I Crossed 9 Extraordinary Experiences Off My Travel Bucket List By House Sitting

19 Feb, 2024

I Crossed 9 Extraordinary Experiences Off My Travel Bucket List By House Sitting

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Travel bucket list
Meeting lemurs was a dream on my travel bucket list. But I didn’t expect this! Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Itchy-footed Kelly Hayes-Raitt has traveled to 79 countries, 23 by house sitting throughout Europe, SE Asia, Africa, and North America. Yet, her travel bucket list continues to grow…

House Sitting Crossed 9 Items Off My Travel Bucket List!

By Kelly Hayes-Raitt

OK, I admit it: I sleep around. Usually with animals.* But that was only one item I crossed off my travel bucket list when I became a full-time nomadic house sitter.

Through the years, house sitting has provided wonderful and unexpected opportunities to plow through my ambitious bucket list. I’ve trekked to meet mountain gorillas, snorkeled with a humpback whale mama and her baby, relocated to Europe – and so much more!

√ Support Peace & Celebrate Resilience

Sometimes, I house sit at a location that allows me to fulfill a dream. For example, I house sat in Osaka, Japan, in 2015 which allowed me to attend the 70th commemorations of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I had wanted to interview hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors).

This lovely gentleman survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

As a long-time activist for nuclear disarmament, I met some hibakusha in Los Angeles who had spoken to rapt audiences during a city-wide art, theatre, and photography festival that commemorated 40 years since my country bombed innocent civilians.

I helped publicize our “Imagine There’s a Future…” festival that celebrated peace.

In Hiroshima thirty years later, I sat next to a cheerful man who spoke beautiful English and translated the ceremony for me. Turns out, he is a hibakusha. He was an infant when the bomb exploded and his family fled.

It was a profound experience for me to meet him, participate in the solemn commemorations, and witness the next generations of Japanese youth who strive for peace.

solo travel
A Syrian refugee I interviewed while house sitting in Berlin.
Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

A house sit in Berlin at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis gave me an opportunity to interview other courageous refugees.

Warsan Shire, a 24-year-old Kenyan-born Somali poet writes, “…you only leave home when home won’t let you stay….No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

I longed to tell these stories. House sitting gave me the opportunity.

√ Live in Europe

house sitting retiree
Lisbon is a blast! New Year’s Eve, taken last year from my new balcony. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

A huge bucket list item was actually a life dream: I wanted to relocate to Europe.

I finally did that in 2022. House sitting made this dream a reality by allowing me to explore cities and neighborhoods, as well as providing other surprising support.

In this article, I describe the ways house sitting helped me move to Lisbon, Portugal.

√ Attend the Paralympics!

An item on my travel bucket list was to attend the Paralympics – which I had a chance to do in London in 2012 during my first overseas house sit. Tickets to the regular games were difficult to get, but I was gifted a one-day pass to the Paralympics.

I’ve never been so inspired. Not only were the athletes extraordinary, but I was also struck by the technologies employed to help them reach their peak performances. It was a humbling experience.

Want to do this, too? Follow house sits in Paris (2024), Milan (2026) and Los Angeles (2028). A lot of locals flee their cities when the Olympics come to town and need house sitters!

√ Snorkel with Whales

Travel bucket list
Lemurs are quite cheeky! Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

While house sitting in Reunion, a French island east of Madagascar, a friend of my homeowner and I became good buddies. She opened doors only locals would know about – including inviting me to join her on a small zodiac to snorkel with migrating humpbacks.

While other tourists were on the large boats, clearly staying dry, I snorkeled with a mama and her baby – truly a once-in-a-lifetime travel bucket list experience!

Sometimes House Sitting Gets Me Bucket List Adjacent

Speaking of Madagascar…Who hasn’t fantasized about frolicking with a lemur? They look so cartoonishly cuddly. Since I was already in the vicinity while housesitting in Reunion, I organized a private tour in Madagascar which included a respectful, clean, safe visit to a lemur sanctuary.

What I wasn’t expecting is how playful the little critters are! As a bonus, I also got to play with chameleons! Here’s an article I wrote about my trip.

Multiple Travel Bucket List Experiences In One Unexpected Go: 

√ Trek with Mountain Gorillas

√ See Lions Run Free

√ Take a Safari to See Elephants

Travel bucket list
Photos cannot capture the majesty of mountain gorillas. I was awestruck. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Anyone who watched “Gorillas in the Mist” likely envied Sigourney Weaver trekking about with mountain gorillas.

I never thought I’d cross that off my bucket list — kinda expensive, right?

But during my first house sit in (and first visit to) Africa, I’d made a rookie mistake by underestimating how huge the continent is. I’d accepted two nearly back-to-back assignments – one in Dakar, Senegal, and one in Lilongwe, Malawi.

I had six days in between the assignments. When I started pricing flights, I realized I’d made another rookie mistake: Flying across Africa is expensive! One of the potential routes took me through Entebbe, so I started researching safaris in Uganda to see if I could afford a layover.

Travel bucket list item that house sitting helped me experience: African safari! Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

I learned I could fly Dakar -> Entebbe -> Lilongwe with a stopover midpoint for the same price as a long Dakar -> Lilongwe flight.

Essentially, I could meet those mountain gorillas in Uganda without paying for airfare!

I found a small tour company who offered five days of staying in comfy, locally owned lodges, with three meals/day, the gorilla trek, a chimpanzee bush walk, a river safari (hippos!), and two days of driving through Queen Elizabeth Park (during which my private guide and I found four tree-lounging lions) for only $1,500 (USD) total (back in 2017, a great bargain — especially when compared to the prices offered by international tour operators!).

Well, that knocked several experiences off my travel bucket list: mountain gorillas, lions in the wild, a safari, more wild elephants than I could count…And, um, hippos, which hadn’t been on my list, but should have been!

House Sitting In or Near Diving Destinations

travel bucket list
I just completed my 300th dive near Popeye’s Village in Malta. Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Anyone who has known me for five minutes knows I love scuba diving. While house sitting in Malta in 2021, I completed my 300th dive – definitely a bucket list milestone!


Imminent Travel Bucket List Cross-Offs

Hippo on my Ugandan safari. Photo by Kelly Hayes-Raitt

As I write this, I am sitting in Heathrow, en route to a house sit in Lossiemouth, Scotland, for three weeks during the dead of winter.

I’ll be staying in a cottage on the River Lossie, which faces north and has little light pollution. The village is one of the best places in the UK to see the Aurora Borealis. Cross fingers that I can cross that experience off my bucket list!

And next month, I’m house sitting for a month on a wildlife reserve in Tanzania.

In spite of the safaris I’ve been lucky enough to take — all thanks to house sitting! — in Uganda, Lilongwe, Mozambique, and the Kingdom of Eswatini, I have yet to spot a zebra. But in this Tanzanian reserve, zebras – along with wildebeest, dik diks, and other African critters – run free. Plus, I’ll top up this new experience with a short dive holiday in Zanzibar (!) — another bucket list item.

What’s Still Lingering On My Travel Bucket List?

In spite of all these incredible experiences that house sitting has helped me realize, my bucket list continues to grow! What is that insatiable travel drive???

A friend recently asked me where I still want to go. Here’s my response:

Close encounter with a chameleon in Madagascar. Photo courtesy of Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Where? How much time do you have?

Diving in the Seychelles. (Diving anywhere warm, really…)

Rwanda to interview women about the reconciliation following the horrific genocide. A political tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Morocco — that blue city. Namibia.

Great eastern European cities — Bucharest, Sophia, Budapest again. Former Yugoslavian states — I seriously considered relocating to Slovenia.

Russia once they become quasi-peaceful again. (I did spend one day in Moscow years ago on a layover — loved it!) Angor Wat. Myanmar, once they become peaceful again. Laos because no one goes there.

Diving in the Galapagos. Snorkeling with whale sharks.

That little village in Ecuador where my friend Angela lives. Machu Picchu because one must. The Amazon to see pink river dolphins. I fantasize about the Antarctic, but realistically, I’m not into cold!

But my BIG bucket list trip? The moon! I’d give anything to see the earth from space. 

love petsitting* That’s how Kelly Hayes-Raitt opens her book How to Become a Housesitter:  Insider Tips from the Housesit Diva. She doesn’t seem to be staying put anytime soon. Her travel bucket list beckons!


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Kelly Hayes-Raitt

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