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: 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: 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.