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Staying in Touch with House-sitters While You're Away: Apps & Guidelines for Staying in Touch During Your Travels Abroad

Home-owner Tips

We’ve been house-sitting since 2013, caring for pets, plants and houses all around Europe. And while it’s been a lot of fun to explore new villages and cities while walking a dog and to come to cat cuddles home after a day of exploring, what we really love about house-sitting is the connections we make: the Americans in Sweden who’ve extended an open invitation to their home in the US; the Scottish couple who’ve suggested we go to South Africa to meet their dad; the expats in Copenhagen who’ve stayed in touch.

Our ability to consistently create great friendships with the people we house-sit for comes down to our ability to communicate effectively during the homeowner’s time abroad. From sending updates on plants, pets, mail, and home maintenance, to general comments about how we’re enjoying their home and town, we try our best to keep the lines of communication wide open.

But what about from the homeowner perspective? What kind of communication can you expect from house-sitters while you’re away, how much should you communicate in return, and how can you keep it affordable when you’re abroad, relying on foreign Internet and mobile phone carriers?

That’s what this post is all about: setting communication guidelines, and choosing the most convenient -- and affordable -- apps and methods for staying in touch with your house-sitter while you’re abroad.

What Kind of Communication Should You Expect?

Agreeing to the frequency and type of communications you expect throughout the house-sit increases the likelihood that you’ll have a positive experience and minimizes the chances you’ll be left feeling stressed, bewildered, or disappointed in your house-sitter.

Typically, we try to send the homeowners an update once or twice per week. We communicate twice weekly at the beginning of the house-sit to let the homeowners know how the pets are adjusting, and then reduce frequency to once per week once we’ve settled into a routine.

The types of communications we send – all of which are entirely reasonable to expect from a house-sitter -- include:

  • Post and Mail: A list of the mail received, as well as photographs of envelopes that look important so homeowners can give instructions.
  • Pets: General ‘adjustment’ reports; emergency and incident communications; and photos or videos of the pet.
  • House and property: Immediate reports of problems; updates on plants and garden; maintenance issues.

While it’s up to you to decide what kind of communication you want, and how often, it’s best to define it at the outset of the house-sit so expectations are clear.

Trying to Communicate in Amsterdam -- Attempting (and failing) to use our laptop during a house-sit in Amsterdam - WanderTooth Photos.

Affordable Ways to Stay in Touch

While email is an obvious choice to communicate with your house-sitters, there are plenty of alternatives that may suit you and your house-sitter better, especially in an emergency, when instant communication is important.

We’ve outlined some of our favourite options below.

Phone Calls: Skype

Skype is the most common video calling platform available, and can be used to make free video or voice calls over your computer, or on a smartphone or tablet.

While most people are familiar with Skype-to-Skype video calling, fewer people know you can use Skype to call a regular landline or mobile phone. If you purchase credit for your Skype account, you can then use Skype to make inexpensive calls from your computer/tablet/smartphone to " normal" phones anywhere in the world, often for as little as €/$ 0.02 or €/$ 0.03 per minute.

Using the Skype-to-Phone option is a great option when you need to get in touch with your house-sitter right away, and don't want to wait for an email reply.

Cost: Skype sells credit in minimum amounts of $/€10.00. Call rates depend on the country of origin and destination.

Text Messages: WhatsApp or Viber

Text messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber allow you to send text messages over the Internet (Wifi, or 4G/LTE), bypassing your mobile carrier’s SMS charges. Whenever you’re on Wifi, you can send a text message for free, avoiding any texting while abroad unpleasant charges.

In addition to text messages, both apps also allow you to send voice messages (using the microphone icon), pictures (using the camera icon), and files (using the arrow icon) for free.

To use these apps, both the sender and the receiver must have the app. Further, they only work on smartphones -- not tablets or computers.

Cost: Viber is free to download and free to use. Whatsapp is free to download and free for the first year. It then requires a $1.00 per year subscription fee.

Online Chat: Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is a free alternative to text messaging AND video/voice calling that allows easy communication between two or more people. By creating a group message, everyone included in the group can communicate at once, which is great if your housesitters are a couple or a pair of friends.

Messenger is easy to use, allows you to share files, text, photo and video messages, and allows voice and video calling, much like on a phone or Skype.

The only requirement is that all parties must have a Facebook account and should be Facebook friends. It works best if everyone has the Messenger App installed on their tablets/smartphones, as this ensures the communication is relatively instant and efficient.

Cost: Facebook and Messenger are 100% free.

Exploring Berlin -- Geoff (and Walter the dog) explore Berlin during a house-sit - WanderTooth Photos

The best way to ensure communication is successful with your house-sitter is to think of it as an ongoing conversation, rather than a transaction or business relationship.

In addition to the ‘nitty gritty’ information discussed above, remember that house-sitting is most successful when homeowners and house-sitters are both open to learning about each other and experiencing different cultures and ways of life.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to share your adventures abroad with your housesitter -- tell them how your trip is going, and maybe even send a postcard!


Katie Matthews 
Wandertooth.com

As full-time travellers, Katie Matthews and her husband Geoff frequently housesit as a way to gain a deeper interaction with different cultures, meet like-minded people, and spend some time with furry animals. They have been housesitting since 2013, and spend their days spoiling pets, creating travel-themed adult colouring books, and writing on their blog,wandertooth.com

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