House Sitting Vs Volunteering - A Complete Comparison For Budget Travellers

Did you know Workaway offers both volunteering and housesitting experiences? Unsure which one is best? You need this guide! Both offer authentic experiences, free accommodation and the opportunity to live like a local. However, depending on your personality and travel goals, you may be better suited to one over the other. 

Here are the main points to consider when choosing between volunteering or housesitting for your next adventure.


House Sitting vs Volunteering -- the basics

In a nutshell, volunteering with Workaway involves staying with a host who gives you free meals and accommodation in exchange for your time. With housesitting, there is no host. Your role is to look after a house (and usually pets) whilst the homeowner is away. 

Both offer authentic experiences as well as the opportunity to travel for free in a new destination... and at Workaway, we offer both! 

Simply head to our find a host section to browse over 50,000 volunteering opportunities in over 170 countries! Or, filter the “host type” to housesitting to browse hundreds of house sitting opportunities around the world.

The best part? You can always do a mix of both! With a Workaway membership there is no limit on the number of trips, hosts, or projects you’re involved with. You can do both housesitting and volunteering to maximise your skills, experience and travel funds.

If you are on the fence about whether to try volunteering or housesitting for the first time, consider these points to help you decide…

three volunteers setting up a tipi selfie thumbs up

It's all about the animals

The majority of house sitters are required to look after pets. This means being an animal lover is essential. You don’t need years of experience, but knowing you’re not allergic at least is a bonus. You will also need to be confident and calm around pets on your own as you won’t have a host on hand for help.

Being an animal lover and travel lover is always a battle – you want a pet, but you struggle to stay in one place. House sitting is the perfect way to combine both. You can make fluffy friends all over the world without the long-term commitment of having one of your own. Although we also welcome Workawayers travelling with pets!

Volunteering with animals, on the other hand, usually involves a wider variety of animals, not just pets. From marine conservation to wildlife rehabilitation, raising livestock to rescuing turtles – Workaway has experiences for all kinds of animal fans.

solo traveller outdoors enjoying mountain view while cuddling black dog

People or No People?

Volunteering is a team effort. Whether you stay with a single host or an entire school, you will have people to speak with, learn from and ask questions to every single day. With housesitting, you’re on your own (unless you join Workaway as a couple) so it can be a little more lonely.

You can still meet people with housesitting, for example neighbours and those in the local community; but the home and pets are a priority. This may seem the ideal setup for the introverts among us. It is ideal if you need a break from the social scene to slow down for a month or two and save money.

A huge advantage of this is that it makes those hard goodbyes a little easier. An inevitable part of travelling long-term or volunteering with Workaway is those tearful goodbyes to the incredible people you meet along the way. With housesitting, it’s just the pets and home you’ll fall in love with, making those goodbyes a tiny bit easier.

solo traveller doing yoga in the porch while housesitting

Work From Home

As you have a base with no people to distract you, it’s ideal for working remotely. As long as you tick off your to-do list, the rest of the day can be spent on your terms – WiFi permitting!

Whether it’s starting a side hustle, working as a digital nomad, writing a book, filming for YouTube or starting a podcast, you will have the peace to do this as well as free accommodation.

With volunteering, this can be a little more tricky. The majority of hosts want Workawayers who are keen to socialise when the tasks are done, not open a screen. It is a cultural exchange after all. While we do have the option to filter accommodation type to digital nomad friendly, volunteering is best suited to those who want to connect offline – not online.
patio view working on laptop

Timing & Routine

There are two types of travellers – the spontaneous, and the planners. Some travellers prefer to book accommodation the day before and leave their adventure in the hands of fate. Others prefer plans, deadlines and locked-in dates. If you are the latter, house sitting may be for you.

With housesitting, you generally need to work around the homeowner’s dates as this will be when the house is empty. This means the dates are usually organised well in advance with less wiggle room to accommodate changes.

Volunteering is usually the other way round – you let a host know when you’re planning to visit the area, and they can let you know if they can accommodate. For both house sitting and volunteering opportunities, hosts have calendars on their profile which help you see their availability at a glance.

As well as availability, your daily schedule will be directly influenced by your host. For example, with volunteering the majority of hosts offer bed and board, so meal times will be on their terms. Projects and tasks may be different day to day depending on what your host needs, and you will generally have someone to spend your free time with.

With housesitting, you are in charge of your routine. You will need to cook for yourself and allow enough time for the necessary tasks to get done. Your free time can be spent how you please without the advantage of a local on hand sharing their tips and recommendations.  

solo traveller pulling pasta from pasta maker while making a funny face

Authentic Experience

Both volunteering and housesitting allow you to stay in a local’s home. The difference is with housesitting, there is no local. This means you potentially won’t learn as much about the culture, language or way of life.

However, this can also be a good thing. You have a little more freedom to figure things out for yourself. You won’t have to follow someone else’s recommendations or routine. You can still explore the local area and learn about the local culture, but it will be without the insider knowledge.

For example, the first time I ever tried housesitting was over Christmas in Australia. Although I wasn’t staying with a family, I was still able to experience an authentic “Aussie” Christmas. I had a BBQ in the sunshine for Christmas dinner where I was joined by a monitor lizard!! Then, I sunbathed by the pool on New Year’s day.

These are experiences I’d never have at home in snowy Scotland, that are unique to the Australian way of life. Even though I didn’t have someone “hosting” me, my surroundings naturally made it easy to enjoy Christmas in a completely different way.


Responsibility of Running a Home

With housesitting, you will be responsible for “running the home.” This means alongside the usual cooking, cleaning and keeping the home safe and secure, you may be asked to water plants, tidy the garden and look after pets.

For some people, this can feel like a bigger commitment than volunteering. You won’t necessarily have someone to ask for help and the homeowner may be in a different country or time zone if you need to communicate any issues. For others, they prefer this freedom. The freedom of their own place to cook their own food and have their own routine.

Volunteering doesn’t have as many responsibilities, only some. You can choose an area you are specifically interested in, for example, childcare, social media, farming, teaching etc. Then you know the tasks will be related to this area and your host will likely give you specific tasks for each day. Your host will then be on hand for any questions or to demonstrate when you’re unsure.

travel couple enjoying glass of wine and gazing outside Japanese winter landscape from indoor home

Final Thoughts on Volunteering vs House Sitting

As someone who has tried both, I can wholeheartedly say I do not have a preference. Both housesitting and volunteering with Workaway have different benefits at different times. It depends on what you personally hope to gain from the experience, as well as what you feel you can bring to the experience.

If you wish to find a travel buddy or practise your language skills, volunteering will make this easier. If you want to experience running a home before investing in your own, or setting up life in a new country, then housesitting is a great place to start.

My advice would be to try both if you can. After all, a Workaway membership means you can do just that!

travellers and host enjoying shots of fresh honey and laughing together on a balcony
free lodgingvolunteer abroadhousesitting

About Lauren

Growing up in a small coastal village in Scotland inspired Lauren to seek adventure and challenge the norm. Armed with just her backpack and trusty travel companion Darren, she quit her day job to liv... show more...

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