Pet-minding travel service: Couple travels the world looking after pets

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Peter and Debra Holst.

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Since retiring in mid-2011, Peter and Debra Holst have been living the high life. The Holsts have travelled across 13 different countries, including such exotic destinations as Turkey and India, paying their way by looking after people’s pets.

“We just love it,” says Peter. “We’re currently in the Pyrenees on our 91st sit – with two beautiful Labradors!”

The inspiration for their endless trip first came in 2001 when the couple were invited by a friend to trek Nepal. While there, they decided to visit 13 other locations, including Africa, Northern America, and France.

A beautiful day out in the Vendee region of France.

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A beautiful day out in the Vendee region of France.

“It is while we were in France on a cycling holiday in 2010, that we were offered the opportunity to house sit and we grabbed it with both hands. It was only on the way back to Australia that we realised that we were going home because we had a return ticket and we had not yet finished our travels. The idea of being able to travel the world as house sitters (based on that first experience) motivated us to buy a one-way ticket seeing where the journey would take us,” says Peter.

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The couple used TrustedHousesitters.com to help organise their stay, a website which matches people with those looking to have their home and their pet looked after while they too go on holiday. One party doesn’t have to worry about their family cat being neglected, and the other gets comfortable local accommodation, complete with an animal friend.

The site itself requires a $99 monthly payment but staying in the houses comes cost-free.

“Our first exposure to the term ‘house sitting’ was simply a French B&B owner who enjoyed Debs’ company so much that she asked us to house sit her large Champagne region house with her pets for a period 18 months away,” says Peter. “We had no idea that people did this or people were willing to let people come into their property and live like locals.

“During the continuation of our holiday we met another couple from the Lot region in France who also invited us to house for them in early 2011. We asked them what they normally did to get house sitters and they told us they used an internet site.” And so their extended holiday began.

Beach walking and dog antics in Exmouth, UK.

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Beach walking and dog antics in Exmouth, UK.

Despite having the whole world, quite literally, at the tips of their fingers, Peter and Deb have called France ‘home’ for the last three years. Hopping from house, they have explored almost every corner of the country and looked after all kinds of furry, fluffy, woolly creatures. Currently looking after a house in the Pyrenees, they are hoping to move on to another French destination soon – the 92nd home they have looked after.

Despite their love for house-sitting and the lifestyle it brings, the Holsts admit it’s not all puppy-dogs and relaxation: “Being a house sitter does require some responsibilities like mowing lawns, gardening and some DIY skills which are specified in the owners requirements list,” says Deb.

House-sitting can also be somewhat unreliable: unlike booking a hotel room, there is no promise of set dates and secure accommodation.

Housesitting with Ziggy the 1.5m Iguana

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Housesitting with Ziggy the 1.5m Iguana

“The owners of houses that use Trustedhousesitters.com are the people that dictate where we go and for how long,” explains Deb. “They advertise on the site for sitters for particular dates and if we like the idea we apply like every other registered sitter who does and sometimes are selected as the desired sitters.”

Three other ways to get free accommodation around the world

House swap

The basic idea is that strangers from two different parts of the world swap living-quarters for a set period of time: so you might go to Europe to stay in someone’s house while they stay in your home. Similar to TrustedHousesitters.com, websites like homeexchange.com allow you to advertise your house as accommodation for potential candidates. Don’t like the look of someone? Move on to the next person. Already been to a destination? See where else people want to travel from. The system is straightforward enough and, the best part, is that it removes all accommodation costs.

Couchsurf

Similar to house-swapping, but where you move from couch-to-couch rather than entire estates. And, you have company. People most commonly couch-surf in the home’s of people they know which makes finding somewhere to stay much easier and makes things much less awkward. But, if you’re looking to meet new people as well as explore new places, sites like couchsurfing.com are full of kind-stranger offering up couches to sleep on in all corners of the world.

Work Exchange

Not technically a “free holiday” but you do still get free board. Work exchange holidays require you to trade your skills and services for a place to stay. Overseas nannying is a popular choice (a la The Nanny Diaries), but there are a variety of options. Sites like workaway.info will help you find the job and country most suitable to you, from gardening for a family in Canada, to working in a Norwegian bed and breakfast.

Despite all the travel options available, Deb and Peter Holst insist house-sitting is the way to go.

“While we have never tried couch surfing or work-for-accommodation sites, we have met people who are suited to that style of travelling and love it,” says Peter. “But the thing about house-sitting is you get to experience things at a more basic level: living independently not having to share, living like a local, meeting the neighbours, having to get to know where things are and feeling as though you are a local.”

– Traveller

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