House Sitting to See the World


By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Grand Canyon National Parks.

I woke up with the sun. The rays spilled right through my window and into my eyes which, when I opened them, saw nothing but bright sapphire sky.

The wind sweeping off the lake picked up just enough to temper the heat of the summer as I climbed out of my sleeping bag and slowly stretched my legs. I proceeded to walk the length of the small wooden deck that framed the lakeside apartment where I was staying.

Birds skimmed the water’s surface and chirped a morning score. I went inside, put on some coffee, grabbed my clean paintbrushes, and got back to work.

I had three weeks out of six left at my oasis. Adding a few coats of fresh paint for the shutters, feeding the cat, and maintaining the water coolers hardly seemed like a fair trade for over a month of living in paradise, but I wasn’t complaining.

That was my first (but far from last) experience house sitting abroad, in Lugano, Switzerland, in 2010. Shortly thereafter the world at large seemingly had the same revelation I did–house sitting is an amazing way to travel.

Dalene Heck, one of National Geographic’s Travelers of the Year for 2014, tells BTR she and her husband Pete were also slightly ahead of the curve. A few years ago, after a period of terrible pain and loss, they knew they had to change their lives.

They decided to sell everything they owned, give up their cushy corporate jobs, and travel the world permanently. In 2009 they set off for South America, but after a few months found themselves exhausted and considering returning home.

The couple went back to Canada for a house sitting gig in British Columbia, which they loved. However, instead of re-settling back in their home country, the experience actually influenced the Hecks to journey further.

“The biggest thing for us was learning about house sitting,” Heck says, “so we take care of people’s houses and pets in different parts of the world and it lets us stay in one place for a longer period of time and live rent free.”

Photo by Jess Goulart.

Besides being low-cost, Heck explains that house sitting facilitates developing an intimate relationship with new cultures. She says their previous travels lacked such a connection.

Their many house sitting adventures include six combined months in Turkey, six weeks in a brownstone in Harlem, NYC, and (currently) several months in New Zealand.

To help others follow in their footsteps, the Hecks published an ebook called How to Become a House-Sitter and See the World, in which they detail… well, exactly that.

“It’s very competitive, and as the concept of house sitting gets more and more well known around the world it’s becoming even more so,” Heck says.

That means you have to treat house sitting as you would any other professional job, creating a competitive resume with excellent references, maintaining relationships, and always (always!) living up to your end of the deal.

House sitting opportunities are listed on “Hot House-Sits” section of the Hecks’ blog Hecktic Travels, where the couple posts the most interesting gigs they find from around the world. Some other resources include sites like, House Sitters America, or The Caretaker Gazette.

Some of the homes are luxurious, beautiful properties that out-class any five-star hotel.

“You just have to remember that it is a big responsibility,” Heck reminds BTR. “These are people’s homes and beloved pets. You really want to do a good job.”

If you feel you’re up for the challenge, the houses of the world await your care!

For more from Dalene Heck tune into this week’s Twenty-Something Traveler.