About a month before Jeremy and I were leaving Santa Barbara to depart on our adventures, I was scouring travel blogs to find tips and advice on how the hell to pull off this whole open-ended trip we had semi-planned. The amount of time we are able to travel obviously depends on money. Traveling costs money, and if we aren’t careful, we’ll be forced to return in a month. We have been using Airbnb for years, and depend on it when we travel in the States, and knew we’d be using it a lot in Europe. Even though it’s usually cheaper than hotels and even hostels, it still all adds up. Then there’s Couchsurfing, which we haven’t resorted to, but it’s nice to know it’s there if we need it. There are also sites where you trade labor (not heavy labor for the most part) for lodging and food, such as HelpX, Wwoof (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), and Workaway, to name a few. So really, if you do it right, all you’d have to pay for is transportation to and from these stints. We are most likely going to try one of these sites a little later on if we are finding that we are going through our allotted money faster than we were hoping, but for now, we haven’t done it yet.
On one of these days I was glued to travel blogs, I had an epiphany when I read about housesitting abroad. People from around the world post on various websites (MindMyHouse.com, HouseCarers.com, TrustedHousesitters.com, for example) that they need people to housesit (and usually petsit) for a certain amount of time. Jeremy and I immediately knew this would be a huge opportunity for us and we needed to get on it right away. I looked at the different sites, and could kind of tell which ones were more legit and had more opportunities. There is a fee to sign up on almost all of them, but it’s not bad and it’s for an entire year. Some of the sites are less expensive, but we ended up going with TrustedHousesitters, which had the highest fee ($79 for a year) because it looked the best to us.
We signed up, created a profile, got some people close to us to fill out character references, and began searching for assignments. It’s fairly competitive, and assignments get filled the day they are posted for the most part. There are about 10-15 new assignments a day, and over 6,000 housesitters available (not all active), soooo you have to be on top of your game to snag a good one. Most of the listings are in the U.K. and Australia, with some in other European countries and America sprinkled in. We got lucky and have already had one assignment, and have three more coming up, in Geneva, Switzerland; Azille, France; and Paris. I was able to get these because I was the first person to contact them, otherwise you have 30+ other people emailing them too, and your message gets lost with the others.
Our first housesitting assignment started a week after we arrived in London, in a town called Chiddingstone Causeway in Kent, 35 miles southeast of London. We took care of three dogs, four cats, five chickens, two ducks, and two fish. It was a doozy.
We arrived at the train station in Sevenoaks (after a confusing train journey that was supposed to take 45 minutes and ended up taking two hours, thanks to rail maintenance, a common occurrence on Sundays we discovered) and our host picked us up. She was so sweet even though she had been waiting over an hour for us. I don’t have an international plan on my phone, so I couldn’t contact her to tell her we were running very late. At one of the train stations we had to transfer at, I found some wifi on my phone that I could pay for, so after a few tries of purchasing an hour of internet, as the train was pulling up, I finally got it to work and I typed an email as quickly as my sausage fingers would allow, and pressed ‘send’ as I was jumping on the train. I didn’t know at the time if it had even gone through, and I kind of figured I had just spent six pounds on nothing. It turns out it did go through, but it also caused American Express to cut off my card because it looked fishy, and now I still can’t use it.
ANYway, after a scary drive to the house (it was our first time being in a car driven on the left side of the road, and on top of that people were driving insanely, more on that later), we arrived and met our host’s husband, two children, and their menagerie of animals. Everyone was so sweet to us, and we ate Domino’s pizza (with hot dogs on it for the little boy) and watched The Inbetweeners with the husband until it was time for bed. The family left the next morning, and Jeremy and I were alone with a house full of pets. It turns out that the dogs (one of which was a puppy) and one of the cats, a Siamese kitten, were so incredibly sweet and wanted to cuddle anytime you were around them. I honestly miss them now.
We spent most of our days taking the dogs on walks, which was an experience unlike any other. The area was so beautiful, but we were not expecting the extreme speed at which people would be driving. There was a stretch of road that had no sidewalk, and people were driving upwards of 80 mph, even though we were on small country roads. There were countless blind turns, and people would barely move over when they passed us. We had to jump in the mud or bushes several times to avoid getting hit. This was seriously the most scared either of us had ever been while walking, and we just couldn’t believe it. Luckily after we got past the sidewalk-less stretch, there were some really nice pedestrian paths to the small town, and through beautiful fields. I couldn’t get enough of the yellow rapeseed fields, and took lots of pictures. I also loved the baby sheep and alpacas who were our neighbors.
On one of the days during the week, we decided to take a journey to Royal Tunbridge Wells, which we had heard good things about. We also wanted to send some clothes back to the U.S. to lighten our load, so we brought two big bags full of stuff with us. It took two trains to get there, but it was a fairly quick journey. Tunbridge Wells was really pretty, and had some nice pedestrian-only shopping areas. We also found a beautiful park to eat our picnic, jacket potatoes and prawn crackers from the local grocery store. It took us asking four people where the post office was, but we finally found it. We have been having some trouble with our credit cards since we don’t have the chip and PIN cards Europeans have, and have caused countless amounts of ordeals because of it. It happened again at the post office (the machine wouldn’t take our swipe cards), and it took over an hour for the whole situation to get resolved, and we also had a very disgruntled man behind us basically yell at us because we were taking too long and his parking meter was going to expire. It costed a lot to send a box home, but it was worth it to not have to lug it around with us.
On our way back, we had about 30 minutes between trains in Tonbridge (a different town with a slightly different spelling…confusing), and walked around and stumbled across a beautiful castle.
After the week was over, we had been dreading the walk we’d have to make with our luggage on the scariest road in the world. We booked it as fast as possible, and luckily made it to the train station alive. We hopped on a couple trains, the Tube, another train, and a plane, and then were in Zurich.