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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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.