We haven’t written a house sitting article for quite some time due to that little thing happening around the world: COVID-19. So before we get into tips for house sitting in the USA, we’d like to start this article with several crucial pandemic related caveats:
- If you’re in a hot spot right now, it’s best to stay home.
- If things are relatively safe where you are and you do decide to house sit, we recommend doing local house sits. Now is not the time to plunge into full-time house sitting. And now is definitely not the time to be traveling overseas for house sits.
- If you decide to arrange house sits right now, do so safely, taking all precautions recommended by the experts. Wear a mask. Talk about safety and cleaning protocols with pet owners. And of course, be prepared for cancellations. Things are going to be up and down for quite some time.
We talk more about these topics further in depth in our blog post: 5 Things to Consider When House Sitting in a Pandemic. We also have a podcast episode about travel in general: To Travel or Not to Travel? We also talk about questions to ask when going forward with arranging safe house sits. There is also a transcript if you’d prefer to read rather than listen.
With those caveats in mind, you might be wondering if/how you can house sit in the U.S. right now. The only way to do so is by house sitting locally and only when safe to do so (which may not be right now). We have always stressed the importance of starting your house sitting journey locally, and planning in advance, even before the pandemic. Staying close to home and planning for future house sitting is the perfect way to test the house sitting waters with minimal disruption and risk.
Of course, house sitting locally isn’t as glamorous as landing a house sit in a major metropolitan city or on a tropical island. However, successful house sitting is also strategic house sitting (and that means starting local).
This means that many newbie house sitters should look towards closer pastures right now. Especially because many pet owners, antsy after being cooped up at home for months, are ready for some weekend or week-long getaways.
Since we know the majority of our audience is based in the U.S., we thought we’d talk specifically about house sitting in the United States today. And of course, in the future, we hope that it helps prospective house sitters not from the U.S. understand what house sitting here would be like!
This blog post was actually going to be a chapter in our book, the House Sitting Handbook. It didn’t make the final cut for a few reasons, but that’s great for all of you reading right now!
Of course, the House Sitting Handbook goes much deeper into all aspects of house sitting, all in one place. We also include a free workbook with templates for things like filling out your profile, crafting your application message, and more. It’s really your one stop shop for becoming a great house sitter that gets all their dream sits.
We have house sat extensively in the United States, from East Coast to West Coast. As Americans, we have no visa limits here, so we’ve spent quite a bit of time getting to know our massive home country via house sitting. There’s still so much to discover.
We’ve spent 7 months (on two separate occasions) house sitting in Salt Lake City (UT), many house sits all around our hometown of NYC, one month in Portland, Oregon, several months in Greensboro, NC and another month in Asheville, North Carolina. We even clocked in six weeks in the US Virgin Islands.
House sitting in the USA has some unique challenges, hence this article!
Things to Consider When House Sitting in the USA
Geographical size, (lack of) public transit infrastructure, and cost of living are the biggest factors that will affect your experience house sitting in the United States. These are all things that you’ll need to consider when applying to house sits and in having conversations with home and pet owners.
1. The USA is Massive
Many foreigners (and Americans), underestimate the size of the USA. It’s huuuuuuge. Texas alone is 3.3x the size of Great Britain! (For more fun geographical size comparisons, you can play around with MapFight).
The USA and its many iconic cities and regions sound like they all are neatly packed in one place. While they all belong to the same national entity, they are hardly close together. If you haven’t tried to travel from one US state to another, or even one city to another, then understandably you don’t have a practical sense of the distance.
You will quickly rack up your transportation costs if you think you can bounce around from LA to San Francisco, to Minneapolis, New Orleans, Miami to New York City within a week. Also consider the time needed to travel, especially if you’re planning to rent a car, as many of these destinations are dozens of hours apart via driving. So you will want to think twice about booking house sits back to back. Once a European asked on an online forum if a week was enough to visit half a dozen major American cities! Only if they didn’t mind spending most of their time driving or flying/in an airport.
Additionally, the sheer size of the US comes into play when considering things like weather (what to pack) and even cultural differences. Yes, cultural differences within the U.S. Again, it’s a big country. The Northeast is very different from the Southwest, not only in terms of weather, but pace of life, culture, and more.
Obviously, everyone still speaks the same language, but you’d be surprised at how different things are within the country. It’s one of the reasons why we decided to base ourselves in the U.S. for 2020 (even before the pandemic hit).
For more on differences within the U.S., we highly recommend the book American Nations.
2. Cars Reign Supreme
Related to our above point about the size: getting around between cities (and even within many cities) will be by car.
This may seem obvious to many, but it will not be for most foreigners, along with US residents fortunate enough to live in the few big U.S. cities where cars aren’t needed. It cannot be overstated: the USA is vast and the overland public transportation system horribly lacking. For the most time effective and efficient manner to traverse distances that you can’t (or don’t want to) fly, you’ll need a car.
This is also true when considering how you’ll get around once you’re at the house sit. Many house sits list needing a car as a necessity, something we never had to think about when house sitting in Europe. This is something you’ll want to ask about in the interview stage, regardless of whether it’s addressed in the listing or not.
When house sitting in the USA, you basically have the following options to choose from and consider:
- Use your own car. Obviously, if you already own a car, you’re good to go.
- Use the home/pet owners car, if offered. This has happened to us numerous times in the U.S., where insurance covers occasional drivers (i.e. someone who does not live with the primary driver). Keep in mind that right now (during the pandemic), most people needing house sitters are doing road trips or a weekend getaway nearby, meaning that they’ll likely be taking their car.
- Rent a car. If it’s a short term sit, this may be a viable option. However, renting will add up real quick if you’re trying to house sit beyond a week or two. Do you really want to pay $600-900/month for a rental car in order to house sit? Might as well just rent a place to stay at that point.
- Only go for house sits where a car is not needed. This is the option that we usually go with. Of course, it limits the house sits available to us, but being in a walkable area is important to us anyway, beyond the monetary costs of a car.
What you decide will depend on whether you have a car, how much money you’re willing to shell out to do a house sit (if you need to rent a car), as well as personal preference in the kinds of environments that you want to house sit in. If you want to be in a rural location far away from it all, you may not mind renting a car for the right house sit.
Personally, we won’t rent a car for the entirety of a sit, especially since we tend to do long term house sits. Besides the cost, we simply prefer to be in more urban, walkable, and pedestrian-friendly environments rather than more isolated, car-dependent locations. Also, being environmentally friendly is important to us, so whenever possible we like to bike, walk, or use public transportation.
3. Cost of Living is High (and Varies Greatly)
The USA is quickly rising as one of the most expensive places to live, already so for many decades. In fact, it’s within the top 20 most expensive countries in the world.
As a house sitter, you’re obviously saving on accommodation costs, which are quite high in the U.S. But you’ll still need to consider your travel costs, food expenses, health care access (or lack thereof), clothing (in case you need to replace or purchase forgotten items), and other miscellaneous things that add up.
Of course, cost of living depends greatly on where you will be house sitting. Naturally, cost of living in NYC is much more expensive than house sitting in rural Kansas. Everything is just more expensive in NYC, from groceries to dining out to anything else. Of course, a big bonus is the public transportation system, so you may end up saving there, provided you aren’t hopping on the subway several times a day (we don’t know why you’d wanna do that anyway…the subway is miserably dysfunctional, even pre-pandemic).
Groceries are much more expensive in the U.S. than most other countries we’ve been to (with the exception being the U.K.).
With that in mind, we strongly advise planning, planning, and more planning. Don’t make the mistake most travelers make of prioritizing convenience and paying top on take out, delivery, and eating out for most meals. We will assume that since saving money is a huge draw to house sitting, you’re interested in cost reduction.
We eat at least 90% of our meals at home. We virtually never get delivery or take out unless we have no other choice (obviously things have changed given the pandemic, so we now get takeout instead of dining in – gotta support those local restaurants!).
People are always amazed at how little we spend on groceries and yet how healthy we eat. Being vegans, we save a lot on grocery shopping, so don’t listen to the naysayers that’ll tell you that being vegan is expensive. Lentils, rice, and beans are some of the cheapest staple items out there! Meat and dairy aren’t cheap, even with all the government subsidies they receive from our hard earned tax dollars. Consider cutting down on meat and dairy, and watch the savings fly 😉
Health insurance is astronomically, nonsensically, absurdly expensive in the States. Whatever you’re used to, if you’re not American, will be several times cheaper than what Americans pay.
US citizens and residents: check your Out of State care policies if you’ll be house sitting out of state. Non US folks, see if your health care covers travel. If not, get some travel insurance that covers health emergencies. You do not want to get stuck with a U.S. hospital bill!
“But I’m perfectly healthy” you may say.
Don’t bank on it.
Sorry, accidents happen, and travelers are no less immune. Arguably, they’re more vulnerable.
Ambulatory service and the subsequent hospital care can (and will) run you thousands of dollars. And that’s if you received minimal treatment and/or tests, and didn’t stay more than a few hours. Overnight stays and beyond, intensive care, etc, will skyrocket your bill, which will be sent to you from different sources in the most confusing matter. So it’s not just money, but also your precious time you will spend trying to sort out an accident in the US, especially if you’re a foreigner.
Consider yourself warned. We’re speaking from first hand experience.
Long story short: lack of regulation allows speculation to skyrocket, and healthcare is treated like a business instead of a right. Get yourself covered.
We have US health insurance when we are living/traveling in the US (such as now), and also an annual coverage plan through Allianz travel and health insurance. Thankfully we have not yet had to claim on our travel insurance but better safe than sorry!
Many prospective and newbie house sitters ask what we do about clothes. We’re minimal packers, and most pet owners are surprised when we show up with half as much luggage as full-time travelers than they’ve just packed for their vacation.
We’re always refining our packing strategy, but in the U.S., we don’t worry too much if we find that we’re lacking something. That’s because there’s a strong second hand clothing industry here, and we know we can pick up needed items relatively cheaply. Thanks, consumerism!
Sure, you trade selection for cost, but sometimes it’s about travel survival and not fashion. Since browsing second hand stores is a regular habit of ours, we have become quite efficient at it, meaning it doesn’t take us long and often we find what we need. We still have many second hand items that we use to this day, and often we found them brand new, tags and stickers still on.
4. Best House Sitting Websites in the US
As we mentioned above, we are exclusive users of TrustedHousesitters. While the website certainly isn’t without fault, it’s in our experience the most comprehensive, user-friendly, and all-around best house sitting website in the U.S. – in fact, the world. Second only to their UK listings, TrustedHousesitters USA has the highest number of house sit listings over all others.
We’ve written all about the pros and cons of TrustedHousesitters (as well as how to balance those cons) in our TrustedHousesitters Review.
Readers of our book get an even juicer discount that we can’t share publicly! We also cover house sitting websites more in depth. Read more about The House Sitting Handbook here.
Other websites for house sitting in the USA include:
- Housesitters America: This website is exclusively for those interested in house sitting in the USA. Lots of filters to use as well.
- Nomador: This is the second biggest house sitting website worldwide. They offer mainly France-based sits, though an increasing number are in the U.S. Available House Sits in the U.S. as of July 2020: 5
- MindMyHouse: Smaller house sitting website that’s been around since 2005 and has a growing number of house sits in the U.S. It’s a smaller community which may mean less competition for house sits (though less house sits available as well).
Again, the US is a vast country that will often require a car. If you plan to house sit in the USA and want to have the best experience, follow the strategies that we outline here on our blog, on our podcast, and in our book, The House Sitting Handbook.
House sitting in the USA can work well for US residents who are just starting house sitting, or only want to house sit on occasion. But for non-US visitors, house sitting in the US can be a great way to explore the large country at a cheaper cost. Once it’s safe to do so, of course!
Again, we want to stress that being safe is of utmost importance right now. Do not travel to or from high risk areas. Wear a mask. Socially distance. And stick to local travel if you do decide to house sit right now. Most pet owners prefer local sitters right now anyway.
Even once travel starts to open up again, domestic will be the name of the game for quite some time. Europe has rightfully banned us, and do you blame them considering how cases are skyrocketing here? Luckily for us, the U.S. is full of wide-open spaces, perfect for social distancing.