Friday, October 12, 2012

Immerse with Josie Schneider

One of the truly great things about house sitting is meeting new people and making new friends.  This happens not only in person but also over the internet as we connect through our blog to individuals with whom we share common interests.  That's how we met Josie and Conrad, two fellow house sitters with lots of experience.  They've been there, done that, and have the tee-shirt, so we were thrilled when Josie agreed to be our very first guest interview.  
Thank you Josie!
Josie & Conrad 

How did you get your start house sitting?
Three months after meeting my future husband Conrad, he asked me to go on a trip to Australia with him. How could I say no? Australia! The trip not only cemented our relationship but also revealed to us that we are extremely compatible travelers. While staying at a lovely B&B in Alice Springs, we met a Romanian woman who was house sitting in Australia. We were fascinated by the concept and knew immediately house sitting was for us. I started researching right away, then a year later, answered posts on house sitting websites. Two years after the Australia trip, we were actively house sitting. “How did we get so lucky?” That’s what we kept saying to each other with permanent grins on our faces!

What has been your favorite house sit so far?
That’s an impossible question to answer. Every home and situation is so wildly different. How can you compare a luxury home in Copenhagen to an off-the-grid mountainside cabin in Spain? You can’t. I’m an experience junkie. I’m going to immerse in whatever the situation has to offer, whether it’s figuring out how to use all the fancy gadgets in the gourmet kitchen or how to navigate around a craggy cliff to pick the ripe prickly pears from a cactus.

Tuscany House Sit
 What was the length of your shortest house sit and your longest house sit?
Shortest: 10 days in Tuscany. The arrangement went like this – work for 3 days harvesting olives in exchange for 10 free days in a private apartment attached to the grove owner’s home. Longest: 1 ½ years in Baltimore, Maryland. We were contracted, (yes, we have a contract for each house sit. It’s important), for 11 months, but the homeowners were in a bind, so we stayed longer to help them out. We like them. Felt a kindred spirit with them, so our new found – and lifetime – friendship with them dictated the long stay. It was too long, though. We got very itchy feet to be on the move again!  On the positive side of the long house sit, though, is that we got to reconnect and enjoy relatives that live in the general Baltimore area. That’s why we took the long house sit to begin with – and I recommend this as a perfect reason to house sit. Get an assignment near relatives. How perfect! You get to spend extended time with loved ones and have your own “home” to go back to each night.

What was your most unusual house sitting experience?
Living "off-the-grid" in Spain
The house sit in an off-the-grid home in Southern Spain was not only the most unusual, but the one we talk about the most. Everything about our 6 weeks there was foreign and life-changing. Conrad and I lived through an experience there that only we can understand – the good and bad. It bonded us, too. It was that kind of experience that you know you’ll never repeat, and you can never quite explain fully to others. I write about it a lot on my blog, but still, Conrad and I are the only ones that fully get it. I think it’s why we talk about it the most of all our house sits. We were changed there.

What would you say makes a house sit a "great" house sit vs. one that is just okay?
You must do your due diligence up front. I can’t stress this enough, especially for us older folks. Here’s what I mean – By ensuring all the features are good before you pack your bags, the house sit will be a good one. Have your criteria mapped out before you even start applying and then follow your criteria as you evaluate each possible assignment. Do you feel comfortable with the homeowners? Is the home in the right location? (some can be very remote, for instance) Will you need to rent a car? Does the cost of living fit with my budget? (Copenhagen busted our butts! It’s extremely expensive)  Everyone’s criteria are different. Write yours down – and don’t skip this step. A well-planned house sit is a good one. A badly planned house sit is a huge waste of your time and money, not to mention the missed opportunity to change your lives by traveling well.

When you are searching for a house sit what are the key elements you look for in the ads?
I go by feel. That’s my short answer.  By the wording, the types of things the homeowner chose to  photograph, how analytical they are – all these nuances speak to me. I know right away when I read a posting if it’s for us. Right away.  Having said that, there are definite things that are a turn-off to me. Incorrect spelling or grammar, (except by non-English speakers), apathy, unreasonable demands, (like I must take care of three dogs plus pay the utilities), disorganization.

 A question that we are often asked is the one that begins with "what if..." What if the house is a mess, the dogs difficult, what if it's not what you expected...any advice for those unexpected situations?
Anyone who asks that question is not a good candidate for house sitting.

What has been the most difficult aspect of house sitting for you?
There really are none. But one thing I fantasize about is to bring all of our kids and grandkids to a house sit with us – for maybe a week or two. We want to share the incredible experience with them. We miss them while we’re away. Thank goodness for Skype!

What "sage advice" would you give to the novice house sitter?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Leave behind the usual chatter that accompanies our daily lives – that chatter that keeps us from thinking large. Open up to everything new.

What is the best part of your lifestyle as a house sitter?
Conrad and I know it suits us perfectly. We’re both vagabonds at heart and don’t require many of the standard cultural stuff that our friends and family find necessary. (Actually, some of our family thing we’re downright nuts!) So when we’re house sitting it’s like we’re free to explore everything. The burdens of “rules” are not imposed on us anymore. We’re pioneers charting our own course. We are avid political science junkies and can spend days discovering what makes the townspeople tick, for instance. Or why poverty is defined differently in different areas of the world. We look for the reasons and definitions of how people live the way they do. House sitting allows us time to immerse.

Josie Schneider is a writer, blogger, and author of "The House Sitting Book".  You can find out more from Josie at her blog here.

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