Guest Post by Ashley Mudra
Note from Future Expat: You’ve heard my side of the experience, now it’s Ashley’s turn!
I’d never heard of it before. Why would anyone trust their home and pets to me, a total stranger? And how would I even find these international trusting people?
While researching for my upcoming travels, I read about people house sitting abroad to mitigate the accommodation costs of traveling. After reading more, I wasn’t surprised to find that house sitting is gaining momentum and popularity around the world.
Free accommodation? It wasn’t hard to convince me. After researching a few different websites, I paid for a membership with Trusted House Sitters [aff] and set up a profile.
The Waiting Game
I set out to travel Central America but kept my eye on the website. But as popular as house sitting is becoming, the concept is not yet well known in Central (or South) America. This is changing, but due to the slim pickings, it took a few months to find an opportunity right for me.
When I saw Mark and Susanna’s listing pop up for Panama, I messaged them right away. Two cute dogs (I’m allergic to cats), wifi, a car, a beach close by, and was within my timeframe? What more could I ask for?
Applying for the Job
Knowing there would be competition for this rare Panamanian listing, I expected someone with more experience in international house sitting to be chosen. I’m glad I gave it a shot anyway!
They requested a background check and references. Those passed inspection and we set up a skype interview. I was in Guatemala at the time and finding a quiet place with enough light and trusty wifi wasn’t the easiest. Thankfully, they were patient and flexible. We had a couple more skype sessions and they made their decision. I got the job!
We kept in touch over the next few months, hammering out arrival details and dates. The question of a contract came up, but after agreeing on a few guidelines, we decided we all felt comfortable enough skipping that formality.
The evening I arrived, Mark and Susanna took me out to dinner and we enjoyed some face-to-face conversation. They put me up in their spare bedroom and I spent the next few days getting to know Wyzer and Gypsy.
They did a fantastic job of introducing me to their lives: They showed me around town, I observed the dogs’ daily schedule, Mark whipped up some tasty dinners and showed me which stores were good for grocery shopping, Susanna prepared a detailed all-things-house-sitting document, and even organized a lunch with expat friends living in the area.
The lunch was a great idea. I was grateful for these friendly people who offered their help and company. One of their friends even let me borrow her extra cellphone.
Over the following six weeks, I enjoyed the privacy of a home, the freedom of a car, and the nutritional support of a functioning kitchen. Eating healthy had been a huge challenge until this point and I seized this opportunity to get back on track.
I became friends with a few of women I met over lunch. They invited me to their weekly water aerobics, and it was great to have somewhere to go and friends to swim with.
With pets, there’s no way to really know what you’re getting, but I was lucky enough to get two sweet, obedient pups who didn’t demand much energy. Between our regular trips to the beach and our exciting dinner ritual, I was even able to use the solitude to make progress on some personal goals.
There were a few bumps. I battled insect invasions and mosquitos when the rainy season hit. Enjoyed pulling out a few ticks. I got lost a few times. I broke a plate. The dogs almost got into a fight with a stray dog. But nothing too horrible went wrong. Susanna and I kept in regular contact and she was quick to reply to any concerns.
Mark and Susanna were the perfect first international house sitting experience. They were laid-back, flexible, and truly wanted for me to be comfortable and have everything I needed. When they returned, they generously offered for me to stay as long as I needed, which I took them up on for a few extra days. And they forgave me for the broken plate.
During my 7 weeks in Las Tablas, I was able to extend my travels by saving an estimated $600 in hostel accommodations. Pretty awesome, right? I left Las Tablas with new experiences, new friends, and a few reasons to return. I’m already missing everyone, and especially my sidekicks, The Pups.