July 10 2020
The good news is the writing of this article confirms I survived, of which there were a few who had serious reservations about this leap of faith in humanity.
Many years ago, I joined a travel group on Facebook (one of the few things Facebook is good for these days) called Female Digital Nomads. This site is an inspiration for so many things, but most specifically for asking travel questions and getting real life answers.
As I scrolled through one day, I stumbled upon a long post about how to stay in different cities all over the world without paying for a place to stay. In exchange for house sitting or pet sitting, you would be able to gain free accommodations. Sounds thrilling right? Who doesn’t want to stay somewhere for free? (Especially since accommodations are often the most expensive part of the trip outside of airfare.) It sounded almost too good to be true, but I figured it would be harmless enough to give it a try.
Scrolling through the comments on the post revealed a long list of possible sites to join (I’ll list a few good ones at the end of this article). There were sites that specifically catered to Europe, Australia (in my wildest dreams!), and the USA, and all varied greatly in the cost to join. I ended up going with House Sitters America for two reasons; 1) because I would be trying this house sitting thing out close to home 2) it was $30 for a year subscription, which seemed a fair price for experimenting purposes.
Ten minutes later with a newly minted profile, I was scrolling through pet sitting opportunities- and there were a lot more than I thought there would be. Opportunities to take care of horses on a farm, four cats in an apartment, a little puppy in a gorgeous old house- the list went on.
Then I found one that fit the sort of job I was looking for; pet sitting for an old black lab named Grace in Wilmington, NC. Not only was Wilmington a city I had been wanting to visit for some time, but the dog was so sweet looking, the house amazing, and the location just a short 25 minute drive to the beach.
I reached out via the platform to the owner who had posted the listing. The next day she responded, confirming that they would love for me to watch Grace. It was that easy!
I excitedly shared my intended journey with my friends and parents, and was met with heavy doubt and speculation. How could that be safe? Are you sure you want to go alone? What if it’s a ploy?
All fair concerns, and in actuality, not completely unjust. However, I trusted the site, have what I consider good instincts, and read the reviews for the owner on the site (this wasn’t her first time using the site). This idea isn’t unlike using Uber or AirBnB. It goes hand in hand with trusting on both sides- I would have to trust the owner, and she would have to trust me.
The owner and I messaged back and forth many times, eventually jumping on a phone call to speak further (see, this is me being responsible and looking out). It was about a month out from when they would need me, and we planned to touch base again once we got closer to the date.
Fast forward to a handful of days before my trip- I received a text message from the owner letting me know that sweet old lady Grace had passed away! It was such a sad twist in events. I expected that the passing of the poor pup was also the cancellation of my journey, however, the owner was so sweet and insisted I still come and house sit if I was still interested in traveling down there.
A few days and a six hour drive later, I pulled up to the adorable cottage and let myself in with the key she had hidden. The house itself was a masterpiece of artwork, books, and musical albums framed and hanging on the wall. There was a note on the counter welcoming me and a guide to nearby things to do and see.
I spent seven days working remotely, traveling to nearby Kure Beach to soak up the sun, and exploring downtown historic Wilmington.
In the end, I never was able to meet the owner, departing hours before their return to make my own way back home. We did communicate via text throughout the week, and she was so excited to hear about my discoveries and what I was up to. In fact, it seemed she was thrilled to have the opportunity to share Wilmington and their home with me.
The experience, for all the words of caution and slight discomfort of my parents, was amazing. I was able to see a part of the USA like a true local while spending very little money.
The only sad mark against the experience, really, was that I never got to meet sweet Grace.