Traveling the world is awesome. Paying for it is not.
There's an option for people who want to go on amazing adventures but don't want to rack up sky-high hotel bills, but it may involve walking a dog, scooping kitty litter and milking the occasional cow. You can stay at homes all over the world for free, trading off house and pet sitting duties in exchange for free accommodations. Online sites pair up sitters with home owners; home owners get peace of mind that their homes are in good hands and their pets aren't in kennels and, in exchange, the sitters don't have to pay for a place to stay. They only pay their transportation, food and other expenses.
It's a win-win, says Maureen Murphy, who spends 95 percent of her time staying in other people's houses.
Although she has a mailbox in Texas, Murphy is rarely there. She's an associate professor at the University of Maryland but she teaches online. Her one requirement wherever she goes is a reliable internet connection.
"I travel to and from pet and house sits. My life is one big adventure," Murphy tells MNN. "I never stay anywhere too long. I’m not running from the law, I am not running from anything. I am running to. I am going to my next learning experience, to my next furry pet and the wonderful people of the world."
Murphy began sitting in 2010 and, early on, most of her homes were in the Texas area. But then she began branching out. She primarily uses HouseCarers to find sitting jobs.
"I milked a cow in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. I got soaking wet in Cape Tribulation. I saw the penguins on Phillips Island and took a helicopter tour above the Twelve Apostles. I watched the fireworks from a boat in the harbor near the opera house on New Years Eve in Sydney," she recalls. "In New Zealand I have sat in hot pools in Rotarua, picked kiwis and heard bagpipes in Dunedin."
In the U.S., Murphy lived in a beach house on the Pacific Ocean for three months, stayed in Los Angeles many times, lived temporarily in Las Vegas and Atlanta and various places in Arizona, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.
"When in Fiji I took a trip to Mantaray Island where I swam with manta rays. It was the experience of a lifetime," she says. "I have swam with sting rays off of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Caribbean, but the manta rays were so majestic, it was surreal!"
Caring for pets
Some homeowners need sitters to care for only their houses or apartments, doing simple tasks like collecting mail and watering plants. Others want people to live in their homes to make it easier to take care of their pets. In some cases, that's as simple as walking the dog or cleaning out the litter box. Other times, the animal charges demand a little more attention.
Murphy says she once watched two cats in Los Angeles who had to be walked on leashes twice a day. In Queensland, she had to cook filet mignon for the dog (medium rare) every day and she was cautioned to please not eat the dog food. In New South Wales, she had to milk a cow and then give the milk to the family's six dogs.
Some homeowners request someone for a few days; others look for people to come and stay for months.
Active retirees and digital nomads
At TrustedHousesitters, which has members in more than 130 countries, new sitters are encouraged to start out locally, spokesman Liam Beauchamp-Jones tells MNN. That lets them build up their reviews and make them more attractive to homeowners.
"Building up your profile and providing 5-star care gives you a greater chance of securing those dream sits," he says. "Many sitters love to just house and pet sit locally though because it gives them the opportunity to explore a new part of their local area."
Depending on the site used, sitters can get various degrees of certification, including background checks and references.
Many of the company's sitters, like Murphy, spend the majority of their time hopping from one sitting job to another.
"Our community is made up of a lot of active retirees and digital nomads, so house and pet sitting supports their budget-friendly lifestyle and gives them the opportunity to see the world on a shoestring," Beauchamp-Jones says. "We also have a lot of members on our site who don’t own a pet for one reason or another, so house and pet sitting allows them spend time with adorable pets throughout the year."
And for the sitters, the advantages are numerous, Murphy says: "Going to new places, trying new foods, loving more fur babies, exploring and touring and of course, meeting new people!"