It’s a Win-Win: How and Why We House-Sit

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.

Bletchley Park: Home of The Imitation Game

September 2, 2022

While housesitting near Aylesbury, we realized that we were only about fifteen miles away from Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes. So we jumped online and bought a couple of tickets for the tour and rode over the next day.

If you’ve seen the movie The Imitation Game, you’re familiar with Bletchley Park. It’s the real deal. This was the place where some of the brightest minds in Britain came in the early 1940s to try to break the code of the German cryptography machine Enigma and later Lorenz.

The manor at Bletchley Park. This place was vacant after the widow of the owner died, and sold at auction. It included the manor house, with 27 bedrooms and eight bathrooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, and more. A developer bought the property, but shortly after the British government secretly bought it and turned it into a top secret code-breaking effort, employing up to eight thousand people at the height of the war.

A number of “huts” were built on the property. The workers in each hut had a specific job duty, and were not aware of what was happening in the other huts. This secrecy prevented even the people who worked there from knowing the overall mission. Intercepted encrypted German messages would be brought to Bletchley by couriers on BSA motorcycles, and delivered to one hut. Of course the couriers had no idea what they were delivering. The workers in the hut receiving the messages would organize the coded messages and send them to the next hut, which would have a different duty. Another hut would translate any deciphered messages from German to English and pass it on to the next hut, and so on. The secrecy between huts was such that a passage was built between two huts, and the messages were passed through this wooden passage into the office above, through the sliding door in the wall.

A reproduction of a German Enigma machine. Poland had achieved some success at breaking Enigma codes just before the war broke out in 1939, and their work was the foundation of the British effort at Bletchley Park.

A reproduction of Alan Turing’s Bombe machine, which ultimately allowed Britain to decipher encrypted German messages in as little as two and a half hours from receiving them. It took this Bombe machine less than twelve minutes to test all 17,756 possible combinations of the rotors in the Enigma, and arrive at the correct settings. As mentioned in the movie, it was the inattention to required German procedure by the Enigma operators, such as re-using a prior day’s rotor settings, or the operator setting the rotors using his girlfriend’s initials, that allowed Turing and his team to more quickly break the code.

Alan Turing’s office in Hut 8.

In what was then the Motor Pool, the current museum has several vehicles displayed, including this 1947 Sunbeam Talbot that was owned by Mick Jagger and was used in the 2001 movie “Enigma”, which was produced by Jagger’s film company.

Bletchley Park is a large place and a magnificent piece of history. It wasn’t until the 1970s that it was finally revealed what actually took place here. It’s hard to believe that just thirty years ago it was in complete disrepair and was about to be razed by a builder to be replaced with houses. Thankfully people who saw the historical significance of it stepped in and saved it.

If you go, keep in mind that it takes a few hours to properly tour the facility and explore all of the exhibits.

After leaving Bletchley Park, I decided now was a good time to get the bike washed. Due to the current drought situation in England, the coin-operated type of self car washes were not available, but I found a hand car wash that claimed that they also washed lots of motorcycles. So I wheeled it in…

Here’s the bike being given the “Hard Wash” as I was told it was called. I’ve never seen that much soap, but it did a good job of removing four months of grime.

After the bike was rinsed off, I was asked to move it forward to the drying and detailing area, where it was hand dried. Then a guy walked over with a gallon bucket full of Armor All and a large paint brush, and proceeded to paint my tires with extremely slick liquid. Having just recently slid down the freeway in a diesel spill, this was horrifying. It took me a good ten minutes with dry rags to scrub all of the Armor All off of the tread surfaces of the tires, and even then I rode very gently home.

Llegando a España: Tucking Away The Bike

September 9, 2022

We left Aylesbury, England at the end of our house sit there, on a mad rush for Spain. Once again, this isn’t the way we like to travel — too many highways, too many daily miles, not enough stopping to chat with the locals — but we had limitations placed on us. The Schengen Rule says that non-EU citizens can only spend 90 days out of every 180 consecutive days in the currently 26 Schengen countries. We re-entered at France on September 3rd, which was Day 79 of 90 for us. That left us nine days to make the 1500 mile trek to Malaga, Spain, store the bike and get out again, with two days left for our overnight in Frankfurt, Germany on the way home at the end of this month.

Before leaving England, we discovered that a bolt had come loose and one of the “latches” that secure our removable metal boxes had fallen off and disappeared. This is what the original part looks like. You can see the aluminum tab on the right, with a bolt that goes through to the inside of the pannier, where a threaded knob tightens down and clamps everything in place. An acorn jam nut then sits against the knob inside the box.

After a day or so of searching around for a suitable piece of metal to fabricate a new tab, I realized that the answer came from within: within the pannier. My tire levers are just about the same width as the original latch. Cutting a short piece of the end left a shorter tire tool but still usable.

Not much different from the original. It’ll do.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, the sky this morning would have scared me. On our way through France we spent one night at a really nice municipal campground in Gacé. The next morning the sky was covered in contrails.

Tembleque, Spain. Many of these small towns looked like something from a horror film; no people anywhere.

Our first night in Spain had me re-thinking the country. We pulled off the road and into Tembleque, a small town of just under two thousand people (and shrinking), in the province of Toledo. The town is the typical La Mancha style: all of the buildings are white, painted in a lime whitewash. There were no people to be seen anywhere, but we found a hotel. No cars, no people, but a hotel, with an open front door. I parked and walked in and found the host behind the counter.

“Tienes habitacion?”, I asked. (Do you have a room?)
“Si”, he replied.
“Cuanto?” (How much?)
“Cincuenta” (Fifty euros)
“Puedo verlo?” (Can I see it?)

Normally this would be the point where I turned around and walked out. But it was hot and we had ridden nearly five hundred miles today. Way, way more than we should ever do in a day. So I took the room sight unseen. It turned out to be a nice room, with air conditioning. But the encounter left a bad taste. We hadn’t experienced anything like this in the last four-plus months.

We walked into town to one of only two restaurants that were open, and sat down, but after twenty minutes without finding anyone to place an order we left and walked to the other restaurant. The bartender there was much more friendly, even though he spoke no english, and we were able to at least order a couple of sandwiches.

We made it to Malaga from England in four long days, which gave us another four days to just chill before catching an early morning flight back to London. We stayed in an apartment one block from the beach, and our host Pedro was the extreme opposite of the hotel clerk in Tembleque. We’ve already made plans to stay at Pedro’s place again when we return to Malaga to pick the bike up.

Sunset in Malaga.

Walking along the beach, we passed by this restaurant with an outdoor grill, where they were preparing
espeto, a fish common to this area, on skewers.

26,489 kilometers (16,423 miles) since May 3rd.

The Schengen Rule doesn’t say the motorcycle can only spend 90 days of each 180 in the 26 Schengen countries. Therefore, as of this morning, the bike has been tucked away in Spain for a little break, while we fly back to the UK to do a few more house sits before flying home. Why not just fly home? Well, it’s complicated. The easy answer is that we have an agreement with our house sitter through September 25th, so we don’t really have a home until then. Staying in England for a few weeks isn’t really much more expensive than being at home when you don’t have any lodging expense and can eat in rather than going out to eat all the time.

This isn’t the end of the ride. Quite the opposite actually. It’s simply a short break to re-group and head off in a different direction for the rest of the year. There’s a lot more world to explore and we intend to explore it on two wheels. Because as we always say: “If not now, when?”