Let me be real with you: Van life is not all about the aspirational photos of picturesque sleeping arrangements, cooking in nature, and having a worry-free, adventurous life. Yes, you can get some cool sleeping spots. Yes, I make meals in the van. And there are plenty of adventures to be had. But especially starting out, it is far from worry-free.
There are, in fact, many worries.
My eight-month, full-time, van-living test started with driving my cousin’s built-out Sprinter 2,500 miles from Florida to California in six days — by myself. After six days of driving, sleeping in rest stops, BLM land, and parking lots, and eating microwave ramen or pasta for most meals, I was ready to take it easy.
However, getting into San Diego, I learned about the local “vehicle habitation ordinance” banning living in a vehicle. Cue heightened awareness and worry around parking, stealthiness, and not being welcome.
Where do I shower? Where do I refill my water? Can I poop in my portable toilet? How do I dump the waste from said portable toilet? Will the police knock and tell me to move in the middle of the night? All of these issues (and more) suddenly became imminent needs.
Most of these questions have relatively easy answers, but solving them takes brain energy. And when you’re trying to answer all of them at the same time, it’s exhausting. Sometimes you just need a break from eating next to a portable toilet and showering in flip-flops.
Enter Trusted Housesitters. It’s a housesitting website and app that allows you to take a vacation from life in the van without bailing on the van life. Travelers can get a place to stay, and homeowners looking for housesitters (or dog watchers) get someone to look after their house while they’re away.
The only official money exchange goes to an annual membership fee. Trusted Housesitters offers three levels of memberships, the cheapest of which (and the one I use) is $129 for the whole year.
How Trusted Housesitters Works
While I’ve done housesitting for money through Rover before, Trusted Housesitters lets both sides review each other and creates an equal playing field. Rather than a “who’s paying who” power dynamic, there’s a higher sense of gratitude on both ends and more potential to get to know each other.
I’ve had drinks with homeowners before they left, gotten local recommendations, and they sometimes leave snacks for me as a thank you. In exchange, I look after their animals, send updates during my stay, and leave the house as nice as I found it.
Through the site, I’ve had the opportunity to stay in places that would have cost me thousands if it had been an Airbnb or hotel.
I’ve spent a week overlooking Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica, a week near Pismo Beach a block away from the ocean, and almost two weeks in a house in Carlsbad with a pool, full outdoor kitchen, firepits, and a stunning interior.
All of these for a single fee of $129 and pet care.
How Trusted Housesitters Helped Me Adjust to Van Life
When figuring out San Diego’s van life scene got overwhelming, I got a housesitting gig looking after an adorable golden retriever-lab mix for a weekend. I could park the van without worrying, shower, go on walks with the dog, make food with an oven, and just generally not think about the little things.
Plus, I could restock the van — empty the portable toilet to a real toilet, empty gray water, refill fresh water, and throw out the trash.
When I returned to San Diego after a week in Joshua Tree (getting dirty and behind on work), I found a different stay looking after a very sweet cat for a weekend. Again, I could shower, restock the van, clean my wetsuit after surfing, and get work done.
These intermittent “breaks” let me catch my breath and decompress after a few too many new experiences. Plus, I get the added bonus of animal cuddles.
The Cons of Using Trusted Housesitters for Van Life
While this tool has been incredibly helpful in some situations, it’s far from perfect. For one, it’s reliant on having homeowners in the area who need a petsitter and for them to choose you. Especially before you get your first few sits (and reviews) under your belt, it can be difficult to get a homeowner to accept your application.
During the downpours in California in January, my van’s backdoor seal started leaking. Water was dripping down the door directly onto my pillow. I tried everything I could think of to get it to stop: putty, tape, sealant, a new seal, towels, and eventually, a tarp tied over the back of the van.
It dominated my existence for a solid two days.
I was searching Trusted Housesitters for literally anything, but late notice during a rainstorm isn’t exactly prime travel time.
After a hellish night, spending half the time sitting in bed holding a towel to the door and the other half listening to the tarp flap against the windows in the wind, I caved and got an Airbnb for a week. My brain was fried and fresh out of problem-solving juice. However, Airbnb alone cost me almost four times my annual fee for Trusted Housesitters. For last-minute emergencies or inflexible stays, the housesits often aren’t reliable.
A couple of other drawbacks I’ve discovered include packing everything in and out of the van with each sit. And if the animals require a lot of care, it can take a significant chunk of your time.
Different Housesitting Websites to Choose From
While I eventually chose Trusted Housesitters because of the larger number of housesits around the world and enticing locations, there are other similar sites that have the same services.
(Note: These are some of the other options I have found but have not personally used.)
Tips for How to Use Housesitting With Van Life
Start With Easy Housesits
I started housesitting before I started van life. So I already had some reviews to back me up. However, when I first started on the site, I went through a lot of rejections before I got a sit accepted.
You can add external references if you have them. Those positive past sit reviews make a big difference to homeowners.
If you want to get those first sits quickly, start off by going for short, nearby opportunities. You’re far more likely to have someone take a risk on you for a couple of nights than for a week or more. If you can meet them in person beforehand, even better.
Trusted Housesitters also has a feature to tell you how many applications each housesit has. So I’d recommend targeting ones with less competition, to begin with.
House sitting relies on folks traveling. Holidays or common vacation times will have more housesits available than a random Wednesday in January. You’ll likely have to be a little flexible with your schedule or location to get a sit, which shouldn’t be too big of an issue for van lifers!
Be a Good Guest
This should probably go without saying, but respect the places you stay. Love the fur babies in your care like they were your own. Leave the house clean. Aim for good reviews.