on house-sitting and adaptability

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
After the first night of sleeping entirely wrapped up in our top sheet, every inch of our bodies tucked in for protection and breathing in warm air recycled between the two of us, we knew we needed a better system.

The following night we enacted a new procedure. Windows were shut at the first sign of dusk and we would retire to bed a little earlier than usual. We laid still just above the covers, wooing our would-be assailants with the sweet smell of our exposed flesh.

It wouldn’t take long for our ears to adjust to the silence so that we could detect their feral buzzing. And then it would begin, a highly entertaining spectacle had anyone else been there to witness it: me shining a light on the wall and calling out directions, Pete clambering across the bed in his underwear. He’d swat a small book at the blood-thirsty mosquitoes on the walls and roof, slaughtering them before their inevitable annoyance of us that would surely deprive sleep. We’d each let out a cheer when one was smashed, but then wait in silence for the others to appear.

And so went every evening of our three week stay in Paris. We were in a beautifully styled house just on the outskirts of the city, complete with a luscious back yard and hammock, taking care of the two sweet pets of an equally sweet family whom we had just met. It had all the designs of being our most perfect house-sitting experience yet, but my eternal enemy, those vile mosquitoes who would search me out for miles (it must be that I am “magically delicious”, so I tell myself), made it otherwise. They would serve to remind us that this was not our home, and that house-sitting requires a certain level of adaptation, no matter how seemingly slight.

(My home would have screens on the windows, dammit. What is up with most of Europe being anti-screen?)

We were in a beautifully styled house just on the outskirts of the city, complete with a luscious back yard and hammock, taking care of the two sweet pets of an equally sweet family whom we had just met.
Paris Housesit

Our Parisian home

The truth is, we have yet to be in a house-sit that has one hundred percent suited us to a tee. If it’s not mosquitoes, then it’s always something else – rampant geckos, terrifyingly large spiders, being too far from town, having a demon cat to care for, the house is too cold, the house is too hot – each detracting from an otherwise perfectly suitable abode. Other house-sitters we know constantly complained (and eventually gave up on the concept), because it seemed every home they entered did not have an adequate paring knife. Why they did not just spend the few dollars to purchase their own, I do not know, but their dilemma served to make a clear statement of the obvious: House-sitting is not for everybody.

It requires adaptability, resilience even, as sometimes house-sitting is a big adventure, and things which are a non-issue for the home owner may be an annoyance and even a deep fear of their house-sitter. And as much as we personally try to mitigate these issues by asking as many questions as possible before accepting a job, there are always those which escape thought. You can bet that before our six-month house-sit in Honduras, I explicitly asked for details on how well-sealed off the house was from outside critters, knowing my plight of being so magically delicious. For this house-sit in Paris, I never anticipated giving that issue a second thought.

So I ended up with a bit of lost sleep, several itchy blemishes for several days, and the tormenting sound of buzzing that continued to ring in my head long after the mosquitoes had been massacred. On the plus side: I got to watch Pete dance around in his underwear nightly, hooting and hollering as he went. And oh yeah, and we were in Paris, rent-free, for three weeks. They had a good paring knife too.

House-sitting is not for everybody.
It requires adaptability, resilience even, as sometimes house-sitting is a big adventure, and things which are a non-issue for the home owner may be an annoyance and even a deep fear of their house-sitter.
Eipo

Sweet pet, Eipo

how to do it

This particular house-sit we found on the new website Nomador.com, which has an enormous number of house-sits for Paris and France. They are expanding worldwide and have some very interesting plans to come, so keep your eye on that site.

Also, if you want to get into house-sitting but aren’t sure where to start – consider our eBook: “How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World“, and save thousands of dollars in your future travels!

34 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • September 8 2014

    When I first moved to BC I couldn’t understand why so many places didn’t have screens either…like, aren’t screens a normal thing to have on windows? My house in Roatan didn’t have them but I just staple-gunned screen material on the outside of all the windows. I couldn’t live with the nightly mosquito feast sessions!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..The Definitive Guide to an Incredible Weekend in Ucluelet, BC

    • September 11 2014

      Ugh – I wouldn’t have survived a week on Roatan without good screens!

  • September 8 2014

    While we haven’t dipped into house-sitting yet, we’ve done some Air BnB-ing and that has certainly given us a taste of how other folks live. We had an apartment in Paris that was lovely and we were SO excited for the kitchen until we found out how few cooking accoutrements there were (no cutting boards, only one small pot…and just some vegetable salt!).
    Emily recently posted..The Quest for A.101

    • September 11 2014

      Yes, we are avid AirBnB users as well, and have had to get used to very inadequately stocked kitchens! But we love everything else about using AirBnb (and house-sitting), so it’s an OK trade-off for us!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    September 8 2014

    Currently we are house sitting for my parents and even though it is the house I grew up in, every day we encounter something that makes it clear this is NOT our home. The kitchen is too small and things aren’t where we expect them to be, the door to the basement sticks, we can’t get the lawnmower to start… None of these are dealbreakers, of course, but we remark all the time about how “if this were our house” all the things we would do differently! Then again, although we are enjoying having our space and the ability to get a bunch of work done while we are here, we both know that we are so not ready to have our own house anyway… so non-optimal but free housing it is instead! 🙂

    • September 11 2014

      “Non-optimal but free” is a good option! “Non-optimal but in Paris” does alright too. 😉

  • September 9 2014

    It’s definitely true that house sitting is not for everybody just as the nomadic life in general isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. So far we have thankfully not had any really bad experiences but we’ve certainly heard stories.

    • September 11 2014

      Yes, not everyone covets this life, and I think that is also part of the reason why – being nomadic definitely requires being adaptable!

  • September 9 2014

    We are on our first house sit right now Dalene! We are 6 months in the mountains outside Panama City.
    The critters abound! As does the mildew. We are dealing with the challenges and growing in the progress:) The place is a bit isolated.

    We have encountered a scorpion, numerous geckos and termites (eeek) so far in the house. We have dealt with all pretty good so far. 4 months to go and the doggies are so sweet and doing well.
    We think this house sitting thing is amazing. Europe is looking like the plan after this gig. As long as we survive the snakes and spiders that is:)

    • September 11 2014

      Wow – you guys are troopers! I might have run screaming from that one. 🙂 I am so glad this job is working out for you, and I am sure you will find some great ones in Europe too!

  • September 9 2014

    Hey, Dalene. We’re currently housesitting in Portugal for 7 weeks, something that made our friends do a double take since we now own a house in Spain. They understood us housesitting when we didn’t have a home, but why now?

    The answer is simple and goes right along with what you wrote: When you give yourself over to the experience and immerse yourself, you get a rare peek at what your life could be in different circumstances. And isn’t that damn interesting, no matter what kind of life you’re living now?

    But if you complain that it isn’t just like home or that there are some challenges because things are done a different way, you’ll miss out on all that you can take away from the experience.

    The best example I could think of for housesitting for people who haven’t tried it yet is this art exhibit on trying on a new life for size: http://jezebel.com/this-womans-photos-could-be-your-life-1630232273

    Also, thanks confirming my experience that most people buy cheap sets of knives instead of investing in a couple of really good ones. Why is that? 🙂
    Betsy Talbot recently posted..How to Talk to Your Partner About Money (Podcast #78 with Debbie Whitlock)

    • September 11 2014

      Oh, I LOVE that woman’s photo project! I absolutely feel like that is me. Often. 🙂

      I also love that you guys are still house-sitting. I am sure that would be us too (if we ever get our own pad. Someday.) It’s not even for the concept of *free* but just for a chance to try out a completely different area, and life.

  • September 9 2014

    I’ve never heard of Nomador – thanks for sharing that. Yes, I can imagine it must take a lifetime of housesitting to find a perfect match. My husband and I have only just done our very first official housesit in Stockholm, and it suited us pretty well, but yes, of course there were compromises…like cats sleeping on our heads. Either way, I still love the idea, and we’ll keep doing it for a while I guess.

    • September 11 2014

      I am quite fine with cats sleeping on heads, in fact, I encourage it, and may even kick Pete out of the bed to make more room for the furbabies. 🙂

  • September 9 2014

    We really know what you are talking about. Each house sit has had its great and not so great points and we don’t mind the trade off for seeing the world!
    Here is a link to an article where we talk about what we do about stuff we can’t take with us. Hope you enjoy it!
    http://joyfuljourneying.com/a-few-purchases-to-feel-at-home-while-housesitting/
    Laurie recently posted..House Sitting on The Other Side of the World

    • September 11 2014

      We agree that the trade-off is absolutely still worth it. 🙂

      That is quite a list of stuff! I’m not going to show this list to Pete, who I already poke fun at for bringing around his “spice rack” wherever we go. (We have no room for him to take more – haha!)

  • Franca
    September 9 2014

    Couldn’t agree more, housesitting can be awesome but it definitely requires to be adaptable to each situation you might find once in the property. There is no reassurance that you’ll like the pets, that the area is what you were expecting and it’s very likely that something that you didn’t think of will come up whilst you are there and it’s too late to decline the assignment. Even in the worst case scenario, the important thing is to remember that you are saving so much money in accommodation and you’ll see a new city more like a local than like a tourist 🙂

    • September 11 2014

      Absolutely Franca! We are avid believers and excited to keep house-sitting for just those reasons. We can deal with a few mozzie bites in return. 🙂

  • September 10 2014

    Hi Dalene & Pete,

    Thanks for sharing your story and giving everyone a peak into the not so glamorous side of House Sitting. It’s good to give people a balanced view of things. :))

    Reading through your post and other peoples’ comments here, I can’t help but thinking, “Wow – those little kinds of things really bother people?” Everyone seems so accustomed to having things ‘exactly so’.

    Which made me realize, “Ah, I’ve been a nomadic traveler for over 16 years, and before that I lived in 2 different houses in Japan for 6 years, and before & in between all that I did heaps of back country camping & hiking.”

    I’m so incredibly accustomed to dealing with different houses, different conditions, outback camp sites, that these kinds of little things hardly register with me as issues.

    Which gets back to your main point – Being adaptable really helps with House Sitting.

    I can see that for anyone used to being in one house, one place, one neighborhood for many years, that suddenly changing to a different house could be somewhat surprising and uncomfortable.

    In such cases, it’s great to keep the bigger picture in mind, too, as Betsy pointed out.. The fact of being in an amazing city/country/region, having a free house to take care of, not having to stay in a hotel or dorm room, having privacy, learning how others live, etc etc. Keeping all that in mind can easily diminish the little annoyances.

    As for your nightly mosquito fest – sounds awful for 3 full weeks! Eek! Just curious if you tried using mosquito coils or candles, sleeping with the lights on, rigging up a mosquito net, putting mosquito repellent on…all the other tricks for keeping mosquitoes at bay while sleeping ?

    Anyhow, here’s to your next House Sit being the PERFECT one!

    cheers, Lash
    Lash recently posted..Work Exchange Tips: When Work Exchange Goes Wrong

    • September 11 2014

      Everyone has different tolerance levels for sure – and I am pretty sure that you are one of a few rare people who could be entirely 100% adaptable!

      For some people, all the little annoyances are still worth it (like US!), but I have known others who have given up on the concept completely. And that is OK! To each their own.

      As for the mosquito fest, our strategy actually worked pretty well, to just slaughter them every night before bed. 🙂

      • September 11 2014

        Hi Dalene,

        I agree 100% with you – to each his own and whatever works for each person is good.

        Ha! I’ve actually come to realize that I’m really quite fussy about a lot of things. To the point that I sometimes think I’m the most unlikely world traveler. But it also seems that I’ve become pretty adaptable. I might not love certain little things, but they seem minimal to me compared to being able to travel the world.

        Glad your mosquito massacre technique worked well for you. 🙂

        Hope you next House Sit is PERFECT! I’m sure you deserve one by now!

        cheers, Lash

  • September 10 2014

    It is very difficult to adapt to alien conditions, even simple things like the weather may not be something that suits us and we may end up with sore throats etc. I love how you describe your battle with the mosquito army, I have had my fair share of those!!
    Arti recently posted..16 Ancient Ganesha Temples in India

    • September 11 2014

      Ha, I can only imagine you have had such battles Arti! I am so magically delicious that it does scare me away from the tropics a lot of the times. It’s a neverending fight, and I hate to smother DEET all over my skin all the time.

  • September 10 2014

    Mosquitoes in Paris? Well I never… We had a few rogue mozzies in San Miguel de Allende where we rented for a month and it almost ruined the experience! Now we are on the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico and there are not nearly as many as we expected!

    As we search out our next house sit it is becoming abundantly clear that housesitting requires adaptability to weather, rural locations and more! But like you say, it’s all part of the adventure and the positives certainly outweigh the challenges.
    Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Peace is a discipline and God is the eye of the hurricane

    • September 11 2014

      One thing house-sitting also does – and I am sure you are finding this – is to narrow down exactly what you need to look for in a sit. I.e. for me, tropical house-sits will only be considered if the house is well sealed off from critters, I also now ask for a lot of details about the health of the pets after losing one on our watch, and I ask for plenty of photos after having to clean substantially on the first day. As much as we love the concept of house-sitting for so many reasons, we also have to make sure that we’ll be happy and comfortable during our stay!

  • Deana
    September 10 2014

    Awww I relived a little moment of our year house sitting in Italy after reading this. We had a gorgeous 7 bedroom villa in Northern Italy outside of Turin and it did have screens to keep the mosquitos out (so many mosquitos!!!). But there are these little itty bitty mosquitos called Pappataci (like no-see-ums) and they are small enough to fit thru the screens. So for nearly 4 weeks we lost our minds from all of the itching and pain and lack of sleep. We had to seal our room up each night and vacuum the walls 7 to 8 times to get as many of them as we could. In doing so, our room was 38 degrees with no fresh air or breeze. We finally smartened up and bought a powerful, industrial fan to blow on our bodies so the Pappataci could not land on us. Adaptation!!!

    Next house sit we had satan’s dog for 2 month’s in city centre Rome. So walking her to the Vatican, the Colosseum or the Spanish steps to see the Pope was bittersweet. And as awful as this dog was, it was quite the deal to have a 3 bedroom apartment in the heart of Rome for FREE.

    You are right, as trying as house sitting can be it is beyond amazing to live in grand homes you might not buy for yourself in an area you might not have chosen to live in. What an experience! I want to do it again, but just a little differently 😉

    • September 11 2014

      Wow! Those are quite the experiences Deana! I think each time we house-sit, we become a little bit pickier about what we will accept, right? At least now I know that we have a list of things we specifically look for before considering a sit. It’s all a part of the process. 🙂

  • September 18 2014

    ah yes mosquitos. We just spent 4 weeks in Kipahulu, even with screens there was always that one mosquito buzzing around at night. I gave up, covered myself with a blanket with just my nose sticking out, Tim tried to kill it and barely slept. Oh yeah and geckos, spiders and cockroaches were a daily occurrence but the views of the ocean and the swimming pool made up for it all.
    A Cook Not Mad (Nat) recently posted..365 Project 2014 – week 35

  • September 24 2014

    I didn’t know about Nomador.com
    Thanks for the tip!
    Antonio Cala recently posted..11 Mejores Rutas de Cicloturismo. Mexico y América Central

  • September 27 2014

    That’s unfortunate the mosquitoes were so bad! You’re right you usually wouldn’t expect them to be a problem here. I hope the rest of your stay went much better!!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..LOUISIANA: Charmed at the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

  • Sharon
    September 8 2016

    Dalene (and Pete),
    I have been housesitting full time for three years. Just locally while I am still working! This was all part of the master plan to see if I could live without Stuff, live other people’s homes, etc.
    I LOVE it! And will be retiring at the end of this year so I can housesit internationally, joining ya’ll!
    Sooo, yes there have been and will be little inconveniences but the sit is not for long, really, in the scope of Life! And inconveniences, for me are better to tolerate then working at a miserable job!
    Cheers and travel on!
    Sharon(from Texas)

  • Lorraine
    December 19 2016

    Dalene so sorry to read of your illness and wish the best outcome for you and quickly as possible. Your posts about it are incredibly moving.
    The house sitting posts are great and inspired us to do the same in Australia for the last year. So funny to read in the comments about the kitchens and how basically some folk equip theirs. We have been extremely fortunate to have our caravan so thank heavens I have all my toys along with us. However the last couple of homes were unsuitable for it even though the owners fibbed and assured us they had plenty of room.Very luckily a previous homeowner who has become a dear friend offered the use of his yard.
    So my advice to those who wish to housesit is if all possible carry a small kit of essential equipment you need to make life comfortable. For example we always take a warm rug,a good knife and coffee along with the little espresso machine and so we have essentially all the things to make it home.
    I totally agree with the if it was our home thing, hours of amusement in that.
    We love it and the animals we look after and have put others onto the lifestyle even though it’s not for all it is still a grand way of life.
    May God bless and keep you and get back to the life you love soon.

  • Kimberley O'Shaughnessy
    January 28 2018

    Dalene, I bought your book 2 years ago and have not looked back. Met the man of my dreams and he decided to join me on this “housesitting” journey. It has brought us to Thailand for 7 months doing 3 different house sits.

    You are right, no sit is perfect but we are getting smarting in the questions we ask and saying, NO, more often.

    Life is an adventure and I love reading what you write.

    Thanks for everything you do!

    Kimberley

    • January 28 2018

      Wonderful to hear!! Thank you Kimberley!

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