How I live for free all over the United States keeping pets for strangers

  • Meagan Drillinger is a freelance travel writer who gave up her New York apartment in search of the next place she wanted to live.
  • She and her partner signed up with Trusted Housesitters so they could experience life in multiple places before they put down roots.
  • They keep animals in exchange for free housing. While it might sound odd, Drillinger says it’s been a great way to travel.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

My partner and I are rich in many ways, but money is not one of them.

So when we made the decision to ditch our New York apartment and drive across the country looking for the next place we wanted to call home, we had to be very, very practical about how we planned the trip. travel. One week in an Airbnb could easily blow our entire monthly hosting budget by $ 2,000.

We quickly realized that out of our income – I’m a freelance travel writer and a retired military man – we had to spend most of our trip camping (which in our mid-thirties isn’t as flirty or romantic as it is in your twenties), or the trip should be much shorter than expected.

It wouldn’t have been the trip we imagined at all – really experiencing what it would be like to experience in each place – at all

But then we found Trusted Housesitters. This is an online database of vacationing owners who need trusted people to stay in their homes and take care of their pets. The best part: Homesitters stay for free.

It sounded too good to be true. There must be a trap, we kept repeating ourselves. But as we delved deeper, there didn’t seem to be any fine print other than the overt premise: you apply for home-sits, and if you’re accepted, you’re welcome to stay with someone for free.

We created a profile and started to apply

Meagan Driller.

Kai the dog.

Meagan Driller


In many ways, Trusted Housesitters is a lot like Airbnb:

  • You create a profile.
  • You enter the dates and location for when and where you want to travel.
  • You see what is available. There are houses listed all over the world.
  • You send your profile and a note to the owners explaining why you are a good candidate.
  • If you are selected, you have free accommodation.
  • You, as the house sitter, are examined by the owner, and vice versa. You want to get great reviews and keep your satisfaction ratings high.

But in many ways, Trusted Housesitters is not like Airbnb at all:

  • You pay an annual membership fee of $ 119 to be a member, whether you’re a potential home owner or caretaker (and an additional $ 29 for being both).
  • You get more visits if you upload your official documents and get verified.
  • You are staying in someone’s primary residence with all of their personal effects.
  • You are responsible for their pets during your stay, and everything that entails.
  • Apart from the annual subscription, your stays are completely free.

The week we started asking for listings (from an Airbnb in Seattle, where we were paying $ 1,000 for a week, mind you – half of our monthly budget), we were able to field two immediately. It took a few days.

Turns out we were in high demand

Meagan Driller.

The driller working on one of the animals sits with the dog Genny.

Meagan Driller


As a freelance writer and military veteran, it pleased the hosts that we had a lot of time to spend with their pets. We also announced that we had our own car; some homes offer their cars to caretakers, but many ask you to bring your own. Posting photos on our profile of spending time with our friends’ pets was also a wise move – it helped show that the animals feel comfortable around us.

Our first home was over Memorial Day weekend in Buffalo, New York for an English Mastiff named Dolly. Buffalo may not have been our first choice on our “where to live next” road trip, but since we had no opinion yet, we were grateful to have a blind opportunity.

It ended up being the best introduction to Trusted Housesitters

We were greeted in a beautifully renovated Victorian house in Buffalo by our hosts – a couple who were longtime Trusted Housesitters users and therefore did not feel the need to get high. We were watching Dolly, who might have been intimidating the first time she met, as her head could hang past my shoulder blades. But his size was the only thing that intimidated him. By day David sprawled out on the couch with her, as she did her best to convince him that she was a pocket dog. At night, the three of us squeezed into a king-size bed. (Yes, squeeze – she was so tall.)

By the end of the weekend, we had not only fallen in love with Dolly, but we had really gotten a feel for Buffalo. There was plenty of time to go out to dinner, see the sights, go to the gym. The experience offered what we were looking for from Airbnb – the opportunity to “live like a local” in one place, minus the outrageous taxes and fees that seemed to increase exponentially during the pandemic.

Our second seat took us to Raleigh, NC where we took care of a small menagerie of animals, including two chihuahua mixes, two cats, two hamsters (one of which had come loose before our arrival) and a rabbit. Once again, our hosts were incredibly laid back. At first it looked like a zoo to take care of, but once we got down to it, these were the dogs we spent the most time with – and thankfully. In fact, saying goodbye to the dogs was the hardest part of the whole experience.

A great choice for remote work

Maxwell the dog enjoying a nap from a day's work.  Meagan Driller

Maxwell the dog enjoying a nap from a day’s work.

Meagan Driller


The pandemic has taught many of us that working remotely is not as difficult as previously thought. Fortunately, I have always been able to be nomadic and earn an income – I have been a freelance writer for almost seven years. Working from home or in remote corners of places like Mexico or Southeast Asia has been my routine for quite some time. In fact, while we were on the road, I scooped up thousands of dollars in new travel assignments from publications focused on US travel. (My partner has also been retired from the military for seven years, which allows him to travel as he pleases.)

Reality test: it’s still a bit strange

Meagan Driller

Driller and Kenny.

Meagan Driller


When my uncle found out that we are keeping animals all over the country in exchange for free housing, he said, “This is the strangest thing I have ever heard.” Honestly, he scores a point.

It’s really weird to be in someone else’s house, with their things, their bedroom, their family photos, and sometimes their mess. Even though an Airbnb rental is technically owned by someone else, these days Airbnb is anonymous, which makes it look a lot more like a hotel.

It’s also weird to take someone else’s keys to them and say goodbye to them in their own driveway, but the second they’re gone we find that we are relaxing and feeling less like a guest. someone’s home and more like we checked in for a week of local immersion. It’s great for our main focus, which is to see what it’s really like to live in a place. When you add pets to the mix, the reality factor increases even more.

This concert is not for everyone

Meagan Driller

Kai checks the progress of Drillinger’s remote work.

Meagan Driller


You have to be adventurous. You have to be able to go with the flow. And, at the bare minimum, you have to love animals. Even though it might feel like a vacation, you’re still there, mostly for pets: huge poo, slimy slime, runaway hamsters, and more.

That said, all of the people we met through Trusted Housesitters are exactly ‘our kind’ of people: world travelers themselves, with great stories to tell. It is a laid back community, confident and deeply respectful of one another. It is also the one who is, really, all over the world.

Currently we are in Arlington, Virginia for our third home-sit where we take care of two beautiful Great Dane puppies, and from there we have gigs planned in Minnesota, Denver and Petaluma, CA.

In between stays at home, we find time to do the things we want to do, like hiking in national parks, visiting friends we haven’t seen since the pre-pandemic, and exploring the Romantic two-lane highways crisscrossing the country. (During these times, we * gasp *) splurge on Airbnbs and hotels.)

What started out as a way to get us across the country this summer has dramatically changed us and the way we travel. While waiting for the state of the world, we plan to take this show on the road to Southeast Asia, Europe and Australia soon.

While I don’t love picking up poop or sleeping in someone else’s master bedroom it helps the savings to be pretty amazing. In July, for example, we’ll only need to spend on five nights’ accommodation. The rest of our budget we put in a savings account so that when we finally find our next home we can buy something special.

Although at this rate, I don’t think any of us are in a rush to land anywhere anytime soon.

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