Stephanie Perry felt like she needed a change.
As a pharmacy technician, she had financial stability but knew that her taste for adventure was quietly beckoning her to do something new. When the then 41-year-old realized her career stifled her ability to do what she really loved, she booked a vacation. This helped, but also highlighted how limited her time was since it revolved around her job.
Numbers show that there are many of us who share Stephanie’s desire to travel.
Black U.S. leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019 with that number on pace to significantly increase through 2022.
What’s particularly unique about Stephanie’s story though is what she did next: quit her job to travel around the globe full-time on her savings for a year. Now, six years later she’s built a career…wait for it…professionally house-sitting. Yes, that’s a real thing and Stephanie sat down with Essence to share how she did it, how the career move has taken her to some of the coolest places in the world and the steps we can take to get in on it.
Stephanie, considering that you travel so frequently, do you have a location you call home right now?
I don’t really keep a home base. But I have been spending six months out of the year in Mexico for the last three years or so. In between house sits, I come back to my parent’s home in exotic Dover, Delaware, hah!
For many Black families, travel was really considered a luxury. Was travel a priority for you growing up?
Travel was definitely a priority for my family, we took a vacation every August. But it was the fast travel that Americans have to do, because we get so little vacation time annually. I remember my family driving in a van from Ohio to Disney World with me and my foster sisters and brother, and we spent more time on the road in the van than actually in the Magic Kingdom. It’s amazing that I still love to travel after that!
Many of us can relate to feeling frustrated with our jobs and how they align with some of our outside wants and desires. However, you took the plunge and really did something about it. What was the ‘aha’ moment that drove you to quit your job and travel?
I’ve had a couple of those moments. The first was when I took a vacation with my mom and dad right after my mom retired. I believe my mom was 65 and my dad was 67. We went to Southern California together, and it was the first time I saw what it was actually like for people to work their whole lives and then try to start actually living and enjoying themselves, once they were already senior citizens! That’s when I decided that waiting until you are retirement-age to really start living and traveling is a scam. I knew that I was going to find a different way.
A few months later on my 40th birthday, I went to Brazil for vacation. The other Americans that I met while I was down there were traveling around South America for weeks and months, while I only had six days. And I had to beg and plead with my job just to get those 6 days of vacation. I asked these kids — they were in their early twenties mostly — how are you able to afford traveling around South America for months at a time? They put me on to the life of traveling full time, and squeezing in work when it fits.
House-sitting is not usually something that comes top of mind when people think of career options. How were you introduced to it?
After talking to those “kids” in Brazil, I decided to take a grown-up gap year. When I was 41 years old, I quit my job as a hospital pharmacy technician to travel for one year on savings. I spent 12 months traveling around Southeast Asia, Australia, and a little bit of Europe. When I initially planned the trip, I thought that 12 months would be enough to see all of the things I wanted to see. I thought I would be able to get in all of the places that I wanted to visit, and that I would be ready to come back to work. But being able to experience that life of full-time travel without working helped me reprioritize my entire life.
I wasn’t ready to come back to a life where work was my top priority and I had to fit every other part of living into the crevices, even after my money was all used up. I wanted a life where I could make the things that I love my priorities, and honestly, work as little as possible. So I simply Googled “how to travel with no money.” And Google told me to become a house sitter.
At what point did you realize this was a lucrative practice and could be a fitting career move for you?
As soon as I heard about house-sitting I knew that it was going to be my thing. I strategized and put back-to-back house sits together and not have to pay for accommodation, and therefore work a whole lot less.
But the people who were talking about how sitting at the time were all white people and mostly very young. My main concern was, is house-sitting realistic for a Black woman?
Even after I became a member of Trusted Housesitters I was afraid to apply for house sits that I wanted. I even let my membership just sit there for a few weeks. As much as I wanted to house sit, I didn’t know if it would actually work for me. The US is still pretty segregated. Luckily, a woman in my city saw my profile and reached out to me. She asked me to house sit for her so she could take a vacation with her family, and that’s when it all started.
It seems simple enough. Could you share a bit about the process?
The Trusted Housesitters platform not only lets people who need a house sitter post their house, pets, and dates needed, but also allows house sitters like me to apply for those house sits. It’s a fairly straightforward process and really easy to navigate.
My Trusted Housesitters profile shows homeowners that I am a trustworthy, reliable person and a friend to animals, and I pitch myself to house sit for people in places that I want to visit. We usually have a short phone conversation or Zoom call where we get to know each other, and then we agree that I’m going to house sit for them for the duration of their trip. I have done house sits that were as long as six months, and I’ve done house sits as short as one night.
It’s a win-win, I’m in their home taking care of their pets and responsibilities so that they can go out and live their own travel dreams while I am in their city living my travel dream!
Traveling alone can be daunting, especially for Black women. Coupled with staying in someone’s home, there might be a bit of concern there. Any advice for those that are hesitant to take the leap?
My advice is to give it a try. You don’t have to house sit full-time to house sit. If you’d like to get away close to home or a vacation at the beach, book a house sit. You get free accommodation. Plus, if it’s a pet-sit, a little furry companion while you’re there.
It’s house-sitter season. Winter is the best time to get started as a house sitter because people are traveling to visit family.
If the hesitation is because you’re afraid that you’re going to love house sitting so much that there’s not going to be any turning back for you, and the next thing you know you’re going to be a nomad bopping around the globe house sitting in exotic locations, I can’t help you. That just might happen.
I would love for all Black women to take an extended period of time where they get to focus on their dreams. House sitting gives me time to do that, and I love spreading this word and my knowledge.