We all know what babysitting is. Been there, done that. House sitting, though – what is it? Join us in discussion with Penelope Whiteley who knows all about this new trend that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Enjoy the show!
My guest today is Penelope Whiteley. Penelope is the author of four books. She has travelled to 57 countries and has lived in seven of them. Her website is dedicated to helping women over 60 reinvent themselves and live life on their own terms. It’s great to have you here, Penelope.
Thank you, Margaret. It’s lovely to be here.
Thank you. Sixty & Me reaches about 500 thousand women around the world. These are women over 50 who are looking for ways to break away from some of the stigmas and stereotypes of aging. In fact, I know that you call yourself the Queen of Ageing Disgracefully.
It’s a great title.
I love it. I’d like to mention that you do great online empowerment programs for women, and you also offer tours for women over 50 to places like Italy and France.
Yes, France is my favorite. We are also looking at Scandinavia and Vienna for Christmas which will be lovely. The travel I do is for solo women over 50 who have no one to travel with.
That’s a great option, really. Given the fact that you’ve got a whole load of other interests and hobbies, you would be the perfect traveling companion. Today’s topic is going to cover something that has to do with travel. A lot of women are considering it, some have even tried it, and you have done it successfully.
I am talking about house sitting. Essentially, you go and live in someone’s house for a period of time – rent-free – in return for agreed chores. Tell us a bit about your house sitting experience and how that got you started with the travel bug?
I think I was born with the travel bug, to be honest. I started house sitting because I no longer have a home. I’ve put the bits and pieces I want to keep in a container ready for shipping to somewhere for when I decide I want to settle.
I wanted places to stay. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I thought I would try the UK options first and started looking for house sitting positions in different parts of the UK. I thought that would help me decide where I want to be and where I don’t want to be.
I joined an organization called Trusted House Sitters which allows you to look at different areas and cities you want to go. Obviously, you jump through quite a few hoops, because they are very particular. After all, you are going into someone else’s home.
You are looking after their animals, you are keeping it clean and tidy. You don’t pay rent, you don’t pay electricity, gas or any other bills. It’s basically free. The only thing you have to provide for yourself is a mode of travel.
Sometimes you don’t even need to do that, because you happen to be near public transportation which is very efficient. Other times you are in incredibly isolated spots, and you just have to rent a car. You get to meet some wonderful animals, and I’ve found this is a very interesting way to live.
I’ve done about nine or eleven house sits since the end of November last year. One of them was three weeks in Switzerland over the Christmas period, so I spent Christmas and New Year in Zurich. That was a fabulous experience with the best dog on the face of the planet, and four gerbils.
I love house sitting because it solves my problem of having to make up my mind as to where I want to live. I find it very comfortable, and I also love spending time with the animals. One of the things I miss in not having a home is having animals. I do like those little fur babies. They are important to me.
If you don’t know anything about Trusted House Sitters, they are one of the biggest and I think one of the more reputable sitting portals out there. Basically, you create a profile on their website with your picture and description of your skills and experience, and you have an opportunity to sell yourself.
Home owners look among the hundreds of people applying for the same job (if you are considering a city like London, for example). If they like your profile, they contact you to have a little conversation and then you both decide if it’s a good match.
Yes, that’s about right. There are also certain specific requirements that will help you in your house sit hunt. If you can get a certificate for a police check and include that in your profile, I think you get five-star rating or something.
I was actually looking for later this year at some of the house sits that are available in the US. Alaska sounded wonderful. I thought, “Oh, Alaska for 12 months. That would be good!” Then I thought, “No, because I’m taking parties of women to Tuscany and on the Amalfi coast. Why would I go to Alaska right now?” So I am saving that for my 80s.
I love your attitude. You are so positive. Basically though, you can go for two or three weeks as an average, perhaps.
But also, there are people who are going to be moving abroad, and they want someone to be in their home for a year or a longer period of time. It can be very economically advantageous.
Yes, it can. You can go almost anywhere, really – Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK. Interestingly enough, no one wants a house sitter in Italy. There are lots of offers in France, and I even saw for a place in Croatia.
Greece and Spain, also. There are offers all over the United States; it’s a global phenomenon.
There are some in Japan as well. I haven’t seen any in China yet, but it will happen.
Has it always been a great experience?
Not always. 90 percent has been really fabulous. Unfortunately, there was one that was a very unpleasant experience, to be honest. The lesson I learned from that was to make sure that I acquire as much detail as possible from the home owner.
As it happened to me, the home owner wrote a great presentation. We had a talk on Skype and everything seemed fine and above board. When I arrive though, I discovered the old dog that was put in my care has zero quality of life. It was blind, deaf, etc. You really need to question deeply.
I think we should mention that the house sitting companies also profile the homeowners, so you are not at risk. I don’t want you to think it’s dangerous.
The home owners are profiled and put their case forward to be included on the website. It’s pretty straightforward, but the details are important. In your case, the dog was not well and needed medicine, and maybe you weren’t comfortable doing that.
Actually, the dog had to be put down. I was really uncomfortable. That was a really bad house sitting experience. It doesn’t happen often, I believe. I don’t know anyone that has had that problem before.
There’s lots of house sitting companies to choose from. I know one that’s called Mind My House. There’s Trusted House Sitters, which you mentioned. Do you have a couple of others?
There’s quite a few, but I can’t remember the names. Some sites actually pay you a fee. We have a cleaner here where we live. She house-sits and she is paid 80 to 100 pounds a day. But she has specific clients.
So, in a way, you become an employee in the company. You are like a housesitting nanny.
Not of the company but of the individual, because those house owners don’t actually come through places like Trusted House Sitters, which is interesting.
It is interesting. Thank you for introducing our community to the house sitting phenomenon.
Now let’s move onto another topic that relates to travel. You like to take women over 50 on trips around fabulous countries. Tell us about the trips you have planned for the last months of 2017.
There are four trips planned for the rest of the year. The first three are in Italy. First we go to Stresa on Lake Maggiore, which is an hour and a half’s drive from lake Como, in the beginning of September.
Then we have a 10-day tour, split into two. The first five days are spent in Firenze, and the next five days on the Amalfi coast. We stay in Ravello, and we visit Amalfi and Positano and have a day down in Capri. It’s absolutely divine.
This is not a whistle-stop 50-people-crammed-on-a-bus tour. This is lovely and comfortable. This is a five-star trip. This is the way Italy should be experienced by women over 50 who are moving into their own life.
Then of course we are doing Christmas and New Year in Vienna. Next year we have about ten tours organized, and that’s great.
Tell me then, what kind of women are right for these kinds of solo trips? What are the qualities of a person who would be drawn to this kind of traveling?
Most of the women who are drawn to solo traveling, to be honest, are fed up. They are fed up with their life. They are fed up with not being able to go to places like Florence on their own. They are fed up with things like single supplements. They are just tired of it.
So, they are looking for something more in their life. They want to expand their soul and their heart. They want to feel excitement, have fun and laugh a lot. They want to eat and drink and just have a wonderful time.
If you can’t do it now, then you are looking at crawling into a coffin very disappointed, aren’t you?
For all the American folk, ‘fed up’ is the British way of saying, “I’m bored and in need of change.” I think that view of the world is very consistent with your whole way of living and writing, Penelope.
Your books are all about re-energizing yourself as a woman and living life on your terms. Having fun and just maximizing the time we have on this beautiful planet.
That’s exactly right. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, and you can’t press the replay button. This is it – you only have one go at it. So, if you’ve done everything everyone has expected you to do for the last 50 or so years, isn’t it time to say, “Sorry chaps, my time now.”
I love it. Your view of the world is very refreshing.
Penelope’s website offers a ton of materials, so there’s something useful for everybody. Her last book covers the topic of gray hair, and it was released a couple of months ago. You can also sign up for her newsletter, so you can receive updates about new books, tours and other fun information.
More than anything, just know that as an older woman there are options for you in this world to live your life with abundance, vibrancy and happiness. It’s our mission at Sixty and Me to support you and help you find a fresh new you.
And an attitude. I like to see more woman have an attitude.
Yes, an attitude of disgraceful ageing. It’s been a joy to talk to you, Penelope. You energize me, and I’m sure our community appreciates you, too. We learned tons of good information about your experience in house sitting and your travel plans, and that was wonderful. I wish you all the very best.
Thank you, Margaret. Thank you very much.
It’s my pleasure.
Have you tried house sitting? Would you share your best/worse experiences, tips and any other useful information? Would you be interested in solo travel? Which destination are you pulled to? Please join the conversation below!