Create a Free Writing Retreat: 9 Ways House Sitting Helps!

30 Jan, 2024

Create a Free Writing Retreat: 9 Ways House Sitting Helps!

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Recognized journalist and award-winning writer Kelly Hayes-Raitt shares her secrets for creating the perfect writing retreat that inspires her and earns her unexpected income. As a housesitter she has found inspiration and stimulation from many countries that she has visited and a wide variety of home environments where she has housesat and cared for pets.

9 Ways House Sitting Makes a Great Free Writing Retreat

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

There’s nothing like shaking up a routine and escaping the daily grind to break through writers block or to ignite a fire in order to complete an assignment. I should know: I’m a writer who frequently gets “blocked” and is a master procrastinator!

To overcome these impediments, I create my own free writing retreats in the form of house sitting assignments throughout the world.

My own writing retreat!
Happy toes at my own writing retreat!
Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt of her own imperfect feet…

I used to apply for fellowships at writing colonies – and have been lucky enough to be awarded 5 free writing retreats, including a month-long residency in Białystok, Poland, and 3-month residency in Carson McCullers’ girlhood home.

But applying for each of these writing retreats was a cumbersome process that took several hours to prepare (not to mention the time preparing applications that weren’t successful!). Application fees were hefty. And responses could take months.

Then I discovered house sitting! Here are 9 reasons house sitting can make a great free writing retreat for you:

House Sitting Gives More Flexibility

1. There are hundreds more house sits to choose from than there are residential writing retreats. Therefore, I have more options to choose where I want to be while I recharge my batteries and reinvigorate my creativity.

2. House sits occur year-round, so I’m not locked into a specific residency’s calendar.

3. I can choose to house sit for a brief weekend – or for a longer period, as house sits vary in length. Writing colonies and residencies often have minimum and maximum stay requirements.

House Sitting Is a More Affordable Writing Retreat

My ideal writing retreat!
View from my recurring fabulous Mexico writing retreat!
Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

4. Once I joined House Sit Match, I could apply to as many house sitting assignments as I desired without additional costs. I still can pick and choose any house sitting assignments that will fill my specific needs in order to create my own free writing retreat without pesky residency application fees!

5. Generally, home owners let me know within a week or 2 whether I’ve been chosen for their assignment, whereas I had to wait for months to know whether I was chosen for a fellowship at a writers colony. So, house sitting provides me with more opportunities to schedule in advance and get cheaper transportation.

6. While I loved, loved, loved my residencies at the 5 writing colonies where I was awarded fellowships, my house sitting “writing retreats” were just more relaxed. Yes, I was responsible for pet- and home-care, but I didn’t feel the pressure to “perform” – to create on-demand.

House Sitting Provides Great Networking Opportunities

7. House sitting can provide great opportunities to join writing groups for critique, networking, camaraderie, accountability, and inspiration. During a recurring house sit in Mexico every spring and fall for a decade, for example, I joined the community’s main writing group and learned from some masters how to critique. I also made some valuable connections and joined several smaller writing groups for in-depth critique of my work – and accountability! My recurring house sit made this a successful ongoing writing retreat!

Most major cities have Shut Up And Write! accountability groups, as well as critique groups. These groups are often listed on MeetUp.

Interviewing an Iraqi refugee outside a medical clinic in Damascus. I wrote about her — and others…
Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

8. I learned so much about writing while house sitting in Mexico, I created a workshop series where I taught the fundamentals of writing memoir. People who joined my classes were people who had interacted with me while I’d been house sitting. Through my own house sitting writing retreat, I created an additional, unexpected income stream.

9. As a result of the connections I made while house sitting, I ended up editing 4 books during the pandemic’s lockdown: I edited a searing memoir written by a writing friend I’d met while house sitting in Mexico. A house sitting friend referred a doctor whose technical book needed editing. While house sitting in Las Vegas, I had joined a writers group. A member of that group requested my editing help and referred me to someone I hadn’t met before to edit his book. House sitting opened unexpected professional doors for me and jump started a new career in coaching writers.

5 Tips for Making Your Own Free Writing Retreat

1. Be clear with yourself about the type of “writing retreat” that will work for you in this moment. Is it unplugging in order to edit your book and figure out that pesky plot point? Then you might choose a more quiet, rural location without a lot of external distractions.

Or are you looking for new ideas? Perhaps a vibrant city assignment that features author talks and a robust multicultural scene might be what you need to spark ideas.

2. Be realistic with yourself about how much time you need. No sense spending all that time and money traveling to a sitting assignment only to get over jet lag just in time to head home!

3. Question the homeowners about how their home’s and pet’s needs. Walking a puppy 4 times a day might be a great way to clear your head – or it could be a tough distraction from crafting that new chapter.

Bonding with other tourists in Seoul, South Korea, during my house sit!
Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

4. Ask about distractions. Are there gardeners and housecleaners whose visits will interrupt your flow? Is the home in an airline flight path, next to a train track, or beneath a vacation rental known for its wild parties?

5. Finally, is there a place where you can envision yourself writing? A tranquil garden, a comfy bed, a vibrant local coffee house? Know what makes you a successful writer and ask about these things.

Me? I’m like Truman Capote: I like to write in bed! So, I pay attention during my video chat with the homeowners to the bedroom I’ll be sleeping in to see how “writer-worthy” it will be for me.

4 Challenges to Creating Your Own Free Writing Retreat

1. It’s important to fully understand what the homeowner expects from you. House sitting is not a totally free ride. You may be expected to provide pet care, to oversee household help, or to maintain a garden or pool. If you plan on creating a special free writing retreat, you need to be able to accommodate the homeowner’s needs – or move on to another house sitting assignment that more closely meets your writing retreat needs.

2. Ask about wifi connectivity. In some foreign countries, wifi access is not a given. This might be important for you in researching or filing stories.

3. Ask about noise or other things that you find distracting while writing.

4. Definitely ask about the pets’ sleeping habits and whether there will be interruptions to your ability to recharge. Lack of sleep can be a major impediment to creativity!

Awake in the small hours

Early in my house sitting days, I accepted an assignment for 2 lovely dogs – neither of whom slept through the night. They woke and howled to go out at various times, no matter how late I let them out before bed. And they howled at different times from each other.

It was like caring for newborn twins! When I asked the homeowners about this, they nonchalantly said they leave their backdoor open at night – during the winter in suburban London! Had I known this, I would not have accepted the sitting assignment.

The bicycle Luke mentions in his article. It symbolizes the faces of the innocent people who died during the US atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

It’s been a learning curve!

Unexpected Ways House Sitting Promoted My Writing

But, mostly, house sitting has opened far more doors than I could ever have anticipated. I’ve “lived” in countries I had not ever dreamt of having the privilege to visit…Heck, I’ve house sat in places I’d never even heard of while creating my own free writing retreat!

I also earned unexpected income from my writing. For example, I house sat in Seoul, South Korea, and had a blast pitching articles to In the end, I earned enough money to cover my airfare to and from my house sit!

Drawing inspiration from house sitting

I’ve written about places while I was house sitting – getting ideas I couldn’t have gotten unless I was on-the-ground. For example, a home owner in Berlin, knowing of my interest in refugees, generously alerted me to ways to volunteer at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. I volunteered and interviewed some refugees for a column I had in a west Los Angeles newspaper. I would not have known how to find this information on my own.

Other times, a story I wanted to write prompted me to find a house sitting assignment. For example, I wanted to cover the 70th commemoration of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for my newspaper column. I was able to find a house sitting assignment in Osaka that allowed me to be away for a few days at a time to use as a base while traveling to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

House sitting has given me multiple opportunities to create my own customized writer retreats by providing me time to recharge, to network with other writers who later became students or clients, to teach me new skills, to surprise me with unexpected story ideas, to allow me on-the-ground research in a new area, to inspire new writing ideas – and to become a better writer!


love petsitting

Kelly Hayes-Raitt is passionate about house sitting and jokes that she “sleeps around…but usually with animals.”  She’s written How to Become a Housesitter:  Insider Tips from the Housesit Diva and is always on the prowl for new story ideas.


Further reading about budget travel, housesitting and housesitters

At Housesit we like to share useful blogs and practical advice about housesitters, housesitting and pet sitting. We hope you found this budget travel guide Budapest useful. In addition here is a small selection of our blogs on house sitters and housesitting in Europe useful.

Budget travel guide – Budapest

London calling – London house sitting

Cat sitting tourist sees London for free

What a housesitter does – Top 10 responsibilities

Top dogsitting tips for beginners

The Affordable Alternative to Dog Kennels

What is House Sitting?



















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Kelly Hayes-Raitt

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