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  • Writer's pictureNancy Bauer

4 Ideas to Get Away and Stay Away - for Free

Updated: Oct 23, 2019

Travelingering. Don’t you love that word? Traveling slowly. Taking your time. Sinking into a new place. Getting a smile of recognition at the coffee shop near where you’re staying, or heading out for a walk without needing the map. The luxury of staying long enough to feel like maybe you belong, just a little.

Mister and I bought the domain name years ago, on a cold weekend at the beach. We spent so many evenings that winter talking about travel and life possibilities - where we’d go and how we’d get there. I still haven’t launched Travelingering, but I have lived it a bit since then.

Here are a couple of the ways I’ve gone away, plus a couple more ideas that might work for you.

Inn Sitting

Innkeepers need vacations, too. Often, they’ll just close up shop while they’re gone, or turn the reins over to a relative or a professional interim sitter like these folks, or these guys. But if you think hospitality is in your DNA, with the right approach, you could just get lucky.

View from the patio, Caribbean inn sitting
The view from my Caribbean inn-sitting gig

Mister and I got to know the owners of a dive shop on a tiny island in the Caribbean, who also ran a B&B. The B&B was one of the most beautiful houses on the island, with a large covered patio, huge swimming pool, and gorgeous views toward St. Bart’s. I once told them – very seriously – that if they ever needed a vacation, I’d be happy to come and run things while they were gone. Sure enough, two years later, they called, and I spent a glorious month as mistress of the mansion.

Do you have a favorite small inn or bed & breakfast in a location that calls to you? If you’d like to try your hand at innkeeping, or maybe you just want to soak up the surroundings at your leisure, just ask. You never know.

Home Exchange

You may remember Home Exchange from the movie, The Holiday, in which Kate Winslet exchanges her thatched-roof cottage in the English countryside for Cameron Diaz’s multi-million-dollar mansion in Los Angeles for several weeks.

Kate Winslet's cottage in The Holiday movie
Kate Winslet's cottage in The Holiday movie

I can’t say I ever got quite that lucky, but Mister and I did lots of short exchanges when we owned a rental home at the beach. He was never comfortable with the idea of exchanging our real home – and honestly, I was put off by the deep cleaning and closet clearing it would have required – but with a rental property that was often unoccupied in the off-season, I was able to arrange exchanges all over, including in the embassy neighborhood of Washington, D.C. at Christmas time, a high-end beach house at the Jersey shore, and several visits to a cute Foursquare in a Victorian-filled town near the Stone Pony, the bar Bruce Springsteen made famous.

Once, I even let an extended family group from New Zealand stay 10 days at our beach house for free, knowing it was unlikely we’d get to use our half of the exchange. (We didn’t.) A little karma-loading is never a bad thing. charges $150/year to belong, and gives you a second year free if you’re unable to arrange an exchange during your first year. There are other exchange services as well, but this one’s been around the longest.


If you love cats and don’t mind giving insulin injections, you’ve got a big leg up as a housesitter.

Will there be cuddling, after...?

Caring for cats isn’t a requirement, but pet care is often the reason behind the housesitting deals you’ll find on House Carers and Trusted Housesitters. Sometimes it’s dogs, sometimes it’s llama farms. Occasionally it’s plant care. And sometimes you hit the jackpot – a business traveler who just doesn’t want to leave their London flat empty for six weeks – score!

On HouseCarers, owners register on the site for free, and sitters pay $50/year to be listed. Trusted Housesitters charges $119/year for owners and sitters.

The Caretaker Gazette

This publication is a hoot. I’ve subscribed to The Caretaker Gazette ($29/year) off and on for 20 years, mostly as fuel for my free-travel fantasies. It’s worth the price just to read about how the other half lives.

Each month features a few dozen funny, hopeful, sometimes imperious want ads; this month’s include a search for bush caravan park caretakers in Coonawarra (I don’t even know what that means) to a hostel helper in Sofia, Bulgaria, to a marina overseer on the Sacramento River, to a gardening/maintenance guy for a fisherman near Santorini (cleaning fishing nets optional).

I once tried to talk Mister into running away with me to manage a small Caribbean fishing camp, but he wasn’t having it. Truthfully, I’m a little too nap-prone for most of these opportunities, myself, and Mister’s been very clear that he’s not retiring to become a handyman.

But you might be a little more comfortable with off-the-grid or long to-do lists? Maybe one of these would be just perfect for you:

In Wales: One to two volunteers are needed to help clean the house and look after the cats and chickens and gardens - please note this can be a cold climate we do not yet have central heating and facilities are really basic compared to modern living! We have lots of blankets though!

In Thailand: We have built a beautiful large open-air shelter for sleeping, with a tin roof and bamboo mats for the flooring. We have lots of double mosquito nets for everyone. Our semi-outdoor kitchen is fully functional and we have built beautiful thatched showers and separate toilets. The accommodation is basic, but also fun!

Scottish castle
Not the actual manor house, but for this I might be willing to polish the silver.

In Scotland: The house is a baronial mansion with 13 bedrooms over three floors. Duties include general cleaning, tidying and upkeep of the home including care of antiques, silver and fabrics, laundry and ironing, help hiring and managing a part-time cleaning employee, setting the wood stove and fires, managing the supply of logs, occasional food preparation - from family meals to help with formal dinners, table setting and occasional table service, dealing with tradesmen, and management of the biomass heating system to ensure it is fueled and working efficiently.

BTW: Maybe you're more into long drives than long sits? Check these out.

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