House sitting is a fantastic way to travel without the hefty accommodation expense. Of course, there’s always the possibility that something could go wrong. I’ve had many amazing experiences house sitting but in this post, I’m going to tell you about my 6 biggest house sitting disasters to help you avoid them during your own adventures.
6 House Sitting Disasters and How to Avoid Them
Taking on the responsibility of someone’s home and pets is a serious commitment, and it comes with great responsibility. A great trait for any house sitter is to be able to think on their feet so they can deal with challenges, big or small. Remember, house sitting disasters can be overcome! Here are some examples and tips on how you can avoid encountering them yourself.
1. The House is Disgusting – Tennessee, USA 2022
Photos on a host’s listing profile are one of the few insights you’ll get into the home or animals you’re going to be caring for. I should have trusted my gut on one listing I applied for in late 2023. The photos showed only a few room angles in suspiciously well-positioned and favorable lights, and it looked a little messy. I felt something wasn’t quite right, but applied for it anyway.
I’m not super OCD, but I’ll admit to liking things clean and tidy. On arriving at the house sit in Tennessee I knew within a second that I’d messed up. The tiny house, that came with 2 large dogs was a real mess, with inch-thick dust and hair everywhere. There was junk on top of junk, week-old dishes in the sink, and rotten food in the fridge.
Despite having just got off a flight I couldn’t unpack a thing until I had tackled the cleaning. I attacked the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom with every cleaning product I could find. The hosts, whom I never met, seemed genuinely content with their home so what could I say? My advice? Trust your gut and ask questions if you have concerns before applying.
2. A Very Sick Dog – Texas, USA 2022
One of the biggest fears when pet sitting is that something will happen to an animal in your care. Pets get sick, it happens, but hosts usually leave detailed instructions of what to do in this case. Taking on numerous house sits increases the likelihood of eventually experiencing an unexpected pet illness.
I looked after a beautiful home and a lovely Giant Schnauzer called Trix in the Autumn of 2023. She was a great dog, friendly, easygoing, and loving. Whilst lying next to me on the sofa one night she barfed up the entirety of her stomach contents – on my lap, (this isn’t entirely unusual and can happen with dogs from time to time).
I got cleaned up and went to bed, but got up at 1 am to check she was okay. Poor Trix had proceeded to be sick a dozen times around the house – beds, carpets, rugs – she really was not feeling well! I settled her down and spoke to the owners who assured me she should be fine. I then spent the next two hours scrubbing the house like it was a crime scene. Trix made a full recovery after a day or so after a strict diet of plain rice and chicken.
It was great to have the owner’s contact details to hand – despite them being on a cruise on the other side of the world – so we could discuss what was best for Trix during her illness.
3. Chicken Madness – Montenegro, 2022
Chickens are one of the easier animals to care for, or so you’d think, right? Let them out, check their food and water, close them up, and get some delicious free eggs. Simple. Upon arriving at a Montenegro house sit with 12 chickens to care for, my illusions were swiftly shattered.
Chickens will attack other chickens in the coop if they sense weakness – fun fact – this is where we get the phrase “the pecking order”. The day before I arrived a stray dog had attacked the chickens and one named Silky was seriously injured. I had to construct an isolation booth, administer daily oral antibiotics, and dress her wounds as per the host’s instructions.
My whole stay was spent taking care of one chicken and ensuring the others didn’t kill her. Silky has since passed on, but she was alive when I finished the house sit! The advice here is don’t take the ease of any house sit for granted. Always be ready to go above and beyond to help avoid house sitting disasters.
4. Bad WiFi – France, 2023
It’s surely one of many people’s top house sitting disasters. Accepting a rural house sit worldwide means being ready for WiFi that falls short of city standards. As a digital nomad who works online, WiFi is pretty vital.
I always ask about the internet situation, but more than once I haven’t been given the truth about the WiFi speed. Shakey connections, speeds too slow for calls or downloading attachments, and even a 2-day internet blackout are all things I’ve encountered recently.
Often you’ll find cafes, co-working spaces, and the like somewhere close by, but my advice is to always pick up a local data SIM as a backup. Working is one thing but having no connection to the outside world in a rural location is challenging. I ended up going old school and watching DVDs for a week at one house sit, because no internet means no Netflix!
5. Host Cancels – Nashville, 2022
I’d never had any issues with hosts canceling, and it had never even entered my mind until Christmas 2022. A few days after Christmas, and directly after leaving the dirty Tennesee house from point no. 1, I was due to start a month-long house sit just outside Nashville, TN. The hosts seemed lovely and I was excited.
The day before I was due to start the sit, I received a text from the hosts saying simply – ‘Pipe broken, don’t know what’s going to happen’. My mind went into panic mode, Airbnb costs were through the roof, and no other house sitting listings were available at short notice.
I checked with Trusted Housesitters, my go-to house sitting site, and because I have their premium membership I was completely covered for the situation. They would cover my accommodation expenses up to $1500 a month, I was so relieved. Thankfully the pipe was fine, the hosts were going on vacation no matter what, and I had a great month in Nashville, but unforeseen circumstances can arise, and you should always be prepared for a last-minute change of plan.
6. Snakes, Spiders, and Other Wild Beasts – Costa Rica, 2022
Having lived my whole life in the UK, house sitting around the world has been somewhat of an eye-opener for me. I’ve found hosts aren’t so quick to mention in their listings some of the critters and creepy crawlies you may have to contend with.
From giant cockroaches and iguanas the size of surfboards in Costa Rica to tarantulas and a pack of wild boars in Arizona, I’ve seen a lot in the last few years. On arriving in Tucson I was told by the hosts to contact pest control when I saw rattlesnakes in the yard. That’s when, not if! Be careful of poisonous toads, I was later told by another host in Texas.
Some other gems tacked on after accepting a sit have been – don’t leave the dog unattended outside, there are big owls in this area, and if you’re attacked by a mountain lion, don’t run, fight back! Thankfully I’ve never had an encounter in which I’ve felt remotely threatened and it’s all part of exploring the world via house sitting.
I wouldn’t change a thing about my experiences house sitting. There have been some tough times, and a few hairy moments for sure. But even house sitting disasters are part of the experience that comes with immersing yourself in new cultures and different countries.
I, in no way, want to deter anyone from house sitting with this article, but rather give you a heads up on the few bumps and challenges that may come along the way. House sitting has been a game changer in my life and allows me to travel permanently. I look back on even my least favorable sits as being an experience I will never forget – or change!