Chapter 1 of We Fall and We Fly [A Novel]

When winter came to Paris, it dragged with it a sky full of clouds. Damp chill crawled along streets, eating through thick wool and thin cotton without discrimination. A week ago, snow raced through the skies, turning cars and trees into mysterious masses, a treasure for discovery.  On this particular morning winter sleeps in so the snow melts, the chill slinks away down into the sewer, and the clouds peek out from the edge of the horizon.

The rising sun casts its light across the rooftops forcing anything wet to shine. With every inhale the taste of warm possibilities rushes down throats. Putrid city smells like sewage and smog are nothing more than a debunked theory.

A fifty-euro bill floats down into a man’s can as he sits against a wall, clutching a cardboard sign, torn and bent around the edges. Two cats lie curled into each other atop a metal grate, lazing in the new sun above and the warm air from the metro below. A young girl yanks on her father’s hand, begging him to buy her a pastry before school. Today, the father relents, and he buys two so they can sit on a bench and talk about the little things that he so often missed. A couple, far above the street, make love to each other instead of fighting. 

Charles doesn’t see the world living around him. The morning sun shone too bright, so he pulls his cap lower. His sore feet remind him he’s been walking for hours, and his empty stomach recommends a café near the Pont des Arts.

The tables outside have two or three patrons each, all taking slow sips or long swallows of strong espresso. The beautiful day begs people to slow down and not rush off to wherever it is people must go on a Friday morning. Charles walks over to a table. The sole occupant is a dark-skinned man wearing an open wool coat and a skinny black tie. He is sprawled in his chair like a dog in the sun. 

“Uh, excusez-moi.” Charles interrupts what he hopes was not a morning nap. “May I…” he trails off, gesturing towards the open seat. His high-school French classes have not stuck with him through the years.

“Oh! Of course,” the man responds, looking up at him. Charles sits, surprised and a bit happy to hear the familiar American accent. 

“Thanks.” Charles offers a sincere smile, one of the few he has left.  The sun-warmed chair soothes his aching body as he takes the weight off his feet. Charles resists the urge to remove his shoes and massage his quickly swelling feet. 

“My pleasure. May I get you a drink? It’s early enough that the Italians won’t think less of you if you have a cappuccino.” The man is already hailing the waiter.

“Oh, no, no. You’ve been far too kind, as it is. Besides, I don’t think coffee on an empty stomach is such a smart idea,” Charles says.

“Nonsense. Let’s have a bite to eat, as well. Do you eat eggs?” The waiter arrives before Charles could respond, and his sitting companion orders in French. Charles misses most of what was said, but hears “cappuccino” mentioned. 

“I got a little spread for the table.” Before Charles has a chance to protest, the man holds up his hand. “I was about to eat anyhow, you just gave me another reason to.”

The man reaches his hand across the table. “They call me Gabriel.” 

“My pleasure,” Charles grips his hand. “I’m Charles.”

Careful to keep the silence at bay, Gabriel asks, “What brings you to Paris, Charles?”

“Not sure, truth be told. I came into a bit of money, wanted to see if this was the city I remembered.”

“Is it?”

Charles looks around, taking in the Vespa’s flying past, and the clamor of a busy morning. All along the river booksellers are opening their green plywood stalls, sweeping aside leaves, making half-hearted attempts to lure pedestrians in.

“I don’t know.” Charles says simply. “It’s like seeing an old friend from high school. You used to be close, thick as thieves, and now you both hesitantly reintroduce yourselves, not sure who the other person has become.”

“Well said,” Gabriel agrees, never taking his eyes off the tired man.

“Thanks,” Charles chuckles. “What about you?” he asks in return. 

“I went on a European trip once. Never finished it.” 

“Like a gap year?” Charles asks.

“Exactly like a gap year.”

Before Charles can ask any further questions, the waiter returns with a tray piled with food. He places the plates of pastries, eggs, fruit, and meat around the table, and finally, two cappuccinos, one in front of each man.

Merci,” Charles says.

Gabriel echoes him with a better accent.

The two men pause their talking while they each take a pastry and spread them with jam and butter. It’s a wordless dance, commonplace at nearly every table. The passing of food, the rearranging of plates, the prediction of what the other person might need, and to supply it before asked.

Across the street, a young girl chases a flock of pigeons as they take off and land only feet from where they were. They play that game a few times before the pigeons fly off for good. The girl looks up and waves as they leave, watching as the circled in some intricate dance, known only to pigeons and children.

“Why did you stop?” Charles asks, once he had a few bites. The food and coffee settled well in his stomach, making him relax even more.

“Pardon?” Gabriel looks up from his pain au raison.

“You said you never finished your European travels?”

“Ah, that.” Gabriel nods as he took a bite. “I suppose it was a mix of things,” he says, finishing his bite. 

Charles takes the lack of answers as a hint to not pry. “It’s always that way, isn’t it? Trying to find the moment it all changed.”

“And it’s over before you know,” Gabriel adds. “Looking back, I’ve found there was a moment it had all gone wrong. For certain, and without fail, everything had gone to Hell.”

“I can agree to that. In fact, I remember that moment well.”

“Oh?” Gabriel rasies an eyebrow.

Charles takes another sip of his coffee and bushes a few crumbs of croissant from his shirt.

“Eggplant parm,” Charles says, without preamble. “That’s when it went wrong.”

“I like to think I follow most things. In this case, I might have missed something.”

“Before I came here, before I came into that little bit of money, I made food at a private school. I was one of the lunch ladies. Lunch men? It was the most recent job in a long line of ‘how-do-I-make-ends-meet-this-week’ jobs. Before that I was moving furniture, tried some construction work, even tried my hand at pulling espressos. I’m too old for that. But a few weeks ago, I was working at a private school down South.” Charles pauses for a second, remembering where he is. “Not down south here, back in the States.”

Gabriel nods his understanding without speaking.

“My car would stall out in the parking lot just as I pulled in; I didn’t have money to fix the radiator. Each day it would be another meal to make with ingredients I couldn’t afford. Hotel trays of beef bourguignon, or mushrooms and trout. Whatever wasn’t eaten had to be tossed, as per some back ass-wards Health and Safety laws. I could never afford to make these at home, and instead I went to work just to throw them away. One day I was scraping out a hotel pan of eggplant parmesan, and it hit me. ‘How the hell did I end up here?’ I didn’t notice it all going to Hell, I only knew that I was there.”

Gabriel absorbs the story before speaking. “Do you mind if I ask how you got there?”

“Not at all,” Charles says, reaching into his pocket. He pulls out a plastic coin with “10” emblazoned on it. “Alcohol, mostly. But this,” he dropps the coin onto the table. “This is ten years sober.”

Charles looks down at the ground for a second, avoiding eye contact with Gabriel. “I don’t know how much good I’ve done in my life, or if I’ve really earned anything. But I earned this,” Charles looks up, his eyes red-rimmed. “I know I earned this coin.”

The two men allow the silence settle between them, like silt on the riverbed.

Gabriel speaks first, disturbing the silt. “I’m not sure if there is a judge at the end of all this,” he waves his arm around them. “But if there is one, I am sure they can attest to that.”

“Thanks,” Charles smiles, putting the coin back in his pocket. “I’ll be honest, I’m surprised you have me saying so much in such a short time.”

“Unfamiliarity can do that. It forces you to leave your comfort zone, to open up and make friends. Share experiences. Be a part of this narrative, just another facet of the same story.”

“Bit of a sad story, isn’t it?”

“Depends how you view it, Charles,” Gabriel says, using the other man’s name for the first time. “But I made a new friend today. I’d say this story is rather warm and exciting.”

“You remind me of someone.” Charles laughs, his eyes clearing up.

“Oh?” Gabriel smiles, “Who’s that?”

“My dear old dad,” Charles smiles back, though his voice was somewhat salty. “Only in part, though. No one should be entirely like him.”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow, but holds his tongue. It’s always impossible to comment on the relationship of a parent and child, and this is no exception. 

Charles seizes the opportunity to open up. “He was an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. One of the two things I inherited from him. Not that he was abusive, far from it. But he was… distant? He was around, but he acted almost as if we were in afterthought. Not in a bad way, in a…” Charles shakes his head. “I’m explaining this all wrong. Let me start again.”

Charles takes a sip of his coffee, and looks back up. 

“I never really knew my father,” Charles begins. “He was an enigma, powerful and vacant. Our mother raised my two sisters and I, mostly on her own. My father was around for the important parts, though. He gave me ‘The Talk,’” Charles makes air quotes with his fingers, “And I had my first beer with him. The important bits, for sure. But prior to my birth, and even during my first few years, I had no idea of who he was. He didn’t share too much about his own life. Too late now, he’s dead.”

Charles pauses and brings his coffee cup towards his mouth before stopping and setting it back on the table. “He could’ve been the poster boy for a functioning alcoholic. You always hear these stories about drunk parents coming home, beating their kids into a pulp, night after night. Never him; never my father. Back when I was a kid sharing a room with my sisters, my dad would come home at two, maybe three, in the morning. He would turn on the bedside light, sit on the bed, and start telling us stories.” The smile dips a bit. “But I never really knew him. The perfect enigma, all the lessons he wanted to teach us wrapped in stories. Just stories.” Charles gestures with his hand to show the stories tossed in the wind. 

“Stories?” Gabriel asks, breaking his silence. “I rather like stories.”  

Charles looks over. “Do you now?”

“Quite a bit. The whole reason I’m here is because of legends and tales whispered into my ear when I was young, reinforced by mysteries and stories when I got older. It set me on this journey. I didn’t know where I was going, and I still don’t, but I know it’s somewhere. And it’s because of the stories people told me. So yes, I love stories.” 

Charles nods and shrugs, “Fair enough. What if they seem more like legends?”

“Even better?”

“More of a rumor, really.”

“The truth is overrated, anyhow.”

“Without a shred of truth, to be sure.”

“Now that I can’t believe. Every rumor came from somewhere.” Gabriel shrugs. “Maybe not the water cooler rumors, or high-school mutterings, but rumors that are woven into the fabric of humanity. Those have truth.”

“Very well. My father told me this story once, when I was younger. I was maybe… fifteen? I remember it so well because he told me never to forget it. To treat it as a lesson. I’m not sure I ever did, and I don’t know if I ever will. But I loved it when I was younger. He called it the Reveler and the Shepherd.”

“Long ago, before the time of industry, two men walked the Earth. They would use gifts of magic as they traveled to the different corners of the ancient world, visiting cities in times of war and sickness. The Reveler would bring music and laughter to the humble hearths and lavish manors. The Shepherd stayed out of the spotlight, going from hospice to home, healing those he could, and helping whoever he couldn’t cure cross over. 

The Reveler could enchant people, entrance them with sound alone. He would arrive, lute in hand, and usher in all manner of boisterous music and high spirits. He would commandeer a plot of land or corner of the room and play. His fingers would sparkle over the strings, as he coaxed music into the warp and weft of a masterful tapestry of sound. Slowly, his crowd would grow. The travelers and their fiddles, the farmer’s kids with their pipes, each with their own voice to add. Soon food was brought, casks as well, and tables were laid out. The reveler danced in-between them, strumming all the while. The wealthy came down from their castles or manors high up on a hill, joining the festivities without prejudice. He was like that good friend or favorite uncle; you would only see him once every few years. Ah, but when he was there! Beer flowed forth from tapped casks, and music sprung from strung instruments straight into the hearts of worn out souls. The people of these lands, after years of exhaustion, felt renewed. They all danced with a reckless abandon found only in children, and children danced with them. For weeks afterwards they would speak of him, of the night the land was alight with fire and music. But gradually things returned to normal, as all things must. Prejudice returned. The wealthy extorted the poor, the travelers moved on, and the farmers returned to the soil. Memories of the Reveler faded, until people weren’t sure they actually danced with him. Some didn’t forget, and it was those who prayed to see him again.

“The Shepherd never saw the revelry. He left the healing of minds to the Reveler. When he went from town to town, he let his presence be known in other ways. Those who lost their sight found it, the ones suffering from infection saw it fade away, and fevers dissipated in the night. Children had twisted legs straightened, and eyesight corrected. Trees would bear more fruit while the crops would not mold in the rain nor whither in the heat. Cows produced more milk, and hives were found with more honey. People rejoiced, their prayers answered. Slowly, random mutterings and rumors were pieced together. When someone regained sight, or regrew a leg, a stranger was there. Passing through, never there longer than a night. A man dressed only in a white robe, carrying a staff. Then the rumors spread. They started in the quiet of the nights, only broken by the sound of a child whimpering and a mother praying. Praying to God to cure her child, and to a stranger who could do the same. Men at war would bring home stories of a man would could reattach legs, and heal the holes in the stomachs. They would murmur these stories around the light of a fireplace, wondering they had been touched by the Holy Spirit.

“It wasn’t long until the prayers to God ceased entirely. Instead they would pray for the Shepherd to come and heal their bodies. And the Shepherd would come, as he always had, but his shadow grew longer. What was once a battlefield of bodies to heal or guide to the Otherside became a monument to failure. He wore each loss as a chain that dragged behind him, but still he went. The Reveler went with him, to repair the minds of those who had lost them, and fill hearts with hope. Together, they helped the world come together.”

Gabriel doesn’t speak immediately; perhaps Charles will continue. But Charles isn’t looking at him, he’s looking across the river, his mind hundreds of miles away. 

“Is there an ending?” Gabriel asks at last.

“I asked my father the same thing. He told me that as long as those two men walked the Earth, their story could not end. He said we could only look at them and try to be as generous and as helpful as they are. When I was young, I thought I was The Reveler. No worries, no regrets. Only new places, new people, and new friends. But more and more each day I see myself as The Shepherd, weighed down with regret as the world tumbles around me, each loss beyond my power.” Charles sighs, no longer the smiling man he was an hour ago. 

The lines on his face deepen and his back begins to hunch again. Now he is just another person without a clear purpose.

The waiter comes back over, removing the used plates. Gabriel asks him for another two coffees and a bottle of water for the table. 

“Never too late, you know,” Gabriel offers, as the waiter leaves.

Charles’s eyes flicker and he looks to Gabriel. “Pardon?”

“The Reveler. Your story. It’s never too late to be the carefree one, to be the Reveler.”

“I think I’m a bit old,” Charles gives a smile that could only be described as rueful.

“I didn’t realize there was an age limit on making new friends, or going to new places,” Gabriel remarks carefully.

“Look at me!” Charles explodes. “I’m in Paris! Again! I came here to see if it was the city I remembered, and it isn’t. Worse than that, I can’t tell if it’s me that changed, or the city. What happened to this place? It used to be so vibrant! And so was I…” His eyes grow wet. “Look at me. A foolish old man who never learned from his mistakes.”

“Would you prefer to learn from your mistakes in five years from now? Ten?” Gabriel asks, not unkindly. “There’s the famous saying, ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is today.’ And I think today is a great day for you to move on.”

Charles laughs, a grating sound. “Know a lot about moving on, do you?”

“More than I’d like to.” For the first time since meeting him, Charles truly sees him. His eyes are hard and sad. So sad. Charles knows the feeling of loss, having lost most of his family before he was thirty. He knows there is an anger sitting deep inside him and that strange sense of missing. He sees it in Gabriel, but he sees something more. Before he can put a finger on it, Gabriel’s eyes changed, and the stranger is once again the easy-going man in a wool coat.

“But this is not the time for that!” Gabriel exclaims as the waiter returns with more coffee, two glasses, and a bottle of water for the table. 

“What is it the time for, then?” Charles asks, not expecting an answer.

“It’s the time for friends. For sharing sweet memories of better times, of laughing at past mistakes and recounting lost love. It’s the time to live in this moment, this here and now. For what is life if not but a single moment, trapped in time? Nothing exists outside right now, where we sit, where we drink and spin yarns. Nothing from our past nor our present, it is only this.” Gabriel taps the table with his finger. “It’s now,” he says, pouring them each a glass of water. “Saluti,” he says, holding up his glass.

“The Italians consider it bad luck to toast with water,” Charles points out.

“They also think black pepper causes hemorrhoids. I leave old superstitions to the superstitious,” Gabriel counters. 

Charles shrugs. “Cheers.” He clinks his glass to Gabriel’s. “To now.”

They both take a sip. Charles pauses for a moment; feeling a rush pass through him, like stepping out of a cold shower, skin buzzing and humming. As the feeling fades, he sips again, but this time nothing happens. 

“Everything okay?” Gabriel asks.

“Yeah. I just…” Charles doesn’t want to say he felt something strange and endanger his new friendship. “Nothing, just a feeling.”

“A warm tingling feeling?” Comes the question.

“How’d you know?” Charles asks him.

“Just one of those things.” Gabriel shrugs. “Sometimes a toast inspires, and sometimes a word is more than a word.”

“And sometimes a stranger is more than a stranger,” Charles pokes gently.

“Sometimes.” Gabriel smiles back, his mouth wolfish. 

“What brings you here, Gabriel? You’ve heard my story, I have yet to hear yours.” 

“Oh, mine is no fun. No fun at all.” Gabriel shakes his head, smiling. 

Charles stares at a bookseller and customer haggling over the price of a small book. “Were you here yesterday?”

“In Paris?”

Charles nods.

Gabriel shakes his head. “Why do you ask?”

“Snow up to here.” Charles gestures with his hand to his mid-calf. “Absolutely frigid. Just miserable.”

Gabriel doesn’t answer.

Charles takes a sip of cappuccino and gazes around. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The other man nods, sipping his own coffee. 

“Strangely so,” Charles says, his voice almost a whisper.

“Perhaps it’s fate.”

Charles smiled at the idea. “Oh, is that so?”

“Would you have been walking around is such treacherous weather? Would I, or anyone else, be sitting outside?” Gabriel gestures to the people seated around them. “The one spring day, in the dead of winter, drives the two of us together.”

“Where’s the water?” Charles asks, instead of replying.

“I would imagine it’s in front of you.” Gabriel points to the Seine that flowed just on the other side of the street in front of them.

“Not that water. From the snow. Easily five inches of snow, and now? Not a trace. Not a lingering snowdrift in the shade, nor a snowball under any eaves. Where’s the melted snow?”

“Where’s the water?” Gabriel echoes. “Must be one of life’s great mysteries.”

“I doubt that. Want to know the second thing my father left for me?”

“I’m sorry?” Gabriel asks, entirely lost at the change in conversation.

“I told you I inherited two things from my father, one was the drinking.”

“And the other?” Gabriel asks.

Charles digs around under his shirt for a brief second before pulling out a necklace. Hanging from it is an insignia of some sort. It could have been a Nordic rune, or an eye, or even a bird. If you squinted, it looked like pretty much anything. Like a cloud, it found shape in the eye of the beholder. XXX

“Do you know what this is?” Charles asks.

“I have a pretty good idea,” Gabriel murmurs. His eyes never leaves the pendant Charles holds.

“My sisters got everything else. The house, the money, the heirlooms and keepsakes. And I got this. Only this.” Charles holds it up, farther away from his chest. “What is it?” Whether on accident or purpose, Charles asks his question somewhere between a plea and demand.

“It’s an object of exclusivity.”

“Excluding what?”

Gabriel thinks for a moment, relaxing back in his chair. “People without the Mark of Aerie.”

“What’s that?” Charles asks.

“Do you know where you father got it?” Gabriel answers.

“Mom always said he’s had it as long as she can remember. Never took it off. One say, after he passed, it arrived in the mail. Came in a small wooden box. The letter inside said, ‘For Charles. Remember who you are. Walk proudly, speak kindly, love fiercely, and above all, live well. This is my last gift to you. Love, Dad.’” Charles’s eyes waters once again. Somewhere, deep inside him, the young boy without a father wishes he had an answer. Now, with Gabriel across the table, he knows more about the heirloom than he ever had. There is more than one, and it has a name. “What is it?” This time, the demand is gone.

“There are many answers to that question. To you, it is a way to remember your father. To me, it is a way to recognize friends. To others, it is a Mark gives them a feeling of inclusion by excluding the world around them. A way to fit in.”

“How does it help you recognize friends?”

“The same way the Ichthus does, or a certain colored bandana, or even an accent. A long time ago I found a group of people that shared the same ideas I had.” 

“Which were?”

“That there is more to this world. In some way, shape, or form, this world is not bound by the rules we have discovered.” Gabriel taps his head with a forefinger, over and over. “It was this feeling, this desire even, that there was more. I was disillusioned by how people interacted with the world around them, or with the people they called friends.” Gabriel stops tapping his head.

“When I was younger, I was angry. Always angry. And I refused to take responsibility for anything I did, but I knew I was refusing to do so, and it made me angrier. I wanted to be someone. Someone powerful, yes, but more than that, I wanted to be someone different. I was scared there wasn’t any different. That we weren’t any different from one another. That we followed the same drone-like life decade after decade. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to be someone and do something.

“I wanted to summit mountains, swim in stormy seas, and travel the world with only a single pair of clothes and a toothbrush. To sail around Tierra del Fuego, traverse the Sierra and the Gobi, meditate in a small temple and sing songs in large ones. 

“Maybe I didn’t actually want to, but I just wanted to have that option. As I grew up, I read every book I could get my hands on. I began to fall in love with the world between the pages. I wanted to see it all: from the bazaars of Morocco to the soulless city of Shanghai, from the back roads of America, to the heart of Africa. I wanted to sleep in caves with herders, and lose myself in the silence of nature. I had an idea of how life should be lived.”

“And have you lived it?” Charles asks, putting the pendant back around his neck. “Have you seen those mountaintops and ocean crests?”

“There was love,” Gabriel responds. “And loss. A betrayal, and an alliance. There were indefatigable enemies, but more than that, there were redoubtable friends. And there was this.” Gabriel pulls back the sleeve of his coat, showing a bracelet. On the bracelet hands the same insignia Charles wears around his neck. 

“You do know what it is?” Charles nearly yells. 

“I do. I know where your father made it, and I’ve been there myself. In fact, you and I would probably have met before now if not for your fathers desire for privacy.

“I’m getting ahead of myself. I will tell you where that comes from,” Gabriel points at Charles’s neck. “But it is a long story. Are you sure you’re ready for it?” 

Charles smiles, and deep inside him the boy smiles as well. For years Charles knew his father was gone, but across the table from him sits something so concrete he feels reconnected again. “Look!” Charles exclaims. “The day is beautiful, the sun is warm, and the chair is comfortable. Every so often a beautiful woman walks by and smiles, and that is far too rare for me. So, yes, I am ready.”

“Fantastic! As a matter of ease, feel free to interrupt me. If you need further clarification, or if I’m giving too much information. I may ramble a bit as it feels as if my story happened years ago.”

“And did it?”

“Yes, six.”

Charles stares at Gabriel, finally starting to put a finger on what was bothering him before. “Gabriel, how old are you?”

“Ohh, I don’t know.” Gabriel releases a deep sigh. “Maybe twenty-six? Twenty-eight? I’ve lost track.”

The mental arithmetic doesn’t take long. “Goddamn. Twenty-six?”

“I feel older than I look,” Gabriel offers as a consolation.

“Don’t sell yourself short, you look older than you are,” Charles jokes. “Kidding aside, I thought you were at least in your thirties.”

“At the risk of sounding contrite, along my journey I met young monsters and old gods; sometimes I had trouble telling the difference, and sometimes it didn’t matter. In short, I don’t think age weighs as heavily as experience. And I have that by the bucketful.”

Charles laughs and shakes his head. “Are you going to start?”

Gabriel smiles, and laughs with him. Leaning back in his chair, Gabriel adopts the same pose Charles saw him in when he first arrived at the café; sprawled in his chair like a dog, his eyes closed and his face turned towards the sun.

“Where should I begin?”

How can we learn to live in the moment?

While still traveling the world

Living in the moment is damn-near impossible. At some point, while growing up, we all forgot how to enjoy the moment we’re in. We start looking forward to the future, start imagining all the ‘what-if’s and ‘what will be’s, and forget to enjoy what we’re doing. 

Do you play a sport? Instrument? Video game? Do you cook? Do you have a pet, like a dog or cat, that you enjoy cuddling? These are just some of the easiest examples of living in the moment. Time where nothing else matters outside of what is happening in that very second—not the future, or the past.

Before traveling, it can seem like every moment abroad will be like that. Every moment will be doused in color and life, imprinting itself on your mind forever.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In my experience, it’s rarely the case. Traveling is a long series of micro-decisions. Are you hungry? Do your feet hurt? What time does the bus arrive? Should we go left or right? Answering these one way can make you end up in front of the Eiffel Tower, or waffling between two restaurants that both sell falafel. Because of all these little decisions, desperate trying to think a move ahead, you might not always remember where you ate, or what you saw, but sometimes, you will remember standing in a Subway and watching your travel partner play peek-a-boo with a kid who just couldn’t look away.

When Darcy and I travel, we tend to plan out the next month, or at the very least, the next two weeks. Flights, lodging, busses, trains, etc. Everything is done at least two weeks in advance. Of course, this means nothing once we actually hit the road. One missed bus, or train, and the plan falls apart, we find ourselves taking a train to an airport an hour after our flight left, and we regret leaving home in the first place. So we begin to adapt. Take in new information and create new decisions, again and again, with no chance for ‘living in the moment.’ Or so it seems. But these are the perfect chances to live in the moment. There are moments in these hectic dashes through airports and countries, moments where we can pause and ask ourselves, “Where am I?” 

If you can capture those moments, and enjoy them as they happen, without thought for what came before or what will come after, you will never regret your decision to leave home.

Big (and ever-growing) list of jobs to work while abroad

If you’re on the road, or hitting it soon, you might be looking for work. Some of the jobs listed will have certain requirements, like a visa or a certification, but if you haven’t left home yet, try and get what you need!

  • Cruise Ships

If you don’t mind the fact that cruise ships are usually registered to country with little-to-no environmental regulations, and account for massive amounts of untreated or minimally-treated sewage, look no further for work than cruise ships! Not only are there a variety of available jobs usually found on ships, cruise lines also hire restaurant workers, performers, bakers, fitness instructions, spa technicians, and hundreds more. It’ll be easy to save money since the only place to spend it is on board. You will also be working in an environment based on cheap alcohol and sex (not kidding.) But, you often visit beautiful locations. On the flip side, you’re probably going to be inside during a beautiful day. There’s very little privacy, as you are bunking with a number of other people. You’ll also be contributing to worsening a bad ecological state.

  • Volunteer

Although it doesn’t pay, volunteering is a great to meet people and spend your time. Steer away from ‘voluntourism,’ though. Usually there’s a large upfront cost, and it doesn’t always do what they advertise.

  • Bartender

If you can pull beer and mix basic drinks, you can probably find work. Usually you’ll need some type of ‘working holiday’ visa, but if you find a little mom-and-pop shop that will hire you without one, as long as you keep your mouth shut, go for it. Hostels also have bars, usually, and you might be able to trade work for a place to stay.

  • Waiter

This job would require you to speak the language and answer questions, more than a bartender would need (after all, most countries I’ve been to outside America has one option at a bar, and it’s ‘beer.’ Which means ‘whatever beer sponsors you and supplies your coasters, glasses, and the sign out front.’), Again, having a ‘working holiday’ visa is pretty important here, as there will probably be fewer people who will hire you without one.

  • Hostels

There’s a bit of a tradition of working for a place to stay in a hostel. If you’re okay scrubbing toilets, doing the laundry, and making beds, then ask around to see if there are any availabilities where you are. It might make you a daily stipend, and a place to sleep, if nothing else.

  • Import/Export

Okay, this one is a bit silly, but some people have luck with it. If you find something you think would sell well in another country, try purchasing it from one place and reselling it in another place. This could be anything from food, to little tchotchkes, to clothes. This might work better if you’re sending it all to yourself, back home, and selling from there. After all, this is how import/export businesses get started. All groundwork.

  • Translator

Can you read and write in another language? Try out your skills locally!

  • Interpreter

Same goes for being able to speak in another language.

  • Tour Guide

Some places have guidelines as to who can have a tour guide license, but if you’re willing to go through the hoops, being a tour guide can be a great way to make money. Especially if you’re speaking English in a foreign country. Many tourists look for a tour guide they can easily understand, and one who will make jokes they understand. Not only can you charge American prices, but it can also be a great way to make friends for when you go back to America.

  • SCUBA Instructor

Of course, this only works when you actually have the certifications. But if you have them, try looking for work on a beach somewhere. SEA and South/Central America are both popular locations that are looking for English-Speaking instructors to give lessons.

  • Skiing/Snowboarding Instructor

Same idea, but with snow. If you know how to ski, or snowboard, and are willing to give lessons, ask around and see if a ski lodge is hiring, or go solo as a freelance instructor.

  • Au Pair

Probably one of the most famous foreign-worked jobs. If you like kids, know how to cook, and know a few words of a foreign language, look into being an Au pair. The field is heavily dominated by women, since most families look for women, however the few times I looked for a job, I had tons of offers because they had ‘two young boys who needed someone with lots of energy to throw them around.’ Needless to say, I passed on those jobs. Usually, being an au pair will come with a weekly stipend and a place to sleep. I would only recommend it only if you like children. More often than not, the stipend is far below what you’re worth and the lodging is either a room, or less than a room. (I once couch surfed with a friend who was an au pair in Paris. She had her own ‘apartment’ that was smaller than a car.)

  • Resort Worker

Resorts in both beach locations and snow locations are always on the hunt for English-speaking workers for the season. If you have a ‘working holiday’ visa (or found someone to give you work under the table), a resort can be a great way to pass a season.

  • Timeshare Salesperson

Kind of a joke. But, if you happen to be living near a timeshare resort, and a have knack for selling, there is money to be had in selling timeshares.

  • Teach English

More often than not, people who teach English will have a college degree and be placed through a program. If you have a degree, and don’t mind working with a program, try teaching English. Most programs will also help you sort out lodging and visa issues.

  • Camp Counselor

This can be anything from a summer camp in Upstate New York, to a high-end resort camp for wealthy children. One of my old teachers found summer work teaching wealthy children photography. It paid $2,000 a month, for 3 months, and came with free weekend trips to different cities. A job like this can be had if you have a skill to sell. You don’t need to be amazing, just better than 10 year olds.

  • Yoga/Tai Chi/Qi Gong Teacher

If you’re in good shape and you have a knack for flexibility, try getting a yoga teaching certification, if you don’t already have one. Cruise ships, resorts, and hostels will sometimes offer classes, and you could be the instructor. Or, if you prefer, you could offer a class in a local public park with a drop-in price. This seems to work very well from what I see when I travel.

  • Surfing/Windsurfing/Parasailing Teacher

Again, if you have the certification, you can try your luck finding work at a resort, or on a beach. If you have the start-up cost, you can work for yourself, or work for another company if you don’t have the funds.

  • Circus

Europe still has traveling circuses! If you don’t mind some physical labor, try applying to one of these. Won’t lie to you, though. Most of these don’t treat the animals well, to the point they’re actually banned in some towns/cities.

  • Mule

Want to transport things that aren’t drugs? In America, there are companies like Roadie that offer a way for buyers to get their purchases without paying for air or ground freight. For instance, if you buy a sink on EBay that’s local pickup only, you can hire someone through Roadie to pick up the sink and drive it to you. If you have a car and are planning on a road trip anyway, this can be a great way to cover gas costs.

  • Barber

Can you cut hair? Beards? Have your own set of tools? Try setting yourself up as a barber! Some people do this in hostels, offering the hostel a cut of every sale they get. And if you find enough people who need a cheap and easy haircut, you can make easy money with minimal work. (For this to work best, I recommend only offering certain styles, and something that is quick and easy. This would be geared towards the budget traveler trying to stay presentable. For anyone with a little spending money, it’s in their best interest to get a shave locally.)

  • Massage

Some certified massage therapists go freelance while traveling, either offering their services to a hostel, or to people through advertisements placed at community boards. Some massage studios will hire you if you can demonstrate skill.

  • Cook

Probably one of the best jobs a cook can have is cooking on a private yacht. Surprisingly, the jobs are easy to come by, pay well, and you visit tons of locations. Usually, you’re hired by a private yacht company who charters yachts for a specific timeframe. So you’ll be a cook for lunch, breakfast, or dinner, only for a specific group of people. Then, until you get another group of people, your only job is feeding the crew.

Kitchens in other countries will also hire kitchen help, especially if you have a ‘working holiday’ visa.

  • Cargo Ship

Less glamorous than cruise ships, cargo ships will hire deckhands to do basic work, and they will also hire cooks to cover the cooking and grocery shopping.

  • Transport Companies

Like Roadie, you can also find work in America moving rental cars for different companies. When a company has too many renal cars in a small town, they will pay you to drive an extra car to a larger city, and pay you for the time. Really only works for America, unless you’re lucky enough to find the work in Europe, and it’s a great way to only see highways. But if you want work that lets you listen to audiobooks and eat road trip food, this is it.

  • Yacht Crew

There are a number of ways to get work on a yacht but the easiest are: hang around yachts OR get certified then apply to yachts. Most yachts are looking for people who know how to sail, but some will take people who don’t know the first thing about sailing but are willing to learn. It can be a great job, with good pay, and great locations. But it can also be stressful, no-privacy, and long-stretches of working with the same people.

You can also find short-term work on a yacht. A captain will sometimes hire people just for an evening cruise, so you can easily rack up experience, and not have to leave where you’re living.

  • Guy in China

For years, and still today, small Chinese businesses will hire white men to dress like an American businessman. It makes it seem like they have international connections, and increase the likelihood of funding or investments. So if you have the look of ‘American Business Owner’ this could be great job that pays exceptionally well. (Usually $1000 per event.)

  • Act in Bollywood

Bollywood extras come from many places, and sometimes off the street. There are a number of stories of travelers walking around India, usually Mumbai, and being offered work acting. It’s one day, in a costume, dancing in the background (or just swaying.) It pays little, but it’ll look great on your IMDB profile!

  • Street Performer

Do you know how to blow fire, juggle, perform acrobatics, or anything else that would allow you to set up on a street corner and make money?  Although not legal in every country and city, this could be a great way to make money on the move. Also, if you do have skills in this category, and you don’t mind working on a cruise ship, look around for different job listings. Performers, even in a lower level on skill, are still highly sought after for cruise ships.

I will update this list as often as possible, and add links to different websites and job listings as I find them. Good luck on your travels!

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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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.

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!