What do dogs, cats and ecology have to do with free accommodation in vacation?

One day several years ago, when we still had a small restaurant in the south of Germany, a mysterious and handsome customer entered our restaurant accompanied by an angry German lady. Towards the end of the meal he heard us talking in Hebrew and revealed that he is also a former Israeli. After that meal, we became close friends of that Israeli and he told us that he and his partner quit their jobs and went to travel the world almost for free. “Almost free?”, we were curious like good Israelis and that’s how we discovered the wonderful world of pet sitting and house sitting.

In this article we will reveal to you the wonders of free accommodation through the website Trusted House Sitters and social networks.

Why is it good?

Upgrading your accommodation on vacations

The guests or pet sitters, that keep after cute pets, get to be accommodated for free during their vacation in a touristic destination at the home of the hosts or pet owners, who are also simultaneously traveling to another destination, yet at the same time receiving dedicated care for their pet and in their own home without having to pay those who will take care of the pet, plants and the home itself that sometimes require maintenance. This way both parties get a more relaxed and enjoyable while saving a lot of money on the way.

“For us, it’s a dream come true to spend a vacation with extremely cute animals, in a stunning apartment centrally located in a sought after destination and free of charge.”

Natalie and Amit
Natalie and Amit with the cat Attila in the city of Rovereto at the foot of the Dolomites, Italy

Joyful experience

Keeping animals is not a burden but a significant advantage for the trip. It’s much more fun to pick mushrooms in the Black Forest with a cute puppy, to see the flower exhibition in Holland with a cute labradoodle or to end a trip with a fluffy cat on your lap. A vacation with pets is an opportunity to experience a non-binding relationship with a sweet creature. From the moment you’ll set out back home from your vacation you will already miss them and could not wait to come back to them, as we have already done so for our loved ones.

Amit and the dog Beau picking a Penny Bun (Porcini mushroom) in the Black Forest, Germany

Ecological accommodation

One of the worst impacts of excess tourism is the change in the social composition and the land use within the city. In the past this was manifested in the construction of entire complexes of hotels and today moreover the reallocation of private apartments to tourism (Airbnb for example), leaving the city center empty from permanent residents.

From an environmental point of view this is awful because the occupancy in these vacation flats is mostly during touristic periods and throughout the rest of the year these rooms for rent remain empty. In turn, new housing units are forced to be built at the expense of the open spaces around cities to compensate for the lack of residential real estate in the city center.

The conversion from residential to touristic real estate use pushes away local residents to the edge of the city, physically and socially. Tourists are willing to spend for a couple of nights of vacation much more money than the rental cost for the same housing unit if it were offered for long-term rental to live in.

This is how city centers become crowded with tourists in certain periods and empty, nearly ghost town, in the low seasons of tourism. Little by little, commerce in the city is also changing, and tourism services such as restaurants and shops for tourists in turn push away to the suburbs the essential service providers for residents such as clinics, consultants, hardware stores and grocery stores which are often unnecessary to tourists.

House sitting, house swapping and casual hosting in private apartment are the most environmental alternatives for short-term tourist accommodation, because in this way homes are occupied all year round and it could even revive cities that were previously abandoned when their residents left for long vacations elsewhere (Les Grandes Vacances) and left an empty house.

Amit and friend on four in the center of Turin, Italy

How to do this?

There are several websites and many social media groups that mediate between house or pet sitters and owners. The principle of these platforms is similar in their essence. Sitting offers are published on an ad board, specifying the location of the house, the dates of the proposed accommodation and a list of requirements for the care of pets, plants and the home itself.

Members present themselves on their personal profiles, add photos of them together with incredibly cute pets and an expression of madness in their eyes, mostly Crazy Cat Lady. Then other users leave reviews of those who have already shared with them a previous house/pet sitting experience.

Our cat Yogurt with Natalie posing the Crazy Cat Lady expression

Whichever way you choose, the main principles are similar:

  • Be kinder than your host and listen rather than speak.
  • Read the host rules and follow them religiously.
  • Communicate as if you are writing a personal blog just for your host.
  • If you break anything be responsible and fix it or at least leave the money to cover the fixing cost by a professional.
  • Leave the apartment cleaner than you found it with some “thank you” present. For example, we cook always something tasty for our hosts.

Accommodation in exchange for pet sitting through Trusted House Sitters

Out of all the platforms that offer mediation services between pet sitters and hosts with pets, we recommend the website Trusted House Sitters or by its abbreviated nickname THS. This platform is the largest of its kind, thus it allows you to browse a wide range of accommodations offered according to the specific dates and duration of your desired vacation on a world map.

Most of the online activity on this website is done in English and accordingly most of the accommodation offers are in English speaking countries. For this reason, you could easily find a host in countries such as England, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, compared to other places. In Western countries where English is not the spoken language, the majority of offers for house sitting are by English-speaking immigrants (Expats), and luckily for you these are also the most sought-after vacation destinations in which the traditional touristic accommodation is particularly expensive.

Amit strolls with Gracey at the spring tulip exhibition in the Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

Accommodation offers search on the THS platform is open to everyone and for submitting an application as a pet sitter you need to subscribe to the website. The cost of the annual subscription is about the same as the price for a single night in a central London hotel, so the return on your investment is already on your first night of pet sitting. As long as your subscription to the THS service is valid, you can travel the world like us, to the most desirable destinations with the sweetest pets and without paying for accommodation.

If you register on the Trusted House Sitters website with our referral link, thanks to you we will receive a two-month extension to our own annual subscription on the THS website, and you will receive a substantial discount on the subscription price for the first year:

https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/refer/RAF615555/

We invite you to contact us with any further questions regarding this wonderful website.

Amit with Red, world’s sweetest cat for the year 2022

Free accommodation through Facebook groups

Long before pet-sitting websites became popular, house sitting and house swap groups were established on Facebook. Since many years people have been posting online accommodation offers in exchange for taking care of their four-legged friends, namely dogs and cats. Among those posts one might find a few offers to sit an empty house, perhaps to discourage burglars from breaking into their homes, as often happens in the best neighborhoods during long holiday vacations.

Besides looking after animals, you have the option to swap houses if your apartment is attractive due to its location, design or size. Just look for house swap groups on Facebook.

Keep in mind that social networks allow us to proactively post a request for pet sitting or house swap on our personal profile and in expats groups in a specific city according to our planned trip destination. Always be polite yet upfront and clear in your requests when publishing a post of this kind.

Natalie and the cat Erwin who hosted us at his home in the city of Frankfurt, Germany

Free accommodation through friends

When we plan a vacation we start by reviewing previous open invitations.

What is an open invitation?

When we say goodbye to friends or nice people we just met who live in another city, we always invite them to stay with us whenever they want. This is an open invitation on our part, which is usually responded with a counter open invitation on their part. It is important to remember, if you need to write it down for yourself, with whom you have an open invitation and where these hosts currently live, but only if you are indeed convinced that they would be happy to host you and did not just answer back that way out of politeness or discomfort from your “obscene” offer.

Open invitations could be passed on between dearly close friends, so there is a metaphoric network of open hosting invitations between friends of friends. Using this imaginary network we can stay in many homes and make new friends with a high chance of a deep and long-term friendship. When you ask for hospitality through friends, don’t go round and round in your conversation, just be direct and politely ask for it.

Natalie, Peanut and Weslie cuddle near the city of Dusseldorf, Germany

Free accommodation at strangers

There is an anthropologically fascinating French series called “I come to sleep at your place” (J’irai dormir chez vous), in which Antoine de Maximy travels around the world with the aim of sleeping at strangers’, and he takes pictures of himself along the way. In addition to French politeness, he uses many successful and research-proven methods to convince complete strangers to host him in their home.

The first step is to always initiate a friendly conversation, regardless of selfish intentions. Later, we could divert the conversation to a current situation and the fact that you are looking for a place to stay. If they still don’t offer you accommodation and you have the courage and audacity of Antoine, you can just politely ask for it.

Similarly and unrelated to this series, we also experienced hosting by nice people we just met for the first time that day.

How do you get hosted by complete strangers?

On one trip to the Dolomites in northeastern Italy, we faced cumulative delays of public transportation that did not leave us enough time to reach to our next planned destination during the reception hours, because public transportation in rural Italy shuts sown completely at night. We initiated a friendly conversation with a family with children who had returned from a bicycle trip with full equipment (Bicycle Touring or Bikepacking), a fact that increased their willingness to have a conversation with strangers and our chance of persuading them to host us. Towards the arrival of the late train to its last stop, we began to indirectly yet clearly incorporate into the conversation the matter of the delay, emphasizing our concern to find accommodation in that small town where the train ended its journey. They grasped the blatant hints and invited us to stay that night at their house.

If all else fails, at least in summer you can go camping in a tent to cut accommodation costs in your next vacation

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