The world is full of home owners who do not want to leave their homes unoccupied when they leave for extended periods of time because their pets or plants need TLC or because they just feel better knowing that someone is around if a pipe breaks or a burglar is prowling. The world is also full of people (like us) looking for a more affordable way to live and/or travel. The solution is house sitting. Here’s an inside look at our very first house sitting gig in Matapalo, Costa Rica.

Karen (and the owners’ dog) on the vast open patio of the house we were sitting near Matapalo, Costa Rica.

Here’s how house sitting works

A number of websites have emerged which act as matchmaking resources through which a home owner can advertise a need and registered house sitters can offer their services. Typically no money is exchanged: home owners rest easy and house sitters stay for free. It’s a win-win: the home owners get peace of mind and the house sitters get a (usually) great place to stay in a destination of their choice.

House sitting: love the home you’re in

We haven’t had our own home since we left our apartment in New York City in April of 2006 and embarked on our Trans-Americas Journey. While we love the freedom and unpredictability of our life on the road we sometimes miss the routine and control that comes from settling into a home. We don’t want to do it forever, but having a temporary home base allows us to do things we miss like doing our own laundry and cooking the food we prefer to eat. It also lets us get more work done since we aren’t spending time planning our next moves or driving all day.

It’s increasingly important to our work and our sanity to find more opportunities to hunker down in order to save money, stay on top of our deadlines and project, and recharge our batteries with a bit of domestic bliss.

Matapalo Costa Rica view

Hills and ocean as seen from the patio of the house we were sitting near Matapalo, Costa Rica.

About a year ago Trustedhousesitters.com, one of the leading websites that facilitates house sitting around the world, gave us a membership. Since then we’ve been religiously monitoring the handy “new listings” email which members receive every day. This is one of our favorite emails of the day since it’s full of dream opportunities around the world. Here’s a sampling of some listings available right now:

  • Six weeks in a modern, tri-level penthouse in the trendy Condessa neighborhood of Mexico City with one dog and some fish
  • Christmas and New Year in a three bedroom seaside home near Malaga, Spain
  • Three months in a unique, open-air house on the beach in Phuket, Thailand
  • A classic Italian farmhouse in Tuscany for the winter with cats a horse and a donkey
  • Two weeks in a stone cottage in rural Portugal with two dogs and two cats
  • Three weeks with two dobermans in a house in Brisbane with a movie room
  • Four months in a modern villa in southern Italy
Matapalo sunset

The large, tiled, open-sided patio of the house we were sitting in the hills above Matapalo in Costa Rica was the perfect vantage point on dramatic skies above the Pacific Ocean. Better than TV.

Careful, it’s addictive

If we’re not careful, hours can slip by as we read the details of our favorite new listings around the world. Sometimes we catch ourselves calculating how we could get to the Pyrenees or Tasmania or Malta to take advantage of the dreamiest opportunities on the planet.

Alas, the reality is that we can only pursue opportunities within a reasonable driving distance of our current location in the Americas. That does limit our options. Home owners in Australia and Europe are much more savvy about house sitting than home owners in the The Americas. However, that’s changing and Trusted Housesitters has decided that this part of the world has growth potential so we’re excited to see more and more listings in our region as the site increases their pool of home owners in our neck of the woods.

A match made on Trustedhousesitters.com

House sitting in Costa Rica and pet sitting in Costa Rica are both growth areas because of the number of expat home owners in Costa Rica who routinely return to their home countries for extended periods. When our daily new listings email from TrustedHousesitters.com arrived with a listing for “House and pet sitter needed near Dominical” in a house with panoramic views of the Pacific we immediately responded to the home owners using the easy online form to express interest and encourage them to learn more about us through our profile on the site (which was really easy to create).

Within 24 hours we’d heard from the home owners. We exchanged a series of emails, each of us going over key questions and expectations in detail. Within a week they’d confirmed our assignment and we’d spoken via Skype to go over all the final details. It really couldn’t have been easier.

We arrived at their home the day before the owners were scheduled to leave. This was a really smart idea because it allowed us to get to know each other, get introduced to their dog and cat, and learn all of the quirks of the house–from how to handle their killer water pressure to who to call if the animals got sick (didn’t happen) or the toilet stopped working (did happen). We highly recommend the “one day early” approach whenever possible.

matapalo coffee view

Karen waking up with our own private menagerie of sloths, toucans, and more all visible right from the patio of the house we were sitting.

Over the next three weeks the home owners enjoyed their time away and we enjoyed our time in one place getting into a productive routine and indulging in the joys of dog walking and grocery shopping.

Unexpected pluses

House sitting also brings unexpected pluses. In our case, these came in the form of wild animals. We spent hours on the spacious open-sided patio of the home in the jungly hills above Matapalo beach with binoculars and cameras glued to our faces observing three-toed sloths (including a mother and baby), parrots, toucans, aracaris, poison dart frogs, white face capuchin monkeys, king vultures, a jaguarundi and foot long female stick bug having sex with a remarkably small male. It was like living inside our own Animal Planet channel, only our viewing blind was a comfortable, modern house. All of the photos in this post, including the ones of the sloths, were taken right from the patio.

sloth costa rica

This is Pablo Perezoso, a male sloth that moved into a guaruma tree less than 100 feet from the patio of the house we were sitting in Costa Rica. Perezoso is the Spanish word for sloth.

baby sloth, costa rica

And here is Penelope Perezoso and her new son Pablito. They hung around the house (literally) for four days straight. No, we didn’t get much work done while they were there.

baby sloth

Mother and baby.

Three toed sloth

Pablo goes out on a limb for a tasty treat.

Three toed sloth, Costa Rica

Pablo showing off his crazy flexibility and strength.

baby sloth kiss

Mother and baby share a kiss. That’s our interpretation anyway.

Chestnut Mandibled Toucan, Costa Rica

A chestnut mandibled toucan takes a break and makes a racket in a tree within tossing distance of the house we were sitting in Costa Rica.

Fiery-billed Araçari

Fiery-billed aracaris stopped by for a visit–and up close look–too.

giant stick bug

Yes, that’s a grown man’s hand behind that giant stick bug clinging to a piece of lighter-colored rope. The large insect is the female and if you look closely you’ll see a much smaller male on her back. They’re having sex, which stick bugs have been known to do for more than 70 hours at a time.

Poison Dart Frog Costa Rica

One day a black and green poison dart frog showed up right on the patio. Our biggest fear? Don’t let the cat get it.

On a related note, this was the first time these homeowners had retained house sitters and they told us that they decided to list their need on Trustedhousesitters.com because a neighbor had recently used the site and had a really positive experience. As for us, we’re back to scouring our daily “new listings” emails from Trustedhousesitters.com in search of our next house sitting opportunity.

Costa Rica sunset

One last postcard-perfect sunset from the patio of the house we were sitting for three weeks in the hills above Matapalo, Costa Rica.

Here’s more about travel in Costa Rica