Travel advice Matchmaking for pet-loving homeowners and travelers

Alpacas in Umbria, Italy

ABOVE: Have you ever wanted to spend the summer with a herd of alpacas? can match you up with an apartment and alpaca farm in Umbria, Italy.

INSET BELOW: A friendly dog at a home in Ayvalik, Turkey, where the sitters will watch eight cats, two dogs, and three tortoises for two weeks in June.


When we travel, we often rent apartments for a week or two, but now we've discovered something even better--at least for certain types of trips--thanks to is the brainchild of Andy Peck, who created the site four years ago. James Cave tells the story:

"Andy Peck stumbled across a family in the North of Spain who needed someone to come and look after their home and dog Dave while they were away on vacation. Andy got in touch and was accepted for the house sit. A few weeks later, he was looking after Dave and the family home in Spain.

"Realising that there were potentially thousands of other house and pet owners who would benefit from a service that connected homeowners and sitters, Andy launched in 2010."

How it works: is an international, UK-based matchmaking service for homeowners and sitters that offers a number of membership plans.

To join, you pay as little as US $7.49 a month (billed annually), which allows you to register as a housesitter and create a profile on the site. (You'll also get daily e-mail alerts of new listings 24 hours before the listings go online.)

When you see a listing on that interests you, you apply via the site's secure messaging system. The homeowners will then decide whether you get to stay in their London townhouse, French vacation cottage, Umbrian apartment with alpaca farm, etc.

Normally, there's no exchange of money: You get a free vacation stay, and the homeowners have someone to watch their home, plants, pets, etc. while they're out of town.

What your responsibilities are:

Dog in Ayvalik, Turkey

James Cave writes: "Most house sits involve pet care, and a homeowner's main reason for using is not wanting to put their pets into a kennel, so house sitting is best suited to to animal lovers."

He adds: "It's also not uncommon to see people asking for their plants to be watered or the mail collected. in areas with particularly cold winters (France, for example), many people get a house sitter to keep the pipes from freezing over."

And that's pretty much it. You live in the house, take care of any living things that need watering and feeding, and enjoy the surrounding city, town, or village. If the homeowner is satisfied, you'll earn a positive reference in your profile, and that will make it easier to get more house sits in the future.

What kind of people sign up for house sitting:

According to, "House sitters are usually mature professionals or retirees, looking to house sit for any number of reasons." The site's registered sitters have included "veterinary surgeons, pilots, clerics, medics, retired police, CEOs, writers, and animal rescue staff."

Still, you needn't fit into one of these categories to apply for house sitting, although you may find it trickier to land a cottage sit in Midsomer Mallow if you're a twenty-something tattoo artist. (Then again, you might get lucky if the homeowners are having trouble finding a sitter for their pet python or tarantulas).

Where to get more information:

To learn about house sitting (or finding a house sitter), visit


BELOW: Why rent a cottage on this 17-acre property in Normandy when you can stay free for three months in return for keeping an eye on the pool, gardens, and two young helpers?

House sit in Vimoutiers, Normandy


A new concept: "no car required" villas

Antibes and Fort Carre

ABOVE: Antibes, on the French Riviera, is home to the Villa Les Mimosas, a "no car required" villa within walking distance of the beach.

Not long ago, we received an e-mail from Peter Horrocks of Villas du Monde (a.k.a. Villas of the World) that appealed to our anti-traffic instincts. Mr. Horrocks wrote:

"We're seeing an interesting trend in the number of holidaymakers who want a villa holiday where no car is required."

Mr. Horrocks went on to describe an example, the Villa Les Mimosas in the resort of Antibes on France's Cote d'Azur. The villa sleeps up to eight people, has a private swimming pool, and is within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and the beach. At a bus stop nearby, you can catch a bus into the Antibes town center, where trains from the railroad station make it easy to visit cities and resorts all along the French Riviera.

In addition, the villa's English's-speaking owner (who lives nearby) will take you to the local hypermarket for bulk shopping, and he'll help you organize trips, boat hire, etc.

OK, so you don't need a car at the Villa Les Mimosas. But maybe you're wondering why you wouldn't even want to include a car in your Riviera rental plans. Mr. Horrock cites three good reasons:

"The French Riviera coast is a fabulous place, but--particularly in July and August--it's quite an intimidating place to drive around. For getting out and about and visiting the sights, it's much better to let someone else deal with the hassle of driving and finding the way. Local buses, trams, and trains do just that.

"Also, for many, it's nice simply not to drive on holiday--and of course there is the economy of saving on hire-car cost for a vehicle which isn't needed most of the time."

Mr. Horrocks tells us that his firm now has a collection of more than 30 "no car required" villas in destinations such as the French Riviera, Corsica, the Algarve, the Costa Blanca, and Croatia. He expects more villa owners to hop on the "no car required" bandwagon as demand for car-free holidays continues to grow.

For more information, visit:

For listings of the company's "no car required" villas, see:

If you're curious about the Villa Les Mimosas, click here for detailed property information.

Below are two photos of the villa (including its garden and pool), courtesy of Peter Horrocks:

Villa Les Mimosas, Antibes

Villa Les Mimosas with pool

Photos: Villas du Monde / Villas of the World

Schengen Visa Information

Schengen Visa Info screen shot

Aspiring expats and students--and, in some cases, prospective visitors---normally require visas to enter Europe's Schengen Area. (The Schengen Area consists of 22 EU member states and four EFTA countries that allow free movement across international borders within the zone.)

What are the Schengen countries, what are their individual visa requirements. and how can you apply for a Schengen visa from a country within the Schengen Area?

For answers, go to The site covers the basics (especially in regard to student and transit visas), and--just as important--it includes links to embassy sites with visa requirements for 15 of the 26 countries.

To visit the site, click here.