Is housesitting—taking care of someone’s home and pets in exchange for using their house—really what you want to do? Or are you just in love with the idea of getting free accommodation as you travel across the global crossing things off your bucket list? It’s best to be clear on your motivation before you start.
Housesitting is a booming trend, especially in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Recently it has hit the radar in the U.S. and Canada, and like most trends, it’s drawing people who haven’t given it much thought. But it will serve you better if you stop and give some consideration to the factors at play.
Housesitting is not new. For generations people have asked their family members and neighbors to ‘keep an eye on the place’ while they traveled. What is accelerating the trend is technology. No longer restricted to finding someone local, websites are matching homeowners with housesitters worldwide.
This peer-to-peer model is part of the “sharing economy” used by business models as Uber, AirBNB, Zipcar and the multitude of dating sites. Technology has opened up a world of possibilities.
So why would Americans be so far behind in this trend? The primary reason may surprise you. The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. How does that play into your vacation planning?
Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s richest countries offer at least six paid holidays per year.
The bottom line? Americans just don’t have the same amount of vacation time to travel as their counterparts in other industrialized nations. Ouch!
Another reason is the sheer size of the North American continent and the long driving distances between cities and ‘want to see’ attractions. Getting away for a la few days to visit family or friends when they live in another state—or the opposite coast—requires time, planning and money. Flying helps cut down the travel time but takes a bigger bite out of the budget. We’re more apt to stay put and satisfy ourselves with a ‘stay-cation’.
In contrast, a car trip from London to Paris or Amsterdam is easily done in six hours or less. Travel planning is often more spontaneous, less onerous and certainly less expensive.
Despite the obstacles, housesitting in the U.S. and Canada is becoming increasingly popular. There are several reasons but the biggest driving force is focused on one demographic: the baby boomers. Housesitting—and pet sitting—has quickly become a fashionable way for the boomers to explore the ‘want to see’ places on their bucket lists.