Is there such a thing as sustainable travel or truly sustainable accommodation?
Many say no (and we understand why). If sustainability really matters to you – consider not traveling.
Sustainable travel has become a buzzword recently. Unfortunately, in popular discussion, most do not want to look at the underlying causes and think quick fixes will solve the problem. There is so much more that goes into traveling in a more sustainable way, including adjusting a major part of our day-to-day activities to be more environmentally-friendly. Read more of our thoughts on the subject in: We Need to Talk About Sustainable Travel.
More often than not, travelers jet-setting regularly to Bali, Costa Rica, and other tropical locales only want to replace their city backdrop with a coastline, not considering that all the money they spend is funneled into international businesses that siphon it out of the country. (Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and it’s possible to travel to these places in a sustainable way if you are super mindful).
Tourism can absolutely benefit communities. Some places in the world rely almost entirely on tourism, or it’s a big part of their economy. What’s important to remember is if your dollars are going towards local residents and not doing harm (to the environment and its inhabitants – nonhuman ones included).
The point is, a lot of tourism is destructive for the locals, but travel will not stop as long as there’s a demand. Travel is easier and more attainable than ever, so more people are hopping on flights and exploring the world.
One of the best things we can do if we’re going to still travel is being more mindful about all our activities while traveling (and in general). A huge part of that is choosing sustainable accommodation.
Our chosen method is house sitting.
House sitting is an exchange where homeowners who plan to go on vacation look for persons willing to stay in their house and watch their pets – no money exchanged. Homeowners get free pet care while on vacation and house sitters receive free accommodations. Read more: How to Start House Sitting and Save Money Traveling.
Beyond the obvious monetary benefits, how can house sitting contribute to more sustainable travel?
Sustainable Accommodation is Staying in a Local’s Home Instead of an Airbnb or Chain Hotel
When you house sit, you are not displacing any residents. This is a huge problem in many countries. In Barcelona, Spain for example, residents are experiencing skyrocketing prices because downtown AirBnBs are part of buildings bought out by a single person or entity. Sometimes even the entire building is bought out. While Airbnb isn’t always bad, it’s sorely lacking in regulation. It’s even a problem in major cities in the US like San Francisco and New York, along with Boston and New Orleans.
This doesn’t let hotels off the hook either. Often they are part of huge international chains, and you better believe they siphon money away from the local economy. Often when people talk about sustainable accommodation, they list eco-friendly luxury hotels or eco-lodges. While it’s fantastic that those types of accommodations are stepping up to the plate, there is still a lot of greenwashing that goes on in the travel industry. Additionally, these hotels are usually quite pricey, making them out of reach for budget travelers like us.
But when you stay in someone else’s home via house sitting, it’s exactly that. No one would ever argue that visiting your friend is unethical, or has unwanted consequences.
We will never understand why someone would fly halfway across the globe to experience something that could’ve been built anywhere. Resorts sound like bougie purgatory.
We use TrustedHousesitters to find all of our house sits. Read more in our TrustedHousesitters review, which also has a link to a discount if you decide to sign up. Never worry about ethical accommodation again when you’re house sitting!
Connect and Directly Engage with the Locals While House Sitting
Not living right in the tourist center may seem frustratingly far, but maybe this is a good thing. Imagine conversing and meeting your neighbors, and experiencing what it’s like to live somewhere else, from the point of a view of a resident!
Often, homeowners give us suggestions of what to do for fun, usually things they like to do regularly. And there’s one key consistency throughout them all: they’re not lame tourist attractions but stuff that locals actually do.
I’ve never visited the Statue of Liberty and I lived in New York City for 10 years (that includes many frequent visits before moving there). Do you really think this is an integral experience for New Yorkers? They avoid tourist spots like the plague. Time Square? No NYC resident goes there willingly. If they do go, it’s underground, and only to transfer to another subway line.
Ask yourself this: have you ever been to your home city or town’s tourist attractions? If so, how often? Sometimes there’s the rare exception, usually in smaller towns and cities, where the attraction does play a part in the local economy, is run by and visited by locals, and does attract a fair amount of tourism, like the Union Square Farmers Market in New York City. Sometimes on our way home we’ll stop by and we’re quite certain a significant portion of patrons are residents while tourists mob the area as well.
Ultimately, engaging with the locals is a great way to learn how to get an “authentic experience” that so many travelers are obsessed with. House sitting is a direct line to residents, old and new.
House Sitting Slows You Down
Landing a house sit functions the opposite of most people’s travel planning. Typically, would-be-travelers choose a destination they’ve heard of (thanks tourism industry), and start looking for dates that line up with their vacation days.
House sitting, on the other hand, is about flexibility. You first look for house sits, apply, hopefully get accepted, and then start booking flights. When you can travel to that destination is determined by the availability of house sits.
The commitment of the house sit keeps you from jet-setting to a different one every couple of days, as rarely do house sits line up like that. You’ll find that house sitting is more rewarding when you stay longer in one place, giving you time to soak in your surroundings and get a real sense of the vibe of your temporary home. We are big proponents of slow travel! Read more in What is Slow Travel and Why Do It?
Either way, chances are this location will not be smack dab in a downtown or touristy area. Essentially, you’ll be deterred from hopping on long trips to the tourist sites and consider doing more local things.
Sustainable Accommodation Means Reusing
If there’s anything key to sustainability, it’s reusability. Much of the garbage in landfills and oceans is single-use plastic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with plastic, it’s just how we use it. If we managed to build plastic items that lasted for several thousand uses before we melted them down and recycled for another time, plastic wouldn’t have the bad name it’s gotten. Hotels are notoriously wasteful in many aspects. As mentioned before, many are making more mindful efforts to become more sustainable accommodation, but the hotel industry still has a long way to go here.
So, like the aforementioned plastic, with house sitting you’ll be reusing a home, along with every room that contains everyday items. You’ll sleep on their bed and sit on their couch. You’ll use the kitchen’s pots and pans, dishes, silverware, and its many objects to help you make a home cooked meal (hopefully).
More often than not, homeowners tell us to use any food they have in their cupboards (usually bar alcohol). We peruse cupboards and use up old dry and canned goods, finish up fresh veggies and fruit, and maybe some back of freezer items. It’s always amazing to us how much people stock their cupboards and then forget what’s there until it expires and gets thrown out.
Often homeowners lend us their cars, their bikes, or even their pool. Americans have a tendency to not share and have their own personal duplicate of everything, and we’re paying the price. Hope you’re enjoying the climate change heatwave y’all made!
Embrace Minimalism as a Long-Term House Sitter
This one applies more to long-term house sitters, but when you’re living out of a suitcase or backpack, you quickly realize how little stuff you really need to live. Buying fewer things means less waste. You think out each purchase more, instead of grabbing that new pair of shoes off the shelf to go live in the back of your closet. Everything you carry, you use.
We carry all sorts of reusable gear, like a collapsible coffee cup, a steel mesh coffee filter, a reusable shaver that you buy safety razors to use with then can recycle, the list goes on.
House sitting isn’t automatically ethical. We’ve seen a number of house sits requiring more work than is a fair trade for accommodation (such as running a guest house business, Airbnb, etc). Though, overall, house sitting can be a useful method to contribute to more ethical and sustainable travel.
Next time you’re looking for sustainable accommodation while traveling, consider house sitting!
If you’re already convinced you want to give it a go, you can sign up for the website we use, TrustedHousesitters, with a 10% discount for our readers. Just click here to sign up with the discount applied.
If you’re looking for more house sitting tips, we’ve written a plethora of articles on the topic. Check are a few of our most popular: