a good alternative for U.S. residents who want to visit other parts of the country. Like HouseCarers, House Sitters America does not charge homeowners to list their homes. House sitters pay just $49 annually.

Because there’s no international Visa issue, U.S. citizens who use this site can charge for housesitting. But realize that you’re competing with people who are willing to sit solely in exchange for free accommodations. So, unless the house or animals seem unappealing, it may be tough to find a paid sit here. 

Cautions and caveats

For house sitters, the catch is that your vacation includes responsibilities that could restrict your ability to tour outside of a day’s drive of where ever you’re staying. The best way to address this is to research the location of the sit carefully to make sure its near-enough the sites you hope to see. Another option is to ask the homeowners if they have a regular paid house sitter, who you could hire if you wanted to take a day or two away. 

On the other side of things, homeowners have the risk of hosting a relative stranger in their homes.

Almost every housesitting site suggests that homeowners address that risk by communicating actively with potential house sitters. Ask for references and read the sitter’s reviews. Also be clear about what the responsibilities are, asking how the house sitter might handle potential problems.

Clearing out a room, including cabinet and closet space, is also advised for longer house sits. If you have jewelry, computers and other valuables, you may want to keep those in a locked area that’s off-limits to the sitter. Finally, check with your insurance agent to see how your carrier handles any loss or damages caused by a guest staying in your home.