Shelter Showdown

We’re house- and cat-sitting in Calgary for a few weeks, next we’ll be doing the same in Vancouver for a month, followed by a sit in August in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. And we’re booking more house- and pet-sitting gigs for the next leg of our journey, across the pond.

With the exception of a sit in Granada, Nicaragua, for most of our 8 months in South and Central America we rented accommodations through AirBnB, rounded out with a few private bookings.

I’ve been pondering the differences between these two types of accommodation, and here are my current thoughts on the Shelter Showdown.


AirBnB: We typically book entire home so live in an apartment or suite. Critical components for us are wifi and a kitchen; very-nice-to-have is a washing machine. Since we are trying to keep within a budget, space is generally on the small side, either a studio or one-bedroom suite.

House sittingWhether in houses, apartments, or townhouses, the homes that we have booked for house sits are all larger than anything we have rented. Bigger isn’t always better, since a large place also means a lot more upkeep, but having a variety of areas to hang out in (kitchen, family room, office, outdoors, etc.) makes things a little more comfortable.

Point goes to: House sitting


AirBnB: Whole home accommodations that are set up for rental generally have, in our experience, reasonably appointed kitchens, but not much beyond the basics–the right number of dishes, cutlery, glasses; basic utensils; one or two pots, etc. We’ll just have to make do, became a frequent phrase as we prepared meals in these minimalist kitchens.

House sitting: Because real people live and cook in these homes, there are generally many more options with cooking equipment and tableware. We get positively giddy when there is an electric mixer, a variety of knives, or enough cutlery so we can both cook and eat before washing everything up.

Point goes to: House sitting



AirBnB: You can book accommodations with high-speed wifi, laundry facilities, and any number of other features that make life a lot easier. But requiring any of these features can significantly limit the pool of accommodation available.

House sitting: Most house-sit postings include at least basic wifi and some form of laundry facility (in hot climates, a washer and drying line might be the norm), and you won’t eliminate too many opportunities by requiring them.

Point goes to: House sitting


AirBnB: These homes are rentals. Do not expect plants or gardens if you are renting an apartment. If the home is part of the owner’s property, you might get lucky, as we did a few times, with gorgeous green spaces and gardens.


House sitting: Whether staying in an apartment or a detached home, there is a pretty good chance you will have plants, gardens, lawns, or patios around you. You might even be invited to partake in the bounty. We are currently enjoying the harvest of several lush rhubarb plants–mmm, rhubarb muffins.

P1010889Of course, these benefits come with responsibilities–plants to water, gardens to weed, lawns to mow, patios to sweep, maybe even a pool to clean or snow to shovel. For us, homeless-by-choice and travelling slowly, we enjoy puttering a bit in a garden and take pride in keeping things looking nice and growing well. But it is still work and takes time away from other activities.

Point goes to: This one is a little more difficult to judge, as it really depends whether you get enough enjoyment out of the outdoor spaces to balance the time you’ll need to invest. For us, it works well because we receive so much value from having green space and growing things around us, so point goes to house sitting.


AirBnB: Cuddles generally not included. There are exceptions, of course. We engaged in lots of puppy play time when we stayed on a beautiful property in Pedasi, Panama, which also housed 5 owner’s dogs and cats and a pet hotel. We have actually enjoyed pet cuddlin’ in a few rental places, come to think of it.

House sitting: Most house sitting assignments include one or more pets to care for. You can apply for sits based on your preferred species and numbers of same. Whether rolling around with 4 dogs, gently petting a shy cat, brushing horses, or feeding chickens is your thing, there are sits out there for you. Yes, there is an enormous responsibility to caring for other people’s pets, so if this isn’t for you, apply only for house sits that are pet-free.

Point goes to: House sitting



AirBnB: You can find accommodations in touristy or residential areas, in large cities and in small villages. In some cases, the owners are nearby, friendly, and can be a great source of information about the area. In other cases, you won’t even meet the owner and will feel quite on your own. (You will have more contact if you rent private room rather than whole home.)

House sitting: Most sits are for people who live in their homes when they are not traveling. You will generally have at least a couple of hours, sometimes a couple of days, to meet the homeowner, get to know the animals, and learn about the home and all its quirks. The homeowner will frequently put together a booklet about their home and pets, and also about the area, getting around, places to eat and shop, etc. You may be introduced to the neighbors, or at least know of folks nearby who you can call on in a pinch. And while you’re out tending the garden, or walking the dogs, you’ll likely meet all sorts of people who will be happy to share their neighborhood knowledge with you.

Point goes to: Again, not an obvious win. Each experience is different. In general, though, we have felt much more part of a community while house sitting than while renting accommodations, so point goes to house sitting.


AirBnB: Usually, you are only responsible for treating the accommodation and its contents with respect. On longer stays, you may be responsible for cleaning, washing linens, and purchasing paper products and cleaning supplies. There are no rules, though, and sometimes a stay includes maid service and all supplies. At the end of a stay, though, someone else will do a thorough clean and refresh the accommodation for the next guests.

House sitting: Since you are living in a home as a resident, you will probably be expected to take on most or all of the chores the homeowner normally handles. If they have maid service, they may continue it. Otherwise, all of the cleaning will be up to you, and that includes leaving it as good or better than it was the day that you moved in.

Point goes to: AirBnB, since there will almost always be a lot less work to do when renting temporary accommodation than when house sitting.


AirBnB: Other than respectfully inhabiting a place, no responsibilities come with a rental accommodation, generally.

House sitting: Responsibilities can include caring for animals in sickness and in health, ensuring the security of a home, keeping lawns and gardens healthy and well-maintained, supervising and paying for housekeeping or garden staff, and a myriad of other tasks, which change for each assignment. We probably go overboard in our efforts to leave everything as close to how the owner left it as we can (furniture, contents of cupboards, set up of bedrooms, etc.), and we are heartbroken if anything gets damaged or broken.


Point goes to: AirBnB most definitely for care-free living.


AirBnB: Pay by the day, the week, or the month, but pay you will.

House sitting: Yes, some house sitters provide their service for a fee, and yes, some homeowners expect house sitters to pay for some of the costs of running a home (for example, electricity or other utilities), particularly on longer sits. But the more common view is that house sitting is an exchange of services where neither party pays, and both parties glean significant value from the arrangement.

Point goes to: House sitting, without a doubt.

Ease of access

AirBnBRental accommodation is available world wide, whether through AirBnB, other temporary rental accommodation platforms, facebook sites, or word of mouth. If something is available that suits your needs and budget, you just book it and pay for it. Simple.

House sittingGaining access to house sitting assignments is a process. A typical route is to sign up on one or more house sitting platforms, build a profile including references and verifications, wait for sits to be posted that match your target locations and dates, apply for a sit, if you are lucky receive confirmation of your application from the homeowner and a request to meet via a phone or video chat, meet and discuss, optional further communication and reference checking, and finally selection/agreement.

Point goes to: AirBnB

And the winner is …

In my most unscientific evaluation, here is how the two parties fared. Out of 10 possible points:

AirBnB: 3 points, winning the categories of Chores, Responsibility, and Ease of Access.

House sitting: Champion of the Shelter Showdown withpoints, winning the categories of Space, Cuisine, Conveniences, Environs, Cuddles, Community, and Cost.

What does all this mean?

I’m not really sure. In some cases, quick and easy accommodation is what we look for and we are willing to pay for it, especially when we want to stay in a particular area, with specific dates, or for a short time. In other cases, it is definitely worth it for us to invest the time and effort required to locate and land a house sitting assignment, and to fulfill it. Environs, Cuddles, Community, and Cost all contribute to how we approach travel now and in our plans for the future. We are applying for (and booking, when we’re lucky) house sits that interest us, and then planning travel and vacations between them, renting fill-in accommodation as necessary.


Learn more about house- and pet-sitting with the International House Sitting and Travel Lifestyle Summit.

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