Inflation is taking a toll on travel, from surging airfares to eye-watering hotel prices. In fact, 79% of travelers are changing their upcoming travel plans as a result, according to a new Bankrate survey.
But that’s not holding Kristina Corniel back (or her followers).
This travel content creator from New York City—known as @KristinaCors on social media—specializes in bucket-list experiences, digital nomad content and travel hacks that she shares on her TikTok and Instagram channels.
One of her top secret travel hacks has allowed her to stay in places like Switzerland and California Wine Country for free: house sitting. It’s no wonder some of her TikTok videos on the topic have gone viral.
“When people think ‘free’ they usually think ‘cheap’ and that’s definitely not the case with house sitting,” says Corniel. “It has been so exciting to stay at beautiful homes I know would go for $500-$1,000 a night on Airbnb—for free.”
Corniel has snagged impressive house-sitting gigs in New York City, from a two-story apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood with private access to a rooftop overlooking the NYC skyline, to a two-bedroom brownstone apartment in Greenwich Village. She has stayed in a Wine Country home in Northern California set amid rolling hills with a Japanese-style cedar hot tub and 25 mature fruit trees on the property. “I’d wake up everyday and have a plum for breakfast,” she says.
In Charleston, South Carolina, she took care of a three-bedroom house with an exercise room, a hot tub, a fire pit and a huge backyard with access to a lake and kayaks where she encountered all types of wildlife, including sea egrets and blue herons.
But the crème de la crème was in Switzerland, where she stayed in a four-bedroom Lake Geneva house with stunning mountain views. “The interior was designed beautifully and offered modern amenities like a Sonos wireless sound system,” says Corniel. “The owner had even continued her weekly cleaning service while she was gone. I was provided with an eBike to explore, in addition to a car.”
So how does house sitting work, and how can you do it? Here, we talk to Corniel about her career background, her digital nomad journey and how to use house sitting to travel the world—for free.
My Background: Before becoming a travel content creator, Corniel was living a completely different life. “I did all the things I was told I was supposed to do,” says Corniel. This includes getting an undergraduate degree from Boston College, followed by a masters from Columbia University, followed by a job at Goldman Sachs, no less.
Making a Change: “Ultimately, I wasn’t fulfilled by the career path that I was on,” says Corniel. “I had this shift in the way I saw the world and defined success. It was no longer about accumulating money, prestigious titles or material things. It was about freedom—the freedom to choose how I spent my time. I realized how precious time really was. I wanted to live life on my own terms. I wanted to redesign my lifestyle so I could experience the world, spend time with family, learning, trying new things and truly living.”
Getting into Travel: “It has been a journey,” says Corniel. “After having this shift in perspective, I was on a mission to discover my purpose and redesign my lifestyle. I started reading more, listening to podcasts and looking for communities online and offline that had similar values. I wanted more meaningful experiences and I felt a little more alive when I was traveling—so I gravitated toward people who were traveling and going on fulfilling adventures.”
Becoming a Digital Nomad: “I learned about people who were traveling full time and even met some on the road. I started studying the digital nomad lifestyle,” says Corniel. “The more I traveled, the more resources I discovered. I continued to meet more digital nomads, which fueled my belief in what was possible for my life. I started documenting my adventures and looking for remote work. (Keep in mind this was pre-pandemic, before remote work was a thing, so it was more challenging to find opportunities.) I started as an online educator. First, I was teaching English online and then I found other websites and platforms where I could create my own classes about topics I was passionate about. That is what funded my travels in the beginning, until I started working with brands on TikTok.”
Discovering House Sitting: “One of the things I promised myself during this lifestyle redesign was that I was going to read more. In Grant Sabatier’s book, Financial Freedom, he mentioned house sitting and I immediately Googled and found the website TrustedHousesitters.com,” says Corniel. “Then I saw the membership fee and realized it cost $129 for the year. I hesitated for a moment because I wondered if it was too good to be true. But I ended up going for it and it was more than worth it after my first house sit.”
Pet Sitting: Many house-sitting gigs involve caring for someone’s pets. “If you love animals, the trade-off of having to care for them isn’t really an inconvenience,” says Corniel. “In fact, if you’re just taking care of one cat or one dog, the amount of time you’re investing is minimal. For most sits, I just had to feed and care for the animals in the morning and the evening, so my responsibilities didn’t prevent me from exploring. And many don’t even require dog walking, since a lot of the apartments have outdoor spaces, and in some cases the owners were perfectly content with me just letting the dogs out.”
No Pets: Wish you could house sit without having to care for pets? “You can,” says Corniel. “You can filter for the types of pets you’re willing to care for and there is even a filter for ‘no pets.’ You may be wondering why someone would need you to care for a home without pets, but sometimes all they require is watering their beautiful garden.”
Benefits: “You are getting access to a lifestyle—you’re set up in ways that you probably wouldn’t be if you were checking into a hotel room. You can house sit domestically or internationally. You’re getting access to a kitchen, so you can buy groceries and cook (which you can’t do in a hotel room). You may be gaining access to a free car rental, which is a huge savings. (If this is a must, you can filter for house sits with the ‘use of car included.’),” says Corniel. “You can also house sit long term: Filter by ‘duration’ and look for six-month stays. This isn’t just a travel hack, it’s a life hack.”
Downsides: “I have been very lucky with my sits and very happy. But obviously, there is a risk with everything you do,” says Corniel. “I’d say the biggest concern would be if the pet got sick, hurt or lost. Then there are other things to think about, depending on where the house is located. For example, when I was sitting for three cats in Northern California, the homeowner let me know that forest fires were a thing to think about.”
Tips for Having a Great Stay: “Always read reviews. Reviews will give you insight into so many things—what it’s like to stay in an area, what the pet’s temperament and routine is and what the homeowner is like,” says Corniel. “It’s also a good idea to interview with the owner beforehand—ideally via video chat so you can get to know each other and make sure you feel comfortable.”
Pet Tips: “Make sure there are written instructions or video instructions about pet care, plus emergency numbers for the veterinarian,” says Corniel. “Communicate regularly with the owner and send them picture or video updates—it helps build trust with the homeowner and puts their mind at ease.”
Red Flags: “Make sure you understand the responsibilities beforehand,” says Corniel. “One red flag is if the person forgets it’s an exchange. In other words, they are overly concerned with pet duties but maybe not as thoughtful about things you should know about the house so that you can have a comfortable stay.”
Best House Sitting Websites:
- Trusted Housesitters: “Trusted Housesitters was the first website I discovered and I started to sit on that site first. I started receiving great reviews and it just made it even easier to continue to sit on that site so that’s part of it. I also feel like it has had the most opportunities,” says Corniel.
- Rover: “Rover is more about pet sitting and less about house sitting. It isn’t an exchange—they actually pay you for house sits,” says Corniel. “With Rover you are waiting for inquiries for people to reach out to you vs. actually applying to house sits for particular dates. There are also other pet services you can provide besides house sitting, like dog walking or visiting a pet for an hour.”
- House Sitters America: “This company offers domestic sits. Their annual membership fee for sitters is $49,” says Corniel.
- HouseCarers: A smaller community with an annual membership fee of $50 for sitters,” says Corniel.
- MindMyHouse: “The cool thing is you can browse their website for house sits before signing up to become a member—but it appears to have fewer opportunities than Trusted Housesitters,” says Corniel. “For example, the last time I checked I found 236 assignments in all countries. The annual membership fee is $20 for sitters.”