HAVING free accommodations while vacationing clearly makes travel more affordable. But for travelers on any budget, house-sitting in exchange for lodging can provide a more intimate travel experience.

I started in my hometown Canada, taking care of homes and pets for friends. I have stayed in Greece, England and Scotland and Wales while house-sitting, and this winter, I have committed a three month cat-sitting job in Cyprus.

I've learned a few tips that may help you, too, decide to incorporate house-sitting into your travel itinerary.

CHOOSE A PLATFORM : Online house-sitting platforms arrange for an even exchange of sitting for free accommodations. Jacquie Harnett, 54, and her partner did house-sitting vacations for four-years.

She observed that TrustedHouse sitters focuses primarily on pet care, while the gigs on Nomador are typically tourist properties requiring off-season maintenance. Many platforms allow visitors to browse listings without an account.

Sites vary with respect to security and features, with annual membership fees ranging from zero to $150. Personally, I like TrustedHousesitters for its global scope and focus on pet care.

WHAT TO EXPECT : Sits can range from a day or two to several months, and housing may be luxury homes, apartments or even farmhouses. Many gigs require pet and plant care or other property maintenance; others may simply require that you occupy the property and take in the mail.

BUILD CREDIBILITY : the first feedback is the hardest to get. My first gig on TrustedHousesitters was for a omen who lived near me; I didn't need the accommodations, but the weekend sit got me my first positive review and led to three month series of sits in Britain.

To build trust as a new member, include a few testimonials from people you've sat for, even if they are not registered members. If you're looking for pet sitting gigs, stock your profile gallery with photos of yourself with animals, and offer to meet face to face.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS : House-sitting is a matter of mutual fit. You're living in a strangers' homes for an extended period of time, so you want to be respectful of their expectations and your own.

I'd suggest thorough discussions of those expectations before the gig begins. To start, discuss with the owners your thoughts on how much time you intend to be away from the house. Also bring up your respective boundaries regarding visitors.

Other issues to consider : If you need to meet work deadlines, be sure that the property and pets don't require too much of your time; otherwise the ''free'' accommodations may end up costing you.

The World Students Society thanks author Lynette Adams.


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