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Meet M4 Travels: Mike, Marianne, Maëlle and Maxine


April 14, 2019 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Meet WSE Members



Why House Sitting and World Schooling Can Go

Hand-in-Hand

 

Tell me a little about your family and who you travel with…..

 

We are a Canadian family of four who sold everything, left good jobs and our friends back in beautiful Vancouver to travel the world for a year. The cast of our story includes Mike and Marianne, both are 42 years old, and one might think they are going through a midlife crisis… There is also Maëlle, an energetic, witty and goofy 8 year old, and Maxine, a fun loving, happy and easy going 5 year old.

Do you travel full time?  How do you educate your children?

 

We are taking the year off to travel and live abroad full time. We are not working (so far) and we loosely teach Maëlle grade 3 (French-immersion). Maxine has not started school yet. Financially, we could not sustain this lifestyle full time and we will eventually settle back again but this is our second round the world trip and probably not our last!

What are your main reasons for house sitting?

 

Our main reasons for offering our services as house and pet sitters were to have a more regular home base for a little while during our travels, to give our kids more experience with pets, to save on accommodation and to experience living like locals. Our girls love animals and really want pets of their own. Housesits frequently come with pets. Pet sitting was something they were really excited to do when we first talked to them about it. It is a good way for them to see what it is like to take care of pets every day and for us to see what type of pet may be right for us. Another reason for finding our first housesit was to help with French immersion. We spent a lot of time trying to find a good sit in France, one that would allow the girls to practice their French on top of it all.

 

How long have you been house sitting? How many sits have you done? Where have you been?

 

We consider ourselves fairly new to house and pet sitting. We joined a couple of house sitting websites in September 2018 when we started our trip around the world. We learned about these types of exchanges from house swapping websites. We don’t currently have a home, so we cannot swap. We have been successful at getting 4 sits so far in the last 5 months in areas we were planning on visiting on our world tour. Two of the sits were in France. Unfortunately, the first one was cancelled last minute but the owner was amazingly generous and still gave us his apartment to stay in Paris for a couple of days! Our second sit was 2 weeks in the Alps in a small village near Morzine. We just completed our third sit in Singapore which was a 12-day sit. Our fourth sit was to be in Tokyo, in April, but the family changed the dates after selecting us and we can’t make it work.

 

 

What were your main responsibilities?  Did you look after pets?

 

We’re going to describe our completed sits in a bit more detail here so that you can get a flavour for what were our responsibilities and what our experiences were like as a Worldschooling family.

 

For both completed sits, we took care of pets. Most of the sits we see are primarily to care for pets.

 

France sit

In France, we took care of a family’s cat and dog in their lovely big log home with a wonderful backyard and amazing mountain views. We had been connected to the family via one of the housitting websites and had had a video chat with them before they entrusted us with their beloved pets and home. We arrived at the home and were immediately greeted and welcomed by Ruby, a nice friendly Golden Retriever. The responsibilities were fairly straightforward; just normal pet care for a cat and dog. The girls took on new responsibilities and learned to take good care of the pets. They quickly grew fond of the animals and still speak of them often. Everyday, they got up in the morning to feed them. Maëlle was very diligent about walking the dog and picking up after him. Both pets were very easy going, used to kids, and low maintenance which made them the perfect pets for us to sit.

 

 

 

We had been travelling and changing locations often in the months before the sit, so it was particularly good to pause and create a more normal routine for home schooling. To give you a taste of what we did there, we spent a lot of time playing around the house (they had lots of kid toys!) and with the animals. We took the girls to swimming lessons and went for walks with the dog along nice trails in the area. We also sat outside on the deck, taking advantage of unusually warm fall weather, with a drink, cheese and baguette at sunset and watched the girls play on the trampoline. Hard to beat! We had time to visit the nearby sights, markets and even experienced the Halloween customs in a different country! We also did a day trip to nearby Geneva, Switzerland, and visited the CERN discovery centre to learn about particle physics as a science field trip! We also did make an effort to speak more French while we were there and the girls definitely made progress although they did not get to interact with many French speaking kids as many local kids were away on vacation with their families at that time. All in all, it was a very rich and worthwhile world schooling experience.

 

Singapore Sit

In Singapore, we took care of an Australian couple’s two dogs in their spacious centrally located apartment. We first connected with the owners via the same house sitting website and had a call to ensure there was a good fit. We changed our flight to come in a day early and meet one of them for a tour of the place and an introduction to the animals before they left us with keys in hand. It was so nice to be in a comfortable apartment after some more basic accommodations in the previous months and to have all the western commodities in a kitchen like an oven and even an espresso machine!!! We felt instantly at home there. The dogs were some of the most affectionate and easy going we’ve met. Extremely loveable!

 

 

Again, we spent a lot of time hanging out with the dogs, took them on walks and visited some parts of the city on foot that we may not have visited otherwise. We were able to homeschool on a more regular schedule, had time to research where to go next, did some shopping at the many great malls in the area and even caught up on some Netflix series! Singapore is super safe, clean and packs a lot of interesting sights and attractions so we were definitely not bored. We managed to visit Universal Studios, the Botanical Gardens with the dogs, the beach at Sentosa Island, Gardens by the Bay and the lovely Marina Bay Area. We could easily have spent a few more days there. We were very thankful to have found this sit because the cost of accommodation alone would have meant that we could have only spent a few days there, and in far less comfortable accommodations.

 

What would you say to other people considering this type of travel accommodation?  Tell me your best house sit tip?

 

Have you ever had pets or took care of someone else’s, or just love animals? Are you capable of leaving a home clean and tidy? Then you are qualified and there is probably a sit out there for you! There is a bit of a leap of faith as sitters when you say yes to a sit but the way we see it, it is as much or more of a leap of faith for the owners who trust you with their precious pets and valuable. It is in everyone’s best interest to make this a mutually beneficial experience. Once we started and had our first sit, things got easier something we really look forward to! Here are a few tips we’ve learned:

 

 

 

 

  • Become a member of one or many websites that offer house or pet sits in an area(s) where you would like to go. The main one we have been using is Trustedhousesitters.com. Some of them charge a fee but it is a small price to pay if you are successful considering you will be getting free accommodation!
  • Creating your profile can take a bit of time but that is essentially the same as creating your resume. Some services also request some levels of verifications so be prepared to get references and have your passport or other ID ready.
  • Search the websites for family-friendly sits in areas where you would like to go and use the various filters to customize your search for the areas and time frames you are interested in.
  • Review the new listings regularly and apply quickly. Great houses in desirable locations get a lot of applicants and you may never hear back from them. There are many sits in more rural or remote locations that hardly have any applicants so you may want to try one of those as your first sit.
  • However, do not be discouraged if there are already many applicants. Being in proximity or having the ability and flexibility to be there exactly when the owners need you to be there or having experience with certain pets or pet needs can all increase your chances relative to others.
  • New listings seem to get posted from last minute to several months ahead so if you don’t find what you want right away, keep looking!
  • Sitting for a family definitely makes things easier: the pets are used to kids and there are usually lots of kid friendly things (e.g., kids beds, bikes, toys, trampoline, recommendations from owners on what to do with the kids). These sits are not the most frequent though…
  • Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about what matters to you in the experience so that you can make an informed decision.

 

 

How far in advance do you organise your house sits? 

 

Not very long… We start looking in an area where we want to go a couple of months in advance but we’ve found our sits just a few weeks ahead. We have quite a lot of flexibility with our travel itinerary and dates at the moment so we are lucky that way. If you have a very defined timeframe or location when you are available for a sit, you will likely want to start looking earlier.

 

How much money do you estimate you have saved on travel accommodation by doing house sits?

 

When we are not housesitting, our preferred accommodation style is a rental by owners like on Airbnb. Comparable accommodations would have cost us easily $120-200+ CAD per night in both places so I’d say we have saved nearly $5000 CAD in accommodation so far on our trip.     

 

 

What do you worry about, if anything,  while arranging a sit? How would you put potential sitters minds at ease who are anxious about staying in someone else’s house?

 

We’ve developed pretty good instincts about what makes a place a good one for our family. We generally skip the sits where the houses look like they have a lot of fragile things (just in case!) and places with very large dogs or many pets to care for. We look for these features in potential sits:

  • A location that is not too isolated with potential kids around and things to do
  • Separate rooms for the kids and parents – bonus if kids have separate beds!
  • Pets that are used to kids or at least known to be very good with kids (I think people are good at only contacting you if they know that their pets are okay around children when you say you are pet sitting as a family)
  • Bonus if it is a family house because they already have kid stuff!
  • Owners are responsive and good communicators from the get-go. There is chemistry/good vibe when we speak or video chat with them.

 

 

Some people considering this type of exchanges worry about the state and cleanliness of the place and have a hard time believing that people will trust them with their place if they are nice at all. The websites generally show you at least some photos and you can always ask for more if an owner responds to your application. Some houses are spectaculars while others are modest. You can also see reviews from previous sitters and get a better sense of what it is like to sit there before you apply. So far, we’ve had very clean places with good beds, clean sheets, towels etc., and returned them as such. If you’re still hesitant, house sitting websites offer terms of reference/agreement for sits that may help put your mind at ease. They are all based on common sense and mutual respect. Reviews that the sitter and owner complete at the end are very important for future sits, so people seem to try to do a good job on both ends. We felt so much trust from the owners that we definitely wanted to prove them right and do our best during our sits.

 

Some people say they like to house sit rather than stay in a hotel as it feels more like a ‘home from home’ experience – Does it really?  Can you really make someone else’s home feel like your own?  How do you achieve this?

 

 

r.

Yes, I totally agree. Just having pets around makes it feel homie.  You may feel most at home if you do sits in places that are similar to your own home. But some of the beauty is that it IS different from your own home and the difference is part of the experience!

 

What one thing do you travel with that you couldn’t do without, even when staying in someone else’s home? 

 

We can’t think of anything… Passports? 😊

 

So where to next?  Any more sits planned?

 

We just arrived in Bali and may look for house sitting opportunities here. No other sits planned but we are keeping an eye out for places in Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Vancouver (Canada) over the next 3 months. We are also always open to alternative accommodation options so let us know if you know of any cool ones in those places!

 

You can follow our adventures at www.m4travels.com

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