September 2, 2022
For the past two weeks, we’ve been living in a renovated 1886 schoolhouse outside of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England. For free.
This was originally the village schoolhouse. Built in 1886, the last classes held here were in 1965. Now it’s a beautiful home and gardens.
View from the back garden. It’s quiet here. Very quiet. And relaxing.
Another view from the back yard.
It doesn’t look like much, but this pond behind the house is called The Hossil, or Horse Hole. This was the only natural spring in the area in the 1500s and 1600s, and thus the only source of fresh water for farmers and ranchers in the area. It’s said that Oliver Cromwell watered his horses at this pond after sacking nearby Bolbec Castle in Whitchurch, the next town over, during the English Civil War (1642-1651).
This is a win-win situation for both us and the homeowners. For us, we get to slow down, relax, sleep in a real bed, see the local sights, cook meals in a kitchen, do laundry, catch up on our favorite Netflix shows (and this blog, hopefully!), and enjoy some time with some great animals. For the homeowners, they get to take an extended vacation without having the expense and worry of caring for the pets, in this case two dogs, a rabbit, three tree frogs and a tank of fish. The pets get to stay home, in their own environment, without having the stress of dealing with a kennel (and where is the tree frog and rabbit kennel anyway?). They also get to relax, knowing that their home is being cared for and lived in, which is of course a deterrent to break-ins.
Kenzo and Groovy. Amazing dogs make house-sitting easy.
While it may sound like a lot of work caring for such a menagerie, it really isn’t. Everyone gets fed in the morning and at night, and the dogs get walked for about 20 to 30 minutes each day. I spend a little time with the rabbit (who has its’ own room). Total daily time invested: maybe two hours. The rest of the day is ours to do as we please.
On our end, while we aren’t zooming across a country or two, we’re still visiting local sights, like Bletchley Park (next post), and exploring the local culture. This means we’re not only saving on nightly lodging but also on gas purchases, and by the way, it’s down to only $6.89 per gallon here! Woo-hoo!
Here’s a closer look from a budget standpoint: for the first 19 days of August, including spending five nights with friends for free, we averaged $62 a night for lodging. This includes AirBnB’s in major cities so we can sight-see, and a random hotel to sit out the rain. Now factor in the last 12 days of August house sitting, and the monthly average drops to $31 a night. Which means we saved around $600 last month in lodging.
We also cooked real meals most nights while we were in Aylesbury. Going to the grocery store versus the pub (even though the pub was a two minute walk) reduced our monthly food expenses. And we’ve only put one tank of fuel in the bike in the past two weeks, whereas we normally average about $21 a day on gas purchases.
We walked over to the Black Boy Pub for dinner a couple of times. This pub was built in 1524, and much of the original building and bar remain. The name, “The Black Boy”, is a common pub name across England, and there are more than 25 pubs with this name. The origins are unclear, but the most common belief is that it is a reference to King Charles II (1660-1685).
Celebrating all the money we’re saving by house-sitting with drinks and dinner at The Black Boy.
How It Works
We use a website called Trusted Housesitters. We pay an annual subscription fee, which is about equal to the price of one night in a hotel. Right now there are about 4,600 homes listed on the site all over the world. You can filter by date, location, type of home, length of stay, and type of pets. Occasionally there are homes listed that don’t even have pets; they simply need someone to look after the plants or the house. Once you find a location you’d like to apply to sit, you send your application to the homeowner, and they can check over your application, including your references, your background, and any prior reviews. They may also do a video-conference call to interview you. So it isn’t like they are letting total strangers into their home. There is also insurance included with the subscription price, both for the sitter and the homeowner. For the homeowner, it covers damage to the home. For the sitter, it can cover your expenses if a confirmed sit falls through at the last minute.
The “Other Side” of House Sitting: From a Homeowner’s Perspective
We use the same site to find house sitters to take care of our home while we’re traveling. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have the same house sitter for the past two years. Our sitter is a “digital nomad”, and has lived this lifestyle for about eight years now. Everything she owns is in her car, and she works from home — just not her own home. She has spent as much time in our house in the last two years as we have, and I hate to say it, but I think she takes even better care of it — and our cats — than we do.
We’ve been house-sitting for a couple of years now, and it’s been a great experience. We love the ability to settle in and see things more from a local perspective. And the money we’ve saved has helped extend our travels.