What if I told you there’s a way to travel the world and not have to pay for accommodation?
There’s always couchsurfing or mooching off your family and friends who willingly (or grudgingly) let you stash your stuff in the corner and bring out the rollaway bed for you while you blissfully plan the next leg of your adventure.
You could work for a hostel or resort in exchange for a room and meals.
Or you could try volunteering as a farmhand, being a nanny, or lending your construction skills to one of the many projects listed on Workaway.
But I’m a middle-aged adult with a steady, full-time job teaching English, which requires me to have access to a quiet room and a stable internet connection during the day. Volunteering my time for room and board wouldn’t leave me with enough hours in the day to do the work that actually pays the bills. Also, my daughter’s dog is on the road with me, so that, along with my age and my need to earn an actual income, eliminates me from many of these opportunities.
None of which I really want to do anyway, if I’m being honest. Though they might be great for Millennials on their gap year, they’re not for me.
I much prefer to stay at hotels or Airbnb properties, and usually, I do, but I have to pay college tuition for my two daughters, so who am I to turn down free housing when it’s available?
Months of living rent-free while I travel Europe
Before I left the United States for my nomadic travels, I had the opportunity to try out housesitting for a couple who are regulars at the ballroom dance studio where I worked.
They were going on a three-week trip to Australia and wanted someone to live in their house while they were gone to collect the mail, water the plants, and generally be a presence in case a pipe burst or any one of the thousands of other things that can go wrong with a house happened.
This was to be the first of many housesitting gigs I’ve had since and hope to have in the future as I continue my travels.
This summer in Germany, for example, I’ve stayed in a penthouse in Haar, an apartment with a spectacular view of the Marktkirche (Market Church) in Wiesbaden, and a four-floor townhouse in Munich, all while having my days free to teach and my mornings and evenings free to explore the cities.
I haven’t paid a dime for housing in almost three months!
There must be a catch, right? Nope.
Although the majority of the housesitting opportunities listed on sites like TrustedHousesitters, Nomador, House Sitters America, and Housecarers, require you to also care for the owners’ pets while they are away, your time is otherwise free to work online, do some sightseeing, or simply relax and enjoy your vacation.
Beware of scammers
As with any unknown situation, there’s an element of risk. The first housesitting gig I applied for ended up being a scam. The “couple” wanted someone to watch their home in England for six months. Six month of free housing?
The ad said that they just wanted someone to be a presence while they were away and to tend to their plants. They only asked that I pay a monthly fee for utilities.
I thought this was only fair since I would be living there for such a long time rent-free. So we emailed back and forth for a while with questions and information, and the person responding became increasingly insistent on receiving the money requested for utilities, which led to me wondering about the legitimacy of the ad.
A couple of other clues also tipped me off to the possibility that this might be a scam.
My youngest daughter and I did some online investigating and couldn’t find the house on Google Street View. A reverse image search on Google using the pictures in the ad identified the rooms as being in a different house with a different address.
And then there was the grammar.
The ad listed the owners as native Brits, but the way the communication was worded and structured left me wondering.
So I asked TrustedHousesitters to look into the listing. Sure enough, they confirmed that the ad was a scam and banned the member from the site.
Go with the established housesitting sites
The benefit of arranging a housesitting gig through the sites I mentioned earlier in the article is that they have a process for screening both homeowners and potential housesitters.
TrustedHousesitters, for example, requires both parties to complete a identification verification process. Although this process is clearly not foolproof, it does eliminate some of the uncertainty.
Profiles and reviews also help to put both parties at ease. The membership costs, though low, also keep away scammers who don’t want to pay to rip people off.
As with anything in the sharing economy, a certain amount of trust that your fellow human being isn’t a total scam artist is essential to the process. Just use your best judgment and you, too, can live rent-free all over the world.
About the author: Beth Hoke is rejoining the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.
Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.
Beth has been traveling around Europe for nine months. She’s filed posts from six countries including Italy, Germany, Croatia, and Madeira, Portugal.