The best job in the world

I  go where I want, when I want, and for how long I want. I only have myself to please, and please myself I do!

For a 75-year-old mum, granny, former teacher, and widow, I am fit, happy, healthy and loving life. And I plan on living at least another 28 years doing this very same thing.

I no longer own a house or a car. I have no letterbox for bills and pesky junk mail. I have no bills!

All of my worldly goods, actually those not already given away or sold, are stored in a shed and are getting fewer every year.

Each winter I return to Australia to visit my children and grandchildren and to escape the heat, midges and mossies of the northern hemisphere.

When my husband died, I was teaching and running our small restaurant; burning the candle at both ends. After a year, one of my children asked why I didn’t consider going to England to teach for a year.

I quickly started researching and soon discovered I could easily get a teaching position in London. Before long, with the help of all my family, I had sold the house, the car, and the business, and off I went.

I arrived in July to teach Year 2 in an outer London suburb. Quickly disenchanted with seven-year-olds swearing at me, I left after six months and spent a month touring Europe before ending up in beautiful Port Isaac, Cornwall. It was there, while searching the internet, that I first heard of housesitting. I joined the Australian housesitting firm, who at the time, had about 400

sits available around the world every day.

I had always wanted to go to Prince Edward Island, Canada, the home of Anne of Green Gables, and to my delight, that was my first sit. I couldn’t get there quickly enough.

I loved it from the moment I landed in Charlottetown in mid-winter in the snow. My home owner was a wonderful English lady who has since become a dear friend, as have so many of my home owners.

The house was a historic four-storey timber house, with a lake, the ocean and a quaint little cemetery nearby filled with century old Scottish residents and all the snow I could wish for.

Since then, my bear George, given to me as a travelling companion by my children, and I have notched up 23 countries.

Meeting people from all corners of the globe is fascinating.

My schoolgirl French is no barrier, nor is the fact that I do not speak Scandinavian languages or German. These days, almost everyone speaks some English, although when in a foreign country, it is always polite to learn a few basic words as sign of respect.

During one of my first sits in Switzerland, the home owner was with me for a couple of days. She spoke no English, and I spoke no German, so she tucked a German/English dictionary in her knickers, and when sign language and charades did not work, she whipped it out.

It was such fun, and boy, could she make a delicious fondue. She and her sister are still my close friends 15 years later.

Not only do you meet amazing people, but you learn about countries and fascinating cultures. I have been lucky enough to learn Ukrainian Easter Egg painting; pull candy in Sweden; eat bison on a Canadian Indian reservation; attend a Burmese Water Festival and attend the Ice Festival in Quebec, and much more.

I have spent Christmas in many countries, from New York to Scotland; Canada to Germany; and Ireland and England. I am never lonely and thanks to the internet, I have daily contact with my family.

I choose to stay in hostels between sits. They have changed so much since the Youth Hostels of years gone by. They are clean, well-appointed, inexpensive, and you meet fascinating people and not necessarily all of them young.

Once in Paris I was in a four bed dorm with two young girls, one from USA, and the other from England. The fourth member was a young Columbian lad who worked in Paris.

Of course, you can choose the type of dorm you want and many are ensuite and include breakfast.

Another tip for travelling between sits is to hire a campervan.

When you take on a housesit, you take on the responsibility of caring for the home and animals as if they were your own. It is always best to arrive at least a day before the owners leave, to learn about the home, the appliances, special needs of the animals, and anything you need to know about rubbish days etc.

You are doing the home owner a favour by caring for their home and animals while they are away.  If they were to put the animals into kennels or catteries for six months,  it would cost thousands.

I prefer to stay a day after their return, so they can check that everything is as they left it. I usually cook a meal or at least a cake for afternoon tea, and have the house sparkling.

Most home owners proudly leave their homes spick and span and expect it that way on their return.

In all my years of housesitting, I have only had one who did not. The house was beyond filthy, and the owner quickly left for South Africa to find a new wife.

I could not even use the bathroom. Thankfully he had no animals, so I rang him on his mobile and told him it was impossible, for many reasons, and I could not stay. I gave the key to a neighbour and hightailed it out of there.

This was a very unusual home owner. He had even left his false teeth in a glass on the sink.

One of my favourite repeat sits is in Maine, USA. It is a three-storey log cabin beside a frozen lake with a huge hot spa between the cabin and the lake. I revel in soaking in the tub in the snow.  Squirrels burrow heads down, tails up in the snow for the seeds I scatter.

Some of my homeowners invite their close neighbours in for coffee to meet me on my arrival, which is a lovely way for me to get to know them, and for them to feel comfortable about having a stranger in their midst.

Housesitting is the most fun, and rewarding experience for any age, singles or couples. It’s a perfect way to see the world. All you have to do is respect someone else’s property and pets as if they are your own.