How House Sitting Let Us Experience Life in France as a Local, Not a Tourist

By  |  1 Comment

Over the past year I’ve read quite a few blog posts extolling the virtues of house sitting. Budget travelers cover it because it’s a great way to see the world without paying for accommodation. Slow travelers cover it because most house-sits last for a couple of weeks or more. Finally, pet bloggers cover it because it’s a nice alternative to boarding kennels.

All of these are perfectly valid reasons to get excited about this new travel trend, but for me that’s small potatoes. I’ve personally been house sitting for over a year now, and as far as I’m concerned the best thing about it is the chance to experience a new country as a local; especially if you do it long term. Here’s why.

Photo by Elliott Brown

You Live in a Neighborhood

When you visit a new country as a tourist, you’re immediately shut out from local life. Staying in a hotel, hostel, or vacation apartment in the city center means that your chances of meeting locals drops as soon as you check in to your room. If you house sit, you’re immediately thrown into local life because you’re suddenly part of the neighborhood. The homeowner will have told all of the neighbors about you, so you’re sure to have plenty of friendly faces dropping by to welcome you into the gang.

You Constantly Meet People

Even if nosy neighbors don’t pop round with a gift basket, you’ll still get the chance to meet them. House sits usually come complete with pets to look after. When you’re walking a dog twice a day, the chances of bumping into other neighbors is pretty high. When you house sit abroad, this makes for great language practice. We house sat in the French countryside for six months; we had to become experts in discussing the weather pretty quickly.

The Locals Invite You to Stuff

Although Couch Surfing meet ups and party hostels are great places to enjoy a bit of socializing while on the road, nothing can beat the joy you feel when an invitation pops through your door. In France we were invited to all sorts of events: Christmas carol concerts, barbecues, and the local hunter’s ball (expertly blogged about by my other half). This was a great night filled with wine, meat, and camaraderie that we would have totally missed out on if we’d stayed elsewhere.

You stay in Parts of the Country that Your Normally Wouldn’t

With house sitting you go where the house sits are. If one comes up in your chosen city that’s a bonus, oftentimes however, you decide your next trip based on where you next get accepted for a house sit.

In Australia for example, most people will head to Syndey, Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef. Sign up as a house sitter though and you may find you’re staying in places like the foothills of the Dandenong Range or Alligator Creek in Townsville, Queensland. Going to places that most people don’t go to is a great way to get a genuine taste of what life is like in that country.

You Get Good at Muddling Through

For the duration of the house sit, that home is your home. If the pipes burst, you’re going to need to find a good plumber; and you’re going to need to explain the problem to him in his own language. If the supermarket is closed on Sunday, you’re going to need to pull together your shopping list and prepare to stand in a queue on Saturday afternoon. Although the daily grind is pretty unattractive to most people (hell, that’s why we travel) there’s something oddly comforting about being ingrained enough in the local culture that you know when a handyman’s trying to rip you off.

Basically, You Really Get to Understand What Makes the Region Tick

House sitting long term really helps you to scratch the surface and get under the skin of the local culture. This results in a few interesting surprises; for example, before we started house sitting we’d never have dreamed that the French would enjoy McDonalds, but come lunchtime in Tarbes McDonald’s was crowded while the quaint brasseries lay empty. As well as picking up on bizarre foodie habits, you also start to get a picture of what people do for entertainment, which evenings are the best for going out, and what time of day you should go to the supermarket at.

Follow James’ adventures on his blog: portugalist.com.

1 Comment

  1. sab

    November 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Great info! A little disturbing to read the French locals prefer Mickey Dees to local bistros. Yuck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *