We’d had two amazing but very different house sitting experiences after arriving back in Australia. From a summer stint in on the East Coast of Australia to the wintery but wonderful pie-filled Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Still, it wasn’t long before the travel itch flared again to go further afield so we decided to spread our wings. Or, rather those of a Qantas A380, and try our luck at house sitting across the USA.
House Sitting is when a homeowner leaves their property, and most often their pets, in the hands of a capable sitter. No money is involved as each party benefits. The homeowner avoids putting their beloved pets in an expensive and unfamiliar kennel, nor has their house go unattended. The sitter gets a place to stay, explore the local area and meet some adorable furry friends. Not quite the sharing economy, more like the ‘caring economy’ (patent pending).
When a house sit appeared in South Carolina to care for a burly and beautiful Bernese mountain dog we immediately had two strong reasons to consider a stateside adventure. Better still, when the homeowners willingly accepted our application overnight it was simply a plane ticket that separated us from our 3-week home in the deep south.
Our aim, spend up to 3 months in the USA, house sitting as much as possible to extend our travels and explore the lesser known places and neighbourhoods that house sitting delivers by design.
Charleston is a picturesque, historical and somewhat infamous town in the south-east of the USA. Named after British monarch King Charles II it was central to the African slave trade of the 1800’s and was also where the first shots of the extremely bloody American civil war were fired. These days, it’s a popular weekend getaway for Americans to enjoy some southern cooking and warm hospitality plus enjoy a string of stunning beaches, laid-back atmosphere and charming colonial architecture.
We were based on James Island between the city centre and the popular pier at Folly Beach. We spent a week getting set up in the USA and acquainted with the routine of our large but lovable dog Cleo. A night spent watching the local Baseball team, the Charleston RiverDogs owned by actor Bill Murray. We’d also visited the beach and dog park on a number of occasions and worked out a somewhat pleasant jogging circuit albeit during the muggy heat of summer.
Through house sitting we had met a neighbourhood of friendly locals (and their pets), were driving a car generously lent by the owners and were shopping at the local supermarkets getting the local loyalty discounts! We felt more assimilated into Charleston life quicker than we have been anywhere before.
Of course, the tourist sites and sounds were to come such as Fort Sumter, the site where the civil war kicked off. We also enjoyed 1 of 100 rums on offer at Cane Rhum bar, dined on shrimp and grits at 82 Queen St, a Charleston institution. Plus we soaked up the soulful sounds at the Pour House, a music venue we discovered on our neighbourhood running route which plays a mix of blues, jazz and bluegrass each night of the week.
A quick side trip in a day to Savannah in neighbouring Georgia. Savannah is a similar colonial town to Charleston and has a well-planned city full of charming gardens and a walkable waterfront. One square, Chippewa square to be precise, was where Forrest Gump told his life story to passing strangers while holding his now famous box of chocolates.
Fan’s of the TV show Dawson’s Creek are likely to have the filming location of Wilmington, North Carolina on their must-see places. With a once thriving film industry (now all moved to Atlanta) Wilmington has retained an artistic feel. A special write-up on Dawson’s Creek sights is certain to follow, yet if you are not a ‘DC fan, Wilmington has something for everyone. Southern charm, beautiful reed lined waterways, soft glowing sunsets, an inviting beach all with a small town feel. We hired a one-way rental for this drive north.
Located just outside Washington DC, Carderock Springs is a residential neighbourhood in Maryland (pronounced ‘Mare-lend’ by locals). A week-long house sit was ahead of us in a very lovely wooded area. With the owners travelling separately, we had a full day to explore Washington DC before we were to start the house sit proper.
Washinton DC, or just DC, is a walkable city with the wide open Mall, containing the Washington Monument, Lincoln memorial along with many war memorials. We swung by the Whitehouse and now understand that the Smithsonian Institute ran the bulk of the museums which were free to enter. We only had time for the Presidents gallery at the National Portrait Gallery.
The pet in question was a shy but lovable German Shephard who loved chasing a ball and was at other times very chilled out with us. We were once again given access to a car to use for local errands. A wonderful nature trail ran along the river for up to 9 miles which we only discovered on one of the last days.
After a stay with friends in both the East Village of Manhattan and also Greenwich, Connecticut we moved to our Brooklyn house sit. Brooklyn, it turns out is, in a word massive! Home to over 2.5 million people it is the most populous borough of New York City. We were located in Ditmus Park/Flatbush which is south of Prospect Park. Getting to the other side of Brooklyn took over 30 minutes by a cab. We were in a city within a city and we had a very cute and adorable cat named Moxie to look after.
We had enjoyed a number of bars, restaurants and also the Russian & Turkish Baths of East Village whilst in Manhattan so being in Brooklyn felt like the suburbs. A very multi-cultural mix of nationalities and cuisines in this pocket of an un-yet-gentrified region of Brooklyn.
After a few weeks of city hustle and bustle it was a nice change of pace to arrive in the wide open country of Colorado. Black Hawk is an old mining town an hour west of Denver at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Black Hawk is now home to another more modern lure of gold, casinos! Luckily, we were staying about 5 miles from Black Hawk in a sparsely populated residential area at about 2600m above sea level with clear mountain views. It was well into fall and the native Aspen tress had turned bright yellow lighting up the country side in contrast to the green of the pine tress.
Colorado is all about the outdoors. There are so many hiking opportunities it would take many years to hike them all. We took time out from work each day to make sure we got a hike in and took our new fur buddies Maggie and Macie along as often as we could.
The town of Boulder was less than an hours drive and is likely the outdoor capital of the USA. Together with the University of Colorado, endless mountains to climb and a great food scene, Boulder is one place we will are certain to return to for a longer visit!
The final house sit of our 3 month adventure was in Sonoma. The close neighbour of the more famous Napa Valley wine region. Two cats Moe and Herbie kept us on our toes with demanding appeals for kitty massages and the odd escape attempt to eat some yummy grass on the other side of the fence!
We ventured out into Sonoma county a way north to Russian River and hiked within the Armstrong Redwood Forest to see some of the tallest trees in the world. Wine being the focal point of the region, we sampled more from the supermarkets as it is cheaper to buy a few bottles to enjoy than taste a sample at the wineries of the region. We did visit the Francis Ford Coppola winery, named after the Director of the same name (think Godfather movies) which had lots of his movie memorabilia on a huge estate.
There you have it. Our 3 month journey through the USA is complete! Out of our 77 days of travel, only 8 nights were spent outside of a house sitting arrangement. More importantly, the experiences we had of meeting some interesting people and their fur babies along with getting immediately immersed in a local neighbourhood in areas we wouldn’t have thought to visit made this house sitting experience particularly memorable.