Becoming a Nomadic Housesitter in Midlife: Faith’s Story
After taking early retirement in their fifties, Faith and her husband, Alan, decided to retire to Mexico, but soon got restless. They now housesit professionally, moving from country to country for gigs—enjoying exploring the world and living a pared-down lifestyle out of one suitcase.
Tell us a little about your background…
I was born in Ireland, where we lived for a few years before moving to the UK for my dad’s job as a Police Officer. My dad was then recruited by the Canadian Police Force and before we knew it we were off to a new life in London, Ontario.
My mum, dad, sister, and eventually a little brother settled well in Canada but for me, there was always something missing. As a child at the tail end of the baby boom (1959), all the “good opportunities” felt taken. When I finished high school in 1979, I attempted to access a sound recording program at College but was told that it was for “boys only.” So I entered the work force only to be hit with the nasty recession, which meant horrible waitressing jobs. As a result, I decided to go home to England.
I spent the next 10 years living in London, England, where I married and had my son. We lived in South East London, where I had a job I loved working in a Video Production Company that specialized in producing training videos for corporations. I was lucky enough to have great bosses who taught me about writing scripts and how to develop ideas for training stories. I became a script editor and often ended up creating small scripts for the training videos.
After my marriage broke up in the late ‘80s, I returned to Canada and hit another recession, so decided to go to University and finally get that degree. I adored university; getting to read, research, and study was heaven for me. I also became an activist on campus, fighting for single parents who wanted to go back to school, getting involved with developing a feminist newspaper, and much more. As a result of my activism, I was asked to be on several government boards and panels to bring about changes to student loans and social supports for single parents working to access higher education. I ended up with a degree in Anthropology and a dedication to community development and working to make change.
From this jumping off point, I became involved in entrepreneurship because it was my belief that community economic development was the only way to empower people living in poverty. I was motivated by the old adage about teaching someone to fish.
I started a business for women back in the mid-’90s that concentrated on providing local hospitals and the burgeoning health food industry with gluten-free baked goods for Celiacs. The company was comprised of three women I had worked with in the social justice movement. We all thought very much alike but brought very different skills and talents to the business and so we created a food company that specialized in working with local producers and growers. We worked with the Delaware community of indigenous peoples to create recipes that would appeal to the gourmet market for their white corn. We consulted and mentored new immigrants and refugees who wanted to develop food-based businesses. We acted as mentors for the Federal government Community programmers and helped rural communities develop value-added food products for the crops they grew.
Our business did very well and eventually, we sold it to a much larger producer in Toronto. From that point, I became an independent consultant advising food-based businesses on how to market their business and use the internet to attract customers. I also worked with a small business center to mentor food-based business development. As a result of my business experience, I became the local specialist on how to develop revenue streams for not for profits and charities.
During the development of our business, I remarried and we became a blended family with three boys all around two years apart (pictured below). My husband, Alan, worked at the Post Office and we had known each other for many years and had been fixed up by a friend. We got along like best friends from the beginning and our boys did as well. We always had a shared dream of retiring and traveling the world together.
When did you start to think about making a change?
Alan and I had planned to retire early and travel. My parents had retired at 55 to a Caribbean Island and we learned then that living a life elsewhere was never as expensive as you think it is. Island living was cheap—fresh fish, fruit, and veggies cost less than a third of Canada and no heating bills, no snow. It seemed like heaven. As a letter carrier, Alan knew that he wouldn’t be able to take the winter in Ontario forever so his dream was to get out and head somewhere warm.
Around three years ago, Alan took early retirement at 55 and waited for me to retire as well but there was absolutely no way for us to live in Canada without one of us working; it was simply unaffordable. I was really enjoying my work managing a Community Theatre but it was getting tougher and tougher to do the 60-hour work week in a not-for-profit organization. There was no job security, no benefits, and no paid overtime; it just became too much for too little. We had a 5-year plan in mind but things changed a little when the organization I worked for began to change dramatically, in ways I completely disagreed with, so the decision to move to Mexico was made.
What is your next act?
I am a professional housesitter.
While Alan and I thought we would retire to Mexico and live a simple, quiet life, truth be told, we got a little bored. I had been researching housesitting for quite some time and we decided to take the plunge and join a few housesitting sites. We applied for around 15 sits in the UK and Ireland on a whim. We got offered a couple but they just didn’t pan out. We did get a Skype call from a couple in Tipperary who had seven dogs and were having difficulty getting a sitter. We took the job; it didn’t worry us we were accustomed to having lots of dogs and cats around and we knew we could handle it. So we had our first job booked seven weeks in Tipperary with seven dogs and a cat. After that first domino, things just fell into place. We got another housesitting job in Toronto just before we were to leave for Ireland and the timing was perfect, we could visit with all our family and friends in Ontario and then head to Ireland.
We had a brilliant six weeks in Toronto in a gorgeous, renovated home in a prime location. I had begun working on a travel blog when living in Mexico, just for fun and to keep family informed about our adventures. I had always written before that but mainly blog posts for my work—government grants and local food blogs. Once I started my own blog, I found myself suddenly in demand to write for others on travel, culture, and food. I began guest writing for free and decided that I should try my hand at getting paid. I started working on Upwork, a freelance site, and began earning a little money. Eventually, once I had built a reputation on that system, I started getting offers to write for corporations and organizations needing blog posts, business plans, marketing plans, and social media management.
All of a sudden, I was a writer. I specialize in a few areas such as food, culture, and travel. Because I have an abiding interest in history and family legacies, I began a job writing for a company that is currently developing a website and business around preserving family legacies and memories. I also developed a talent for social media management and I continue to write and assist others with business and marketing planning, as well as editing white papers and research documents.
As a housesitter, I have now had the opportunity to travel for the past two years with no mortgage or rental expenses. We have had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time in Ireland and England—in Tipperary, Dublin, Donegal, Belfast, Yorkshire, Berkshire, and London, and Palomares, Spain. We are currently housesitting in Paphos, Cyprus for three months. After Cyprus, we are back for a 6-month housesit in Northern Ireland.
I make sure that each housesit we take has good internet access so I get to write anywhere in the world and earn a pretty good part-time living. I specialize in writing about a variety of things and have had jobs writing stuff as simple as how to build a blog and as complex as working with entrepreneurs who want to create a blog to highlight and enhance their existing businesses. I also do a lot of social media management for business people who want to utilize social media but simply don’t have the time for it.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
We had been planning on early retirement to Mexico the Yucatan to be specific. We figured it was the cheapest option and we could easily survive on Alan’s pension there. We thought we might stay in Mexico for a few years (well around 10) until our government pensions kicked in, increased our income, and then travel abroad. Fortunately, housesitting sort of fell into our laps and that became a real opportunity for us.
We had been selling our antiques and getting rid of stuff slowly for several years but once we decided to leave, we got the house looking fresh and new, put it on the market, and began to sell off our other major possessions such as cars and a motorcycle. We put the stuff we felt we couldn’t part with into rubber tubs and stored them in our son’s basement and when we sold the house, we were ready to go.
How supportive were your family and friends?
Incredibly supportive! We have a very tight circle of friends that did nothing but encourage us to take the plunge. Our children were grown and working towards lives of their own, so it was a great sense of relief that we could just go and not worry.
What challenges did you encounter?
To be truthful not many. In Mexico, the challenges were heat related—as an Irish redhead, 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) with 100% humidity does not agree with me, and for two months out of the year, it is unbearable. That was also a deciding factor in our wish to find another place to retire to. Where we lived in Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula was in a small fishing village, so it meant having to have a car so we would be able to get groceries and fresh food. Food in that area of Mexico was a challenge: The local produce was very poor, the choice of restaurants limited, and who has to money to eat out every day? Unfortunately, that meant having to shop at places like Bodega (Walmart-owned) and Costco. These were adequate but who moves to a foreign country to shop at Costco?
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
No, not once did I ever feel like giving up; in fact, our goals just got broader and broader and when you are searching for a forever home the challenge of being able to see locations and places you never thought possible in your lifetime is so inspiring. We get comments about being “brave” all the time but it never occurred to us that we were doing anything brave; we just felt there had to be more to life and now was the time.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I am normally a pretty non-sociable type of person so getting to stay with different homeowners and learning about the house and pets was difficult for me. Having to make conversation with strangers and live in their homes is a delicate balance. You don’t want to say or do anything off-putting and you sure don’t want to complain in any way; I mean, after all, you are staying for free in their homes. However, some do take advantage and insist you do things you wouldn’t normally do and you have to abide by their rules. There is also a level of discomfort knowing you are in somebody else’s house and will you come up to their standards of cleanliness, pet care, and so on? It can be a bit nerve wracking.
I did learn to control my outspokenness and not discuss politics, religion, or things of that nature. I am a very liberal person, a feminist, and occasionally do have the urge to share that with the world. So I have learned to censor myself, somewhat, but I won’t compromise my values and beliefs when it comes to racism, sexism, and pretty much any ism.
One of the really incredible things Alan and I both learned though was how tied down we are as a society with “stuff.” We travel with two carry-on suitcases and have pared our lives down to owning virtually nothing. We, like everyone else, bought into the need for more and more stuff and getting rid of it all is immensely liberating. We donate our old clothes to secondhand shops and pick up “new” clothes as needed from the same place, or we simply make do and mend. We don’t need to buy things for our house since we are basically homeless and we can enjoy the world so much more for it.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I would take the chance on housesitting before settling in Mexico. I would have applied from my hometown and given it a shot to see if I liked it. I would have prepared myself with local house and pet-sitting jobs to get good references and build a reputation before applying abroad. I also plan to stick to my rule of if we find a place to retire, we will rent for a year first to decide if we really do like it.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Jump! Just go for it, but make sure you have backup plans and enough income to support yourself. Get your ducks in a row—things like insurance, health care, and so on have to be taken into consideration in midlife. I travel with diabetes and Sjogren’s and have had no issues whatsoever. Dental care was a 1000% times cheaper in Mexico so we both had major work done there. In the UK, prescriptions are so much cheaper than Canada or the US; even if you have to pay $50 to see a doctor, the drugs you might need will cost you a 10th or less.
Oh, and research, research, and then do some more research; the information is all there online, all you have to do is look for it.
What advice do you have for those interested in housesitting as a way of life?
Try to start creating an income before you leave your country of origin if you can. There are hundreds of ways to start online by becoming a Virtual Assistant (VA) or a Project Manager. You can start with websites that hire freelancers initially; you won’t make much at all but it gets you a reputation and from there, you can build your own business as a specialist VA. If you love social media (SM), there are hundreds of people looking for SM Managers, all of which can be done on line. The key is to start a couple of years before you leave, to build a reputation and get some experience behind you.
If you have the potential to get EU citizenship through descent or birth, apply for a passport from your home country. In many EU countries, you can claim citizenship if your parents or grandparents were born there and that passport can make all the difference to ease your traveling in Europe.
What resources do you recommend?
If you want to housesit, start at home. Pet sit for friends, volunteer at the Humane Society or animal shelters or even your local vet. Work with animals of all kinds and get some references built up. It doesn’t matter if it is for friends and family, it is a very good beginning and it’s where we all start.
Do your homework. If you want to sit in Europe, is there a way to get your EU citizenship? Do you have parents or grandparents born in an EU country? How long can you stay on a tourist visa? And so on. More importantly, where do you want to housesit and do you know the local language or can you get by? Preparation is everything and there will still be something you miss, but you learn to go with the flow.
Here are some excellent resources for housesitting:
Housesitmatch: a new platform for us, but I have been really impressed by the support and customer service aspect and they appear to be growing in leaps and bounds every day.
Trusted Housesitters: a very popular site, quite likely the largest range of sits and sitters on the internet so a lot of competition. $99US per year. Recently they have changed their system and there has been much grumbling about the expense of getting their police checks and required certifications in place. This is also a very popular site and it can be difficult to get sits from here without much experience.
House Carers: Costs $50 US per year and this is the site we have had the most luck with. We have obtained all our sits to date from this platform
Nomador: I really like Nomador. You get three free applications for sits before you pay. The cost is around $89 US a year. Many of the sits are in France but they are starting to get a broader range of sits. It’s an easy-to-use platform and they also have stopovers, where you can stay in between sits.
Mind My House: Cost of this platform is $20 US and it covers worldwide with lots of sits available.
These are the top rated housesitting platforms and the most commonly used. There are other country-specific platforms as well. I recently discovered an even better way to search these platforms as some of the functions on each site are not very good. This site appears to be able to search easily amongst all the housesitting platforms Housesitsearch. I have a really good basic Housesitting for Newbies blog post on my website where you can find these resources and a lot more if you are interested.
What’s next for you?
We are in the process of deciding what country we would like to retire to permanently. Where do we feel the most at home? Currently, we are torn between Ireland and Spain and trying to figure out if we can do both. So we shall see! You never know; we are off to Cyprus next and that may become our forever home.