How To House-Sit Your Way Around The World

By Kaeli Conforti
October 3, 2012
house sitting
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> Bart Speelman/Flickr</a>

You’ve heard about pet–sitting, but what about house–sitting to save money while traveling? Dalene and Peter Heck are one Canadian couple who did just that: five years ago, they sold everything for the sake of travel, and started a website, Hecktic Travels, about how they saved over $30,000 in accommodations costs by house–sitting their way around the world.

The basic idea is reciprocity: keep an eye on someone's home while they're away, and you get to stay in it for free. It's a win–win since the owners get the peace of mind in knowing their houses (and sometimes pets) are safe, and you get to take the price of accommodations out of your vacation budget. (You'll also save money on food, since your lodgings now include a kitchen.) Jobs can last anywhere from two weeks to six months and give new meaning to the term culture immersion.

"The best part about the whole experience has been the ability to really dig in to a destination and get to understand the culture. We get to know people and visit places that regular tourists never would," said Dalene Heck.

A number of websites, such as, House Sitters America, The Caretaker Gazette, Mind My House among others, provide listings for a fee (ranging from $20 to $60 depending on the membership), but consider this an investment. The couple recommends creating an account on multiple websites to increase your chances of being chosen for a coveted house–sit job.

Planning ahead is the key, since it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to fully flesh out the details of a contract. House–sitting hopefuls from the U.S. should remember to check Visa requirements for countries they plan to apply for, Dalene warns. "In 28 countries of Europe, Americans are only allowed 90 days total at a time, so the dream of bouncing around from house–sit to house–sit indefinitely isn't really an option there."

How did they find out about this underground travel trend? During a trip to Ecuador in 2009, the two met an elderly American couple who had been house–sitting around the world for a whopping 16 years! They inspired Dalene and Peter to apply for their first gig in British Columbia, Canada, and shortly afterward, the couple took on a six–month long stint in Roatan, Honduras. Over the last three years, they've also been house–sitters in Ireland, Belgium, England, Spain, Turkey, and the United States.

For more details about house–sitting contracts, the best ways to find opportunities, and tips on how to be a good house–sitter, purchase the couple's e–book, "How to Become a House–Sitter and See The World" for $19.99 on their website.

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading

Australia's Weird Wildlife Warning Signs

A car trip in Australia has its challenges including the fact driving is on the left. Distractions include a large number of weird wildlife warning signs on roadways. See the Road Signs. The Australians just assume you can recognize the black outline of the animal or bird on the yellow signs. There's no verbiage, but the point is to avoid hitting the creature with your car, not to get a nature lesson. Nowhere did my companion and I find the animal warning signs weirder&mdash;nor the amount of roadkill more plentiful&mdash;than in Tasmania, Australia's offshore state. In our rental car we drove from Hobart for the day to the 19th&ndash;century penal colony in Port Arthur, a UNESCO World Heritage site, passing all kinds of signs and squashed creatures along the way. We recognized the signs for one frightening looking creature as being the Tasmanian Devil&mdash;although on the signs it looks nothing like the cartoon version. The carnivorous marsupial is endangered due to a facial tumor disease, but some 3,000 are also killed on roadways each year. We don't meet any devils, thankfully. We do pass by deceased brushtail possums and a large hawk feasting on something unidentifiable&mdash;coincidently near the isthmus called Eaglehawk Neck. Signs also alert us to be on the lookout for penguins, wallabys and platypus. We later learn there are plenty of other creatures that wander onto Tasmania's roadways too including chubby wombats and such small marsupials as the pademelon, rat&ndash;faced bettong and pink&ndash;nosed bandicoot. Tasmania probably should win some kind of award for its number of roadway animal warning signs. The "Tassies" are very aware of the road&ndash;kill issue. There is even a RoadkillTas website, with government agencies among the sponsors. The site maps out what creatures drivers should watch out for&mdash;and where&mdash;and notes that some 300,000 Tasmanian animals fall victim to cars each year. The Tasmania parks department notes on its website that tourists often get "distressed" at the amount of road&ndash;kill they see and explains most of the animals are nocturnal and get hit at night. The warning signs are posted where the animals tend to cross the road…and that's no joke. More in Budget Travel: How to See the Best of Australia on a Budget My Australian Thanksgiving Australia's Great Barrier Reef Made Easy


8 Halloween Festivals Worth Traveling For

Once a year, we put on masks and devise creative ways to scare one another&mdash;and have a lot of fun doing so! As we gear up to celebrate Halloween this weekend, we tip our hats to eight places that are known for their spooktacular extravaganzas. SEE PHOTOS FROM THE FESTIVALS VILLAGE HALLOWEEN PARADE/NEW YORK CITY, NY When: October 31, 2011, 7 p.m., but people start lining the streets about two hours before. How Much: Free The Village Halloween Parade is considered to be the nation's largest, with more than 2 million people attending annually. (And even if those numbers aren't entirely accurate, there's no doubt that the Village parade is the only Halloween celebration listed in 100 Things to Do Before You Die.) The getups range from pop&ndash;culture figures (Snooki was popular last year) to eye&ndash;popping extravaganzas (one participant dressed as a Tusken Raider from Star Wars, riding an elephant&ndash;size Bantha puppet), along with a motley assortment of giant puppets, stilt walkers, and marching bands. Feel shy about getting gussied up? Try volunteering to carry a puppet. (Go to for info.) [Note for families: Many of the costumes in the parade can be considered inappropriate for children.] To stay: Sofia Inn, 288 Park Pl., Brooklyn, N.Y.,, $135 For more information: HUNTING WITCHES//SALEM, MASS. When: Activities are throughout the month of October How Much: Prices vary per activity This infamous home of the 1692 Witch Trials capitalizes on its macabre history throughout the year, with occult&ndash;themed museums, guided tours, stores, and psychic readings. (There are even flying witch logos on the local police cars and firemen uniforms.) But the town is a mecca for tourists during its Halloween Happenings, a month&ndash;long celebration that attracts 200,000 visitors a year and is bursting with themed events: a carnival; a haunted cornfield maze; numerous theatrical presentations, including one haunting piece performed at the 17th&ndash;century mansion of a Witch Trials judge; fireworks; and Hawthorne Hotel’s R&ndash;rated annual costume party (ages 21 and up). To stay: Fox Pond Bed and Breakfast, 31 Arthur Ave. Marblehead, Mass., (Marblehead is just 5 miles away), $125 For more information: HALLOWEEN COSTUME CARNAVAL/WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. When: October 31, 2011, 6 p.m. &ndash; 11 p.m. How Much: Free The self&ndash;proclaimed "largest Halloween street party in the world," the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval in California rivals New York's Village parade for sheer eccentricity, with drag costumes being a focal point. (Last year, both women and men dressed up as the fame monster herself, Lady Gaga.) Besides people&ndash;watching, there is entertainment; last year, there were six stages featuring Halloween&ndash;themed aerialists, marionettes, a "rock &amp; roll strip show," and a crowning of Queen of the Carnaval. But above all, partiers should put their game faces on: The designated times for the gathering is 6 to 11 p.m., but that doesn't stop people from showing up in costume on the boulevard at noon&mdash;and carousing until about 3 a.m. [Due to risque nature of costumes and party atmosphere, this gathering is not recommended for children.] To stay: Hollywood Bed &amp; Breakfast, 1701 N. Orange Grove Ave., Hollywood, Calif., 323/874-8017,, from $150 For more information: EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY’S TERROR BEHIND THE WALLS/PHILADELPHIA When: Select evenings through November 5, 2011, assorted times How Much: Tickets start from $20 Putting your typical community's haunted hayride to shame, Terror Behind the Walls employs Hollywood&ndash;worthy lighting and sound and more than 200 actors to scare the bejesus out of visitors. The building itself is frightening enough: the penitentiary, opened in 1829 and once one of the nation's most notorious before being discontinued in 1971, is now the site of abandoned, increasingly decrepit cell blocks, guard towers, and isolation areas. The tour actually starts in the former recreation yard, where actors costumed as "insane prisoners and sadistic guards" do their best to startle you. [For children 7 to 12, there is a less&ndash;scary gathering called Family Nights]. To stay: Chestnut Hill Hotel, 8229 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, Pa.,, from $149 For more information: THE LOUISVILLE ZOO When: October 20&ndash;23, 27–30, 2011, 5 &ndash; 8:30 p.m. How Much: $8 Celebrating the 30th anniversary of its annual Halloween event&mdash;called the World's Largest Halloween Party!&mdash;the zoo gets completely transformed by more than 15 exhibits, such as the Land of Oz, Ogre Swamp, Toyland, and Dino&ndash;mania. There are many costumed characters roaming the grounds for photo ops: Captain Jack Sparrow, Dorothy from Oz, and Shrek have all made appearances. One special exhibit is Pumpkinville, USA, a hillside bedecked in 160 glowing pumpkins, all intricately carved by an artist called Black Cat Crossing and many with themes, such as Elvis, John Wayne, and the Beatles. For an additional fee, guests can get on rides like the Not&ndash;So&ndash;Haunted Carousel and Zip Line Over Pirate's Cove. To stay: Inn at Woodhaven, 401 S. Hubbards Lane, Louisville, Ky., 888/895-1011,, from $105 For more information: LEGOLAND'S BRICK-OR-TREAT/CARLSBAD, CALIF. When: October 22 and 29, 5 p.m. &ndash; 9 p.m. How Much: $55 for full&ndash;day admission to park plus party; $25 for just the evening party Legos transform themselves in any season, but the folks at Legoland go all out for Halloween. The centerpiece is the "not&ndash;too&ndash;spooky" Brick&ndash;or&ndash;Treat Party Nights built around themes such as Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter. The evenings feature a dance party, a costume contest for children 12 and under (categories include "Best Star Wars," "Most Lego Themed," and "Most Creative"), trick&ndash;or&ndash;treating, fireworks, and entertainment acts such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers. Of course, the party festivities are in addition to 128&ndash;acre park's regular offerings, including more than 60 rides, a water park, and food options galore, all surrounded by the kind of elaborate Lego models&mdash;a brontosaurus made from more than 2 million bricks, a mini version of Las Vegas that took the park's builders about 16,000 hours to make&mdash;you and the kids can only dream about making. To stay: Inn at Moonlight Beach, 105 N. Vulcan Ave., Encinitas, Calif., 760/561-1755,, from $139 For more information: MICKEY'S NOT-SO-SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY AT DISNEY WORLD When: Select nights through November, 7 p.m. &ndash; Midnight How Much: Tickets start from $52, which is on top of the cost of park entrance (starting at $79). It's a little&ndash;known fact that people over the age of nine are not allowed to wear costumes at Disney World&mdash;except during Halloween. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Winnie the Pooh all wear costumes, which you'll see during the Boo&ndash;to&ndash;You Parade, one of many events throughout the evening. There is also free face&ndash;painting, a dance show, Happy HalloWishes fireworks, trick or treating (in previous years, the candy has been sponsored by Mars' M&M;'s and Snickers brands), and the attractions and rides that Disney is known for (Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World). The Disney characters aren't the only ones dressed up: the entire park is done up with Halloween&ndash;specific decor, lighting, and music. To stay: Caribe Cove Resort Orlando, 9000 Treasure Trove Lane, Kissimmee, Fla., 877/299-4491,, from $94 For more information: SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. When [for Horseman’s Hollow event]: October 21&ndash;23, 27&ndash;30, times vary by evening. How Much: $20 (Saturdays are $25) Ah, the charms of fall in upstate New York: leaf&ndash;peeping, apple picking, quaint country inns, antiquing&mdash;and Hessians feasting on rotting corpses. At least that's what you'll find in the land of Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman. The Hudson Valley's Philipsburg Manor has been transformed into Horseman's Hollow, an interactive haunted house populated with vampires, witches, and the occasional Hessian lurking in the shadows and along a half&ndash;mile candlelit path on the grounds. This event is not recommended for children under 12, nor, according to its website, "adults who are claustrophobic, have heart or respiratory conditions, are prone to seizures, or have other chronic health conditions." For a less agita&ndash;inducing night, try the Great Jack&ndash;O&ndash;Lantern Blaze, a display of more than 4,000 elaborately carved and illuminated pumpkins at Van Cortlandt Manor, an 18th&ndash;century riverside property in Croton&ndash;on&ndash;Hudson, N.Y., with expansive gardens. To stay: Alexander Hamilton House, 49 Van Wyck St., Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., 914/271-6737,, from $142 For more information: &mdash;Charlotte Twine MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 15 Insects You Won't Believe Are Edible Photo Tour of the Creepiest Churches on Earth 8 Items You Never Pack...But Should 4 Most Common Reasons Airlines Lose Luggage


Disney's New Restaurant Policy Is Hard to Stomach

Walt Disney World guests will have to pay a fee if they make restaurant reservations and fail to show up. As of October 26, the reservation policies at many of Walt Disney World's best restaurants are changing. A credit card number will be required for a reservation to be accepted, and if guests want to cancel the reservation, they must do so 24 hours in advance. If a party is a "no-show," or if the guest doesn't cancel in time, the card will be charged $10—per person. Yes, instead of a flat $10 per "no-show," Disney will charge $10 for each person in the party. Reservation for six? You'll be charged $60 for failing to show up or cancel on time. This may well mean guests could wind up hungry and angry. The Disney insider site WDWMagic reports that the policy will be in place at 19 Disney restaurants. Generally speaking, the restaurants with the new policy are the nicer, fine-dining type establishments. One example is the Contemporary Resort restaurant Chef Mickey's, which offers this head's up: Cancellation Policy Updates, Begin October 26, 2011 To ensure consistent Guest service, a one-day cancellation policy will apply to new reservations at this dining venue beginning October 26, 2011. If a Guest cancels within one day of the reservation or if the dining party is a "no show" for the meal, a cancellation fee of $10 per person will be charged to the credit card used at the time of booking. It goes without saying: If you make a dinner reservation at Disney, it's best to actually use it. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: The Completely Obsessive, Absolutely Indispensable Guide to Disney World Confessions of a Disney Cast Member Trip Coach: Walt Disney World


Are You Going To Or Avoiding London 2012?

Whether you want to attend the London 2012 Olympic Games or not, Britain wants you to know there are plenty of reasons for everyone to hop the pond next year. The U.K. is starting to ramp up its promotional efforts in the lead-up to an action-packed lineup of events next year that will put London center stage on the world map, including the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (June 2-5), the London 2012 Olympics (July 17-Aug 12) and the Paralympics (Aug 29-Sept 9). Despite the buzz the Olympics generates, they often tend to deter regular leisure and business travelers, turned off by the hubbub and ballyhoo surrounding the event. But, "Britain is open 365 days a year and the Olympics is only 40 days and it’s only in London,” said Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, the country's tourism marketing organization. In line with that message, a new marketing campaign called 'Great' was unveiled by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron last week in New York intended to showcase the many different aspects of the country's allure, including such highlights as shopping, music, heritage, sports, the countryside, business and creativity. "The noise about Britain as a destination is going to be greater than you have seen for many, many years," said Rodrigues. While Britain is “not offering $449, three nights in Cancun,” noted Rodrigues, there will be affordable travel options to and through the country next year despite the perception that the U.K. is expensive. For instance, he said that there has been a growth in the number of quality three-star properties around the country. And for those who want to get in on the Olympics fervor, "I believe there will be rooms available," advised Rodrigues. And, "there are still packages available including the tickets." He also noted that people who want to go to the Olympics and are having trouble finding accommodation should look into areas from which it is relatively easy to commute into London, such as Oxford. And if Olympics fans can't get tickets to any of the events, he recommended opting for an event that is open to the public, such as the marathon race, or heading to other parts of the country where the games will be aired on big screens. Far Hills, N.J.-based CoSport is the official reseller of Olympic and Paralympic tickets for the U.S. market. What about you BT readers? Are you hoping to head to the Games, or are you avoiding Britain next year at all costs? Let us know by commenting below. More from Budget Travel: How to Score Tickets to the 2012 Summer Olympics And the winner of the 2018 Winter Olympics is... South Korea London still welcoming tourists amid riots