Apart from Why? The most common question I am asked when I tell people that we packed up our family to spend a year living overseas is - how can you afford it?
And trust me, it was one of the initial questions I kept asking myself at the beginning, as I was looking at international travel like most people do – something you continuously save for and if you’re lucky, you do it once in a blue moon and you end up paying around $5K for a two week holiday.
One of the most expensive costs when travelling is accommodation. I thought if we could find a way to take the accommodation cost out of the equation, it might enable us to answer our affordability question.
One way around high accommodation costs is to not use the traditional expensive short-term accommodation options like hotels. Instead, investigate long-term accommodation options including renting an apartment or house. The area you are travelling to will have a huge affect on how far your dollar will stretch. Parts of Southeast Asia and Central America are good options to consider.
Unfortunately this was not an option for our family as we wanted to visit North America, and preferably somewhere close to ski fields.
I knew, financially, we wouldn’t be able to even consider packing the family up to spend a year overseas, if we couldn’t organise free, or close to free accommodation.
We trade for everything in life - we trade money for a possession or experience, and we trade our time at a job for that money, in the form of a wage. I couldn’t afford to trade money for accommodation, I needed to think of a situation where someone needed their home occupied when they were not there. I could trade my time caring for their home, for accommodation at their home.
Through these tangent thoughts we arrived at house and pet sitting. This is where a home/pet owner is travelling and requires someone to look after their home and pet while they are away.
So I did what everyone does when they need information, I jumped on Google and searched for house and pet sitters.
The two websites that we used were Trusted House Sitters and House Carers. The idea behind both websites is the same. Homeowners put up a blurb/photos about their home, pets, town, dates they are away etc. And people looking for accommodation (house sitters) can simply search for homes by country, state, town, number of weeks/months etc.
If you want to contact the homeowner and/or create a house sitter profile then you need to pay to join the sites - Trusted House Sitters: $110/year and House Carers: $50/year – a minimal cost and well worth it.
It was our desire to stay in towns for an extended period, enough time to lose the tourist goggles and immerse ourselves in the experience of a different culture and to feel somewhat part of the community.
We initially thought we’d have four three-month house sits throughout the year. The first two in the northern states of the US or Canada, close to ski fields and then the second two house sits by the coast or a lake.
Sounds like a beautiful idea don’t you think?
Well we were in for a rude shock and I quickly learnt that securing one house sit was going to be some work, let alone four in our desired locations.
I put all of my PR and marketing skills to work and I hustled. I literally spruiked my family every night for three months. I sent countless emails to people, I researched their towns, the breed of dog they had, we had one of our friends, Justin, take professional photos of our family for our house sitter profiles and to send to home owners.
By this time were so emotionally invested in this adventure, this life redesign. We knew the only obstacle we needed to overcome was the ability to find free accommodation.
It got to the point where I was researching renting a villa in Bali for a year (around AUS$8,000 if you’re interested), as I wanted to make this year away a possibility.
After months of continuously trying, I sent the below email;
I hope you are well. My name is Mike and I wanted to contact you about house sitting for a number of months over your winter.
Where are you heading for the winter?
Your home looks beautiful and in the middle of a winter wonderland. We live in Newcastle, Australia (about 1.5 hours north of Sydney). A little different to Spider Lake, we’re known for our beautiful sandy beaches. That said, we love the snow and have skied in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Sweden... we make sure we get our snow fix once a year :)
How old are Bella and Giovanni? We love animals and the special bonds we create with them, we have had dogs, a rabbit and a turtle throughout our lives.
My wife (Inga) and I are a professional couple in our mid 30s (36 & 37) We have renovated and own our own home, so we understand the importance of maintenance and looking after a home. I would be more than happy to send you some photos of our home if you would like?
We have a four year old daughter (Andy) and we are hoping to take a year off and house sit our way around Canada and US before she starts "big school" in Jan 2017. A year to show her many beautiful places and a true adventure. The longer stays are more appealing to us so we can really take in the new area and immerse ourselves in the neighbourhood.
Inga runs her own graphic design company, Inkling Design (www.inklingdesign.com.au) so we are lucky that she can do that anywhere there is internet connection.
Apart from general house and garden cleaning/maintenance, snow shoveling, are there any other duties you would like us to do while you are away?
Thank you for your time and please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like me to send you additional information/photos.
Mike, Inga & Andy
As with most emails I sent I didn’t hold my breath for a reply, but Kathie did. We had an email conversation for a few weeks and then organised a Skype chat with her and her partner Dan. I remember it was a beautiful winters Sunday morning in Australia and we chatted for about two hours. We spoke about Australia and why we wanted to go on this adventure, and they spoke about Wisconsin and why they wanted to leave the winter and backpack around Central America (both Kathie and Dan are in their early 60s so I thought this was kind of cool).
Kathie and Dan offered us their home for four months and just like that our dream of this adventure became a reality and you couldn’t wipe the grins off our faces.
We had a number of Skype chats with Kathie and Dan leading up to us departing and they have been nothing but helpful. As we are staying in their home for an extended period of time, four months, we came to the agreement that we would pay AUS$850 (US$500) per month for utility bills. Dan was also very generous to rent his pickup truck to us for AUS$430 (US$300) per month.
AUS$1,280 per month for accommodation and car rental – now that is something we could handle.
What about the other house sits I hear you ask. I haven’t found them yet. In the past month I have reached out to people in Alaska, Florida, Vermont, US Virginia Islands, Milwaukee, Charlestown, Reno and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
But one thing I have learnt with organising this adventure is, nothing is ever perfect but everything always works itself out in the end.
The answer is always wrapped in determination: Live immediately.