Pigeon Review now open for submissions

Hey everyone!

I’m the fiction editor for an online art and writing publication called Pigeon Review. We are now open for submissions!

What are we looking for? Well, the full submissions guidelines are here. But, for a little idea, we want writing that flows from place to place. Stories that make us question whether it’s fiction or reality.

For art, we love the idea of finding beauty in the mundane, in the everyday, like a cluttered room or a intrepid plant. Art that tells a story, even if you think you’re the only one who might understand it.

If you have work like this, please send it our way, we’d love to see it!

www.pigeonreview.com

Traveling Alone or Bringing a Partner

For the last 4-5 years, Darcy and I have been traveling together. Before this, I spent a few years traveling solo. I thought this section could be important to anyone who was going to bring a Significant Other, a friend, or a kid/parent. By and large, most people tend to travel alone, and pick up partners along the way if they’re going to the same place.

It’s my own personal philosophy that everyone should take at least one trip by themselves. There are few ways easier to see your flaws so clearly than traveling alone. On my solo trips, I learned mountains of information about what my limits are, what my fears are, and how I respond to different problems under different stresses.

With a partner, you can mitigate some of these problems by splitting the load. But with one person, it’s on you. Waking up at 3am, catching a 4am flight, not arriving until the same time the next day, trying to find your hotel on 3 hours of airplane sleep. It’s difficult, but once you do it, you’ll think, ‘Now I can do anything.’

Whether or not you’ve been traveling before, you have probably heard someone run down the list of why traveling alone is great. Amazing. So much better than bringing anyone.

  • Meet more people

This one has some merit to it. I’ve heard that people are more likely to approach you when you’re by yourself. However, I find it the opposite. I find that I’m trusted more traveling with Darcy (whether it’s because she’s a woman, or there are two of us, I don’t know.) However, when I traveled alone, I was more outgoing, intent on meeting people and making the most of the experience. With Darcy I find myself less outgoing, and less earnest to make new friends.

  • Go where you want, when you want

Sure, this one is true. But Darcy and I have never run into the problem of wanting to go to two places at the same time. I’ve already talked about how we decide where to go in the section ‘Deciding Where to Go.’

  • Save money

In my experience, this is categorically untrue.

  • Have a more unique experience

Eh. How can an experience be more unique?

Although I think everyone should take at least one trip alone, I do think that traveling solo is lonely. Especially if you’re an outgoing person, you might find solo travel to be especially depressing. I’ve known a handful of people who end up coming home after a few weeks, telling me they just couldn’t handle it.

And this is okay. Some people are incredibly well adjusted to traveling alone, and they end up quitting their job and traveling solo full time, hopping from place to place. This isn’t everyone. If you find yourself floundering on your first solo trip, don’t panic. You aren’t alone. You can always go home.

And when you set out again, you might want to go with someone.

  • Fights

Strange thing to stat with, I know. But we had more fights, or arguments, in that first month of traveling than a year and a half of living together back home. When you’re traveling with someone, and both stretched to your limits, fights happen easily, and they happen fast. But you learn. Not just about the other person, but about yourself. What sets you off. Behavior you have that went unnoticed by you. How you act when you’re tired, or hungry, or are faced with the prospect of having to sleep outside. And you work through it. I will say, after that first month, the arguments became rare, and easier to manage because we had already been through so much together.

  • Cheaper

Traveling with a partner is cheaper. Not half as cheap as by yourself, but pretty close. A hotel room for $70 a night is now the cheaper alternative to a $50 a night hostel bed. Even eating. When traveling alone, I always bought bread and cheese as a staple. And by day two, the bread would be hard and the cheese sweaty. But when there’s someone else to eat, we buy food more often, and therefore its fresher. Flights are sometimes cheaper when you purchase two at a time, instead of one. Rental cars are far cheaper split between two people. I used to spend nearly $750 a month while traveling. Now I average around $450. So, not quite half, but pretty close!

  • Security

With two people, once person can always be on watch. Whether it be taking turns sleeping on a long train, or using the bathroom in a dodgy bar, or even at airports when you want to walk around, you’ll always have someone to watch over the bags, and vice versa.

  • Stress

Surprisingly, it’s far less stressful to travel with a partner. Not only are there two pairs of eyes looking over every reservation and ticket, there are now two people looking for those reservations and tickets. When traveling alone, it’s easy to make mistakes and not catch them until too late. I can’t count the number of times I boarded the wrong train, or bought a ticket for the wrong date, or went to the ‘Hotel Sacre Coeur’ and not ‘Hotel de Sacre Coeur.’ Having someone else can reduce the stress simply by having the person there, and knowing the chance for mistake can be mitigated by them.

  • Sharing the experience

This is probably the biggest reason to travel with someone, even for a short time. I can’t remember all the amazing experiences I had while traveling alone, primarily because there was no one lese there to experience them with me.

I found that when I returned home the first time from traveling, at the ripe old age of 18, that most people didn’t care, or didn’t understand what I experienced. And that’s what I realize every time I go back to where I used to live. The only people who understand the rush of seeing the spice markets of some North African medina for the first time are the people who have been there. The only people who understand the stillness you feel when seeing a sunset over a foreign ocean, are the ones who felt that same stillness.

It’s not gatekeeping, saying if you haven’t traveled, than you wouldn’t know. But if you haven’t traveled, it’s difficult to listen to someone who has talked about their travels. And, subsequently, the person who traveled (you, in this case) feels disillusioned by the whole thing.

When you travel with someone, you can share all experiences with them.

I won’t say one way is better than another, flat out. However, I have found that I enjoy traveling far more with a partner than I do by myself. Now, I can stop and have a coffee or a drink in a dingy Parisian bar, and I know there was someone there to enjoy it with me.

So if you can, take someone. Don’t just go alone.

But if you’re the type of person who appreciates being by yourself, then dive in headfirst!

If you enjoyed this, follow me! I’ll be posting a different post on traveling when I can

House-sitting: Packing! (The Fun Part!)

Part 5 of an ongoing series

Later I will write a general packing list, but since this is a housesitting focused blog post, I’ll focus on what to bring when house sitting.

For those of you who have traveled before, packing is easily the most exciting part of traveling. Partly because you have the chance to buy new gear before heading out.

When I first went traveling on my own, back in 2013 (which was 6 years ago, sweet lordy Jesus), I scoured through Sierra Trading Post, REI, local outdoor stores, and even eBay. I wanted the perfect anti-microbial, merino wool, high-tech mesh, quick dry, anti-odor, packing list. I must have spent $1000 on new gear (including the $300 for a Gregory pack.)

I no longer do this for two reasons. The main reason is for environmental reasons. Buying new gear is a waste of resources, if I have things that I can still wear. I don’t really need a quick dry, wool shirt if I already have a few Old Navy shirts lying around.

(I should say this now, if you are going hiking, or planning an overnight, or multi-night, outdoor excursion, please ignore all of this. Your success can and might be dictated by your gear, so don’t skimp! Wet clothes can cause a number of problems while hiking!)

The second reason is money. The Gregory pack was great, but it was for hiking. (A number of European backpackers will use a hiking back for its superior ratio of size/capacity and the fact you can strap it to yourself in very comfortable ways.) Now I use a $40 IKEA bag that works so-so. (Splurge in the bag. I think this $40 is a bit of a waste for any serious traveling.)

Now, my needs have changed, as have a number of people’s. We need tech. We need gadgets. Okay, need is a strong word. But many people who go traveling will try to have some kind of cyber-side-income. Or main income. Which means laptop. Which means a bag crafted around a secure laptop pocket.

Later, I will definitely make a Big Ol’ Bag Post, but for now, I recommend checking out reddit OneBag or similar places. A good youtuber to watch is Chase Reeves, who does reviews of bags and sometimes shoes/other gear.

If you already know what kind of pack you’re going to bring, great! Let’s get started on the packing list.

When house sitting, you’ll usually have a washer, so no need for bringing tons of clothes. If this list seems too large, then pare down. It’s all down to weight for me, but for you the metric might be different. It’s also worth mentioning that when you house sit, it’s best to blend in with the locals. Not only does this help remove you as a target for possible pickpocketing/mugging, but you might get better service with the locals!

Unfortunately, I can’t give a specific rundown of what you should buy. Not only do new things come out every day, you should really only go traveling with things you trust. But before buying something, definitely check out the reviews. You never know what you might find.

(This list is written by a male, and my needs. Darcy is going to write a female guide soon! But use whichever one works best for you!)

Right. Let’s get started. The amount of clothes needed will be per Week.

Tops

Summer- Whenever I go someplace hot, I tend to bring linen button down shirts. (I found a stack of them at a local Salvation Army just before summer started. If you’re looking, I’d start there!) I don’t like how t-shirts stick to me, especially in a place that’s humid. I know some people prefer wool shirts since they’re breathable and moisture wicking, but I still feel like they stick. The Airism line from Uniqlo is also growing in popularity as a lightweight, breathable, ultra-packable, and budget friendly shirt. However, if you already have summerwear, bring that. Especially if you’re trip isn’t long (under a month.) Depending where you go, you can go with one shirt, and come back with another. I try not to use this method since it’s a bit wasteful, but if you have some shirts that are soon headed for the trash, you can use those, wear them out, buy new ones and bring those home. This method works well because you’re bringing a few shirts that will be washed often, thereby decreasing their lifespan. 7 tops.

Winter- Wool is the way to go if you have it. If you don’t, consider investing in at least one baselayer. Doesn’t have to be Smartwool or Icebreaker. REI has a good selection of their brand base layer at affordable prices. That can be worn often, and paired with any top. I usually go long sleeves. I have a few long sleeve henleys from the gap that work perfectly for this. Once you have a base layer, I wouldn’t buy any new shirt past that. 1 base layer, 3 over shirts.

Bottoms

Summer- We’re back with the linen. Linen all day. Cut large, if you can find it. I’ve tried a variety of pants and shorts for summer, and linen is by far the best. If you don’t have any, and don’t want to spend the money on them (they tend to be pretty pricey in the States), and you’re headed to Europe, wait until you arrive to buy linen clothes. They’re easily half the price here, if not more. The linen isn’t some crazy high quality, but it’s perfect for summer. If you don’t want to dress in all linen like my uncle at every barbecue, try loose weave cotton. If you’ve been living in a hot place, and you’re visiting another hot place, then wear whatever you’re used to, just check the humidity levels! I used to live in Savannah, and it was crazy humid. However, having a summer in North Macedonia, it’s hot, just not humid. It changes my packing slightly. Bring 3 bottoms.

Winter- Pretty much up to you. I bring 2 pairs of pants. One pair is rip stop cotton, and one pair is Patagonia stretch jeans. The jeans suck for warmth, but I use them when the day isn’t too bad. The rip stop cotton pants are great for keeping the wind out, and they’re baggy, giving me enough ‘dead air’ space to be comfortable. Some people like 1 pair of pants, some 3. This is on you. Wear your normal winter pants. Only buy a pair if you really need to, because unless you’re going somewhere you’ll need snow pants, you’ll be fine.

Underwear

This is where I splurge like crazy. Most of my underwear is about $30 per pair. I just bought a few pairs of the Uniqlo Airism underwear, and it’s not bad, but cut feels a wee bit small. I’m used to the leg on the underwear going down my thigh about 1/4 of the way. These are about half that. I have 4 pairs of Exofficio, and a few pairs of other underwear. I also have 2 pairs of almost knee length, half poly/half wool underwear that are fantastic for winter. I digress. Underwear is, again, up to you. I like the kind that’s all fancy. Anti-microbial, anti-odor, flat seams so it doesn’t chafe, quick drying (which isn’t that quick, so not a huge selling point), etc. Some people like Hanes, or Fruit of the Loom. Totally up to you. Bring as many pairs as you can fit. I bring 10, usually. Someone once said “Pack underwear as if you’ll shit yourself on every day of the trip.

Socks

Summer- For summer I tend to use flip-flops or sandals, so I rarely get the chance to need socks. That being said, I do travel with a pair of shoes and 5 pairs of ankle length socks. They’re small, pack down easily, and are great for summer. If you’re the type of person to bring hiking boots in the summer, then you’ll need longer socks, but I would recommend wool socks if that’s the case. Cotton will chafe like crazy when you sweat.

Winter- Wool socks. 5 pairs.

Shoes

Summer- Sandals, as often as you can. Try not to buy some on your trip, because that is a bad time to break in a pair of uncomfortable sandals. I would bring whatever you have at your house. Anything comfortable, from Old Navy 99¢ flip-flops to Birkenstocks. If you need to bring shoes, try to bring something lightweight. Shoes can be a huge part of your packing weight, and a heavy bag in summer is murder.

Winter- Boots, if you can swing it. Boots tend to have better wet/snow traction, and they’ll create an overlap with your pants, keeping you warm. If you bring boots, also try to pack a pair of sneakers. You might need them for the days your boots are too wet to wear.

Jacket

Summer- Very rarely will you need a summer jacket. I don’t think I’ve been to a single place that gets cold enough during normal hours to need a jacket. I know that some places get cold at night, and if you’re going to be out after midnight, then bring a lightweight jacket. Just remember, a jacket = weight.

Winter- You’ll need a warm coat and something waterproof/resistant. I recommend a 3-in-1. They are made to fit together, providing warmth, dryness, or both when you need it. I would also recommend a puff jacket. A few brands, like Patagonia, make theirs from recycled plastic. I’d recommend not using down, for environmental reasons, but if you have to, try Uniqlo. They’re supposed to have very high down standards, only using down from ducks being killed in China for food. Not to mention, their jackets are very reasonable and pack down into nothing. Which is why a puff jacket is important. I brought a nice, knee-length cashmere (found it in a Goodwill. $15.) jacket to Italy a few years ago. Although nice, totally impractical. Can’t really wear it on a plane, not maneuverable enough to wear a backpack with, and overall not as warm as a puff jacket with windproof cover

Shops

  • REI
  • REI Outlet
  • Patagonia
  • Patagonia Worn Wear
  • Sierra Trading Post
  • Lems (For shoes
  • Thrift stores

I listed these as shops to buy clothes in that are somewhat environmentally responsible. STP isn’t, but you’re buying clothes before they end up in a possible landfill. (Of course, not all outdoor brands will trash unsold clothes, but major clothing labels will, so maybe outdoor brands do as well?

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House-sitting: The House

Part 4 of an ongoing series

Image by Ben Scherjon from Pixabay

The most important part about the house sit, beside the pets, is the house. No-brainer, I know. However, since it’s an important topic, I might as well write about it.

(Someone asked me why I write about house sitting, if all I’ll do is tell more people how to house sit, and lose out on possible jobs myself. First, housesitting is a great experience, and everyone should have the chance, just once, to live in and experience a foreign country. Second, if and when you go, I want it to be the best possible experience for both sides, so no one gives up on it. House sitting can so easily turn into the Craigslist “Oh, don’t trust Craigslist weirdos,” so I want to do my part and make sure it doesn’t)

You’ll often hear “Treat the house as if it’s your own.” Don’t do that. That is a trap. Treat the house like it’s your most treasured possession. But don’t feel like you need to go crazy repainting the hallway or anything.

When Darcy and I housesit, we spend the last few days doing a deep clean. We make a list of every room, every chore to do in the room, and we knock it out over the course of a few days. It feels amazing to come home from a vacation to see your house immaculate, and the pets happy, so that’s what we try to do for the home owners.

Stressful? Absolutely! But worth it. We’re invited back for the next time they need a housesit, and it’s a great way to make friends with the homeowner.

Keeping the house clean isn’t your only chore. It’s also your job to make sure that nothing breaks. And I’ll tell you know, just to help your stress levels, something will break.

Let me repeat that.

SOMETHING WILL BREAK.

I know I just said make sure nothing breaks, and that I followed it up with something will break, but that’s the deal. Try your hardest to treat everything carefully. Don’t twist things that are meant to be pulled and vice-versa. Don’t use steel utensils on their non-stick pan. Don’t put your feet up on any non washable white furniture. If you do break something, don’t panic! It’ll be okay! Every homeowner we’ve met says “Just let me know, and don’t worry about it. We would have also broken it eventually.

During one of our first house sits, I opened the fridge door to get into the freezer, which is in the fridge. But the doors opened opposite ways. The fridge door opened on the right, and the freezer on the left, so the fridge door needed to be fully open before the freezer could be opened. When I opened the fridge door, I heard a loud snap, and the thin piece of metal that was the spring broke in two. (That was the most £40-ish pint of ice cream I’ve ever bought.) Everything ended up okay. I told the homeowners what happened, and told them I could fix it. I ordered a spare part, took apart their counters (since it was an integrated fridge) and replaced the broken part with the new one. Which brings me to my next point…

It’s always helpful to have some general handyperson skills. Just being handy with a screwdriver/drill. Maybe with a paintbrush if you accidentally dinged one of the walls. Nothing crazy.

Let me put you in the mind of a home owner (if you aren’t one who does housesitting.)

You leave for a few weeks, someone is staying at the house. You got a killer tan, saw a great sidewalk performer, and now you’re headed home after one last cuba libre on the beach. You get back, and you see a build-up of soap scum in the shower. That’s fine, that’s what happens when people shower. And, oof, a ding on the wall. They must have moved the chairs around. No worries, easily solvable with a coat of paint. A broken plate? No worries, it’s just IKEA. I just wish they told me.

And that’s what I try to do. I try to clean the soap scum, paint over the ding, and if I break anything, tell them. I always let them know I’d be happy to replace it, or send them money for it. To date, no one has taken me up on the offer, but I want people to know it’s there.

I know a few people who don’t tell the home owners when something breaks, instead just fixing it themselves. Their rational is “If it breaks again, they’ll blame me for not fixing it right the first time.” I feel like that’s a very iffy ational, and it’s better to upfront and honest, because that’s who I’d want staying at my (nonexistent) house.

Be careful when house sitting, and everything will be okay!

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Artists critiquing artists

As an artist, or writer, specifically, I’ve been critiqued. I’ve been critiqued when I ask for it, but more often, when I don’t ask for it. (Which isn’t to say, don’t give unsolicited critique, just keep doing you, but try not to critique unfinished work unless asked.)

Creating anything, whether it be a painting, a book, song, dance performance, anything, is always a difficult undertaking. It’s fraught with questioning self-confidence, attempts at giving up, and the imposing question of ‘will it be good enough?’ There are someone people who seem to be able to create art and never feel the negative effects of showing it to people, but I highly suspect these people are hiding something.

When a piece of work is finally finished, and shown to the world, the inevitable comments demeaning the work start almost immediately. It’s strange, because these comments tend to come from people who don’t create. They aren’t writers, they aren’t singers, or dancers, actors, musicians, etc. They haven’t made themselves vulnerable, showing the entire world what only existed inside their head. It’s one thing to be insulted, and I think we’ve all been insulted at some point or another, but it’s another thing to have something you create be insulted. Hell, look at parents. Try insulting their kid in front of the parent, see how smashingly that goes.

So it’s often confusing, or downright perplexing, when an artist demeans another artist’s works.

You are one of them! You know how it feels to create something. You know the amount of pressure you’re under when making something The amount of times you change, edit, and alter something so more people will like it, or fewer people will be offended. What are you doing, insulting other artists?

This happened to me the other day. I had a few questions about the particulars of advertising my book (keywords, audience, etc.), and instead I get a comments about the cover or the synopsis.

On one hand, they are technically about advertising. Fine. Technically correct is the best kind of correct, and all that. But I find it fascinating when the comments are closer to “Worst cover I’ve seen,” than “I like XYZ, but your cover throws me a little bit. Have you considered taking another look at it?”

Critiquing should be constructive. The good with the bad. Reinforcing what decisions you thought were good, and highlighting the ones you found questionable.

I understand there’s a culture of “The worst thing you can tell someone is ‘good job’ because they’ll never work for anything greater,” but I find that to be a bit of a cop out. I think the people who take that ‘good job’ and keep pushing are worthy artists. This isn’t to say there’s nothing helpful about the vindictive energy you get when someone rips apart the beautiful thing you created, I just think you should become an artist if you want to. Not to prove someone else wrong. Because then you define your entire life by someone else’s, and forget to live for yourself.

House-sitting: Choosing Where and Which Owners

Part 3 of an ongoing series

Ohrid, Macedonia

In the last post, I briefly touched on choosing where to go. In this post I’ll continue that idea and talk about how to choose a homeowner.

Choosing where to go is nearly 100% up to you. I say nearly, because of course, house sitting isn’t available in every country, or every city. I have talked to people who want to housesit in places where the concept isn’t common, like Italy, Eastern Europe, and parts of Africa. Generally speaking, if you’re going to be housesitting in one of those places, it’s at the house of someone foreign to the area. Which can be a bonus! Often times, expats will have things in their house that we’ve come to expect in the Western world, like a washer (or dryer, if you’re lucky!) or air conditioning.

In most countries, these things aren’t as common, so keep that in mind when you’re packing your bag (which I’ll talk more about in another article.)

Housesitting can be a great way to see places you normally wouldn’t have heard of (I know, dangling participle!) Darcy and I recently completed a house sit in Caen, Normandy, France, and it was fantastic! For the two of us, it was off the beaten path (but not to any WWII history buff) and we made great friends!

France is actually one of the few countries that have quite a few housesits available at any given time. Between a number of UK expats, and French who love their pets, it’s easy to find one and go visiting.

Before choosing a housesit, be very careful to read the description! I cannot stress this enough. It seems like the obvious thing to do, but not only do you want to have a firm idea of what you’re getting yourself into, you also want to be able to refer back to the description if you find the homeowner was not as forthcoming as they should have been.

Here’s a few things to watch out for.

First: Money. Never pay. I repeat. NEVER PAY. Nearly all house sitting websites tell you this same thing, but some homeowners think they’re doing you a favor by giving you a place to live. In fact, you are doing them a HUGE favor. You’re looking after their animals while they are away, ensuring the home owners aren’t paying for a house sitter locally, and most importantly, ensuring the animals are happy.

Where I used to live in the States, a night in the kennel would cost someone about $50. So a housesitter charging less than that would easily get the job, solely based on the fact the homeowners pet is in a place they feel comfortable — home! When a homeowners description says the housesitter will have to pay electric/gas/water etc, it tells me they greatly undervalue the service you are providing. This also tells me they will be requiring you to do things they didn’t list, ‘since they’re already doing you a favor.’

(To add on to this, never buy anything for the animal they should already have, i.e., food, bedding, litter, treats, etc. All of those should definitely be provided for by the pet/home owner. But if you want to buy the pet a treat, check with the pet owner, then do so! We did a fantastic pet sit in Edinburgh with an adorable dog, and the owners said he loved sausages from down the street, at a restaurant. They made it clear he didn’t need these, but if we wanted to treat him, those would be okay. I personally like recommendations like this. Of course, we ended up spoiling the pupper rotten, but they made it clear we didn’t need to, which we appreciated. It was also far more fun to do on our own volition.)

The only times that might be okay to pay is when there are no pets, and the housesit is long term (more than 2 weeks.) Then I understand the homeowner trying to keep costs low. And electricity/gas shouldn’t be too much for a month, anyway. At least, it’ll be cheaper than an AirBnB for a month.

Second: Check to make sure you’re not staying at a thinly veiled Workaway program. (If you’re looking for a Workaway program, ignore me!) Some of the housesits are looking for a live-in caretaker to do chores such as gardening, taking care of farm animals, etc. Which isn’t such a bad idea. But keep in mind, often times you will not be able to find a paying job without a visa, and the homeowners won’t pay, they’ll only offer lodging. I saw one offered in Guatemala that had the house sitters working long-term at their restaurant/resort location. Again, if this appeals to you, go right ahead! However, I am hesitant to do any work for someone without some kind of contract or payment.

Third: And this one is far more subjective. Get a feel for how the homeowner writes their description. If they sound demanding or welcoming. If it’s detailed or completely lacking information. To get a feel for this, just search through different descriptions. Don’t take too long, though! Once you find a house sit you want, you’ll have to jump on it! Which brings me to…

Initiating contact. Your first message doesn’t need to be a fleshed-out, color-coded, from-birth-till-today exposé on your life. Just a few sentences will do. ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I saw your housesit. Your XYZ looks so adorable, I have a little furry guy myself. I’m proficient/well-practiced at the chores you need done. Look forward to hearing from you.’ Something simple like that, maybe a few more bells and whistles. However, if you’re the type of person to show your personality on that first message, please don’t let me stop you! I want you to do whatever feels natural, that was just a little sample of how simple it can be.

When you’re sending out messages, try not to send out more than two, three at the most. You don’t want more than two people say yes, because then you’ll have to tell one of them ‘Oh, too late,” which makes it sound like you’re just in it for the vacation, and not the animals. I should reiterate, ANIMALS COME FIRST.

The reason I say it’s okay to send two is if you’re in a crunch, you have to get out of the house you’re in, and you need anyone to say yes. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable and difficult situation to be in, and you shouldn’t blame yourself if you have to send some messages and hope for the best.

I’ve never done a Skype call for any house sit. Usually Darcy and I exchange messages, then What’s App info, then a few more messages. The first housesit we did, we didn’t have a last name, address, nothing. (UK Border Patrol was real happy about that. I’ll talk more about that in a separate article.)

Once that’s done, it’s just the waiting game!

More often than not, you’ll be asked to come a day or two early, just to meet the owners and the pets. This is totally normal. Usually you’re put up in their house for the night they ask you to come. You can also do what Darcy and I did, and rent a hotel room, explore the city and meet the homeowners in a way that has minimal pressure. (After all, if something terrible happens, we aren’t getting kicked out of a house. We just go back to a hotel room and figure out Plan B.) But I’ve never heard of anything horrible happening, so you’ll be fine!

If you’re curious about more housesitting information, follow me! I try to post one article a day on a different, or slightly different, topic. If you want to read some of my fiction work, please check it out!

House-sitting: Your Description – Sell yourself!

Part 2 of an ongoing series

When I was at this point, the questions started to flood in. How do I get started? Where do I go? Do I need reviews?

The easiest way to get started is by starting where you live. Put out a Facebook post, or an Instagram post. Better yet, respond to people looking for a house sit. The people that will trust you the most are the ones who already know you. I would recommend getting a few of these under your belt, not to mention, these would probably pay if you do it in your hometown! (If you’re traveling somewhere, they won’t pay. If you’re doing it where you live, they will pay. That’s the general rule of thumb on which house sit jobs pay and which don’t.)

Once you have a few housesits completed, you can ask them to be references. Chances are, they won’t need to do much, maybe send an email or two. Tell a prospective house owner that you’re trustworthy. That sort of thing.

Now that you have a few house sits under your belt, you’re ready to go! Where to?

What are you interested in? There will more than likely be a few house sits that suit your interests. In the city or in the country? In a country that speaks a language you’re familiar with? A country with great food? What about a country with camels or emu?

(In the next installment I will talk about websites. It needs an entire article devoted it. This post will be more about the kind of description to write.)

Once you’ve found a housesit, it’s time to reach out to them! I tend to make an account after I find a housesit, mainly because most websites will let you search for housesits without an account.

Setting up your account is a fairly important step. I have trouble with it, because I tend to prefer anonymity, but a housesitting account needs to be outgoing, personable, and inviting.

Pictures are important. Pictures of you smiling even more so. My own personal philosophy is to use pictures that aren’t ‘instagram worthy,’ as in, there’s no filter, no setting sun, nothing that might look stock. Darcy and I use goofy, smiling photos. I think we’re eating ice cream in one, and another one is taken after a hike so you can see the view. Of course, you can use whatever photos you want! It’s your page! However, I’m always wary of bot accounts/fake accounts, and I steer clear from any house sit that uses stock photos/promo photos/drone photos. Not that I don’t trust drone photos, but they usually pop up on accounts that have promo photos. (I’ll cover this more in it’s own article about choosing the right home owners.) And because of that, I make sure my profile looks as real as possible. Trying to remove any doubt before anyone is actually doubting.

Now the description. Who are you, and what do you do?

Darcy and I both work at home, so to speak. I’m a writer, and she’s a watercolor painter. So neither of us are applying for a long-term housesit with the intent of getting a seasonal job. Which is totally okay, by the way! Some house owners even expect it! There are other house owners who are actively searching for retired couples, usually using the word ‘spry’ or ‘active.’ These are the housesits Darcy and I apply to. We act like a spry retired couple. Usually around the house. Giving plenty of cuddles to the animals. Happy to sit with a cat on our lap or go for a thirty minute walk with a dog. We have no plans, so our day can be the animal’s day.

If you’re looking for a job wherever you go, make that clear in the description! Like I said earlier, most homeowners won’t mind, but you don’t want to skip that little detail and have the homeowners find out in a bad way (like their animal getting sick or breaking something when you’re not there.)

A major addition to our description is ‘vegetarian.’ It seems to be one of those things that doesn’t hurt us, but has helped us. Our first house sit was at the house of vegetarians, and they felt comfortable knowing that no one would be cooking meat in the house. A recent house sit in France was the same way. The owners were vegan, didn’t want any meat in the house, but were okay with butter and cheese. I’m not saying go vegan/vegetarian! But if you are, you might have more connections. If you’re a hardcore carnivore, try adding that in! I don’t know if that would work as well solely because most of the housesits we’ve done have been for more-than-normal eco-friendly families, and meat isn’t very eco-friendly. However, I suggest you play around with it, see what works best!

The rest of your description should be things that make you, ‘you.’ I would personally avoid the usual list of adjectives that people use ‘loves pets, outgoing, open-minded,’ etc. It doesn’t say much about you as a person. You could try an animal anecdote if you have one, or talk about your pets if you have any.

Home owners are looking for reasons to trust you, just as you are looking for reasons to trust them. That’s the basis of house sitting. Of course, they’re taking the bigger risk, letting you into their house. so do everything you can to help them feel at ease!

When your profile is ready, send them a message! Just a simple ‘Your pets look cute, your house looks amazing, I can handle the chores you’re asking me to do’ is fine. At least, it’s been fine for us. The only time anyone has said no to us is when they cancelled the trip! Some people have really in depth and extravagant openers, but I prefer to use something simple and personal. If they like it, it’s easier to talk about things since you didn’t use it in a opener!

The next installment will talk about which websites are out there! Follow to stay informed!

Check out my novella if you’re looking for something to read.

The uncomfortable draw of social media

Since I recently self-published a novella, I’ve had to engage in social media. At least, more than I did before. This meant getting a Twitter page, a Snapchat account, and increasing my Instagram presence.

That feeling of needing to be needed is immediate. I downloaded Snapchat two nights ago, and I found hundreds of people I had lost contact with when they either closed their Instagram accounts, or I closed down my Facebook account.

Snapchat was like some hidden bastion of social connectedness. So, of course I started posting. Started friending people I hadn’t talked to in years. And then I kept checking my phone, wondering who would respond. And wondering if my post was funny enough, or engaging enough. And I’m definitely not proud of that. I thought I had been able to rise above the allure when I stopped using most social media years ago. But I think the truth is, maybe because of how it’s designed, or how we respond to the slightest amount of attention, we need to keep posting, and we need to keep “connecting.”

The problem was, I was trying to connect with people I hadn’t spoken to in years, and quite frankly, didn’t really care about their opinion outside of that specific realm.

Sounds harsh, right? Let me explain. If any of them had come up to me on the street, and said, “Hey, I think you’re a funny guy.” it would have been strange, to say the least. But more than that, I wouldn’t have really cared. Who was this person? Someone I vaguely knew years ago? Why should I let any comment, good or bad, effect me? But the second I post a photo, and don’t hear positive feedback, I feel like I didn’t something wrong. Like there was some test I didn’t pass.

In the past two days, and since I’ve been keeping a track of how often I open the app (and catching myself when I close the app and immediately reopen it like something might have happened in the last half-second), it’s gotten better.

And the unfortunate thing is with all of this, I feel like I need it to advertise. Not just posting pictures to people who are tired of seeing the same book cover again and again, but trying to add the book, or the experience in the book, into the conversation.

Which is the ‘proper’ way of advertising, but damn if it doesn’t feel scummy.

Twitter, in a sense, is better. The amount of tailoring can make Twitter an enjoyable experience. It can usually feel like a conversation with people who have similar interests. Sometimes it turns into an all-out political flame-war (which is why I stopped using it years ago) but then I unfollow those who were involved, and continue on my way. Granted, it’s not very useful for advertising (at least, to me. But I don’t post about my book on it. Could have something to do with it.), but it’s still an interesting place to drop a few comments and start a conversation.

Instagram might just be the worst place to involve yourself, social media-wise. As I am traveling (which I realize is the dream of so many people) I do try and post the good and the bad. Not just the good. I’m not trying to cultivate a place where people are jealous, but I want to build a place where people can be informed. I try to show people that traveling isn’t always great food and fun times, but sometimes it’s stressful. Sometimes you have nowhere to live, or money starts to run out, or all the grocery stores closed and you have no money and even a five euro pizza seems like an insane expense. I suppose, what I’m trying to say, is that I try to show people that traveling is relative.

Not everyone tries to do that. Which is fine. More power to ’em. But they’re straightforward lying. Acting that they’re in certain cities by posting old photos. Or acting that their trip to Provence was amazing, when they told me it was stressful and they couldn’t get past the language barrier.

This is destructive. It’s telling people they should be doing this. Of course, the easy answer is to unfollow these people, right? But sometimes, it’s just a friend that went to France, and they’re acting like they’re walking in Heaven. Don’t want to unfollow them for doing what they think they have to do, right? They just need to be needed.

Follow me if you want to read anything else mildly depressing. Or anything about house sitting. Going to start writing about that soon. Maybe it’s something more fun.

House-sitting: The how, where, and why

Part 1 of an ongoing series

Edinburgh, Scotland

I know this is a website for a writer, but I’m also a housesitter/traveler. As I’ve traveled, I post about the main way my girlfriend, Darcy, and I stay for free and how we chose our next place. The biggest thing I get asked (and it’s not that often, I won’t lie. But once every nine days, or so.) is how do we do it, how do we still have money, and where are we staying.

First things first, this entire article series will be written with a very ‘budget-minded’ slant. Darcy and I are both on a tight budget, so we have far more experience with that. However, that doesn’t mean free! Just because the accommodation is free, doesn’t mean getting there, or staying there is. This is a fairly important distinction, because traveling will always require some money.

Second, house sitting in nearly all cases requires you to be looking after a pet. If you do not like animals, are allergic to animals, or don’t view animals as people for all intents and purposes, perhaps housesitting isn’t for you. I’m not saying any of this to be rude, but if you’re taking care of someone’s pet, nothing else should take priority. However, there are house sits that don’t have pets. This can still work for those of you who are allergic to animals!

Lastly, house-sitting is a somewhat strange thing to certain countries. Countries with strong family ties, like Italy (where I spend a lot of time), doesn’t have a lot of house sitting opportunities, because why would you have some stranger take care of your pet, when you could have a niece or nephew do it?

This article is just the intro, at some later point I will compile it into one large article, but if you’re curious or you have any questions, feel free to contact me or follow the website!

Some tips I picked up when I started a new Instagram account

 

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About a week and a half ago, I was fed up with the amount of photos I had with no one to show them to! It all sounds a bit shallow, but when one thinks about it, isn’t that why we take photos? I was there. I don’t really need a refresher on what happened, though I suppose it is nice to have one.

No. We take photos to show to people. That’s why Instagram is so popular.

I’m leaving out everyone’s burning desire for fame, recognition and for someone to tell them they actually matter. But it definitely plays a part.

I started a new instagram account where I posted all sorts of pictures I, and my girlfriend, had taken over the years. Weird photos, fun photos, photos of walls that were interesting, or deflated soccer balls.

Within four days of starting it, I had a hundred followers.

I suck at Instagram. I’m positively horrible at it. It took me the better part of four years to have just under 200 followers on my personal account.

But there I was with just over a hundred followers, none of which I knew. (And only one with the name free_instagram_followers.)

Here is everything I did, laid out in steps.

Step 1:

Have good photos. I’m not going to lie, this whole idea might be a bit of downer if you have piss-poor photos. The unfortunate thing is, bots aside, people like good photos. The good thing is, taking good photos is easy! Sometimes. Most of mine are real stinkers.

I’m not going to google it for you, but there are plenty of 5-step tutorials on becoming a better photographer. My only advice is, if the photo sucks, get closer.

Step 2:

Use those hashtags. I see many, many people not using hashtags correctly. To give you an example, I follow two photographers. Let’s call them P1 and P2.

P1 is a more technically talented photographer, with a better eye for capturing the scene. P1 is a globally renown photographer and uses little, if any, after effects.

P2 sets up their scene in a very posed way, and spends hours in Lightroom to achieve specific effects. Outside of Instagram, P2 has no gallery shows that I have heard seen.

In an art show, or a gallery, P1 would probably sell their work quicker than P2.

Instagram is not a gallery. Instagram is a game of “How many people can I get to see my work and how soon?” It’s a game of hashtags.

P1 uses few, if any hashtags. One of their regular hashtags is their own name. This is a total and complete waste of time. We already know it’s you. Instagram’s algorithm knows it’s you.

P2 uses all 30 hashtags available, including tagging her location, which is essentially a free hashtag.

P2 has more than 15 times the followers than P1.

Here’s the rules:

Use all 30 hashtags. Tag your location, or the location the picture was taken. Vary your hashtags. Instagram doesn’t like it when you constantly use the same copy+pasted hashtags. They will start to treat you as spam, and ignore you. Change it up. Put in the legwork. If you take a picture of a soccer ball, find out the most used soccer hashtags.

Step 3:

Finesse your description. Do you know where it has your name in bold? Replace it. Unless someone is specifically searching for you (and in my experience, it is someone you would have told your Instagram handle to) no one will look up your name. They will look up things they are interested in, My “name” says Travel | Writer | Photographer. Why “Travel” instead of “Traveler?”

Because no one would search for a “Traveler Writer,” they would search for a “Travel Writer.”

Step 4:

This is a pretty hit or miss step, but why not try it?

Use Reddit.com/r/instagram. On Fridays they have a follow chain. You post your account, and tell everyone a little bit about your photos. I went from 20 to around 50 the first time I posted. I also follow back to anyone who messages me and tells me where they’re from, whether Reddit or Medium.

These might all be pretty simple steps, ones you could easily figure out. But, if it helps, it makes me happy!

If you want to check out my Instagram, I’m @saintbeano.