I’ve always wanted to see as much of the world as possible, but I’ve always been pretty skint and until very recently I really thought that without a large amount of money it wouldn’t be possible to have long and interesting travel experiences. Then I did some research, and I discovered some things which seemed like keys to secret levels on a video game. One of these magical keys opened the door to the world of house-sitting.
There are many websites you can join to find house-sitting jobs, they all have an annual fee, some pricier than others. The deal is usually that you get free accommodation in return for looking after someone’s property while they are away. Sometimes this just involves you being a presence in the house, collecting post, keeping things running etc. Most often there is some pet care involved, as pets are much happier at home than in kennels, it works out well for them and cheaper for the owner. Some involve some handiwork or gardening. Some sits are just for a few days but some can last up to 6 months.
I had a look at a whole load of websites and decided to put my money on Trusted Housesitters – it was through this website that I found my first house-sitting assignment and I am writing this blog with two dogs at my feet as I near the end of this first wonderful experience.
We had never heard of the medieval village of Tremolat, France, and probably never would have visited if I hadn’t found a house-sitting assignment here. That’s the beauty of house-sitting, you get to experience parts of countries you would never normally see. It’s difficult to get your first one, you need an appealing profile which competes with all the semi-pro and very experienced sitters on the website. The instantly appealing ‘dream’ jobs in touristy places get snapped up within hours of the listings going live. You have to be willing to go somewhere ‘random’ and take a chance.
We applied for a handful of jobs before we got a green light from Karen in Tremolat. I have to admit, the michelin star restaurant in the village enticed me. When we arrived we realised there were only 4 places to eat in total, 3 of which were owned by the hotel to which the michelin star restaurant belongs. We’ve eaten in all of them now. It’s a great place for food.
As we were collected from the tiny airport in Bergerac by Karen’s daughter Beth, and driven down winding roads into the middle of nowhere, we wondered what we had let ourselves in for. I had been the instigator in this game, insisting to Giz that it would be an amazing experience, not really knowing for sure but being my usual stubborn self. You have be trusting, and open to whatever the experience involves.
I got the fear the night before, what if the dogs hate us? What if the people aren’t very nice? What if our terrible French means we are ousted from the village? What if this is a really stupid idea? As we wound down country lanes in a stranger’s car I was pretty nervous. We stopped at a supermarche for supplies, squinted at labels, grabbed some cereals, fruit, milk, bread and cheese, not really knowing what we’d need. We arrived at the house and Beth said, “prepare yourselves, the dogs are pretty crazy!” She turned the door handle and frenetic barking commenced, the dogs leapt forth all tails and tongues, slobbering, barking and bouncing. A whirlwind. Oh god!
After showing us around the house Beth left us to get acquainted with the crazy dogs and 4 rather aloof cats. The dogs Tilly and Honey were very boisterous and affectionate, we hit it off pretty quickly. We sat down with some bread and cheese and opened a bottle of wine. Here we were in the middle of nowhere. It was BRILLIANT!
Later that evening the home owners Karen and Andrew arrived home, they couldn’t have been more welcoming. The next day Andrew made us a lovely roast dinner and Karen baked a walnut cake. They shared wine and stories of their own travel experiences. We felt like family. Their plans had changed since we made the first arrangements so they stayed at the house for a few more days, told us all about the area and insisted that we use their car to explore, Karen even took us to a local market one day.
We took the dogs out with Andrew who showed us their favourite spots. They run a mobile fish n chip business and the day before they left on their trip we had the chance to sample their first class fish n chips as we watched the sun set over the Dordogne river. We felt utterly, utterly spoilt.
Getting involved with house-sitting was a bit nervewracking, you could even say risky, and I’m sure it’s not for everyone. But based on our first experience we’re totally sold and we’d definitely do it again. The hospitality of our hosts, the excitement of discovering a new place we’d never have thought of going to, the unknown, the way it makes travel so much more affordable… The way you immerse yourself in a real community, a million miles away from staying in a hotel complex. The only downside, and one I hadn’t thought of until this trip was nearly over, I’m going to REALLY miss those dogs!
Currently reading “How Proust can change your life” by Alain De Botton
Title lyric adapted from “I wanna be your dog” by Iggy and The Stooges