House Sitting in Africa? My Top 16 Considerations for Piercing this Incredible Continent

26 Mar, 2024

House Sitting in Africa? My Top 16 Considerations for Piercing this Incredible Continent

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Experience of a lifetime meeting a mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park, Uganda. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

House sitting in Africa was not at the top of Kelly Hayes-Raitt’s travel bucket list when she started house sitting 15 years ago. But as she explored outer corners of the world, she realized she might be able to house sit her way across the continent! So far, she’s had 6 house sits in Africa in 5 very different countries.

Why I Love House Sitting in Africa

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

House sitting in Africa??? My house sitting friends fall into 1 of 2 camps: “Are you crazy?” or “Sign me up!”

My first time house sitting in Africa (2017) was my first visit to the continent. It was a two-fer: I had assignments in Dakar, the capital of Senegal on Africa’s far west coast, followed by a 10-day sitting assignment in Lilongwe, Malawi, Africa’s poorest country. During this time, I snagged a third sit that came up in Maputo, Mozambique, in the very southeast corner of the continent.

Since then, I’ve house sat in Réunion, a French island east of Madagascar, for a summer pampering 2 dogs and 6 cats. While I write this, I’m house sitting in Tanzania for a month on a wildlife reserve. My first morning, several wildebeest and their babies came within 40 feet of me to offer a karibu (“welcome”)!

My Top 16 Considerations for Successfully House Sitting in Africa

1. It’s a big continent!

When he’s this big, you don’t ask why he crossed the road! Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Yeah, I know I’m stating the obvious. But, it’s a really big continent! Inter-continental flights are expensive and often quite lengthy. Plan carefully – especially more carefully than I did during my first trip.

But, I made it work for me. I had about 6 days between my Senegal and Malawi house sits. When I priced out the cross-continental flight, I realized I could fly Dakar –> Entebbe (Uganda) –> Lilongwe for the same price. This meant I could organize a safari in Uganda (that included a visit with mountain gorillas!!!!) for NO extra air cost!

2. Safaris and excursions are cheaper to book locally. And much more authentic!

I was always under the impression that safaris would be beyond my budget. But by booking day safaris while I was house sitting in Africa, I saved a bundle, supported local businesses, and had more authentic experiences.

house sitting in Africa
Tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

I avoided the exorbitant middle-man mark-ups by working my house sitting contacts. I asked my homeowners, their neighbors and friends, and the What’s App groups of local expats for recommendations.

Next week, I’ll be joining my new friends Cynthia and Steve on a day safari into Arusha National Park. They are neighbors where I’m house sitting in Tanzania, and love to drive their 4×4 into the park. I offered to cover petrol costs, we’ll pack a lunch and see what we can see! And I’ll save at least $300 USD – plus have the company of fun new friends!

3. Touring Madagascar on a shoestring!

I had a couple of weeks between my house sit in Réunion and the next one in London, so I decided to take a bucket-list trip to Madagascar. I was shocked at the cost of packaged tours offered by UK- and South African-based tour companies.

So I hit Trip Advisor and found several glowing recommendations for a few locally based companies. I emailed them specifying my preferences for my trip. My favorite response came from Tour Guide LoveMada, and co-owner Arsène Randriamananjara and I started planning my private trip – that was a small fraction of the cost of the franchise tours.

Arsène planned special things that met my requests – such as an overnight stay at a women’s village. There was no running water or electricity, which really intimidated me. But the women gave me such a warm welcome, and a simple, lovingly prepared dinner followed by a fun conversation that Arsène translated.

“You have no children? But who will take care of you?” one woman asked.

“We will!” another woman chimed in.

Later, other villagers came for a special party to celebrate my stay. They played music and we all danced.

house sitting in Africa
Madagascan lemur hitching a ride. Photo by Arsène Randriamananjara

Yes, I did the lemur thing (which I loved!) and the chameleon thing (which I loved!). But my favorite evening was hanging with these village women – an experience that I could not have had on a package tour.

4. Joining a famadihana ceremony in Madagascar

Local tour operators also have the opportunity to be flexible and change the itinerary at the last minute. Arsène, knowing that I wanted to experience a famadihana ceremony where ancestors’ bodies are exhumed, rewrapped, honored with food, music, and dancing, and then re-entombed, learned about one while we were at lunch one day. We immediately changed our afternoon plans. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

I decided to sponsor the schooling of a young girl we met at one of the tourist stops. Every year, I wire Arsène money and he sends me a video of her thanking me. I mention this not to shine a spotlight on me (it’s only $200 USD!), but to show the possibilities available when traveling with a local company while house sitting in Africa.

I also had that experience with Charles Byarugaba, my guide in Uganda with Gorilla Bookings. I know this sounds crazy, but I got tired of getting up early to trek animals. One morning, I asked him if I could visit the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that my stay was supporting. I wanted to meet people!

5. Meeting women in Uganda

Meeting Ugandan women who were learning new skills to keep their families from relying on poaching. Photo by Charles Byarugaba

Charles brightened. No one ever asks to meet people, he explained. He pivoted and took me to visit an NGO that supports women whose husbands have been killed or imprisoned due to elephant poaching. They were being educated in the value of elephant protection (which trickled down to their kids) and were being trained in skills (such as making crafts that were sold in the local tourist lodges) that would provide sustainable incomes.

It was my favorite day – well, next to visiting the mountain gorillas and seeing hippos on a river safari! Charles and I are still in touch, and I’m hoping to see him again in June during another trip to Uganda.

6. Getting stuck in The Elephant Sanctuary in Mozambique

Besides being more flexible, the local safaris provide a much more authentic experience. While house sitting in Africa’s Mozambique, my visiting friend Jeff and I took a day safari to the Maputo Special Reserve. Our local guide was wonderful. But, at one point, we got stuck in sand trying to overtake a hill! Jeff and the guide pushed the jeep, while I navigated the steering, backwards…

It was all safe, and provided quite the laugh after our day of observing majestic elephants. As we were house sitting in Africa, we were given the “residents’ price.”

Jeff and I also took a day safari to Eswatini, formerly Swaziland, and delighted in seeing giraffe grazing by the side of the highway – as well as rhinos in the Hlane Royal National Park. Included in our day trip was a cultural show – quite energetic!

7. Relationships with household staff are different.

Nearly every one of my experiences house sitting in Africa involved interacting with household help. I wasn’t used to having daily cooks, housecleaners, and such. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE and have absolutely relished and appreciated the kind, generous staff that have cooked for me and cleaned the home.

Wildebeest and zebra out for a stroll near where I’m house sitting in Tanzania. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

But it is a different dynamic for me. I had to learn to be specific in my requests. I had to learn not only to be “the boss,” but also to allow the staff their autonomy and authority to do their jobs. That meant staying out of the kitchen!

I also had to accept that other people had keys to the homes where I was house sitting in Africa, and would probably show up for work before I was “presentable.” I had to adjust to people being in the home all day long. I still feel self-conscious about taking an afternoon nap when everyone around me was busy working – even when I was fighting a stomach bug.

Some of my house sits in Africa have included night watchmen. That was an adjustment, too, as they had their own way of doing things. Here in Tanzania, the delightful night watchman wants all the outdoor lights on at dusk, whereas I’d kinda prefer to sit on the back veranda enjoying the dark for a bit. We’re still negotiating!

8. When house sitting in Africa especially, clarify and abide by expectations.

“Going my way?” Hitchhiker in Uganda. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Confirm beforehand with your homeowner about how staff will be paid, whether tips are expected, what their responsibilities are, and what you should do or not do.

I once heard about a couple house sitting in Mexico who felt the staff weren’t being paid enough and doubled their salary! That actually had legal ramifications for the home owners. So it’s really important to keep the routine, even if it’s a new – and perhaps uncomfortable – dynamic.

Here in Tanzania, I definitely feel I’m experiencing a more “colonial” dynamic, which has been quite the adjustment. I have a cook (OMG, she’s fantastic!) who also serves as the house manager, a house cleaner who lives on-site, an evening watchman, a full-time handy man (who might live on-site, I’m still figuring it out!), gardeners…It’s an estate that I don’t need to be in total control of, but I am the “ma’am.” It’s an education!

9. Electricity, water, WiFi is not a given. Not by a long-shot.

As I draft this blog, WiFi is out at my house sit in Tanzania. Something burst and it won’t be fixed until tomorrow (I hope!).

When house sitting in Africa, ask about back-up plans for outages if the electricity, WiFi, or water go out. Trust me, it’s not simple! Here in Tanzania, where the electricity seems to go off almost daily, the property has a back-up system that keeps the basics functioning.

While on one of my house sits in Mozambique, a neighbor’s water pump loudly went on and off all night. That’s typical. I had to negotiate with the neighbor to turn off his water pump at night so I could sleep. Never thought I’d be involved in high-level international diplomacy!

Hippo pauses for a drink in Uganda. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Also, be sure to research your mobile phone data carrier plan. While my WiFi is off now in Tanzania, my data is my only connection to the outside world – and to google translate so I can communicate with the Swahili-speaking staff.

10. It’s a long way to get there, so add on side trips.

This is an amazing continent and house sitting in Africa can offer so many incredible experiences! Tack time after your house sit to explore.

I’m an avid scuba diver. After one of my house sits in Maputo, Mozambique, I organized a dive trip in Tofo at the suggestion of one of my home owner’s friends. Since this is not a dive destination on many foreigners’ radar, the reefs were pristine. I spent a fair bit of time watching an octopus graze across the coral chomping away. Pure bliss!

Following my house sit in Lilongwe, I spent 2 nights in the Liwonde National Park in southern Malawi where I heard hyena baying deep in the night and saw an elephant cross the Shire River just a few hundred meters in front of our small boat. Magical!

And following this sitting assignment in Arusha, Tanzania, I’m flying to Zanzibar for a few days of diving. I haven’t arranged the details and am appreciating the advice and contacts I’m getting from locals.

11. Most homes have alarms and/or night watchmen.

Black rhino in Hlane Royal National Park in Eswatini. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

During that first house sit in Dakar, Senegal, the flat I was in had iron curtains that needed to be put down every dusk before I engaged the security alarm. The alarm had to be disengaged the next morning before I raised the metal curtains and let in light – an important fact I didn’t know until a guy with a large rifle banged on my door to see if I was ok! I was more than a little shocked, since there had been no noisy alarm sounding in the apartment.

I also received frantic texts from the homeowner to check on me. Apparently, when the alarm activated, it sent her an SOS message in the middle of her night. It was not a good first day.

So be sure to get thorough instructions about alarms, what to do if they misfire, how to disable them, what the protocol is if they go off.

Three of my house sits in Africa involved night watchmen who would faithfully arrive at dusk and leave at dawn. At first, this was more unsettling than comforting, but I got used to it. Have your homeowners introduce you to the watchman. Find out what areas of the property he patrols and what parts of the home he can use. There may be an outside laundry room with a toilet for his use. In hindsight, I wish I’d had a night watchman instead of the onerous iron curtains and alarm in Dakar!

12. Africa comes with a lot of critters!

Curiosity seemed to flow both ways with this zebra I met during my morning walk in Tanzania. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

It just does. Bats, geckos, um, snakes (I’ve been told). By mid-day of my first full day at this house sit in Tanzania, I began to recognize the resident geckos, to appreciate the fruit bats that hang just barely overhead from the trellis outside the kitchen door, and to (sort of) separate the night cries of the owls and lemurs.

All my other house sits in Africa were in cities, so this one in Tanzania is quite a bit different. Wildlife almost at my doorstep, real jungley sounds at night (that aren’t always soothing, truth be told)…My main responsibility is to be sure the new miniature Dachshund puppy is not swooped up by birds of prey! (Or swallowed by a python – it’s a real peril.)

13. African cities are not fun.

I’m a city-girl, and would prefer Paris or Toulouse to a rural sit in a Burgundy village. It’s the opposite while house sitting in Africa. Generally, African cities are crowded, chaotic, dusty, loud, uninviting, and somewhat unsafe. (I found Maputo, Mozambique, to be an exception.)

So, if you are more in the bush, as I am now in Tanzania, it can be a bit isolating. Having an active staff, surprisingly, can make it feel even more isolating; there are people around, but you can’t exactly play Scrabble with them.

The immigrants who live in the rural areas, however, tend to be closely knit. I’ve been “adopted” by American neighbors of my Tanzanian homeowner who have included me in their activities and taken me grocery shopping. They’ve been such a delight!

14. You’ll likely need a driver.

house sitting in Africa
Giraffe along the side of the highway in Eswatini. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

City driving – ugh! Things – buses, motorcycles, vans, dogs – come at you unexpectedly from all sides. Random police stops, accidents, aggressive roadside vendors, wild animals (I’ve seen monkeys and giraffes along city-adjacent highways) make for a distracting drive while house sitting in Africa.

Rural driving poses its own challenges: cratered potholes, washed-out mud streets, little signage, no street lighting, narrow dirt roads that defy the laws of space as 2 vehicles pass each other.

Hired drivers, on the other hand, are inexpensive, generally reliable, and can avoid or get out of emergencies.

15. Check requirements for vaccinations and medications.

Each country — each region — has its own recommendations for anti-malarial medications, if needed. Some countries require a Yellow Fever vaccination. Research not only the requirements of the country where you’ll be house sitting in Africa, but the requirements of any country where you might stop over — even if you aren’t leaving the airport.

16. Africa is not a homogenous place.

This is obvious, but worth noting. Africa, with its 2,000 languages and cultures, is comprised of 54 countries, many of which were once ruled by the United Kingdom, Portugal, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, or Spain. So you could drive on the left side of the street in a former British colony – such as Kenya – into neighboring Ethiopia and need to start driving on the right-hand side of the road!

While house sitting in Africa is not for the faint of heart, it sure provides some unexpected magic!

love petsittingWhen not gallivanting around Africa, Kelly Hayes-Raitt lives in Lisbon, Portugal. She is the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the Housesit Diva.

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