We have Couchsurfed a few times over the last year or so, and we once stayed in an Airbnb in London when we went to the theatre, but of course that is now loads over the last year travelling in different countries. Still we’d never tried house-sitting for anyone. That’s a concept we got to understand in Australia.
Couchsurfing is fun. We had a backpacker stay at our house in Warwick whilst he was travelling, and during our journey we’ve stayed with some awesome people on separate occasions. Once in India, The Philippines and in Melbourne, Australia. All of which were fantastic experiences.
Seda had found out about house sitting whilst doing research before we left the UK but of course Australia was so far off from where we started that we’d kind of forgotten about it. Also, there are a lot of websites you can join – some better than others of course.
Airbnb is an option that we prefer instead of a hotel when we can. Helping out people who open their house for a bit of an extra income seems like a better option instead of making a chain of hotels richer. We haven’t had an uncomfortable stay through airbnb but had varying interactions with house owners.
So, we already had our profile on couchsurfing and had some positive experiences.
We had a membership to the largest house-sitting site in Australia. Paid membership too I might add! With all the airbnb’s amongst the options, we headed for the open world! Here are some of our experiences…
- Airbnb…. CS and HS is free but of course with Airbnb you pay. Although how much you pay changes in parallel with how ambitious the owners are. We paid for an Airbnb room where the asking price was ridiculous for a bed and only a bed. No bed side tables, no storage, nowhere to hang your stuff, no lamp no box nothing! Yet we had places where we paid for a room and got a self contained bungalow with bathroom, kitchen, spare room, tv room, terrace and garden. Some house owners offered home made bread and expensive toiletries in the room but charged half what you’d expect because they didn’t value their place as a preferable location, but we fell in love with it’s tranquility.
- We were even given a box of mangos from one host who had an orchard on her property.
- Of course you expect a clean room when you‘re paying for it. Certain things are there not as a nice gesture of the hosts, but because that’s what you’re paying for.
- We even had one Airbnb host try to bribe us for a good review by giving us a bag of passion fruit because we were leaving unhappy as her screaming grandchildren woke us up at 6am!
- The weird thing however is the interaction levels. We had experiences where we never saw the host at all, and we even saw a host locking herself into her room to leave us to have the use of the whole house. On the other side of this extreme, we had people chatting to us endlessly where we weren’t sure if they felt they had to or if they just loved talking.
- Couchsurfing…. Whilst you are a customer to airbnb owners though, someone opening their house to you via Couchsurfing will offer you genuine friendship. The few times we had experienced CS stays, we have gained lifelong friendships.
- The place you’re getting to sleep could be anything from a mattress on the floor to a comfy bed. The trick is to be grateful no matter which one you end up with.
- House-sit… An arrangement where you stay in someone’s house while they go away on holiday in return for looking after their pets (whatever they may be) and home.
- We started actively searching for HS jobs (do you call them jobs?!) about 2 weeks before we arrived in Australia. We were flexible and other than some certain flight points, we really didn’t mind where we went in between. With great flexibility, comes great opportunities…
- What we were really excited about was being able to stay in people’s houses and it giving us a real flavour of Australian life and comparing it to home. Little things like we’d have to go shopping, and so we’d see how much that cost. The differences between city, suburban, country and coastal living would be interesting too. Which would we like more?
- When you walk into someone’s house that you are going to house-sit for, it feels like you are intruding. If they are not there to meet you, it’s simply weird. Walking through someone’s lounge, see their family photos, use their kitchen, use their bathroom, it’s all very strange and it takes a while to relax into. On our Brisbane HS, as we were still wondering if we were supposed to be in this strange house, but this is what we found in the kitchen….
Whilst you meet and stay with your hosts when you have a CS experience, you may not meet the homeowners if you have a HS experience or even Airbnb for that matter.
We had people opening their home to us through HS and showing great hospitality. Most people seem to like a chance of meeting beforehand. We had one couple where the guy ran a commentary as he did a tour of his house to us on a whatsapp video chat. Some invited us for a barbecue the night before and some offered a good wine on a hot summers night. Some tipped us secretly in a thank you card (yes, we mean they inserted some money for us) whilst some weren’t very impressed even when we changed their bed sheets to clean ones for their arrival.
We can’t tell you if it is better to meet the house owners or not but we can tell you it is always best to be thoughtful. We had bought some English souvenirs before we left the UK. Small gifts like red post box key rings and union jack pens along with a pack of 20 thank you cards. No backpacker can claim that these are too heavy to carry and for how gratefully they were received, I’d say they were well worth it!
Both CS and HS are based on trust. The reviews are very important for both sites. When you are new to it and don’t have any experience, or more importantly no reviews, it’s more difficult for people to trust you in theory, but we didn’t find it too much of a problem.
On the whole I think it’s fair to say all three have their merits, and we’ve enjoyed all methods of accommodation, but if we had to pick one above the others I’d say Couchsurfing is the most enjoyable. Purely because of the fact that people open their house to you, want to get to know you and you will end up genuine friends afterwards. Who knows, maybe one day you will get to meet your host again, and maybe even return the favour.…