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House Sitting Interview Series: Ryan Patey, Solo House Sitter

written by House Sitter Interview Series March 10, 2020
House Sitting Interview Series: Ryan Patey, Solo House Sitter

Welcome to our House Sitting Interview series!

We have long been adamant about only publishing posts written by us, but recently we decided to bend our own rules. As we continue to write about how to transform your life through house sitting, more and more readers have been reaching out with some variation of the same question:

“Can I, as a [insert type of person] be a house sitter?”

We always answer with a resounding, “YES!”

But it’s one thing for us to say this. You want to read real-life stories of house sitters that are standing in your shoes. We’ve created this house sitter interview series to profile all the varying life paths of successful house sitters.

Today we have a super special interview with fellow vegan house sitter, Ryan! We absolutely loved reading about his experiences and found ourselves nodding along quite frequently. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did!

Introduce yourself! Tell us a little more about who you are.

My name is Ryan Patey. I’m a full-time traveler and house sitter from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. For just over three years now, I’ve called Southeast Asia home, but before that I traveled through parts of Europe, Canada, the United States, Central America, and South Korea.

Since 2007, I’ve been independently publishing a vegan magazine called T.O.F.U., which was a side project until I quit my full-time job at a digital marketing agency in 2014. From that point on, I’ve focused on T.O.F.U. while also doing the occasional freelance gig as a writer and editor.

What inspired you to start house sitting? How and when did you make it happen?

House sitting came on my radar soon after I had returned to Newfoundland for Christmas near the end of 2014. My original plan was to leave after the holidays and head back to Costa Rica (CR) where I had been living with two friends, but they ended up moving to Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) soon after I left. So, I was faced with the need for a new plan while also dealing with the transition from tropical weather to life on the edge of North America in the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, after a few days of being back, my feet were not only itchy, they were freezing!

Not long after I arrived home, I believe my sister informed me that a website called TrustedHousesitters was having a sale on their membership, so I decided to sign-up. Personally, it seemed like a great way to be able to travel while also avoiding rent and other expenses that come with sitting still in one place or even travelling and staying at hotels or hostels. Once I had signed-up, I began to make plans to head to the other side of Canada where I knew there would be more house sits listed. Plus, I had friends and family there, and after spending the winter at home, I knew I needed an adventure as soon as the snow and ice melted.

Of course, actually starting to sit didn’t happen right away. After a promotional tour for the magazine brought me down through the States to Austin, Texas and then back-up the coast to BC, I spent at least a month or two hopping between family and friends while applying for any sit that I could. Eventually, a couple took a chance and confirmed me as their sitter, and things went from there.

Are you open to house sitting anywhere, or do you have any preferences? Are you a full time house sitter or do you have a “home base” somewhere? 

For a little over three years now, I’ve stuck to Southeast Asia, which has consisted basically of Thailand, Vietnam, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. There have been sits listed in other countries in the region, but I’ve been lucky enough to sit regularly for some people, so I’m often booked well in advance.

I’ve considered myself a full-time house sitter for years now, but I have recently decided to cut-back on applying for sits as I’ve found a partner in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam, and spending time away from there just isn’t as fun now. So, I guess Saigon is my “home base” at the moment, but I’ll still be doing the odd sit within Southeast Asia whenever something interesting comes up.

>>Read more: Is Long Term House Sitting Right for You?

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Sunset in Saigon © Ryan Patey

Have different cultural contexts made for different house sitting experiences?

For the most part, my house sits have been with foreigners from English-speaking countries, so (for better or worse) there haven’t been any major cultural differences.

That being said, I was initially turned down for a sit in Turkey due to being a male. The couple who were looking for someone felt it might be considered inappropriate by the neighbors if I did the sit as the husband had already left and the wife would be home alone with me. Since it was a small and conservative community, this could have caused issues for them in the future, so they opted for a woman. However, the woman ended up backing-out, and they did pick me after. We just had to tell any curious locals that I was a relative from Canada. Thankfully, I didn’t know any Turkish, so I never had to explain it to anyone, but it did come up numerous times, including at the gas station on the way back from the airport.

Outside of that big difference, I’d say the other thing I notice, especially here in SE Asia, is the standard of care for animals. In Saigon, depending on the neighborhood, I’ve been yelled at by locals just for having a dog sniff their lawn, and I’ve had to muzzle and carry a small dog from an apartment down to the sidewalk outside (using the service elevator only, of course) due to property rules. It’s not so strange to me now since I’ve been taking care of animals within this context for years, but it could be a shock to some folks when they first sit here for sure.

Thankfully, since I’ve used TrustedHousesitters for a large majority of my bookings, the home owners I’ve dealt with have all been big dog and cat lovers and they’ve also been rather friendly. In fact, I’ve made numerous close friends due to house sitting, and I’ve even been fortunate enough to connect again with several couples from sits I did years ago while they were visiting Vietnam and Thailand.

Poolside in Phuket © Ryan Patey

Do you look for specific types of house sits (such as length/location/etc) or pets, or is anything fair game? 

When I started out, anything was fair game as I badly needed the experience and the reviews to help my profile. Now, especially since I’m living with my partner, I am pickier. I’ve continued to sit for some folks that I’ve known for years, but the new ones I apply for are the kind that could provide a short break in a different area within Saigon or an interesting experience somewhere else in SE Asia. Sadly, even though I’ve done over 50+ sits now and have 30+ solid reviews, I still don’t get everything I apply for, but that’s all part of the game!

What’s the biggest benefit of house sitting that you’ve experienced so far? Favorite house sitting experience?

Getting to know so many animals is a major benefit, and I’ve become super attached to plenty of critters over the years. Sadly, I’ve had a number of them pass away over time too, but I’m still happy to have been able to share some time with them regardless.

Outside of that, house sitting has allowed me to continue travelling while making very little, and I’ve found myself in places I know I never would have visited otherwise. Even if it’s just different neighborhoods in a city like Saigon, I’ve been able to actually experience life in numerous places without being surrounded by tourists and the usual traps that follow them.

Looking back on it, I think my time near Bodrum, Turkey has been my favorite place and experience so far. It’s a part of the world that wasn’t even on my radar until the sit was listed, but I dream of going back to Turkey still.

At the time, I was a little stressed about tackling my inexperience with a standard vehicle in order to get the dogs to the beach nearby, but the daily walks through the hills, the local market, the olives from the garden, and hearing the call to prayer echo through the tiny town in the valley are things I will remember for a long, long time.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far (if any)? 

In the beginning, the biggest challenge was simply getting a sit. If I didn’t have family and friends to house me, I wouldn’t have been able to keep at it since it was a fairly long time before I got my first booking. More recently, and perhaps a part of the reason why I’m pulling back a bit from sitting, the biggest challenge has been facing the loss of the animals I care for. Last year, I lost five, and one of them passed away while I was doing the sit. Thankfully, the home owner was with me at the time, so I at least didn’t have to write or call them to give the bad news while they were on vacation. Regardless, I had never really dealt with death directly before that (full-time travel helps to keep such things at a distance), and I think I’m still trying to process it at this point.

>>Read more: The First House Sit Struggle

Following up on that…have you experienced any challenges specifically related to house sitting alone as a single guy?

I have for sure run into issues with home owners hesitating to book me because I was a guy, and I think I’ve even had at least one or two home owners that acknowledged they would have loved to have booked me due to my experience, but at least one of the animals involved had poor reactions to men or men with beards. Given that a lot of animals one may sit are rescues, it’s understandable that they can have complicated histories, so I’ve never taken any of these hesitations or refusals personally. As much as I’d love to be able to spend some time with each animal to give them a positive experience with a male or someone with a beard, I also wouldn’t push to book the sit to stress everyone out when I know there are plenty of other great sitters out there that could do the job without added tension. Along with this, there can be issues around a single male sitting for a single female, and it’s understandable that such situations can cause people to hesitate since sitting involves a stranger spending time within your home, either with or without you there.

Otherwise, I’m sure when I was initially applying to sits, my single guy listing wasn’t as appealing as couples or those who were older and retired with past experience, but one can never quite tell what it is that leads to either no response or being turned down. I’ve had some home owners that booked me tell me that they specifically avoid couples due to various reasons, so I’m sure me being a single sitter has been beneficial at times too. Of course, I now have plenty of great reviews that basically speak for me, so I have a higher success rate in general, especially here in SE Asia where it seems like a lot of the house sitters are just starting out. That being said, I’m still not batting 100% and do sometimes get no response at all from some home owners, which is always weird when others will jump at the chance to book me a minute after I apply.

Funny enough, now that I have a partner, I’ve also taken to asking if she could join me or at least visit on occasion with sits I apply for, and that’s led to some conversations going silent too. Recently, I had someone invite me to do a sit without me even applying for it, and when I responded and asked about my partner visiting, they never wrote back. So, I guess it all depends on what the home owners are looking for. Thankfully, there are plenty of sits out there, and the whole concept continues to grow as more people hear about it.

Many of our readers would like to house sit on their own, but they’re concerned about getting lonely, safety, or dealing with unexpected situations on their own. Did you have any of these concerns (or did you have others)? Do you have any advice on this topic?

If you’re traveling alone, which I’ve done most of the time, I would recommend booking sits in areas where the home owners know people and there will be contacts nearby to help you out. I’ve done remote sits (I’m kind of doing one right now) where the only other living beings I saw outside of the cat I was taking care of were the deer and raccoons that would stroll passed the windows at breakfast, and I actually cut myself badly while there. Thankfully, it didn’t require going to the doctor, but it would have been a bad situation if it did, especially since I was stuck with a standard vehicle and still learning.

Outside of that, the home owners that book you will be aware of the fact that you’re new, so just be honest with them when things come up and don’t be afraid to ask for help from folks around you. Most of the people I’ve dealt with have been super friendly, and they introduced me to neighbors or provided me with emergency contact info for friends and family that were close.

Also, I would recommend researching online about the culture of the country or region of the sit before you apply for it, especially if you’re someone who identifies as other than a straight male. Depending on the area, there will certainly be issues that I’m privileged enough to not have to deal with, so I can’t speak about them directly but I bet other folks have somewhere online!

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The woods in British Columbia © Ryan Patey

What are your top tips or suggestions for newbie house sitters?  

Without going into too much detail (I do more of that in my book), I would suggest having a plan so that you’re not stuck without somewhere to stay while you’re working on getting bookings. That first while isn’t going to be easy, so you can’t assume that you’ll just sign-up, apply, and be on your way to a beautiful studio suite in London within a week or two. It’s most likely not going to happen. So, plan accordingly.

Also, if you have an idea of where you want to go in the next few months or even within the year, start looking at listings for those places as soon as possible. Even if you’re not going to apply to them, it helps you get an idea of whether or not a place is popular in terms of available sits and it also gives you an idea of what kinds of sits will be available.

>>Read more: Common Misconceptions About House Sitting

Is there anything else you want to share about your house sitting journey? 

Although I’ve had a number of lows and frustrating moments while house sitting, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I’m incredibly happy that I started when I did, and I don’t plan on totally stopping at any point soon. Even if I just use my profile as a way to book a vacation here and there with my partner, it’ll save me money and give me a chance to experience more of the world than staying in a hotel or a resort ever could.

Where can people find you on the web?

The easiest place would probably be my website at ryanpatey.ca, but you can also find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. House sitting and vegan travel videos can be found on YouTube.

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