The Secret To Living Rent Free In A Foreign Country
another gem from EDP Contributing writer Marissa
I wish I learned the secret I’m about to share with you by reading a blog post, but unfortunately, I learned it the hard way. It’s worth telling the story because it makes the triumph of the entire situation so much sweeter, and also I hope it saves someone from having to go through something similar.
When I decided to travel to London, I knew going into it that the living expenses were going to be high. If I wanted to live anywhere remotely close to the city, I was looking at $900-$1000/month, minimum. I landed on an Airbnb in Brockley, 35 minutes south of the city. The listing had no reviews, but the host was kind and the pictures were nice. Although a huge risk, once booked, I felt a little calmer about the upcoming overseas trip.
The calm feeling didn’t last for long because as soon as the place was booked, I found out my host had a newborn baby and two older boys living there as well. To my dismay, this information wasn’t on the listing. Right then and there, I had to lower my expectations of having this posh apartment experience while being in London - I was now going to learn what it was like to have younger siblings. FUN.
I arrived in London and began my trip with a blissful 3 days of hotel lyfe with a friend. A welcome buffer before heading to my new digs in the city.
The host greeted me with a baby on her hip and, still on a high from arriving safely, I excitedly (read: naively) made my way into the basement apartment I would be staying in for a whopping 72 nights. The area was cute, my sheets were clean, and the host was quite sweet. I could do this - I WAS doing it. I unpacked and fell asleep to Netflix. I woke up an hour later to someone standing outside my window knocking on it with their keys. Turns out, that’s how people ‘knock on the door.’ LOVELY.
After drifting off to sleep in the early morning hours, I awoke to a glass shattering shriek coming from the room where all 3 boys slept. One of the little boys was having a nightmare and it was at this point that I realized I may be living mine.
After my host left for work with the kids, it was my first time being alone since arriving in London and I was frightening lonely, a common side affect to making big life moves to a different country. Luckily I had attended an event a few days before and the goody bag included a bag of oatmeal. I touch upon this because the juxtaposition of having food to eat and it being oatmeal struck a heartbreaking cord that day. I headed downstairs to the kitchen, where the rose colored glasses were swiftly ripped off my face. The exact moment it happened was when I opened the cabinet to grab a bowl and was greeted with a shoe. The room came into crystal clear focus and as I looked around, I realized the shrieking child from this morning was the least of my worries. There was a pungent smell coming from the sink, the fridge had rotting, unnamed items in it, there was nothing to cook or eat with, and the cabinets were stuffed with papers, shoes, and clothes. I managed to make my oatmeal using the kettle, a cup and a random spoon I found. I ran upstairs and sat on the bed with my oatmeal, weighing my options.
I remember sending a text to my friend I’d left just the day before - ‘I’m pretty sure I have to get out of this Airbnb.’
At this point, autopilot mode was in full effect. I was now on a mission to get out of a very fickle situation. Fittingly, the Wifi went out at the apartment. I threw on some clothes, took pictures of everything, and walked to a nearby cafe. Once settled, I contacted Airbnb and thus began the process of trying to undo the undoable - cancelling an Airbnb reservation AND getting a refund. Luckily, I never thought about what I was working against.
I sent in the evidence and was told I needed to try and resolve the situation with my host. How on Earth do you try and get someone to change the way they live within a 24 hour period? The hours spent waiting for my host to get home to have this conversation were spent lying fetal position in my bed with anxiety. The work was piling up in my inbox and the only thing I could think about was going to bed.
The conversation went well in that I managed not to ruthlessly offend this person who kindly opened up their home to strangers. It went quite poorly in that she said there was nothing she could do for me and she wouldn’t be refunding me. Luckily on long stays, Airbnb only requires you to pay a fraction of the entire stay at a time.
Still, I was out a chunk of money that would completely derail my plans of staying in London.
With no phone service, I was relying on Wifi calling and praying to the internet gods that it would last me through each 20 minute call with Airbnb. My host returned after our conversation and said that it may be best if I left. With nowhere to go, Airbnb said that they would put me into a hotel for a night while they resolved the situation. At 10:00PM, I grabbed an Uber and went to one of the first hotels I could find. (Protip: When a service provides you $ to cover hotel expenses, don’t go looking for a flash hotel. Look for one that seems comfortable but would be in your price range if you end up being the one paying for it. This is one of the few lessons I didn’t have to learn the hard way.)
After going back and forth with Airbnb until the early morning hours, I went to bed - with a looming deadline and no place to stay in the foreseeable future, sleep was my only solace. Before dozing off, I checked my e-mail and saw that my reservation had been canceled and I simply thought it to be part of the process.
The nightmare got worse as soon as I opened my eyes. Once on the phone with Airbnb again, an update loaded within the app letting me know that the host ‘fixed the problem’ and my refund wouldn’t be possible. Oh, and that they canceled my reservation.
The poor girl on the phone got the brunt of my anxiety when I bluntly told her that this wasn’t possible, that I was in a foreign country with no place to stay and, now that I didn’t have my refund, no money. 72 hours of paralyzing anxiety and 10 case managers later, the situation had been resolved. They informed me they would be refunding me my money and because of the inconvenience, covering another night of the hotel.
Praise the travel gods, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
In the span of that 72 hours, I had experienced a level of anxiety that I’d never felt before. I was a click away from a trip back home to the States with my tail between my legs. I vowed to exhaust all my options and did just that when I remembered that I purchased a travel guide from the lovely Caitlin Brown, a traveling writer living a life I had admired from afar. At the time, I purchased it in support of her, but little did I know I was really purchasing it in support of my future self. In it, she writes about the home sitting website, Trusted House Sitters.
This website (and Caitlin) saved my trip in London and made my six months (rent free) in Europe possible.
Here’s what you need to know:
Trusted Housesitters is a website connecting people who need their pets and homes taken care of while they’re away with people looking for a place to stay. A lot of travelers use this website to travel all over the world for free.
It’s a membership website: to get the most out of the website, you need to purchase a year long membership. With this link, you’ll get 25% off your membership making it less than $75. When you take into account that you’ll be staying FOR FREE wherever you end up petsitting, this fee is a no-brainer.
Reviews make all the difference: even if you’re a new member, you can ask for character references and past pet sitting reviews from people not on the website. I asked a few friends for character references and enlisted my brother to write one about my dog sitting skills with Thor. Turns out, these will give you all the feels. I remember sitting in a hotel cafe bawling my eyes out because of the way my brother painted an exaggerated picture of my life with Thor. What an unexpected gift.
There’s no way to guarantee your stay: once you secure a gig, it’s not like you put down a deposit or sign on the dotted line. You’re going off blind faith that the other person will honor a decision made. I was in the living room of my future cat sitting job and the owner was talking to me about the conversation he was having with another sitter. I was sitting there, biting my nails, not knowing if that meant I had to jump through hula hoops to prove myself. Luckily, it was said and done within the hour and I moved in the next day.
Be very clear about your schedule: when I left the interview, I had mentioned that I had roughly three months in London. When my host was away, he said he’d like to extend his trip and, because that meant more free housing for me, I was thrilled. If you’re traveling in and out of a city, just be upfront about your timeline and don’t try to make yourself look more available than you actually are.
You can search for exactly what you want: looking to stay in the countryside of France caring for a horse and 2 dogs? Only want to petsit in October of 2020? You have access to over thousands of sits all over the world at the click of your finger. I recently applied to one in Chicago for 2 months when I return home to the States, because what better way to test living in a city than through the home of a local?!
My experience was a harrowing nightmare turned one in a million dream come true.
I lived for free in London petsitting for two Siamese cats in a cute apartment in Battersea. The host and I got along so well that he invited me to stay when he returned home, as he would be traveling again shortly. After we were two months in, he asked if I’d like to visit his house on the coast of Spain, which is where I’m sitting now, writing about this situation. The Universe was LOOKING OUT. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities this website has given me and I hope you’ll have some luck with it like I did.