The opportunity to live like a local is our favorite aspect of housesitting!
Longer stays allow you to experience cities and towns around the world the way the people who live there actually do, not the way that guide books and the hotel concierge suggest. The experiences you have are truly authentic and meaningful this way.
You might be further away from the main attractions or downtown center than if you had booked a hotel, but because you have plenty of time, all you really need is a plan. Here are our hard-earned tips and tricks to traveling locally when housesitting.
Pre-trip research is key
The first thing we always do before arriving in the area is to research the destination as much as possible. That means using sites like Wikitravel.org, Tripadvisor.com and a whole host of travel blogs and websites to find out about major attractions and off-the-beaten path things to do within a day’s reach, always keeping in mind what kind of pets we will be caring for at each particular housesit. For example, if we are caring for cats, then we can be gone for longer periods of time thanks to feline self-sufficiency, whereas if we have dogs at home, we either figure out how many of the attractions we can take the dog(s) to, or shorten the number of hours we can be away from the house.
The homeowner is your local concierge
When we arrive to each housesit, we ask the homeowners their advice on what to do. In many cases, the people who have housesitters are also avid travelers, since they are leaving you with their house as they go travel for weeks or months at a time. On a handful of occasions, homeowners have actually had a big box filled with guidebooks, maps and tons of brochures covering everything there is to do in the area. Homeowners have given us great tips, like nearby waterfalls, hikes or river views not mentioned in any guidebooks.
Even when the homeowners are not so travel savvy, we still try to solicit useful local knowledge from them, such as must-try food and drinks native to the area. For example, when we were in Canada, we were told that we not only had to sample Poutine (which we already knew), but also Beaver Tails, a delicious pastry which we had never heard of. In Italy, we focused our attention on local wine (of course!) but also checking out trattorias that only locals in our small village ate in.
Let the dog be your ambassador
If there is a dog in your care while housesitting, let him or her sniff out their human friends and introduce you. The neighbors or people in the dog park recognize the dog and come over to you for a chat. This is a great way for more local travel tips and also the chance to make a few local friends as well.
If you are cat-sitting you won’t be out on any walks with them, obviously, but that won’t keep you from meeting the neighbors. Hopefully the homeowner has introduced you or at least left you the contact details for friends in the area. We have also been known to invite people over to the house and make pizza or snacks (as long as the housesitters have said it is okay to have the neighbors over – ask first!). In one housesit, we made friends with someone nearby whose son was in a band, and she invited us to see him play in a bar that we wouldn’t have thought to go into. We had a blast. Another time, we spent an afternoon telling stories and talking travel with a fascinating neighbor who has had nine lives and lived to tell about them all.
Bring your hobbies along
But let’s say you don’t really get along with the neighbors. There are plenty of other ways to get entrenched in local life. If you are an avid reader, you might ask around or do a Google search to find out about a book club. There are also running, walking or hiking clubs, or if you are housesitting in a foreign country, you can sign up to a language course. You can even go for the extra private classes, since you are saving so much money on accommodation! This is a great way to make local friends and really get to know an area in such a more intimate way and make new friends.
Be a part of the community
One of the things we love most about housesitting is that because we are somewhere for an extended period of time, we can become a part of the local fabric. We buy fruits and vegetables from the same vendor and strike up conversations with the locals in our favorite bakery or the coffee shop we visit a few times a week. You can pick up the paper from the man on the corner and wave to the grandma who leans out the window watching the kids on their way to school in the morning. In this way, you temporarily become a part of the community in a city or village you may have never even traveled to if it weren’t for the housesitting opportunity.