July is almost over, and while we didn't exactly travel anywhere "exciting" and stuck to Western Europe, there were some surprises! We finished up our second housesit in Chester at the end of June, which was high time for leaving the UK, where we definitely felt less than welcome since the EU referendum (although gf has a British passport, but that doesn't seem too helpful now if you are not white).

It was time to head somewhere that seems more worry free and pleasant, a country that openly welcomes several cultures and languages by its very foundation. Time to head to...

Switzerland

I have been meaning to spend more time in the Romandie (French speaking Switzerland) for a while, but it never really happened. I have been twice before and while Geneva is a bit meh, Lausanne, the capital of the canton Vaud, is an absolute star. It does feel very French, is a lively and multicultural student city but has the friendliness and overall gorgeousness of Switzerland, if not more... it's hands down the prettiest place I have ever been in Western Europe, especially around the lake.

We only had 2 1/2 days in Lausanne, but managed to climb all over the very hilly old town (nothing can prepare you for that, bring good shoes!), walk by Lake Geneva and do a little hike in the neighbouring villages around the Lavaux wine terraces. Next time I'll definitely bring more time so we can actually stop over and enjoy the villages we just raced through this time. 


After a short trip to Italy, we spent a week in Basel, which is not really a popular place for tourism in Switzerland (the landscape around it pretty flat and boring), but we found it a very pleasant city. You can walk to both Germany and France from there, if you like. The weather was fantastic and we got a healthy tan, even though we didn't join the many people swimming in the Rhine (I couldn't believe my eyes - it's also much much cleaner there than on the other end of the river, where I grew up). 


A weekend in Lombardia

Our trip to Lausanne was so short because we went to a small village near Bergamo for friends' wedding, which was picture perfect in an old villa, but also relaxed. Our friends who got married are from Taiwan and Italy and both have lived and travelled all over, so the wedding was a lovely cultural mix of guests and traditions, albeit with a hefty Italian dinner, which we had to cut short due to being super tired after an early morning trip from Switzerland. 



The day after the wedding, we explore Bergamo, which is a super cute and overlooked city in this part of Italy. It was nice to enjoy some Italian foods before we were back to Switzerland, country of "can't afford to eat out here". 

Strasbourg, by surprise

Due to a miscommunication of housesitting dates, we had a week to fill all of a sudden. I really really wanted to go back to the West of Switzerland, but everything was booked solid because of the Montreux Jazz Festival. Completely by chance, we managed to find a small studio in the heart of Strasbourg's historic centre for a week.

Due to the great weather, I couldn't bring myself to visit any museums. And I LOVE museums, but the city managed to captivate us so much that just walking around didn't get boring all week. Strasbourg's many canals also make the city great for running. Next time, I'll be back for indoor stuff and a wine tour :) 

I also havent' visited anywhere else in France where people were that friendly and helpful. None of the places we went to eat our buy stuff at had rude staff, ha!


Stuttgart & Düsseldorf

Let's not talk about Stutgart, except this: It's overpriced, unfriendly and not pretty - if you're in the area, head straight for the Black Forest, Switzerland or France.

After a day in Stuttgart, we stopped over in Düsseldorf to catch up with some friends as well as Japanese food and supplies (intermediate kanji, here I come). Then it was time to go...

Back to the Netherlands!

For the last week of July (and for the next 4 weeks), we are back to a small town just south of Haarlem (which is just south of Amsterdam), looking after the most fantastic Ridgeback and ginger cat, in an amazing house from the future. This is time for long walks in the forest and catching up on work, studying, reading and watching stuff on the Netflix subscription that comes with the house. Not to forget enjoying the fancy organic shops and "yummy mummy" amenities this place comes with (the neighbourhood is a bit... the Real Housewives of Amsterdam, I guess). 

This was our first housesit back in May, and I think the sheer perfection of the house, location and pets just ruined all other housesits for us...













Having just completed our second housesitting assignment, I thought it would be worth sharing our experiences, which might help you see if housesitting might be an option for you. 

We initially thought that housesitting was off the cards for us, as most homeowners prefer “mature” sitters, and while we are certainly responsible, clean and mature, we don’t look it in our profile picture – we both often get ID’d trying to buy alcohol. Nevertheless, we managed to find both housesits quite easily, probably due to the fact that both families were quite young and open minded. Similarly to a job interview, the first impression and personal chemistry seems to count more than experience, but prepare to write extra convincing applications if you are under 40 or solo housesitter without any previous experience/references. Supposedly, it gets much easier once you do have some references, something we haven’t been able to try out yet as we actually secured a repeat housesit and won’t apply for any more until the end of the year.

THE PROS

11.  Free accommodation
Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You get free accommodation, often substantially larger than you would even be able to get with an AirBnB or holiday apartment, a fully equipped, functioning home plus a rental pet!

22. A home away from home

For anybody travelling long term and especially working and travelling, this is a perfect deal and can be a compromise if you feel a little fatigued from travel. I can also allow you to spend a longer time in places you would otherwise have to spend a short time or skip altogether because of the cost, say the UK or Australia. I surely felt very itchy to get travelling again at the end of both housesits. Instead of setting up a new home somewhere, the long term nomad can try to find a housesitting assignment that lasts a few weeks or even months to build up some new wanderlust.

33. Puppy love

To be honest, and that surprised our housesitting hosts, for me, the bigger benefit of housesitting is having pets! I grew up with dogs, often multiple, large dogs at a time, and it’s the one thing I miss from my small town childhood and teens. I don’t see how a pet can fit into my life in the foreseeable future, but I love looking after other people’s pets. It was quite awkward to have to tell people that really, I didn’t choose to apply for their listing because I want to travel where they are, but because I love the description of their dog (sorry, I’ll look after cats, too, but really, it’s all about dogs for me).

You will notice that I didn’t put up “live like a local” as a pro. That is because it definitely is a pro, but I have to admit that in the places we have housesat before, we did not really fit in with the community/neighbourhood (which were quite elderly). On the other hand, other forms of accommodation also allow you to live like a local – virtually anywhere that isn’t a hotel or hostel.


THE CHALLENGES

While we did really enjoy both of our housesitting, with lovely houses and pets in great locations, I don’t think this will be a permanent thing for us, for the following reasons. I'm calling these challenges, rather than cons, as they are just that - personal challenges that will not affect many other people.

11)  Choice of countries

This is highly individual, but most housesits are simply offered in countries I am not really excited to visit. The majority of sits come up in Western Europe, North America and Australia, all of which I am ok to be in, but I don’t really feel the need to spend such a long time that housesitting makes sense. On the other hand, housesits are required by expats who retired or moved to popular places in the Mediterranean and tropical countries (there’s a lot of Spain, Caribbean and Thailand coming up), or expat hubs such as Dubai. None of these excite me, either, and I’d rather not be somewhere that’s super-hot unless it’s a location I am dying to explore – there’s a reason I chose the UK as my adopted home country. There are definitely exceptions to this and to be honest, when I have a lot of work to do, I don’t really mind where I am, but for the purpose of discovery and excitement, housesitting doesn’t fulfil my needs at all.

22)      Choice of location

More than anything, our two housesitting assignments again have reinforced how much of an urban creature I am. I feel most comfortable in the urban jungle, the grittier and busier and confusing, the better. Obviously this is quite the opposite of what my preferred pets – large dogs – like. Even if you don’t need a garden, you do need a bigger house and probably don’t live in the city centre when you have a big dog. Yes, there absolutely are housesits in more urban locations, and we will continue to explore that option, but options are limited to small dogs or cats in these cases.

33)    Limitations through pets

Admittedly, cats are much better with this than dogs, as most don’t care about being left alone. Dogs on the other hand, come in all kinds of variations. Some dogs can be left alone for quite a while, but especially in larger families, some dogs have never been alone for more than an hour or two, as people constantly come and go. This will limit your options for day trips and exploration in the area. An owner might also tell you that their dog is well behaved or relaxed, but their definition can be very different from yours (i.e. a dog might not pull on the leash, but constantly bark for your attention when in the house, or decide to sleep on your bed). I can only stress that it’s very important to discuss all of this in as much detail as possible before you agree to an assignment. On the other hand, it can make you sound a bit odd to ask too many questions. You might end up with a pet that you manage to deal with, but still gets on your nerves. Bring tolerance and patience, as if you were training your own puppy, but also accept that any attempt to re-train a mature animal is probably futile (when the owner returns at the latest).
On future housesits, I will also definitely check how many walks a dog gets and how long these usually are. We recently looked forward to long riverside walks with the large and supposedly very active dog who rarely wanted to walk further than 500 metres. As a consequence, we started to feel like prisoners of the (otherwise very lovely!) animal in a town which really didn’t have much to do.

While this might not sound very positive (here goes marketing writing once again…), I would like to stress that housesitting is probably a much better fit for most other people than for us. We also have been very lucky with beautiful homes and pets, and are looking forward to the repeat assignment we managed to secure!
However, I think you do need to be flexible and genuinely excited about the location, which we really weren’t with our sits in the UK and the Netherlands. I’m not a big cat lover (not that I hate them) and am not sure if I would jump at the option of a cat-only housesit. I dislike small dogs and suburban environments, which makes finding a match much harder. However, if I was planning to discover Europe or the US on a budget and with a lot of time, I would absolutely love the option.




… but for now, where’s my housesit in Japan, Korea or the Caucasus, please?


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