Have you ever thought about pet sitting to help you go on a summer vacation?
Well, I’ve done it and it works. Over the past few summers, I went to Chicago to dogsit for some friends. I scored free room and board, and pet sitting allowed me to afford a sweet summer getaway that I couldn’t have swung otherwise. Intrigued? Can you hear the spare change jingling in your pocket from the excitement?
Here’s how you can go about pet or house sitting to save big bucks on travel this summer:
Plan Far in Advance
You’ll want to book a pet sitting gig as far in advance as possible. In fact, year-round professional house and pet sitters like Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, book up to a year in advance. Securing a gig ahead of time gives you some breathing room to learn about your clients and iron out all the details before you jump in and show up on the doorstep.
Pro tip: while you’re figuring out where you’re going, consider renting your place while you’re away. Of course, you’ll want to proceed with caution. If you’re a renter and your lease explicitly states that you cannot sublease your place, don’t do it. You may be subject to eviction. On the other hand, if you own your home, you can check into a short-term vacation rental site like Airbnb and perhaps earn some additional cash.
Lay Out Expectations
Will room and board be covered completely, or will you be expected to pay for utilities and other costs while you’re there?
In my situation – in exchange for caring for a sweet pooch – my pal Dave Fried, a filmmaker, gave me a place to stay and covered my flight from Los Angeles to Chicago (as part of the deal, I paid for my way home). Not only did I have access to a nice kitchen where I could cook and store foodstuff, but I could also work remotely out of Fried’s place (free wifi for the win). While Fried and his partner Greg Slade were kind enough not to charge me for using their water and power, your clients may have a different arrangement in mind. So make sure you ask about all the specifics.
Another thing to consider when you accept a pet sitting or house-sitting gig: will there be roommates or other people in the house when you’re there? If so and you’re ok with this, find out what their schedules are like. Also find out if you’re expected to do additional tasks to help out the roomies. In my situation, Fried was away but Slade, who owns a barbershop, was around while I was there. It was still my sole duty to take care of the dog.
Remember: every situation is different. For example, your clients may also require that you water the houseplants, move the car during street cleaning, and go through their mail and alert them of any scary notices.
Make New Friends and Keep the Old
Make an effort to forge a friendship with the homeowner before you house sit, recommends Hayes-Raitt.
To do this, you can connect through Skype, email correspondence, social media, or phone calls. And, make sure you inquire about local haunts and ask where you can find the best deals on groceries. In other words, get the inside scoop.
Another idea: ask the homeowner to introduce you to one of his friends. This way you’ll have a local you can meet up with and someone nearby to let you know about neighborhood activities and restaurants, says Hayes-Raitt.
I was fortunate to have some friends from L.A. who had moved to Chicago. Plus, former Chicagoans who now live in Los Angeles were kind enough to connect me to some of their Chi-town pals. Their recommendations, combined with poking around the Internet, gave me plenty of ideas for summer fun during my stay. In fact, my friends tipped me off to cheap eats and the best ethnic markets with killer deals on produce. In addition, they told me about free summer concerts, street festivals, and movies in the park. And, in order to save more money while still having fun. I also cooked as much as I could and biked instead of taking public transit.
Hunt for the Best Travel Deals
If you want to continue traveling after your gig, you may want to check into deals that will help you extend your trip. Why not take advantage of your location and see some additional sites or cities?
To do this, try checking for bargains on flights to nearby cities, or discounted bus fare on Megabus or Wanderu. After one of my trips to Chicago, I then visited Ann Arbor, Michigan. For future Chicago dog sitting stints, I’m planning to trek over to Madison and Milwaukee, as well as Minneapolis.
It’ll Still Cost You, So Budget Accordingly
Even though my lovely Chi-town pals hooked me up with a bike, I was still a “tourist” and spent a fair share of moola. After checking my bank account statements, I indeed spent more on weekend bike rides, dining out, and touring local haunts than I would have spent at home. So, make sure you budget for your trip and save up some extra cash.
Pro tip: if you’re a Chime member, it’s a good idea to enroll in Automatic Savings. When you do this, Chime will round up every transaction you make on your Chime debit card and deposit the round up amount into your Savings account. This way you can start socking cash away now – without even thinking about it.
Try a No-Spend Weekend
After realizing I spent more than usual while dog sitting, I committed to spending zero “new” cash for an entire weekend once I got home.
This meant taking advantage of free entertainment, such as movies in the park and art openings. I also dug into my wallet and found an unused gift card. Score! All told, my no-spend weekend helped me reset and stick to my budget.
Ready to Pack Your Bags?
Scoring a summer house or pet sitting gig can indeed help you save loads on your travels, while giving you the opportunity to take a low-cost vacation. Just keep in mind that creating a budget and saving your pennies in advance will give you some extra spending money while you’re away. Are you ready to book your first house sitting gig?