Couple sails world, gets a van, now house sitting the U.S.

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If you’re wondering just how to live rent-free in the United States, you should take some hints from Liesbet Collaert and Mark Kilty, who do house sitting full time.

The two met in California November of 2004 and have been roaming around ever since. They traveled by camper around Mexico and Central America, then bought a catamaran and sailed the world.

Now, they own a Westfalia Mercedes Sprinter camper van and get long term house sitting jobs as they work as digital nomads.

I love Liesbet and Mark’s life so much, and find them really interesting, so asked a few questions about their lifestyle as eternal wanderers.

Their answers below.

Why did you and Mark decide to start house sitting full time?

When Mark and I decided to abandon our previous lifestyle – which involved eight years of sailing, working and traveling on our 35ft catamaran Irie in the Caribbean and the South Pacific – we knew we didn’t want to settle. After selling our boat in Tahiti, we took a little break visiting with family and friends in the U.S. and Belgium, before creating a new plan.

A sailing friend had told us about house sitting jobs when we visited him in New Zealand a few years ago. We never followed through with it over there, but we became familiar with the concept, and a seed was planted.

Why not live in different places, taking care of beloved animals?

Since Mark is an American citizen, our business is US-run, and I was happy to apply for a green card (again, but that’s another story), we “semi-settled” in the United States in October 2015 to house and pet sit indefinitely.

What does long-term house sitting look like?

Couple house sits full time to avoid paying rent in the U.S.

House sitting is more popular than the general public realizes. Especially the last couple of years, the competition is fierce. The concept has been around forever, as in having family or friends watch your home, pets and plants while you are away on vacation, but, because of the many websites catering to this exchange in a more formal way, the appeal has spread.

House sitters come in all “shapes and sizes”. Some people, usually the ones who have their own home and do it locally, charge for their services. Others see “living like a local” in someone else’s house as the perfect way of exploring a new area. Some prefer to house sit for a few days at a time, others enjoy longer immersions. Certain sitters are allergic to cats, others desire a taste of farm life.

[You may also like: How to make $800+ per month with house sitting jobs]

Schedules and responsibilities depend on the assignment and are always different. I’d say on average Mark and I spend one to two hours a day taking care of dogs (walking, brushing, feeding, bathing) and an hour a week on plant and yard work.

Spending time and cuddling with canines feels natural to us, so we don’t see this as work. In general, homeowners want you to be comfortable and treat their home, belongings and pets as if they were yours. This means leaving the house in the same condition and cleanliness (or better) as you found it. Successful house sitters need to be responsible, polite, communicative, respectful, and caring. And, a tad flexible.

Since Mark and I work as digital nomads, we prefer long-term commitments when house sitting. We enjoy settling into a new place, working in comfort during the day, and sightseeing during the weekends. Sits between 4 weeks and 4 months work best for us. That being said, we have taken shorter assignments to cover gaps between house sits, or in the beginning to get our feet wet and create references. Leaving good impressions leads to five-star reviews, which result in being selected for attractive listings.

We don’t charge for our services and expect not to pay for utilities during our stay. We see house sitting as a free and fair exchange, where everyone wins – humans and animals. Adding money into the mix would change the mutually beneficial relationship.

When it comes to the types of pets, we both adore dogs. Mark is allergic to cats; I enjoy their presence. We’ve never taken any sits with cats yet, but have experience with all kinds of dogs, chickens and other birds.

How do you go about finding these pet sitting jobs?

All of our house sitting jobs have been “claimed” via house sitting websites, like House Sitters America, Mind My House, and House Carers. As a house sitter, you pay a nominal yearly fee, create and post an attractive profile with photos, set up an email notification system (or browse the website to see what’s available), and go through the abridged ads in your inbox, focusing on your desired area/country and time period. As mentioned before, posted house sits range from days to months.

When something looks appealing, I read the complete listing online and look at the photos. If all that still captivates me, I contact the home owner(s) with a personalized email, encourage them to check out our profile and determine whether we are a good fit for them and their pets.

Usually, we write a couple of emails back and forth, and “finish” with a Skype video call, which resembles a relaxed job interview. We exchange our interest and commitment levels, either by the end of the call or in a follow-up email. And, that’s that. We can make plans again. 😊

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What do you love the most about house sitting?

There are plenty of ways to find long term house sitting jobs

Every lifestyle has its pros and cons. For the longest time, I wondered “What’s not to love about house and pet sitting?” We spend time with sweet dogs, loving, walking, cuddling them without lifetime responsibilities. We live rent-free all over the country (and internationally if we ever choose to do so), able to explore different areas and move on when it’s time. We work in a comfortable and convenient environment –  electricity, water and internet; the novelty of that!

We shop at a variety of stores, eat in ever-changing restaurants, enjoy different sceneries with each move, and hike in whatever habitat we end up. There is a new routine every few weeks, and we learn a lot about dog breeds and personalities.

[You may also like: Man gives up home near Seattle to pet sit full time]

Of course, there are negatives. But, not many! The biggest one is our lack of social life. Because we are constantly on the move, we never build new friendships. While some neighbors are friendly, others don’t care to say “hi”. We are only temporary residents; not worth the effort.

Luckily, because of the internet, we maintain our existing relationships. We communicate with our fingers instead of with our voice. If we are lucky, we manage to snag a house sit in a city where friends live, or ex-travel buddies pass through our area and stay for a visit.

No horror stories yet.

We try to get a good understanding and feeling about every house sitting commitment before we show up. Transparency, intuition and trust are important. The only secret I can share is that not all homeowners are equal. Some are more demanding, uptight, or messy than others. Let’s just leave it at that. 😊

How do you make money while house sitting?

When Mark and I were cruising on Irie, we invented a long-range WiFi (later WiFi and cell data combo) system for boats and RVs. The idea came to us in St. Martin, in 2009, when we built such a device for ourselves, using marine-grade, high-quality components.

When learning about our success to get online remotely (back then it was a treat to access the internet, check weather forecasts and stay in touch with family and friends from the comfort of your own boat), other boaters wanted the same convenience. Our business was born.

The product is called The Wirie and we have been selling it successfully for exactly nine years!

Initially, I helped out with the business, but, as technology improved and became more complicated, I lost interest.

Since living on our boat, I have also been a freelance writer, proofreader and translator (English – Dutch) to add to our modest income. To inspire others and keep friends and family up-to-date of our lives, I run a blog called “Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary”.

Here, I share our adventures, house sitting stories, travels, and progress with the memoir I am writing.

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What do you do when you’re not doing house sitting jobs?

Full Time House Sitters also own a Westfalia Mercedes Sprinter camper van

Since house sitting is the perfect lifestyle for us right now (mainly because we can’t get away from the internet ever since we started our Wirie business), we have been doing it full-time.

That being said, we know our next adventure will be on the road again.

So, last year, we bought a used Westfalia Mercedes Sprinter camper van. Aficionados call them Westies. The shape and size they come in is rare in the US. Only 250 of them were imported from Germany in 2005. They are ingeniously built and pack a punch. The van is only 19ft long and fits in a normal parking spot. It contains a separate (pull out) overhead bed and dinette, a roomy bathroom, a two-burner stove, a decent fridge and plenty of storage. It actually sleeps four, but we’ve never tried that.

[You may also like: 13 essentials for living the van life]

Not only do we now have a roof over our heads when house sitting jobs don’t line up perfectly, but we have a fun way to camp and explore in the weekends. One time, we used a 12-day gap between sits to explore the most amazing national parks in Utah.

The question is: could we live full-time in our Zesty?

What keeps you and Mark from settling in one place?

When I was in my twenties (I have been a nomad since 2003 when I unintentionally left Belgium to never return), I thought there might be a day I’d live a normal life.

Truth be told, the longer we have been away from the “ordinary” lifestyle, the less appealing it sounds and looks. We enjoy living on our own terms (as far as possible) and being able to move as we please. Staying in different locations and making new discoveries is extremely attractive to us. We don’t like to have a lot of stuff (burdens) or grow roots.

[You may also like: Cost of cruising, how to sail on $700 per month]

We once played with the idea to settle in Belize and made plans heading back there. Then, we decided to buy a catamaran and go sailing again instead. We ask each other questions along the lines of “Could you ever live here?” during house sits or travels, but the answer has never been “yes”.

Everything is a compromise, so we’d rather live with the pros and cons of roaming about. It’s exciting, intriguing, and pleasing. Yet, as we have experienced, it is also challenging.

What advice do you have for others who want to be wanderers?

Have an open mind, be flexible, get your priorities right.

This lifestyle is not for everyone.

But, if you do choose to leave the conventional life behind, know that it is possible.

And, you don’t have to be rich.

If you are creative with ways to make money, don’t mind roughing it sometimes, enjoy a bit of insecurity about the future, and feel the trade-off is worth it (think of all the adventures, encounters, cultures, sights you experience – collecting memories instead of stuff), go for it.

One bit of extra advice: when (travel) exhaustion sets in, take a break.

Either in your home country being spoiled by family and friends (maybe replenishing the travel kitty), or renting a comfortable place in an affordable location.

Recharging your batteries is as important as depleting them, doing all the things you love most!


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26 thoughts on “Couple sails world, gets a van, now house sitting the U.S.”

    • You’re welcome! I think it’s super inspiring for people to see how others are living and bucking the “normal” trend. I’d love to try long-term house sitting one day.

      • Go for it! It’s less rushed and quite enjoyable to settle in one (exciting) place for a while, especially when working from home. People also do this internationally, which would be a great way to immerse oneself into the local culture.

  1. What an inspiring article! I love how Liesbet and Mark have been able to balance changing priorities and keep living an adventurous life.

    • Me too! They are an inspiration, and I have to admit I’m a little jealous of their Westy 🙂

    • Thanks, Lucy! You and Matt are doing a fantastic job balancing work and enjoyment in paradise! I think it’s important that people realize there are plenty of adventurous lifestyles out there that could work.

    • Thanks for reading Marian! I think they live a very interesting life and thought people could learn from them.

    • Thanks for swinging by here and commenting, Marian! I’m glad you liked the interview. Kristen phrased her questions well and I’m honored to be interviewed here!

  2. Hi Liesbet and Kristin! Great interview. I’ve known you (Liesbet) for a while now and every time I read another interview (or one of your posts for that matter) I learn a bit more about you! I think the way that you and Mark live is truly and adventure and admire you for doing what you love. AND you so inspired my husband and I that we took the plunge and arranged our first pet-sitting experience (where someone came to our home and stayed with our dog Kloe) while we were on vacation. Not only did it work out well, it was such a great experience that we have already arranged for another couple to come in and stay for 3 weeks in August. It is SUCH a wonderful service and so far, I highly recommend it. As long as there are people like you and Mark out there in the world doing this for pet owners, we plan to continue. ~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy!

      Thanks for hopping over here and leaving a comment. I’m so glad that your first experience using house sitters was a positive one. And, I didn’t know you already lined up another couple for Kloe during your summer adventure. That’s awesome. It’s such a win-win situation for all creatures involved. 🙂 And, as long as common sense is used and both parties get to know each other a little bit ahead of time, it should work out splendidly! You make my day with your comment about us inspiring you!

    • That is so cool, Kathy! I think this is a great way to let your dog be home when on vacation.

  3. Fantastic article! Liesbet and Mark have been an inspiring me since I met them while sailing in Gambier, French Polynesia in 2013. On my travels, I meet a lot of sailors considering what to do next after dropping the hook as well as land travelers starting to conceptualize their post-retirement lifestyle. I always refer them to Roaming About for ideas.

    • That’s a good point! How to get off the boat but still roam around…..I think it will be hard for me to settle down after experiencing life on the move.

      • Same here, Kristen. Thing is that most non-retired sailors I talked to in the past only see two options for their life: sail full-time or return to a 9-5 office job. There are “in between” lifestyles. 🙂

    • Hi Lisa! How are the Maldives? Now you are making me miss the boat life! Thanks for visiting us here and for the nice comment and compliment. I wish those “business” cards would have gotten to you in Malaysia, then you wouldn’t have to do so much talking. 🙂 Enjoy your new destination and I hope the Indian Ocean sailing is treating you right!

      • It is 50 shades of blue here. So happy to be seeing it from a sailboat rather than the confines of a resort beach chair. I wish that your business cards had made their way to me, but they wouldn’t have stopped me from singing your praises for many minutes before handing them off.

  4. Hi, Kristin – Thank you for featuring Liesbet here. I thought that I knew her and Mar’s story fairly well…but I learned many new things. It is very meaningful when Liesbet mentioned that the seed (for Pet Sitting) had been planted long before they ever acted upon it. The same thing happened for my husband and I with Home Exchanging. We knew about it years earlier…but once we began, we were totally hooked!
    Thanks for this very informative and inspiring interview.

    • I’ve always been curious about Home Exchange! I can’t use it, but if I had a home I would, haha. I’m glad you two are enjoying it!

      • I’m with you here, Kristin. I’d love to try Home Exchange – what a great way to live in an exotic place without having to pay rent – but I don’t think it’ll ever happen…

    • Hi Donna! It’s funny you had that seed as well. We actually totally forgot about that experience in New Zealand, and somewhere from our subconscious it popped up again when we were trying to figure out how to temporarily live in the US without growing roots. Home Exchange sounds like a wonderful way to see new places and live in comfort as well!


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