How We Travel Longer for Less, and The Two Sides of HouseSitting

Photo of a suite at the Ritz Carlton, Perth, Australia, courtesy of luxurytravelmag.com.au. This is a beautiful example of how we don’t travel.

Many times I’ve heard people say “I wish I could travel like you”. Often what they really mean is “I want to spend my life traveling the world.” They rarely mean “I want to live in a tent and eat canned beans and pasta cooked over a tiny gas stove in a field next to the highway.” For us, that’s a part of the reality of being able to travel. We aren’t rich, and we don’t stay in five star hotels. This is our lifestyle, not a vacation, so it’s important to be able to sustain it by stretching our money. We are excited to see the wonders of this world, rather than spend our money while our eyes are closed.

In 2015, while planning my first Round-The-World ride, I made an early note: “In order to extend travel time by reducing expenses, it will be necessary to spend less time in the following expensive places:

  1. Europe
  2. Australia
  3. United States”

Most other areas can be considerably less expensive in terms of lodging and food, the two largest expenses while traveling (the third — for me at least — being petrol or fuel). And an added plus is that many of those places that are much cheaper also have a much more “exotic” or “adventurous” feel, not least because English is not their first language.

Even camping in some countries can be expensive, “expensive” being a relative term, of course. “Expensive” to someone from Bolivia or Honduras can mean something totally different than to someone from San Francisco or Tokyo. I’ve seen tent sites range from free to $80 per night or more. For a small square of land large enough for a 2-person tent and my motorcycle. And the next motorcycle and 2-person tent (and loudly snoring occupant) is within reach of my door.

However, it is possible to keep your expenses in check even in these more expensive countries.

Reducing your food expense is fairly simple: don’t eat in restaurants, eat simply, get invited to others’ homes or pot-luck dinners, etc.

I set a goal of averaging not more than $25 to $30 a night for lodging, and I mostly stay far under that. For each night I spend wild camping for free, it increases the amount I have in reserve for a later campground with a shower, a hostel, or a hotel. More importantly, it extends how long and how far I can travel. By using these methods, we have stayed in a number of private castles and other incredible places (for reasonable rates) by saving a few dollars along the way via camping, hostels, and guest housing.

There are many ways to reduce your average weekly or monthly lodging expense. Being a bit of a hermit, my preferred method has always been wild camping. Not only does this add to the “adventure” for me, but it also allows me to be in control of when and where, while not having to worry about reservations in advance. Some countries have specific laws that allow camping on nearly any piece of unfenced land, so long as you are a certain distance from any primary buildings. I love this concept and these places, and people for the most part respect the land and the owners.

There are many web sites these days devoted to finding free campsites, cheap campsites, cheap rooms for rent, etc. A few include Campendium, AirBnB, HipCamp, ADVRider’s Tent Space, couchsurfing.com and Freecampsites.net. Even an Instagram post can result in an invitation to stay and/or dine for free. One of my go-to sites for finding free camping has always been iOverlander.com. You may have to sort through all of the listings for Wal-Mart parking lots and roadside rest areas to find the true gems for tent camping, but there are plenty.

House Sitting

It wasn’t until the very end of my 2016 travels that I learned about house-sitting. I don’t recall who mentioned it, but after visiting a few of the web sites, I was convinced that it is possible to stay in these places and spend a lot less (and live quite well also). If you’re not familiar with these sites, here’s basically how it works:

There are two sides to the site: one for prospective house-sitters, and one for homeowners looking for a sitter. For a fee, you join one or the other group, and can apply to care for someone’s home and pets, or place your home and pets on the site in need of a sitter. Typically, home- and pet-owners are looking for some to care for their pets, home and garden while they travel. This can be anywhere from a weekend to a year. There is usually no charge for staying in a nice home. It’s a win-win for the homeowner and the sitter.

Actual photo of a French Chateau available to stay for free, on Trustedhousesitters.com (Okay, yes, this chateau is shown in the listing, but you’ll actually be staying in the gatehouse, which includes your own private garden). Still: Free.

We joined Trustedhousesitters.com and have already cared for the homes and pets of three families. This builds reviews for us, hopefully making it easier to book future sits. The competition for housesitting can be strong, and many homes get multiple applications, so we have to plan a bit in advance, but we are usually looking for sits that are only a few days to a week. This gives us time to relax, recharge, cook and sleep in a real home, and prepare for the next leg of our journey. And a little time spent with fur friends can be a plus also.

We also placed our home on the site. Within 24 hours of listing it, we had two dozen applications from all over the world, and now have a sitter coming to care for our home and pets for the first six months of our travels. The Digital Nomad trend, bolstered by the pandemic shuttering offices, has made it easy for more and more people to work from home, regardless of whose home or where in the world that home may be. Of course, in the last year it has become difficult for Digital Nomads to cross borders easily. This has had the dual effect of increasing national sitters, while creating a backlog of sitters who are chomping at the bit to travel internationally. This will undoubtedly flood the housesitting sites as countries open up again, creating even more competition for the best sits. We will be included in that sparring.

We also believe in “Paying It Forward”. We have hosted many world travelers while home in the States, and believe that ultimately it will come back to us when we are abroad and looking for inexpensive/free lodging.

By using a combination of all of the above, we intend to stretch our time in Europe, Australia, and the United States, as well as our total time traveling, as far as possible. While we intend to practice what we preach with regard to avoiding burnout on the road by returning home once or twice a year, the expense of flying home more often than that can be better put towards touring. Therefore, the ability to settle into a home-away-from-home from time to time can make a big difference, both in budget and mental wellness.

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