Many a lone traveller has felt slightly anxious at the thought of going it alone, with solo travel somewhere new. In this article Kelly Hayes-Raitt experienced housesitter and world traveller makes the case that house sitting is a safer option for female solo travellers in particular, rather than staying in hotels or hostels. Read on to learn more.
Solo travel: The case for house sitting as a safer option for female solo travelers
By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
Traveling alone poses its own special concerns – especially for female travelers alone. But, I trotted the globe by myself for 12 years during my 50s by house and pet sitting – and loved it! Rather than travel with a solo travel company I decided to go it alone by exchanging my time and services for free accommodation.
It’s a great way to travel on a budget.
Getting hooked on housesitting as a solo traveller
I am hooked on house sitting as a safe, affordable, authentic way of traveling. I’ve lived in more than 60 homes in 22 countries throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, Mexico, the U.S., and Africa, pampering more than 100 dogs, cats, rabbits, and fish. I found house sitting provided an unexpected level of safety during my travels alone.
Most house sitters don’t do it as a lifestyle, as I do. They house sit for a few weeks over the holidays or during their summer breaks — or when they are visiting their adult children and don’t want to be underfoot. While anyone can house sit — families, couples, retirees — it’s particularly great for female solitary travelers.
15 Ways House Sitting Makes Me Feel Safer
1. I am in a safer area. Hotels and hostels generally are in touristy areas that attract scammers and pickpockets. While I usually visit those touristy areas to see the sites, I’m not walking around them – alone – at night. Instead, I’m living in a neighborhood with locals – a much safer experience where I’m not as conspicuous.
No Single Supplement for Solo Travel
2. My wallet is safe-guarded. I save a bundle on accommodations. Travelling alone travel comes with that dreaded “solo supplement.” Not so with house sitting! I hesitate to write that house sitting provides “free” accommodations because there is a cost: It’s a huge responsibility to care for everything that’s dear to another person and, sometimes, I need to put my own plans on hold while dealing with an emergency with the pet or home.
On the other hand, I’ve stayed in fabulous homes in desirable neighborhoods in expensive cities for ridiculously long periods – that I would never have been able to afford financially. For example, I regularly house sit in London for several weeks at a time. In fact, my first overseas house sit was in east London for 2 months during the 2012 Olympics!
The torch parade ran just 3 blocks from where I was spoiling Merlin, a generous cat who liked to conjure up dead mice. My budget would never have allowed such a treat.
House Sitting Protects Me from Identity Theft
3. My wifi is more secure. Shared wifi in an airport, hotel or café makes me feel extremely vulnerable. But staying in a home with private wifi protects my data – especially when I access my financial or personal accounts. And I get better bandwidth, too!
4. My electronics, jewelry and passport are safer. Homeowners generally do a much better job securing their homes than hotels do when securing their rooms (especially budget hotels and hostels). While house sitting, I don’t need to worry about my valuables getting stolen by intrusive staff who have access to my room. And who knows how many people know the door code to my vacation rental?
Of course, house sitting isn’t a magic bullet against getting burgled. I’ve had laptops and jewelry stolen during sitting assignments in Third World countries. During my video interview with homeowners for potential sitting assignments, I always ask about neighborhood security and what safeguards the homeowners take. I prefer to be forewarned!
Important Tip to Make Your Trip Safer when alone
A tip: I’ve learned to hide my laptop every single time I leave the house – including when I leave my own home. I also hide my jewelry and money in one of those fake hair spray cans. And my passport enjoys its own secret hiding place.
5. I get great local tourist tips. As a single traveler, I sometimes get overwhelmed with all the logistics. I don’t have time to research the fun stuff. One of the best solo travel tips is ask the hosts. That’s where my homeowners come in! By the time I reach my destination, I’ll have communicated with them so often, I’ll already have a local connection.
I ask my homeowners to provide maps, a list of their favorite neighborhood restaurants, tips on their favorite spots, and information about nearby public transportation.
Sometimes, homeowners provide more generous ways to share their communities: A woman I house sat for in Amsterdam left me her museum card pass. While I was cat sitting in London the host couple left me a loaded transportation card, while another homeowner in London left me his membership card to Kew Gardens, an experience I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
I Make New Friends – Furry and Otherwise!
6. I meet new friends. I’ll be honest: Solo travel can be lonely. So, I specifically ask my homeowners to introduce me to their girlfriends or to add me to their neighborhood WhatsApp groups. Usually, this has meant a coffee or wine outing with an interesting woman in a place only locals know about. As live in dog sitter or petsitter I can become a local point of interest. It’s a great way to meet new friends.
Sometimes, this request has led to more exotic experiences, like the friend I was introduced to in Reunion, a French island east of Madagascar where I house sat for 2 months. She arranged for me to snorkel with migrating humpback whales! That was an experience I would not have been able to organize as a tourist on my own.
That Amsterdam woman who left me her museum card? The woman she introduced me to has become a dear friend and we are still regularly in touch. I really have met some great people while petsitting in my travel adventures.
7. I can park for free. If I rent a car during my house sit, I can park in the homeowner’s driveway, which is a huge benefit over parking in expensive — and scary — underground hotel structures. Or, better yet, many homeowners include their cars as part of the house sitting assignment, which really enhances my travel experience.
A Full Kitchen Helps Single Travelers with Food Allergies Stay Safer
8. I can cook my own meals. Well, not me, actually, since I can’t cook. But I have house sitting friends with food allergies and sensitivities who appreciate the extra safety having their “own” kitchen gives them.
“Being a single traveler with a severe food allergy can be quite a challenge,” says long-time house sitter/digital nomad Lisa Hayes. “But then I discovered house sitting – which is the perfect solution. Using a fully equipped kitchen to prepare my own meals is so much safer — and cheaper!”
9. I never lose my laundry! Traveling is tough on clothes, especially when I travel with a limited wardrobe that needs constant laundering. Most homes where I house sit have their own washing machines. No more paying for laundering my clothes at a hotel! No more chances of my clothes getting lost or damaged — or cleaned with products I’m sensitive to!
And because I travel alone, I usually don’t have enough dirty laundry to justify a full load at a laundromat. So, I feel environmentally better creating a full load by including my towels and bedding I’ve used during a house sit.
Pets & Netflix Make My Solo Travel Alone More Fun!
10. I get to enjoy free movies. Nights can be tough during solo travel. While I do get out to listen to live music or see a great play, I can’t afford that every night (and I usually see plays and dance performances during the more affordable daytime matinees). For my nights in, I love accessing my homeowner’s cable package — much better than being stuck with the mediocre offerings at hotels!
During a recent 4-month house sit, I binged on the homeowners’ Netflix on all seasons of Better Call Saul, Orange Is the New Black, and Mad Men. I was happy sightseeing during the day and cuddling at “home” at night with Rosie, a particularly purry kitty.
11. I don’t worry about bedbugs. Ever. The houses where I sit are almost always cleaner than a hotel — and cleaner than some vacation rentals. But, this is no guarantee. During the video interview, I look closely for clutter – especially in the kitchen (how likely is it that all those counter appliances are cleaned?). I notice where the pets are fed and how clean (or not) that area is. I also ask about flea regimes. But bedbugs in a private home? Highly unlikely!
12. I’m spoiled! I house sat every spring and fall in Mexico for a wonderful dog at a 4-story home that was built on the side of a hill. Every level had a panoramic view of Lake Chapala. I enjoyed a private lap pool and inspiring terraces.
No hotel that I could ever afford could have matched this! For a solo women travel and this type of luxury provided a relaxing break – without the weird “third wheel” feeling I’d get while vacationing at a romantic resort. Plus, I had ChaCha to play with!
Neighbours are a great help – Try to meet them
13. I have neighbors watching out for me. When house sitting, I live in a residential building or home where people know each other, at least by sight. “My” neighbors are vested in my safety and provide an extra layer of security that I wouldn’t get at a hotel or vacation rental during singles travel. While house sitting during the pandemic, I was invited to a neighborhood socially distanced block party that made me feel connected.
14. I’ve had experiences only locals know about. Before a house sit, I ask my homeowner to steer me toward places or events that match my interests. One homeowner in Berlin, for example, knew that I write about refugees. She gave me the location of an intake center at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis.
volunteered for a day and wrote about my experience. I would never have found this on my own, as all the local news was in German – and the location wasn’t exactly advertised. That was truly “insider” information.
15. And when I’m house sitting for a dog, I enjoy an extra layer of protection!
Kelly Hayes-Raitt admits she sleeps around…usually with animals. She’s so hooked on house sitting, she’s written a book to encourage others. How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva is available on Amazon and www.HouseSitDiva.com. She’s currently housesitting in Lisbon, Portugal.
Further reading about housesitting and housesitters
At HouseSitMatch.com we like to share useful blogs and practical advice about housesitters, housesitting and pet sitting. We hope you find this small selection of our blogs on house sitters and house sitting in London useful.