Travel hack: How to visit other places during the pandemic

As people ponder whether or not it’s financially safe to book a holiday abroad yet, after Boris Johnson revealed the roadmap target for foreign travel may be delayed, I’ve found a way to travel without paying inflated Covid prices for staycations. I work as a pet carer and stay in other people’s houses for free, while minimising the risk of losing lots of money if regulations change at the last minute.

It all started in 2020, when like millions of others living alone, I found myself locked down and desperately lonely. Many people got themselves a pet for company, but that wasn’t an option for me, as I live in a tiny second-floor flat with no outdoor space in London.

I felt very privileged to be able to work from home – I had a job, wasn’t furloughed, nor was I on the frontline. No dependents meant no home-schooling, but on the flip side, I was isolated.

To combat the cabin fever and to satiate my longing for the sea and trees, I thought about getting an Airbnb when restrictions allowed – I could work from anywhere in the UK after all. But that idea was pricey.

My late-night internet inquiries and Skyscanner searches to plan my escape from my four walls eventually led me to house-sitting site Trusted Housesitters.

I love animals, so I paid the £99 annual membership and went through the hefty verification process, I saw it as a bit of a gamble and wondered if I’d actually be selected to look after other people’s pets.

But as travel and overnight stay restrictions eased, I applied for various sits and got picked for my first – looking after an older yet playful cat and about 20 house plants in a charming garden flat in Stokes Croft, Bristol. Eleven days in a stranger’s Covid-prepared and sanitised home, accessed by a key safe, took some getting used to but I soon settled in. 

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During my stay, I managed to make the trip into a bit of an economical socially distanced southwest England tour – visiting family in Devon and Cornwall, a friend in Stroud and went camping on a friend’s farm in Wiltshire.

My next sit was looking after Bodhi, an affectionate Bengal cat in Guildford, Surrey, who sat under my blanketed legs while I worked and jumped on me in bed early in the morning. I didn’t know anyone in the area so I explored the town alone, and hung out with my new feline pal.

Then, a last-minute sitting opportunity meant I returned to Bristol, this time to leafy Henleaze, to stay in a big family home with two of the neediest and characterful cats I have ever met, who both wanted to sit on me at all times and cried for me in the morning. After months of no contact, I loved the attention of this quirky pair of Australian Mists and like all of the cat sits had a tear in my eye when I had to leave them behind.

Like all good things in 2020, this run of joy came to an end. Two highly anticipated dog sits – one looking after a Yorkshire terrier for six weeks, and another looking after a labradoodle by the sea in a Georgian manor house were abruptly called off, due to nationwide lockdowns.

However, 2021 has brought hope. After Johnson unveiled his road map in February, UK listings on the house-sitting website came alive again, with more popping up as restrictions ease, with people desperate to get away and leave their beloved fur babies in safe and trusted care.

For me, this year holds trips to Bath, Ramsgate, Brighton and even down the road in London. The most exciting development is a September stay not far from Buffalo, New York state. Yes, the site is global, although there is more financial risk when booking flights and travel further afield (I plan to book mine at the last minute). This autumn, I will be looking after two dogs, four rabbits and some baby turtles for a month, as well as embarking on some “proper” travels should restrictions allow. I hope there will be more incredible international opportunities to come, I have my eye on pet sitting in Japan and New Zealand.

I would recommend pet sitting to anyone – as long as you are respectful of people’s homes and love animals. As someone who, before-Covid, saved money for experiences rather than things, I am glad to have found pet sitting and with it an alternative way to “travel” during the pandemic. While there are restrictions and rules to navigate along the way, petsitting has helped me avoid loneliness in these strange times.

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