International house & pet sitter
Gail Cirillo and husband Bruno have had a fascinating few years since their retirement and discovery of international house & pet sitting.
Thanks to the marvels of social media and a very enthusiastic house sitter community, Dave and I have become great friends with Gail & Bruno.
Gail, where are you from? Do you maintain a base for home visits?
We are Aussies, from Redcliffe, approximately 39kms north of Brisbane. We own our home there, which is rented out long term as we are pet and housesitting full time now.
We are very lucky to have friends & family where we can base ourselves if need be when we are in our home area or between sits.
You and Bruno have been house sitting for a few years now. When did you first hear about house and pet sitting, and when did you realise this could be a lifestyle option for you?
We really stumbled into housesitting by accident. In 2013 we had been in France for seven months, travelling in a motorhome and were on our way back to Paris planning to return to Australia.
On our way up we called in on Elaine, a lady who we had been introduced to while she was on holidays in Australia. Elaine lived at that time in Menigoute just south of Poitier and she was due to head to England the next day to work. As Elaine’s home was quite isolated, she asked if we would care to stay on in her absence. We decided to accept her offer as we had some free time before our flight to Australia. We didn’t have any pets to care for as Elaine took her little dog Lily with her.
While staying at Elaine’s home we were prompted to explore other pet & housesitting options. Our online searching led us to various housesitting platforms where we found many opportunities so we decided to join up.
On our return to Australia we continued to pet and housesit locally in order to build our references and to confirm that this would be something that we could enjoy on a long-term basis. I think it was really at this very early stage we both felt that this could be a lifestyle choice for us because we both love animals, travel and meeting new people.
What was your first house sitting experience? Were you nervous about being in a stranger’s home caring for their precious pets?
Our first official sit through a platform looking after pets was in 2013 on our return home from France. In our care was a Jack Russell called Emma, together with Panda and Rastis, Emma’s children who were Jack Russell X Cattle Dogs.
The home was a large Queenslander on an acreage property, situated just outside of Ipswich. This was an easy sit and it was only for four days. I don’t think either of us felt nervous but I suppose being very new to pet & housesitting we were keen to make a good impression.
What attracts you to house sitting?
The attraction for us I suppose, with house and pet sitting, is that it allows us to live in a new community and experience the area. We are also thoroughly enjoying the company of pets and meeting new and interesting people along the way. Since housesitting we have made many new friends, both here and overseas
What inspires you to travel full time? Why not just stay in the one place and take shorter trips throughout the year?
After retiring we decided that staying in the one place wasn’t an option for us as we both love to travel. What inspires us with travel is experiencing new places, food, different cultures and not having the same daily routine. We love meeting people and hearing their story.
Where in the world has house sitting taken you, and where would you love to go next?
We have house sat so far in Italy, France and here in Australia. This year in August we are heading to New Zealand for a two month housesit and intend to stay on for a few more months. Next year we are hoping to spread our wings further afield by travelling to Mexico, Canada & the UK (some places where we both have been before, just not together)
Do you also get to travel “freestyle” without looking after homes and pets?
We do travel “freestyle” without minding homes and animals. We have family here in Australia, France and Italy and this allows us to have time off from housesitting either while travelling to see them or staying with them.
How do you secure your house sits and do you find it easy to get the sits you want?
At the moment our sits are being secured either through the platforms, return sits or word of mouth.
We are now at the stage where we regrettably have to sometimes say to owners that we are unavailable. So far we haven’t had any trouble connecting sits and feel that we are in a position where we can pick and choose the sits that we would like to do.
Have you had any challenges while house & pet sitting? Any bad experiences you can share?
We really have had only 3 things that I would say were bad experiences or challenges out of the 50 sits to date that we have done.
The first experience would certainly have to be when we received the worst news ever that my elderly Mum had had a fall. We were on a housesit in France and we were lucky to have very understanding home owners because all we wanted to do was come home as the prognosis for my Mum was not good. The owners advertised for sitters to fill in for an emergency and within a day we were heading back to Australia after having handed over the sit to a lovely Dutch couple. Sadly, we didn’t make it home before my Mum passed but I was so glad to be home with my family. We have since been back to France and sat for these owners again last July.
The second was when we were looking after “Bella” who was a beautiful dog. The owner left for her trip, having taken Bella to the vets the day before. Bella had been incorrectly diagnosed with a previous illness. Following several trips to the vet over the next few days and leaving her at the emergency vets one night it was finally discovered that Bella had a cancerous mass in her stomach. We and the vet were in communication with the owner and she decided to come home early to spend time with Bella before she was euthanised at home. We left the home in order for the owner to spend precious time with Bella. It was very upsetting to have this happen.
The third was when we were looking after Max the Labrador, and 7 weeks before we were due to finish the sit and fly to Europe, Bruno had a fall while walking Max and fractured his fibula. It was a really close call with his leg coming out of the moon-boot a week before leaving and having physio several times throughout that week. The irony of it all was Max’s owners are emergency doctors.
We didn’t say anything to them at the time as they were in Europe and we thought what would telling them do, apart from upsetting their holiday.
We will return to care for Max again this July.
Those experiences really would have been so difficult and sad for you both, Gail. How about anything bright or funny that has happened along the way?
We weren’t sure how this one would work out. When we turned up to a sit to care for 2 little Schnauzers, they were nowhere to be found. We searched the entire house and yard and they were definitely not there. Well as you can imagine, panic set in!
The owner had left for their holiday earlier in the day and when we phoned to tell them we couldn’t find their pups, they told us the dogs were both safe & sound inside the house when they left.
I still shudder when I recall the owner’s response: “what do you mean they are not there?”
As it turned out, while we were all in panic mode, the dogs were having the time of their lives at Doggy Day Care! In their rush to get away the owners had completely forgotten that this was their usual day to be picked up by the day care centre staff.
Thankfully, a happy outcome and we can laugh about it now.
Being a full time traveller can be costly. What is your greatest expense and how do you minimise spending?
For us the biggest expenses are airfares and car leasing. We have always leased a car in Europe as we find it the cheapest option for us as our stays are normally 6+ months. We do try to source early bird offers and return lease offers on these items as well.
When travelling we try to avoid being caught up with buying souvenirs etc because of cost and luggage space. We do like to visit museums and points of interest in the area but are quite selective in what we do and see. There are lots of free things to do in places and with the internet today it is quite easy to find interesting things to do and see within the area.
Do you ever get sick of living out of a suitcase?
Good question as this really was something I wondered about when we first started out. I thought that if there was one thing I might tire of this would be it. To my surprise I haven’t. I think there are a few reasons for this and they could be that you need to be very organised and that less is more, something I admit I still am learning. Don’t ask Bruno though, he may not agree!
You’ve both travelled widely and I’m sure you’ve had some wonderful food experiences.
What has been your best ever meal when travelling?
Haha, just one? I can tell you about one of our best restaurant experiences. I had seen a documentary about Madam Murat who owns a restaurant, Chez Jeanne in Pomarede, France. It is now being run by the next generation, Madam Murat’s daughter Sylvie.
I pick this as the best meal not so much for the food (which is great, but simple) but for the whole experience. It is a worker’s restaurant where come 12 noon you are flat out getting a park because of the trucks, vans & cars which seem to appear from nowhere! Prior to 12 noon there is not a soul to be seen. It is a village with houses only and if you blink you will miss it
Every table inside and outside fill quickly with workers and locals. The meal is 5 courses with your complimentary bottle of red wine, made by the family, on your table. Madam Murat can be seen in her spotless kitchen cooking up a storm. The food is good, regional French, home cooking. Not fancy but extremely tasty and ending of course with a beautiful cheese platter.
We have visited Chez Jeanne 4 times now and I was a little put out to see that the bill had risen from one visit to the next!
It had been 2 years between the visits and the price rise was 50 cents!
So instead of 13.50 Euros per person it was 14 Euros, which equates today to approximately $22.30 AUD.
How do you overcome loneliness when travelling for long periods at a time?
I don’t think we have ever become lonely when travelling or pet/housesitting as there have been so many things to see and do.
Sometimes when not having a pet to look after we have found a little boredom can set in. But now having discovered (house sitter meetup platform) Mapahub we find boredom less of an issue as being able to meet with other travellers and house sitters has been great for us.
How has your life changed as a result of house sitting?
I suppose the biggest change for me is that I now don’t have the routine of a daily working life. We also live a more minimalistic life now – my shopping is more for need not for want.
I think for me I am also a little more accepting of things! There is an element of surprise in housesitting, some good and some not so good surprises and I have learnt to be more adaptable!
Finally Gail, do you have any words of wisdom you can share with others contemplating a life of travel and house & pet sitting?
Always think that first and foremost you are providing a service when pet and house sitting, but have fun in the process!
Put together a great house sitter profile.
Be flexible. Expect the unexpected & always have a Plan B.
Don’t stress if a sit doesn’t come your way or is cancelled, we have found that something always falls in place, sometimes one that even suits better.
For a minimal cost join Mapahub where you will be able to meet up with other travellers and house sitters. Also, subscribe to the free House Sitting Magazine and their facebook group and you will get soooo much helpful information.
Gail, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us about your house sitting and travelling life.
Are our readers able to follow your adventures?
Thanks for inviting me along to share some of our stories Sue, it’s been fun.
Everyone is welcome to follow our “Fraussies” Facebook page where we share lots of our day to day pet sitting and travel posts. We also have a website www.fraussies.com which is all about our house sitting life.
Just a note on our choice of our social media name “Fraussies“, as Bruno is (Italian born) Frenchman and I’m Aussie, it seemed the natural choice for us!