In so many ways, travel is a metaphor of the life journey that each of us find ourselves walking on. Many of us strive (and some of us struggle) to build a more meaningful life, to shed unwanted routines and to come closer to who we are meant to be. Sometimes, travel and international destinations can successfully become part of this personal quest, as this interview will illustrate.
Meet Teresa Roberts, who went from being an elementary school principal to becoming an international house sitter and writer. For the last six years she has been looking after other people’s properties in beautiful places such as Spain, England, Ireland, Mexico and the Caribbean Island of Saba. Along the way she has found the gypsy in herself and learned much about the meaning of time, money and travel.
1. Please tell us about yourself and your husband. Where are you both from, what is your professional background?
I was born and raised in the United States. Most of my adult life, I lived in the state of Maine with my husband. We raised two great kids together. For about fifty years, I was in school. That’s the truth! I was either a student, a classroom teacher, or a principal of an elementary school. I made a decision not too long after my youngest graduated from college to retire early. I was fifty-four years old. I had a growing desire to free myself from routine responsibilities and roam the planet. My pension from the state of Maine, although modest, not only funds my travels, but my husband’s travels as well.
2. Some time ago you decided to quit your regular job and embark on an adventure of international house sitting. What made you decide to leave your conventional life behind and embrace a completely new lifestyle?
No major trauma of any kind served as the driving force behind my decision to retire early. Mostly, it was a measure of self awareness that came into play and helped me to define what I wanted to do when I finally grew up. I longed for two things. I wanted to experience a level of freedom from convention and certain self-imposed feelings of responsibility. I also wanted to find out what it would be like to live all over the world. I wasn’t interested in tourism, particularly. I was drawn to the quieter aspects of living in a community and having as many new cultural and natural experiences as possible.
3. How did you first get into international house sitting?
Quite by accident, most would say. I had never heard of anyone house sitting in the way I planned on doing it. I still haven’t heard of anyone else doing it exactly the way I do it. I am sure there must be other people who travel from country to country for months on end in this manner, but I haven’t met them yet. Before I got the idea to become an international house sitter, I had thought of house sitting more as a local business endeavor where someone might take care of homes in the town where they lived.
In the beginning, I traveled for almost a year, outside of the United States, by renting holiday houses and apartments. I usually rented those places for longer stretches, up to ninety days. That would qualify me for a massive reduction in price. It was after that first year that I stumbled across house sitting on an international level. I actually found out about it online, but I have to believe that for me, personally, it wasn’t a fluke, but rather the universe delivering an answer to my powerful desires.
4. Please tell us about the regular routine of an international house sitter. What do your days look like? What are your responsibilities?
My regular routine varies according to assignments. Each client has their own particular needs in regards to their house. Sometimes, I am there primarily to care for beloved pets. At other times, I am actually just as involved with gardens and plants. Sometimes both. There are clients who are also primarily interested in having me provide a measure of security for their property. I usually contract for two hours a day of hands-on tasks.
The rest of my day is filled with my own domestic and local affairs. Not unlike when I am in my home, I pursue a daily routine that for some may be a tad boring, but suits me perfectly. I shop for food and often cook my own meals. I enjoy tea or coffee in the gardens or on the patios where I am living. I walk as an international pastime. I enjoy local interests. I eat where the locals eat and shop where the locals shop. For all intents and purposes, I become part of the community. I love it!
5. Given your responsibilities, do you still have time to explore local sights and culture?
I definitely get to indulge myself in lots of local activities. I also will take day trips here and there, just as long as I can return at the end of the day to my assignment. After all, I have promised to remain on the premises while the home owner is gone. I also get to know a lot of local people. Many of them have become great friends. It is a luxury that I have because I am never a tourist. I really have very little interest in typical tourism. I am much more attracted to the culture and people of a region. Because I get to stay for sometimes as long as 90 days, I develop lasting relationships. When I return, I feel like I am going back to my home abroad.
6. You and your husband sold virtually all your possessions and retired early. How do you deal with your new financial reality? Do you get paid to house sit?
Yes, we sold 98% of everything we owned. Cars, house, furniture, dishes, lawn equipment, tools, it all had to go. What we got in return was a sense of freedom that we had not experienced since we were 17 years old, only this time we were in control of our lives. It was fabulous. Being stripped down to just the essentials also removed most responsibilities from our plates, even self-imposed ones.
We also live without debt, whether traveling or living in our own country. That is a type of freedom that we cherish. I think that modern society has confused the collection of material objects with happiness, often at the expense of their own personal freedom. Once an individual becomes indebted, they are indentured servants.
I do not charge for house sitting. I use the bartering system which provides what I need without making things too complicated. Bartering is an amazing concept. If truth be told, when I am living abroad in this fashion, money becomes almost irrelevant. I don’t need a lot of money since I have a roof over my head, stocked larder, sometimes a car, and all utilities paid. A little pocket change for local transportation, a meal here and there in a pub, or a few groceries is about all I need. It really changes my perspective on money or the acquisition of money as a driving force in our lives.