We’re now on our fifth housesitting job – experienced pros. It’s an interesting way to see a country. For the most part, we’ve wandered off the main tourist tracks. We probably wouldn’t have made special trips to the Headington Shark, or Ashdown Forest (100 Acre Wood), or opening weekend at Hatfield House complete with French Market. We certainly wouldn’t have met so many locals and hung out in so many proper pubs – and our journey would have been the poorer for missing out on them.
Even in places we would have visited, such as Stonehenge and Beachy Head, we have a more nuanced appreciation for what we’ve seen, where we’ve been.
We’ve stayed in manors, country cottages, and urban flats.
All have been lovely, like bed and breakfasts with dogs, but there have been a couple of locations where the word “bleak” comes too easily to the lips. “Greater” London seems like a misnomer in some of the towns we’ve found ourselves in. It’s been a reminder that we’re travelling, which feels different from going on holiday.
We realised quickly that you need to look at housesitting as a part-time job, which is only fair as you’re getting board in return for watching people’s pets and homes. The easiest part of the job has been taking care of people’s pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, and fish so far. Without the busyness of home, we spend our days walking through neighbourhoods, hanging out with pets, and checking out the local sights. We have found a nice rhythm (a word that I return to again and again on this journey).
All this housesitting has made me think about what “home” means to me. My attachment to stuff has gone quite quickly, although I bet it will return as soon as I don’t need to pack up every few days. I miss easy conversations with family and friends and walking with my dog, but I haven’t missed our house or my creature comforts yet.
What I miss most of all, however, is a sense of purpose.
My first summer as a park ranger at Mt Rainier, I remember a conversation I had with a veteran of the National Park Service life. For years she’d gone from seasonal job to seasonal job in the national park system, with travel abroad in the shoulder seasons when work was lean. But when I met her, she was completing her last stint as a ranger and going back home to take a permanent job. I remember thinking she was crazy. Her life seemed so amazing to me, but she said she had grown tired of “always looking in”. I get that. While I’m still enjoying the journey, I get how the need for a sense of place will always lead you home or at least make you want to create a home where you are.
In our current housesit, I’ve taken to picking up rubbish on my morning walks with the dog we’re caring for. I’m amazed at how just that one small active commitment to a place changes my whole perspective. It makes it feel like I’m where I belong – at least for now.
When not on her OE, Shelly Farr Biswell works as a communications consultant in New Zealand.