The Perfect Safari Packing List

Safari packing listPacking for an African Safari is a much more important than packing for conventional trips.

Where it’s easy to pick up a needed item from a shop when you’re relaxing in the city or on the beach, you have no such option while on safari.

So here’s a complete safari packing list plus some useful advice for the world’s most popular safari destinations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and the rest!

Safari Packing Tips

safari packing tipsThe golden rule of good packing is to bring as little as necessary – not as much as possible. No veteran traveler has ever said “every trip I take I pack heavier and heavier.”

For a first time safari goer, it will be particularly tempting to bring extra stuff “just in case.”

But the absolute best advice I can give about packing for a safari is to resist this urge. Everything you need to have a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable safari need not weigh a lot – nor take up much space.

Every item on your safari packing list should fit in carry on bag. That means a max of 10-15kg.

You’ll also want a conventional backpack. Even if you normally prefer wheeled luggage, this will be less than useless until they pave the savannah.

It’s not just about weight and convenience – but safety. If your luggege gets lost or delayed in New York or Paris, that’s inconvenient, but your trip can continue. If the same happens to your safari gear, you’re either going to have to spend a small fortune replacing needed items or miss your safari altogether.

Don’t even let this be a possibility. Pack a bag for carry on.

Sound tough?

It’s not. Here’s what to do:

Safari Clothing

  • 3 Safari shirts: Go for light, strong, breathable garments. Neutral greens, browns, tans, and khakis are the best colors.
  • 1 Long-sleeved shirt: Keep warmer when the sun goes down, as well as protect against pesky mosquitoes
  • 1 Safari hat: Make sure this protects the back of your neck, is breathable, and ideally has a waterproof exterior
  • 1 Bandana or Shemagh: A super-handy item for sun protection and much more.
  • 1 Safari jacket or windbreaker: Useful in rain, wind, and the chill of the night/morning.
  • 1 pair long underwear: This depends on what season you’re going in. Don’t be fooled – the African continent gets its fair share of cold weather!
  • 2 Pairs of pants: Durable, comfortable, and with plenty of pockets.
  • 1 Pair of shorts: Comfortable option for peak-heat and downtime hours.
  • Hiking/walking shoes: Comfortable, lightweight, breathable. You don’t need heavy duty hiking boots!
  • 4-6 Pairs of socks: You’ll run through socks quickly in the heat.
  • 4-6 Pairs of underwear: You’ll want to change these up too. Women should bring at least 1 sports bra for bumpy roads.
  • Flip-flops/sandals: Useful for giving your feet a breather in downtime, as well as for public showers.
  • Spare shoelaces: A small but potentially important item.
  • Microfiber towel: Super-absorbent and quick-drying.

Safari Clothing Tips:

  • No need to go for cliche camouflage outfits – nor for brightly colored clothes. It’s even illegal to wear camo in Rwanda as this is the style used by the military. Better options are neutral colors: khaki, greens, browns, and tans.
  • If you’re heading to Eastern Africa – meaning Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda & Rwanda, or to Zambia – avoid dark colors, which attract the annoying tsetse fly – a nasty biter just like mosquitoes. Though it’s good to note that you’ll rarely find them in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
  • Bring clothing you can layer: We immediately think of the midday heat and pounding sun when we’re talking about African Safaris, but the nights and mornings can be very cool. You’ll do well to have clothes you can layer in the morning and then remove when the sun starts to beat down.

Safari Supplies

There are items that will help keep you safe and healthy on your trip – from personal care items to insect repellent and everything in between:

  • Mosquito netting: Even if your safari company provides these, bring your own to be sure you’re getting quality protection
  • Insect repellent: DEET is an effective deterrent, but it’s a fairly strong poison. One option is to spray some of this on your clothes (not your skin) and use a different repellent for your exposed skin.
  • Malaria tablets: Another anti-mosquito measure with negative side effects, you may still want to bring these with you to give yourself the option.
  • Sunblock: You’ll want this for long days under the sun!
  • Bar soap: On safari you don’t need soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Pamper yourself back at home and save the space & weight by bringing a simple bar of soap.
  • Deoderant: You’ll probably be thankful to have it.
  • Razor: You can probably get away without shaving during your safari, but if not pack a razor.
  • Sunglasses: Polarised lenses are your friend.
  • Water Bottle with filter: Or you can buy bottled water on the way.
  • Wet wipes: A perfect waterless way to keep your hands germ-free.
  • Pocket Knife: Can’t pack these in carry-on, but you can buy one when you arrive.
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste/dental floss: Never leave home without ’em.
  • Lip balm: Even if you don’t normally use this, you might find your lips getting chapped in the dry heat of the savannah.
  • Medication: Any meds you normally take; Motion sickness pills; Painkillers; Re-hydration salts
  • Pen/pencil
  • Plastic bags: Keep dirty clothes seperate from the rest of your things.
  • String/rope: Lightweight, compact, and omni-functional.
  • Sterile needles: In case you need an injection and don’t trust the hygenic conditions of your hospital.
  • Contact lens solution & a spare set of disposable lenses: As required.
  • Birth control: As required.
  • Feminine hygiene products: I am hesitant to weigh in here, but having talked to a ton of female travers, I can say that many of them favor diva cups while on safari. Discreet, easy-to-pack, and perfect when you’re far from civilization.

Safari Equipment

  • Binoculars: The quintessential piece of safari equipment. No safari packing list is complete without them.
  • Headlamp: Better than a flashlight as it keeps your hands unencumbered.
  • Camera, memory cards, extra batteries, battery charger and lens cleaner: YOU’RE GOING ON SAFARI! Bring your camera!
  • Small beanbag to use as a tripod on uneven surfaces
  • Money belt
  • Mobile phone
  • Washing powder/travel soap for laundry
  • Plug adaptors – generally in Africa it’s 3-prong round or square
  • Lighter/waterproof matches
  • Mini combination locks: Don’t try to keep track of keys on safari, go with a combo lock.
  • Mini sewing kit:

Important Documents

safari lionsWe live in the digital world, making it easier than ever to keep track of important documents, contact info etc. However on safari you may be far from an Internet connection, and it’s good practice to keep important documents on your person in duplicate (original + photocopy).

For digital copies, use DropBox or your favorite online/cloud file storage system. You can also store these files on your phone, but always have digital copies somewhere easily accessible online.

  • Passport & visas
  • Emergency phone numbers
  • Travel insurance policy
  • Addresses and mobile numbers (postcards/e-mails/texts)
  • Itinerary/flight list
  • Vaccination certificates
  • American dollars and local currency
  • Credit card (Visa/Mastercard)
  • Student cards or other discounts cards
  • Phone card and international access numbers
  • Extra passport photos
  • Copy of your passport & other documents, kept in a separate place than your passport in a sealed, waterproof bag.
  • Copy of marriage certificate, if especially if you’ve recently tied the knot
  • Medical history, allergies, and any other medically important info.
  • Copies of prescriptions.

Other Safari Packing Lists & Resources

If you pack light and find that you have extra space, consider checking out PackForAPurpose.com, an organization which helps supply at-need communities with supplies ranging from pencils, to bandaids, to soccer balls and more. It’s an opportunity to do some additional good in the region you’re visiting.

Here are some other sample packing lists to check out:

safari packing adviceBy following this safari packing list closely and making any adjustments to fit your own travel style, you can rest easy knowing that you’ve got all the essentials for a thrilling safari experience.

I’d recommend printing this list and crossing off items to be certain you’re not forgetting anything.

Did I miss anything? What did you find really valuable on your safari? Feel free to drop me a line…

Additional Reading: The Definitive Guide to Travelling Rwanda

The Definitive Guide to Travelling Rwanda

rwanda travel guide

Rwanda – a tiny, landlocked country in the heart of Africa giving us a peek into an entire continent’s future.

In the decades following the ’94 genocide, Rwanda has become synonymous with progress & development in sub-Saharan Africa.

A stable government, new infrastructure, and unity amongst its citizens has sparked a transformation without precedent on the continent.

However, much of this change is out of the public eye and far from being common knowledge.

So what you’re probably wondering is:

“Is it worth my time and money to travel to Rwanda?”

Travel Rwanda: Why Go?

lake kivu rwandaRwanda doesn’t have Thailand’s beaches or Paris’s monumental attractions, and it doesn’t need them.

The land of 1000 hills lives up to its billing as a natural wonder of the world – one of the 3 countries on Earth mountain gorillas still call home, with trekkable bamboo forests in the shadow of the Virunga volcanoes and the tranquil waters of Lake Kivu just scratching the surface of what adventurers have to discover here.

The country that was forever changed by the 1994 genocide is no longer defined by it, and in 2012 Rwanda showed the world just how far it had come when it broke the million-tourist mark for the first time.

Tourism is a burgeoning industry in the country, seeing services for travelers expand and become more affordable, while at the same time not being over-saturated to the point where excursions are soulless and contrived ventures into a traveler’s pocketbook.

Those looking for authentic cultural experiences, awe-inspiring unspoiled environments, and to be a part of a great African success story should definitely consider Rwanda as a travel destination.

And regarding that success story, I have a personal reason to urge you invest your travel budget in Rwanda:Rwanda travel advice

I used to volunteer at an organization involved with helping victims of the genocide and the construction of schools in Kigali, the capital. Rwanda has used foreign aid with relative success – actually serving its population by improving infrastructure and providing social programs. But foreign aid is not a sustainable long term growth plan. Tourism can help the country become self-sufficient.

In a region infamous for its lethargic pace of growth and development, Rwanda stands out. Good ideas have always spread: democracy, giving women the right to vote, the abolishment of slavery. Rwanda embodies a ton of good ideas that with the right impetus, could spread throughout the region.

That’s inspiring.

Where Is Rwanda?

Rwanda is situated in the very heart of Africa. Though technically a part of Eastern Africa, it lies a mere 121 km (75 miles) south of the equator, 1416 kilometers (880 miles) west of the Indian Ocean & 1250 km (777 miles) east of the Atlantic Ocean, putting it right in the center of the continent.

Location_Rwanda_AU_Africa.svg

Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south and the Democratic Republic of Congo & Lake Kivu to the west.

The capital, Kigali, is located more or less in the center of the country, which consists of 5 regions:

Map_of_Rwanda

Rwanda Quick Hits: Useful & Interesting Facts

Currency: Rwandan Franc (RWF). Notes come in 100, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 denominations. Coins come in denominations of 10, 20 and 50.

Here are the exchange rates at the time of this writing:

Exchange rates rwandan franc

See today’s exchange rate here.

Official Languages: Kinyarwanda (spoken by most of the native population), English, French.

Population: Just over 12 million.

Climate: Temperate, due to relatively high elevation. In fact, the lowest point in the country is 950 meters (3,117 ft) above sea level! Expect highs in the mid-high twenties (or 80 °F) all year round and lows around 12°C  (54 °F).

There are 2 rainy seasons from February to June and September to December, which alternate with dry seasons.

Area: 26,338 sq km – about the size of Haiti or the US state of Maryland.

Here are some interesting facts about Rwanda you probably didn’t know:

  • Rwanda was the first country to completely ban plastic bags. Security officers at their airports will remove any that you have on you.
  • Rwanda is clean. On the last Saturday of each month they briefly close the roads in order to pick up any refuse along their sides. The entire community is expected to chip in – and it’s worked. As Graham Hughes, the Guinness World Record holder for being the first person to visit every country without flying said, Rwanda starkly contrasts with all the countries it borders – in fact, the entire region.

Rwanda Visa Requirements

Outside of the African continent, there is a short list of countries that receives a 30-day visa on arrival in Rwanda, including The UK, The United States, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Sweden. Visas are $30 and usually obtained at the Kigali International Airport.

If entering by land, you need to apply online first, and then bring a copy of your acceptance letter with you to the border, where you’ll pay the $30 fee. Not the most convenient way to get in as it means you’ll have to find a printer.

You can see the full visa requirements for your nationality here.

Visa_policy_of_Rwanda
Rwanda visa requirements

However, as a testament to the progress the region has seen in the last several decades, it’s now possible to get a 90-day, multi-entry East African Tourist Visa, which will let you move freely between Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda. It costs $100 and you must activate the visa by entering the country that issued it.

Getting Shot: Vaccination Requirements and Suggestions

stay safeRwanda has made a lot of progress combating dangerous viruses and diseases since the 1994 genocide (such as reducing deaths from malaria from 477,000 in 2005 to 11,450 people in 2012), but it remains in the equatorial hot zone for tropical diseases and requires we prepare accordingly.

As a general rule, you should get vaccinations 4-6 weeks before heading into Rwanda or other countries in the region.

The Rwandan government itself demands proof of yellow fever vaccination in order to enter the country. The Center for Disease Control recommends additional vaccinations or precautions, including:

  • Hepatitis A – It is possible to contract Hepatitis A through contaminated food and water, making this vaccination a smart choice.
  • Malaria – There’s no vaccination for malaria, and unfortunately most preventative measures are themselves hard on the body. The CDC recommends that travelers take anti-malarial tablets. Those who opt out of this option might go for heavy doses of the insect repellent DEET, but this has its own problems. Whatever option you go for, the best defense is to simply not get bitten by mosquitoes – meaning using mosquito nets, not walking around with exposed skin, and particularly not being outdoors at sunrise/sunset and during the night.
  • Typhoid – Also possible to spread through contaminated food/water.

Other considerations:

  • Hepatitis B – If you have any plans to get a tattoo, piercings, undergo medical procedures, or “pick up” a local for a night.
  • Rabies – For anyone planning to engage in outdoor activities. It’s Rwanda – you’re probably planning on doing something outdoors, yeah?

By taking these precautions you’ll be ensuring that your time in Rwanda is focused on the right things: experiencing the culture, exploring nature, and enjoying this small but inspiring African nation.

Packing List For Rwanda:

rwanda packing listYour packing list is going to look a different depending on whether you plan on doing a bunch of safaris and other outdoor activities or stick to Kigali and other urban centers.

Here are the essentials you’ll want to have.

Documents

  • Passports/visas
  • Health cards (vaccination certificate)
  • Airline tickets
  • Credit Cards (VISA, Mastercard and / or American Express)
  • Photo-copy of passport / visas / insurance papers

Clothing

My friend Greg who operates Amahoro Tours passed on an important tip to me: Don’t wear any camouflage-patterned clothing, illegal due to the fact that it’s the style worn by local military!

Tans, browns, greens are all perfect for safaris, and bright colors should be avoided.  Of course, if you’re not venturing off the beaten track the colors you wear are up to you (minus the camo of course).

Since Rwanda is basically on the equator, the sun really beats down, even if the temperatures are not extreme. Don’t let this fool you. During peak sunshine hours (from about 11am-3pm) make sure you’re protecting your neck, face and arms by covering up with a hat, bandanna or shemagh, scarf, a long sleeved shirt, or other forms of sun protection you prefer.

And finally, you’ll want to be sure that your clothing is as mosquito-proof as possible if you’re going to be outside the big cities. That means covering your neck, ankles, making your shoes don’t have any holes (seriously) etc.

Toiletries & Medicine

  • Malaria prophylaxis pills
  • Prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs, good idea to pack 2 separate lots)
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Insect repellent (containing DEET for mosquitoes)
  • Sun Screen (SPF 30 or higher)
  • Lip Balm
  • Bar soap (can double as shampoo)
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Razor
  • Feminine hygiene supplies

Other Supplies

  • Sunglasses / Case
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Batteries/cables/chargers for electronics
  • Adapter (the electricity supply is 240 Volt, 50 Hz). Sockets are usually 3 pin & square shaped.
  • Money pouch
  • Binoculars (very important for safaris/trekking)
  • Day pack
  • Small Sewing Kit
  • Pen & paper

Getting to Rwanda: Flying to Kigali

flight to kigaliIf you’re flying into Rwanda you’ll be arriving at Kigali International Airport. As it’s not far from the most trafficked airport in Africa, Nairobi Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, it doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from flight carriers.

Flights operating to KIA include RwandAir, SN Brussels, Qatar Airways, KLM, Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airways and AirUganda.

Domestic flights are also available through Akagera Aviation and Rwandair.

One of the best ways to get a cheap flight to Kigali is via connecting flights in Dubai and/or Mombasa (Kenya), though this will depend where you’re flying from.

Getting into town:

Kigali International Airport is only 10 km from Kigali’s city center. To get into town you basically have two options: Taxi…or moto taxi.

A taxi from the airport will run you somewhere around 10,000 RWF, around $15. Not outrageous so far as taxis go, but we can do way better.

As if I haven’t espoused enough times the merits of packing light and leaving your lucky bowling ball at home, by walking out of the terminal where all the taxis are hawking for tourists, you can get a moto taxi just outside the main gates for 1/10th the cost – and get into town for 1,000 RWF, roughly $1.50.

How’s that for an easy win?

Getting to Rwanda: Overland Entries

Overland entry to Rwanda is fairly convenient due to good road infrastructure on the Rwandan side of international borders. Bus service runs daily to and from Kampala, Uganda; Nairobi, Kenya; and Bujumbura, Burundi.

For instance, you can get between the Ugandan capital of Uganda, Kampala, and Musanze in northwestern Rwanda for $20 on Horizon coaches. Not a bad price for a 500km journey.

While it is possible to get between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of The Congo by land, no major bus lines run. Your only option is to take a shared taxi (more like a mini bus – with reasonable rates).

Banking & Money Considerations

rwanda bankingVery few Rwandan establishments accept credit cards, and outside the capital it can be hard – if not impossible – to find an ATM.

Therefore you should probably get all the cash you’ll need for your excursions outside Kigali before leaving, as to not end up stranded.

Many bank branches in Kigali have ATMs, but many expats have noted that they’re not always working. In such cases, you’ll have to go inside the bank, show your passport, and pay a small fee to access your funds. However, you’ll almost certainly do better with exchange rates here than at the airport exchange centers.

Finding Affordable Accommodation In Rwanda

rwanda accommodation

Getting cheap accommodation in Rwanda isn’t the easiest thing to do, as the tourism industry sector is still growing and budget travelers tend to be considered later in a the industry’s development.

But we can still find some big wins in this area to free up our budget for other things – like any of the incredible excursions on tap in all 4 corners of the land.

With a combination of hostels, bead & breakfasts, and campsites, you should be able to find a place to stay just about anywhere in Rwanda for $15-25.

Where to Look for Accommodation in Rwanda Online:

The growth of the tourism industry has finally seen many Rwandan establishments put their room listings online. While the pickings are more slim than most European nations or Southeast Asia, there’s enough – and that’s all that matters. Here’s where to search:

Lonely Planet Hotels – LP has listings all over the price map, as well as the literal map. We don’t normally think of them as a hotel expert, but I found a bunch of great listings here or cheaper than on other booking sites.

Jovago.com – If you’ve never heard of this website, that’s because it was created to specifically serve the African market. Very thorough and has great prices.

HotelsCombined – A hotel aggregate site that searches all the top hotel sites: Booking.com, Agoda, HostelWorld, and HostelBookers are all included here. My new favorite booking site.

And what sort of deals can we actually unearth here? Here are some gems you can take advantage of:

Kigali: Mamba Rwanda Club House with dorm beds from $15.35/night.

Gisenyi: (north west, on the banks of Lake Kivu): Discover Rwanda Gisenyi Beach has private rooms from $16/night.

Ruhengeri (north): Red Rocks Rwanda has camping grounds available for $20/night.

Kayonza (eastern province): Discover Rwanda Kayonza Eco Lodge has dorms from $17.50/night.

Kibue City (west, on the bank of Lake Kivu): Home Saint John has twins rooms from $25/night.

If you want further savings you can call the hotel directly and ask for a discount. Hotels usually have some wiggle room, but once you’re there in person they have little reason to offer a discount. Even if you’re standing right outside the building, it’s better to phone.

CouchSurfing in Rwanda

In Kigali there is a small but healthy CS community of just over 400 people. Much more than providing a free place to stay, CouchSurfing is a great way to get immersed in the local experience by spending time with someone who knows all the hidden gems of their region.

Transportation Around Rwanda

transportation in Rwanda
Rwanda’s famous moto-taxis

Road infrastructure is one of the many things the Rwandan government has gotten more-or-less correct since the 1994 genocide. The ease and safety of getting around the country is tops in a region that’s usually notorious for dangerous roads and dangerous drivers. But paving major transport lines, improving the police force, enforcing seal belt use, and public education programs have won Rwanda accolades from the likes of the World Health Organization.

Getting around Rwanda is a usually matter of choosing what sort of bus or car you want to take, as there is no railway system.

Note that RwandAir used to fly to Rwanda’s 2nd airport in Kamembe, but service seems to have been discontinued

One of the interesting things that first time travelers to this part of Africa will note is a phenomenon common to the region, and quite different than “western” countries: If it’s got wheels and a motor and there’s empty space, you can get a ride on it. Whether you’re on an state run bus or hopping on a farmer’s cart on his way to market, you’ll rarely be stuck for a ride.

Inter-City Transport

Rwanda has about 12,000 km of roadways, only 1000 km of which are paved. The rest are dirt roads which may be anywhere from impeccable to impassible except with 4-wheel drive and a bit of luck.

That being said, from Kigali you can head in any direction on paved highway. So whether you’re heading north towards Uganda to find some mountain gorillas, west towards Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, south towards Burundi, or east towards Tanzania, you won’t have to worry about road conditions.

Rwanda Roads

Bus Transport

Bus transport is basically how everyone in Rwanda gets about, and there are essentially 2 forms to choose from:

TaxiBusesKigaliStopping Taxis are minibuses which can carry up to 18 people. These are generally owned by private individuals, and run a predetermined route between two points, stopping along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. A drawback of this form of transport is the driver will usually often wait until his vehicle is full before departing, leading to undetermined waiting times.

Express Taxis are a new phenomenon in Rwanda. These are company owned and run minibuses (also seating 18) with a set timetable between major cities and towns. They do not stop on route except to let off passengers.

For these taxis you need to purchase tickets in advance from a ticket office (usually at the bus terminal itself), and their popularity makes these harder to get at the last minute. Note that you’ll pay the full fare even if you’re getting off part way. Fares are comparable to stopping taxis

Transportation Costs

Getting around the country is a breeze. For less than the cost of simply sitting in a taxi in Western Europe you can travel almost anywhere in the country. This is wonderful, as a lot of what makes Rwanda so inviting are the myriad of outdoor activities spread across the country.

Sample Fares:

  • Kigali to Ruhengeri (north, 2h) – 1700 RFW or ~$3
  • Kigali to Gisenyi (northwest) – 2500 RFW or ~$4
  • Kigali to Kibuye (west) – 1800 RFW or ~$3
  • Kigali to Cyangugu (southwest) – 5000 RFW or ~$8
  • Kigali to Gatuna (north) – 2000RFW or ~$3

 

Hitchhiking: Yes, believe it or not, you can hitchhike in Rwanda. Inga, a Norwegian expat who has been living in Kigali since 2009 has done so frequently. While local transport will hardly burn a hole in your budget, this is a way for intrepid travelers to cut down on costs and spend some quality time with a local.

As you can cross the entire country for $10 or so, it’s hard for me to even recommend hitching as a money saving technique. Transport prices in Rwanda are the sort of minutiae that I consider a waste of mental energy better spent on finding a cheap flight into the country or negotiating the price at your hotel. If you’re the kind of person that loves hitchhiking, go for it, otherwise save the time and energy for hiking or something.

In practice, the line between hitching and taxiing in Rwanda is blurred, as many people with extra space are happy to pick someone up along their route in exchange for a couple bucks.

Local Transport

Rwandan transportDistances in most of Rwandas cities can be covered on foot if you’re interested, but otherwise there’s a colorful and convenient range of inexpensive transport options.

Velo-taxi: A simple bike that you can hope on the back of while the driver pedals you to your destination. Expect to pay a buck or two.

Moto-taxi: While taking a moto-taxi might sound like a dangerous death trap at first glance, in Rwanda it is surprisingly safe. The system is regulated, and drivers are members of a union, have ID numbers, are insured against accidents, and are obligated to provide you with a helmet. Kristi from LivingInKigali.com has some great advice for staying safe with moto-taxis. Look to spend $0.50 to $2 depending on your destination.

Local Buses: Most of these are the same sorts of stopping taxis that do inter-city routes, though there are larger buses which carry up to 30 people. Buses handle the majority of public transport in Kigali and other big cities. In Kigali, there are over 600 buses on the road during normal working hours, operated by 19 different companies. How’s that for free-market capitalism?

Taxi: These are relatively difficult to find, and rarely necessary unless you’re transporting a group. The most expensive option by far.

Rwandan Food: How to Find Affordable Local Fare

rwandan food

Rwanda isn’t exactly known for its food. I mean let’s be real – you’re probably coming for the amazing outdoors activities and a bit of cultural tourism, not the Michelin-star sporting restaurants (hint: you won’t find one). Being a small landlocked country only decades removed from turmoil and still experiencing much poverty (44.9% in 2011, down from 56.7% in 2006) a great culinary tradition hasn’t really had an opportunity to form.

That being said, there’s no need to be discouraged. With the price of food being relatively low, there’s no reason you shouldn’t eat well while you’re here.

If I’m not in a huge rush to get from place to place, my personal preference has always been to eat breakfast and dinner at home, and eat out during lunch from time to time to take advantage of lunch specials/lunch menus.

Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule but a general guideline to maximize how far my money goes while still getting a full appreciation for local fare. I’d say I stick to it 80-90% of the time, and thus my budget goes 50% farther than most travelers without having to keep track of anything.

eating in rwandaOf course you can eat out 3x a day if you don’t care how much you spend – but over half the emails I get from readers are about how they don’t have the money to travel, so somehow I doubt you’re happy just letting the bucks fly willy nilly.

So let this system do the work s you can enjoy your travels more while spending less.

For instance, by going to markets in Rwanda, you’re looking at $0.50 per kg for potatoes, tomatoes are under $1/kg, and 12 eggs are $1.75 or less. And don’t forget the huge variety of fruit that’s locally available at good prices.

Congratulations, you just cut your food bill in half. And that’s accounting for the days you go out on an excursion and circumstance dictates that you eat out for dinner too.

So now that you have a winning plan in your hands, let’s look at what you’ll be eating when you do go out.

Eating Out

rwanda restaurantRwandan dishes are often based around a starch such as sweet potatoes or rice, beans, and bananas – combined with chicken or fish for those who can afford it. Fruits such as papayas, mangoes, and avocados are also abundant, and you’ll find yourself encountering them in dishes or eating them as snacks often enough.

Also, Rwanda also doesn’t have street food, at least not yet. So you’ll be heading inside to eat. Daniel & Audrey from Uncornered Market found that their meals took an exorbitant amount of time to arrive, which brings us to one of the big dilemmas about Rwandan fare: You get to pick between fast or fresh.

Buffet Lunches: Our fast option is the classic lunch buffet, which is ubiquitous in Rwanda. However, Rwandans do buffets differently than the rest of the world. You only get to fill your plate up once. Watch the locals to develop your food-stacking techniques and make the most of your one-pass. The pricing system tends to be on your side here: expect to pay up to $10 (though often prices won’t be listed, so be sure to ask beforehand).

Entrees: Entree or buffet? That’s the question. Unless you’re an expert plate stacker, an entree will end up being more food – and very well might be more than you can eat. Thank goodness, Rwanda is a country where portion size is not a problem – at least if you’ve got as ravenous an appetite as me. Wait times may make you wish you’d chosen the buffet though.

Rwandan dishes:

foodTraditional Rwandan dishes are called invange – meaning “mixed food” – often including beans, green bananas, onions, various veggies, peanut soup, and corn flour.

Brochettes: Rwanda’s national meat-on-a-stick option is the brochette, classically from goat meat, though it’s easy enough to find fish, beef, or chicken. These really are ubiquitous. Hang around for a few days and you’ll probably find a place that does them just how you want.

Mizuzu: Fried plantains. Almost as ubiquitous as brochettes.

Ugali: A porridge-like food made from a mix of maize flour or cassava and water. Typically eaten dipping a ball of it into sauce. This is actually a staple you can find all throughout this part of the continent, and not just Rwanda – though the name seems to be unique to each region.

What To Do In Rwanda: Activities, Safaris, Tours and More!

If I were on the tourism board of directors in Rwanda I’d consider a slogan like “Rwanda – come for the 1000 hills, stay for the 1000 outdoor activities.” Rwanda is bustling with options for the outdoor enthusiast  – which I am admittedly biased towards. There’s also city site seeing for those that prefer the hustle and bustle of urban centers.

Let’s start in the capital, Kigali:

Rwandan Genocide Memorial (Kigali) – The top rated “must do” activity on Trip Advisor is a heart wrenching reminder of humanity’s darker capabilities, as well as appreciate the inspiring turnaround the country has made since that time. This memorial of the 1994 genocide is built on a site where over 250,000 people are buried. There is no entry fee; donations accepted. A visit will also help one appreciate the incredible resilience of Rwandans and the progress the country has made since that time.

Tongo Art Gallery (Kigali) – Tongo is a small contemporary art gallery offering unique professional paintings and stylish jewelry and accessories with an African flair. If you’ve never immersed yourself in art from this region, here’s your chance.

Volcanoes National Park: The oldest national park on the content and one of the few places where you can go on world-famous gorilla treks (discussed below). You can also go hiking through the region’s bamboo forests, take a day hike up to Bisoke cater (Mt. Bisoke – 3,711m), or even an overnight hike with camping to Mt. Karisimbi (4,507m).

Mountain Gorillas: gorilla trekking rwandaRwanda is one of only 3 countries on Earth where mountain gorillas can be found, and they are one of the primary attractions of the region. According to National Geographic, there are only about 700 of the animals left. Due to their endangered status, there are some fairly strict limits on visits. In Volcanoes National Park, visitors are capped at 80/day. No matter where you go to see gorillas, you’ll have to pay for a permit ($750), and children under 15 are not permitted.

According to Rwanda’s tourism board, there has been a 26.3% increase in gorilla population since the last census in 2010. This success has been due to a combination of tourism dollars and strong conservation programs. So while gorilla trekking is expensive, it’s not just an investment in your experience, but in this ancient and endangered species.

You can go gorilla trekking with my friend Greg from Amahoro Tours.

Kwita Izina (gorilla naming) Ceremony: A national festival based on a centuries-old Rwandan tradition naming newborn gorillas. Since 2005, 173 baby gorillas have been named.

Canopy Walk: Located in Nyungwe National Park, from a height of 70 meters you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the spectacular rainforest canopy. The canopy walkway is only 200m long, so fairly pricey at $60.

Bird Watching: Rwanda is home to over 700 different bird species. Rare and beautiful species on Rwanda’s bird checklist encompass 1/3 of all bird species in the continent (27 of which are endemic to Rwanda). The nation boasts one of the highest concentrations of birds per square kilometer in Africa! Nyungwe National Park is named “the most important site for biodiversity conservation in Rwanda” by Birdlife International.

Lake Kivu: Lake Kivu is a rare phenomenon in this part of the world in that it is safe for swimming. That is: no crocodiles, hippos, or other dangerous creatures inhabit its waters, which are a pleasantly warm 23-27°C year round.

As a result, it’s also possible to enjoy other aquatic activities such as kayaking, wind surfing, riding a catamaran and jet-skiing. Hire equipment at Kivu Serena in Gisenyi or Moriah Hills in Kibuye.

rwanda safariGame Viewing: Lost amongst the gorillas and other outdoor adventures is that you can go on a classic big game safari here too. In Akagera National Park on the North-Eastern side of the country offers up the “big 5” (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, rhino).

Other activities:

The list really goes on and on. By now you should have some idea of what’s on tap in Rwanda. Here are some other options that might inspire:

Activities in Northwestern Rwanda – Amaharo Tours. A variety of budget activities from $10-$40.

Rwanda – List of Activities – RwandaTourism.com. Many activities from around the country.

70 Things to Do In Rwanda – TripAdvisor.com. A truly extensive list of activities.

How To Travel Rwanda On A Budget

travel rwanda on a budgetNow that you know what to expect from Rwanda, it’s time to answer the big question: How to do it on a budget?

In fact, I’d rate Rwanda as a fairly easy country to travel around on a budget. If you’ve got the established standard of $1,500 a month or $50 per day, even by following the advice set out in this guide badly you’re probably going to end up nicely under that mark.

In fact, if you have good travel insurance that covers your vaccinations, there aren’t any big hits you’ll take unless you fly in. An overland bus will run you maybe $10 or $20 depending on your point of origin.

Let’s look at some other costs for argument’s sake:

Visas: Whether you get a1 month visa for $30 or the 90-day East African Visa for $100 you’re looking at basically $1/day.

Transport: Even if you take 2 cross-country trips a day you’re looking at about $6/day – or $180/month. But why the hell would you go back and forth across the country 2x every day? We’re really looking at something closer to $90-120 for the month ($3-4/day).

Accommodation: Is the biggest “necessary” expense. If you don’t CouchSurf, $500-$600 is a good monthly target ($16.67-$20/day).

Food: Spending $10-15 a day will be doable for anyone who doesn’t insist on eating out at every meal. You could do it for half that if you really live like a local and do your own cooking. $300-400 month is a reasonable estimate.

That brings our total up to $30.67-40/day, or $920.10-$1200 per month – minus excursions.

Of course your budget could very easily go one way or another depending if you’re an extreme saver or prefer a more luxurious experience. CouchSurf all month and your low end budget immediately drops to $420.10 with other savings still to be had. This isn’t cannon. It’s just sound, principled decision making that can help you have your vacation on your budget.

Whatever your budget is, with these targets in mind you can plan accordingly, as on any trip the big budget question mark is excursions and activities, which may be as little as a $10-20 hiking trip or top-dollar luxury-budget safaris.

If you take a normal range of activities and not super high-end tours you’re looking between $10 and $80 much of the time. Say you do something really special 2x a week, or 8x a month, you’re probably looking around $400. But this is a wild estimate as most travelers probably won’t stay a month, and those that don’t will cram maybe 3-4 activities into a shorter time frame.

lake kivu
Lake Kivu

Main Takeaways: If you want to make your budget go further in Rwanda so you can go on more eye-opening excursions, focus on getting good deals on your accommodation. As we’ve seen it will be about 50% of your base budget in normal circumstances.

So yes, in a continent in which it’s notoriously difficult to travel well on a budget, it’s definitely possible in Rwanda.

And whether Rwanda is you’re first stop in Africa or your next stop, I’d highly recommend going and experiencing it for yourself. Who knows, maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Photo Credits: amalthyaDFIDmicagotoDrewski2112frankieleonkigaliwireCIATmrflipRachel StrohmWikimedia CommonsTwofortnights; SteveRwandaJohn & Mel KotsdededanabbyRod Waddington

House & Pet Sitting Jobs: How To Get $24,000+ In Accommodation For Free On Your Next Holiday

house and pet sitting
Way better than a budget hostel…and half the price

Not long ago a friend planning a holiday in Europe asked me:

What’s the single best money saving tip you could give someone who wants to travel well on a budget?

Ever since releasing my 17,000 word guide to budget travel, I’ve gotten this sort of question a lot.

My answer is usually a bit of a shocker.

First you need to understand that throughout all my budget travel material I emphasize two big wins above all else. Most of the time, these two things make more budget impact than everything else combined:

Unlike saving $0.30 on Samosas, getting a slight discount on travel pants, and other inconsequential minutiae that many money “experts” like to focus on, getting a big win in these two areas could slash your expenses by 80%.

I don’t care whether you’re going for a holiday in Europe, backpacking in Asia, gorilla trekking in Africa, or doing the classic American roadtrip – this is where to focus if we want to make our money go farther.

And there’s one way to do both while still traveling well. I responded to my friend with what must be considered the worst-kept secret for long term travel.

The “trick”?

House sitting.

Actually, better make that house and pet sitting, since the two tend to go hand in hand.

You may have heard of it, but chances are you’re not doing it.

And that’s a shame. Because house sitting is one of the few travel “hacks” that works even better in expensive countries than elsewhere around the world: The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada the United States, France and other EU countries are ideal house sit locations.

So, if you’re like my friend and interested in saving $24,000+ on your next accommodation bill while enjoying the comfort of a 4 or 5 star hotel on your next European holiday – or just want to travel in comfort and style for pennies on the dollar, read on.

What is House Sitting? Pet Sitting?

pet sitting jobsHouse sitting is when a homeowner leaves their house for a period of time (anywhere from days to months) and entrusts their property to an individual, or “house sitter.”

Home owners may do this for any number of reasons: to work, go on holiday, visit family, and so on. Finding a house sitter is often a more desirable option than leaving their property completely unattended for a prolonged period of time.

But most often, house sitting jobs get published because the owner is looking for someone to look after their beloved pets.

This is way more desirable than putting a dear companion in a kennel for weeks or months on end – not to mention less expensive.

So house sitters generally live on-site, looking after and maintaining the property and the owner’s pets. In return, the house sitter gets a free place to stay, as well as possibly the use of a vehicle, bike, kayak, etc.

This can add up to thousands of dollars in saved travel expenses, particularly since the majority of house and pet sitting jobs are located in developed countries with high costs-of-living.

Let’s take a closer look:

10,000+ Reasons to House Sit

After transportation, lodging tends to be the biggest budget-eater on the travel block.

And if you’re anything like the average long term traveler who has $1,500 a month to cover all their expenses, you need to balance cost, comfort, and convenience.

For example, flying everywhere is usually the most convenient way to get from point A to point B, however it’s rarely the cheapest.

The same can be said for accommodation. A backpacker’s hostel is cheap, but lacks the comfort of a 5-star resort.

House sitting is one of the very few opportunities in all of travel that doesn’t play this game of trade-offs between price and quality:

house sitting jobs
House sitting: A unique travel possibility

As we can see, staying for free in someone’s home is at both the apex of affordability and comfort. In basically every other case comfort is proportional to the amount of money we spend.

Short of getting an invitation to stay for free at a luxury resort, this is simply the best way to get cheap, high quality accommodation around the world.

For example, Dalene & Pete from HeckticTravels saved over $30,000 house sitting in British Columbia, Canada and Honduras.

Dariece & Nick of GoatsOnTheRoad saved over $24,000 house sitting in Grenada (and all over the world)

Chari & Ben from Wanderlusters have lived in the UK, Barbados, USA, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Canada, Australia, and St. Kitts – all through house sitting!

Other Reasons to House Sit

Saving money is great, and it can help us extend our travel budget by months or years, but it’s far from the only reason to house sit. Have you even considered that by house sitting you can:

Live Local: Most gigs aren’t in high-traffic tourist areas, but in regions where local culture dominates. Living in the home of a local is one of the best ways to begin a real immersion into local culture

Live in The World’s Most Expensive Places: It’s one thing to go to Thailand for 6 months on a shoestring. But if you want to check out New Zealand, France, Hawai’i, or Great Britain, it’s going to be hard on your wallet. House sitting opens up destinations that for a lot of budget travelers, simply wouldn’t be sustainable any other way.

Travel Slower: Often we try to cram travel into a small period of time, in part because of budget constraints. House sitting can let you relax a bit and get more into a mode of “living” than moving.

Save Up Money For Future Travel: If you work online, rent out your home, or have some other stream of location-dependent income, house sitting can actually help you travel – while filling up your bank account to do even more travel. That’s so cool it’s almost unfair

Who Should Try House Sitting?

pet sittingEven though house sitting sounds like some kind of fantasy, it’s a real job with real responsibilities, and isn’t for everyone.

Here are 4 things you should consider before signing up to become a house sitter:

1. Experience With and Love for Animals

Not all house sits require looking after pets, but most do – as it’s pet owners who most need a reliable person on site 24 hours a day while they’re away. Though this usually means cats & dogs, some house sits may even involve caring for chickens, goats, or other farm animals in rural locations.

While it’s entirely possible to house sit and not look after animals, you’ll be severely limiting your options.

2. Time Constraints

If you have a limited or set amount of time for your vacation every year it will be much harder to find a house sitting gig. Likewise, if your preferred travel style is to be constantly on the move, committing to looking after someone’s property for several months probably isn’t right for you.

On the other hand, if you’re flexible with your timeline or prefer traveling slowly then house sitting is a great option

3. Home-care Know-How

Have you ever owned a home? If so, you’re at an advantage in the competition for house sitting gigs. If not, are you sure you want to? Your job will be cleaning and yard maintenance and all the other chores of your childhood.

There’s a reason many homeowners prefer retired couples to look after their property – they’ve got the experience in addition to the perceptions of trustworthiness and reliability.

However, the more house sits you do, the more quickly you’ll become an expert at home-care – even more so than someone who has lived in a single home for 30 years.

For example, Dani from GlobeTrotterGirls has cared for beach houses and city condos that were entirely off the grid – running on solar power, a house in the alps heated with wood burning stoves, and a home in the arid Arizona desert. Each of those experiences made her a wiser, more capable candidate for future home stays.

4. Self-Sufficiency

Maybe that 6 month gig on Fiji looks enticing, but just remember – it can even get lonely in paradise. Some house sitting gigs are in remote locations, and while they might be beautiful, it also means giving up a lot of things: Favorite comfort foods from home, regular contact with others, parties, possibly even a reliable internet connection.

2, 3, or 6 months is a long time to be bored. If you don’t have a variety of hobbies to invest your time in at remote locations, you may want to think twice about taking such a gig.

If you’ve decided that yes, house sitting is a good fit, it’s time to get started actually looking for gigs!

Choosing The Right House Sitting Site

best house sit siteEven though house sitting itself is usually free (though sometimes you may have to pay utilities), it’s important to note that there’s almost always a fee to sign up for house sitting websites.

I actually consider this a good thing. Considering that the demand for house and pet sitters is so much smaller than the number of people looking for a freebie, these reasonable sign-up fees will actually help your applications be visible, instead of drowned out by 100s of others.

And even if you use the most expensive site, Trusted House Sitters, whose membership fee is almost $100 annually (or 1 night in a mid-range hotel), by landing 1 single gig for 2 weeks you’re looking an an effective cost-per night of about $7. Many gigs are for several months at a time, reducing your effective cost to under $1 a night on most sites.

Top House Sitting Websites:

Trusted House Sitters

The world’s number 1 house sitting site in terms of popularity and available house sits, Trusted House Sitters has 3-10 new assignments daily from all over the globe, though it’s slightly more popular in the UK and Europe. Here, we can see that there’s a whopping 4,169 assignments available at the time of this writing.

trusted house sitters

With so much selection, it’s hard to imagine not finding a gig to your liking (and this guide it here too make sure you land it).

This industry leader is a favorite of Dale & Franca from Anglo Italian Follow Us, Talon Windwalker from 1Dad1Kid, and many others.

Membership Fee: $95.88 annually

Mind My House

mind my houseMind My House has fewer listings than Trusted House Sitters, but also less competition, meaning it’ll be more likely that your application rises to the top.

As you can see here, there’s about 1 assignment for every “sitter available” listing, or 1 assignment for every 30 active sitters.

Add to this fact the remarkably cheap membership, and if you land an assignment you’re looking at an effective average nightly cost under $1. You can’t get into a crowded dorm room at a bargain-basement hostel for that!

Membership Fee: $20 annually

 

House Carers

Smaller than Trusted House Sitters, House Carers still averages over 300 new gigs per month (or 10 per day), which is a solid total.

House Carers is one of the best house sitting sites not tied to a specific geographic location. As you can see, it’s got gigs throughout North and Central America, Europe, and Australia plus a smattering of others.

 

House Carers

Again, fewer competing house sitters on this site means more opportunity for you! Dani from GlobeTrotterGirls swears by them.

Membership Fee: $50 annually

Nomador

Ultramodern design and super easy to use. Includes an effective internal search engine, as well as icons to quickly show how much land you’ll have to look after, how many animals, and the availability of public transport. User experience is top notch:

Nomador

Nomador started in France, but has since expanded to other parts of Europe and around the globe. At the time of writing they had 994 listings, putting them only behind Trusted House Sitters for volume.

Membership Fee: $35 per quarter or $89 annually. (Also: A free account option but with restricted features and a limit of 5 applications)

The Best of the Rest:

  • Housesit World ($40/yr) – The design recalls the previous millennium, but House Sit World has stuck around for a reason.
  • Housesit Match ($60) – A newer site popular in the UK
  • Luxury Housesitting ($25/yr) – Who doesn’t like a bit of luxury?

There are also a ton of location-specific house sitting websites in developed, English speaking countries. These are great options if your destination happens to be in one of these countries, which are amongst the most expensive in the world.

Australia

New Zealand

United States

United Kingdom 

Which House Sitting Site Is Best?

Professional travelers and travel bloggers seem to heavily favor Trusted House Sitters, Mind My House, and House Carers. All industry leaders, these sites have the most requests for house sitters and global coverage.

That being said, Trusted House Sitters comes up time and again as a favorite, and is generally regarded as the best option if you had to go with just one.

Personally, I would recommend starting with Mind My House and get used to the house sitting process. At only $20, it’s an easy way to see if house sitting is something you want to do long term. From there, it’s easy to invest in another membership if you feel it’s necessary – or you can carry on with one of the most popular and affordable services anyway.

However it should be noted that in this case, you really are getting what you pay for, as users on Mind My House are much less responsive than Trusted House Sitters, as well as there being fewer gigs.

Either way, these top options are all highly regarded and trusted, and you won’t go wrong with any of them.

Part II: Setting Up A Profile That Gets You Gigs

house sitting sitesNow that you’ve (hopefully) picked a house sitting website to start searching on, it’s time to give you the tools to land a gig in your dream location.

Your profile is the first thing your prospective hosts see of you – so if you want to land a house sitting gig, it’s imperative that you come across as trustworthy and reliable.

Just like a job interview, you’ve got about 10 seconds to make a great impression. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how amazing your qualifications or references are or how eloquently you express yourself – you’re sunk.

On the other hand, a winning first impression puts you on the inside track for landing the spot.

Here’s what to do:

Profile Picture: In 40 milliseconds your prospective host has already decided whether or not you’re likable, reliable, and approachable.

All based on your profile picture.

As this study from Psychological Science underscores, your photo basically sets the stage for whether your profile/application is read in a positive light, with doubt in mind, or passed over entirely.

So while you could spend hours perfecting every detail in your profile (and you should), it’s much more important to spend time taking the perfect profile pic.

To drive this point home, the dating site OkCupid ran a test with their users showing that all that text we so painstakingly put together describing our experiences and qualifications is less than 10% of what people think of us.


profile-text-experiment

Now, I’m not sure whether people take the house sitter application process more or less seriously than the search for a life partner, however all this evidence clearly points the same way: Get your profile picture right!

BufferApp has gone through all the research and come up with these tips to appear confident, capable, and reliable:

  1. Men should look slightly off camera. Women should look at the camera
  2. Head and shoulders pics (or possibly head-to-waist)
  3. Asymmetrical composition (“rule of thirds”). That is, don’t be in the very center of the frame, but slightly off to the side
  4. Smile showing teeth, but not a wide open mouth or “laughing smile”.
  5. No hats, sunglasses, or other eye/face obstructions
  6. Squinch/squint your eyes a small amount (wide eyes look more worried and decrease trustworthiness)

Now, as we’re often dealing with pet owners and lovers on these sites, an additional idea is to include a pet in your picture. Under other circumstances this is a no-no, but for house sitting I expect this actually builds rapport.

Headline: In the world of marketing, there’s a famous saying: “The headline is the ad for your ad.” As in a good headline ensures the rest of the text gets read.

You have one sentence to give the homeowner a reason to care. Give them a benefit of reading on. “Retired schoolteacher” conveys no benefit. Nor does “traveling the world” – which in fact probably shows you as someone looking or a freebie.

On the other hand, “Reliable, animal loving adult to care for your home or pet(s)” conveys massive benefits.

House sitting websites typically give a ton of space for your headline, so you can pack it full of useful info.

For example, Charli & Ben from WanderLusters rock this headline on Trusted House Sitters:

HS head 1

Or Dariece & Nick, the Goats On The Road:

HS head 2
Here are some isolated ideas you could mix and match in your headline:

  • Animal-loving
  • Non-smoker
  • Trustworthy, clean, reliable, honest etc.
  • Retired couple…
  • Experienced…with excellent references
  • Over X years of experience
  • Retired veterinarian…

It’s probably worth brainstorming more qualities that you embody and then seeing how they might fit together in an enticing way.

Experience: Share as much of your experience as possible. Show your ability to handle different scenarios and challenges. Think about what your potential hosts are concerned about and address these things.

If you’ve never house-sat, talk about similar experiences you’ve had and why you think they translate well. Maybe you’re a homeowner, a pet owner, have done home or yard maintenance. Find a way to tie what you have to what hosts need.

References: Having references is a big plus and increases your chances of landing a gig. So be sure to get a reference from anyone you house sit with. I would also ask for permission to put their blurb on your profile. This sort of testimonial is very powerful when woven into your profile description.

You also want your references to convey benefits! Make sure they feature the results you achieved and responsibilities you fulfilled.

If you’ve never house sat and have no references – reach out to your network and offer to house sit for anyone who is going on vacation. Explain your situation and do it for free in exchange for the reference.

Extra Tips:

If you’re serious about house sitting, set up a blog showcasing your services. This can be like a portfolio of sorts, and is just one more way to build your trust with potential homeowners. See Angela & John Laws at HouseSittingPerfected.com for a perfect example.

Set up email alerts to inform you of new gigs. Being the first to respond gives you an edge, as you’ll have more time to build rapport and become a known entity in the owner’s mind

Step 3: Creating An Application

house sitting jobsYour application is much like your profile, in that it’s essential you stand out as a relevant candidate quickly. As your application might be sitting alongside 10-100 others, you only have a few seconds to grab the homeowner’s attention.

Note that your goal isn’t to make the owner choose you here & now, it’s to get the conversation to the next level: Via Skype, phone, or (worst case) personal email.

One of the keys to success is understanding that every house sitting situation is unique and should be addressed as such. You need to tailor your application to each specific assignment to have a chance.

Here are application best practice that will ensure your application gets the attention it deserves:

  • Thoroughly read the owner’s advert and respond to their concerns and requirements.
  • Tie your skills to how the owner will benefit – don’t assume they’ll make a connection. “I have great intuition with animals” doesn’t say anything concretely, whereas “I have great intuition with animals, so you can rest easy that Scruffy will get all the play time, affection, and attention he needs” offers a specific benefit the owner is looking for.
  • If the owner has pets, address your letter to both the owner and their pet to stand out.
  • Research the local area, understand the costs, and then communicate this understanding in your letter. Show them you are serious and ready for the responsibility. You can even tell them the flight you’re ready to book should they confirm your hire. By doing this you’re making it easy for them to say “yes.”
  • Be succinct. Remember, your goal isn’t to get hired at this point, but to get to a personal conversation via Skype or some other medium. There’s no magic word count, but get right to the point. Chances are that unless you got yours in first. your potential host will be tired reading application after application.
  • End with a specific, single call to action for the home owner, such as connecting on Skype or by email.

Extra tips: Charli Moore from Wanderlusters on Creating a Successful House Sitting Application

Application Got Rejected? Use These 2 Email Scripts To Get Back In The Running

house sitting secretIn a house sitting market where the demand for placements is way higher than the number of available homes, home owners often will have their pick of many candidates. That means that, unfortunately, you’ll sometimes find your applications rejected.

What do you do now?

One option would be just call it a day and look for new opportunities.

But why do that when we have the perfect opportunity to improve our chances – for this and all future gigs.

It’s simple:

If our application was rejected, that means the home owner didn’t believe in our ability to get the job done. Maybe we didn’t seem trustworthy enough. Maybe we didn’t seem responsible enough. Maybe we seemed to lack experience.

Whatever the reason is, if this one homeowner thinks this after reading our profile and application letter, chances are that future home owners will think the same thing.

Your job is to find out and either A) address the issue, putting yourself back in the running, or B) improve the marketing of your services for the next application.

Script 1 is a slightly aggressive approach to continuing your candidacy that I originally developed as a follow up to job application rejections, but have adapted for house sitting:

Hi John,

Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. I know you have a lot of great candidates to look through and respect your decision to choose any of them, but I really do believe I’m the best candidate for the job:

  • I’m trustworthy, responsible, and experienced, as evidenced by the testimonials of my past hosts, which you can read here (LINK). Plus I’ve already done 3 successful house sits in Australia, so all the bureaucratic details will be a breeze!
  • I spent 6 months managing a busy hostel in Barcelona, so you can be sure your property will be well looked after by someone who is proactive, attentive, and ruthlessly organized.
  • I love big dogs like Rex. I had a Dane myself growing up. Here, you can even see my YouTube video of me training my friend’s dog Buddy how to “shake”!

I know you’re busy with all the applications, but if we could have a 10 minute chat on Skype, I’d be happy to address and questions or concerns you have. If you’re not absolutely convinced in 10 min that I’m a worthy candidate, I’ll gladly step aside.

Thanks for your time,

Andrew

The goal of such a letter is not to land the job. It’s to find a way to continue the discussion. Note that I’m asking here just to connect for a short amount of time, plus highlighting why I think I’m best for this particular job. If the owner sees enough connections, a 10 minute conversation isn’t too much to ask for.

It might have a 15% chance of working. But not replying gives you a 0% chance.

If that’s not your style, then you can opt for script 2.

You can use this exact script to improve your profile & future applications:

Hi John,

Thanks for taking the time to get back to me. I respect your decision to go with another house sitter, and I hope everything goes well for the both of you.

One quick question: What was your primary concern about selecting me as your house sitter? I’m not going to try to change your mind, just hoping to improve my application for future gigs. Any feedback you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Have a great day,

Andrew

Use these scripts every time you’re rejected, and you’ll find you start succeeding more and landing more gigs. You’ll start to understand the mindset of your prospective hosts better and make offers that match their needs better than the competition.

Getting In Touch & Closing The Deal

pet sitting callThe final, critical step is to get in personal contact with your potential host. This is where you need to show that you’re a better choice than all the other candidates, as well as negotiating all the details of the job.

Even though you’re interested in the possibility of house sitting with them, it’s important to make sure that your own concerns are being addressed to. In talking to a homeowner, you’re interviewing them just as much as the other way around.

This way, everybody will be clear about expectations and everybody wins.

Skype is the best way to do this, as you get a chance to actually see each other face to face and build rapport that way. You might be more comfortable on email, but if you really want gigs it’s time to step up and get on video.

You should preparing some jot notes with your qualifications, answers to tough questions, as well as your own questions. Keep things simple enough that you can quickly find any info at a moment’s notice. Several words per bullet point to jog your memory and make scanning quick and easy.

Most of this should be information you already know based on writing your own profile, researching this particular gig, and prior communication with the owner.

Even though you’re basically being interviewed for a job, this is far less formal than a job interview.  It can go a long way to take an interest in the homeowner and their plans. After all, they’re basically inviting you into an intimate part of their life for weeks or months.

Questions to Ask:

Is there a security system? How does it work?

What are the emergency numbers for the region?

What home/yard maintenance tasks are expected of me?

What’s the garbage and/or recycling schedule?

How can I get on Wifi (if they have it)? Where’s the router?

Who will cover utilities?

Pet Questions:

What pet food do they eat? Where can I buy it? Any particular diet restrictions?

Vet contact info.

Does the pet have any medical issues?

How much exercise/play does your pet need?

Any other routines to follow?

Also Find Out…(either now or in person)

Where are the circuit breakers?

Where are cleaning supplies, tools, etc?

Where are the main gas/water valves.

Extra Consideration: Do I have to provide a security deposit?

Some home owners may ask you to provide a security deposit to insure against property damage. Considering the types of homes you’ll likely be staying in, this seems like a reasonable request. This won’t always happen, but don’t be frightened off when it does.

The right approach is to negotiate the amount ahead of time, and the money exchange should only take place once you’re on-site – just before the homeowner departs. The amount should not be more than 1 month’s rent for a similar property, and under no circumstances send a deposit in advance!

Confirm in writing that this deposit will be returned when the homeowner gets back, assuming you haven’t caused any damage to the property of course. Many house sitting sites supply such forms themselves.

How to Win Beforehand & Close The Deal…Before other candidates even get a chance!

pet sit jobMost people go into an interview and try to convince the “hiring” part to pick them. It’s as true for house sitting as it is for job interviews.

You can immediately get a leg up by making it easy for the home owner to say “yes” to you.

This is a matter of research. First, knowing the country, visa requirements, internal transportation options, drivers licenses, budget requirements, weather, any political or regional strife, and any other issues that might weigh on a homeowner’s mind.

Your job is to come in to the interview and make it easy for them to say yes.

You want them to think “hey, this is great – they have it all figured out. I don’t have to show them 1000 things or deal with insane bureaucracy.”

Now depending on the details, the homeowner may have to add you to their car insurance or some such matter, but if you do as much of the heavy lifting as you possibly can, you have a huge psychological edge over the entire competition, even if you’re slightly less qualified.

Look. Homeowners want their homes and pets looked after. They want to know that everything’s going to be taken care of. When you go into an interview having preemptively handled all the minutia, you’re not only making it easy for them to pick you, you’re also sending a loud, unmistakable signal that by choosing you everything will be taken care of.

On The Job

In the lead up to landing your house sitting job, you should have already become rather familiar with the location and have some ideas about what you want to see and do there.

Likewise, if you spent time communicating with your host and asked good questions, there shouldn’t be any big surprises on the house and pet care side of things. Once you arrive, the owner will show you around and help you get set up for your job – any needed supplies or other important items – before heading off and leaving you to it.

At this point you’re basically free to live how you want within the constraints of the house sitting gig. This means that, while you won’t be able to leave for a week to go exploring, you’ll have a chance to acquaint yourself with local the culture and nature.

Ending Stronghouse sitting job

When it’s time for the owner to return, it’s time to make sure everything is pristine for their grand entrance. You want everything to look as good or better than when they left. If logistically possible, offer to pick them up from the airport and/or have dinner waiting when they get home.

This will help you get a rave review you can use in future applications and, who knows, maybe someday you’ll be invited back. It also helps keep the entire house sitting community strong by creating general good will between hosts and sitters.

House Sitting Success Story: The Goats On The Road Land A 5-Villa Property In Grenada (for 7 months)

In my definitive guide to budget world travel we looked at the example of Pete and Dalene Heck of Hecktic Travels, house sitting veterans who saved over $30,000 on accommodation by house sitting.

On their website, they break down their 2 months in British Columbia, Canada and 6 months in Honduras.

But by far the most ridiculous house sitting success story I’ve ever come across is Dariece and Nick, the “goats on the road”, who found a host in Grenada who needed his 5-villa property and pet dog looked after…for half a year.

They had 2 vehicles available to them in order to explore the island. The cottage they stayed in (one of the 5 villas) normally rents for $235/night.

Even if you considered the average nightly cost in Grenada of $150, that would be over $24,000 worth of rent – absolutely free.

The experience, of course – was priceless. Just check out the photos.

And even though this is an extreme example of a house sitting gig, the fact remains that it is one of the greatest ways to make travel in expensive regions ridiculously cheap.

No other travel hack comes close. Free flights might have 20% the value of a good house sit. If you want to make travel a bigger part of your life, it’s time you check out house sitting.

Head on over to Trusted House Sitters or Mind My House to get started now.

For more great budget travel advice, don’t miss How to Travel The World On Any Budget – my exhaustive guide to traveling longer and better for less.

 

Photo Credits: stevecadmanMattysFlickswgrellersobriPaolo MargariJeff Hester