House Sitting in Belize – Interview with Beth and Mark

Recently, we had a chat with Beth.

Beth and her husband Mark have just started the digital nomad and house sitting lifestyle.

But they have already manged to land an INCREDIBLE HOUSE SIT!

5 months in Belize!

Beth provides some wonderful advice for getting started (her tips on applications letters are GOLDEN nuggets)

Lets see how Beth and Mark ended up in this wonderful house sit!

Tell us a little bit about yourself – who are you, where are you from, for, do you do it full-time or sporadically

We are Beth and Mark Copenhaver, both long-time residents of the Atlanta, GA, US area. We are both in our late 50s and are full-time digital nomads.

We estimate that we have 5-7 years before we can both fully retire. Our goal is to find housesitting assignments and travel around the world for the next 4-5 years, possibly longer.

Ideally, we will be house-sitting about half the time we are traveling, then using hotels or short-term rentals between gigs.

Mark is a Dungeons & Dragon nerd from way before it was cool and we both currently play a weekly MMORPG game, City of Heroes, with friends in Georgia and Virginia to keep in touch while traveling.

I grew up in Tampa, FL, then graduated from the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!). My professional background is in technical writing and training.

I currently work part-time in healthcare IT customer support and I’m starting up a freelance proofreading business.  I have one daughter, who lives in Brooklyn,NY. I spend as much time reading as possible and also enjoy woodworking and pottery.

We both enjoy science fiction books and movies, Steelers football, cruises (we’ve booked our 2nd transatlantic cruise for late 2023), live music, and plays.

How many housesits have you had and where?

Currently we’re on our first assignment in Teakettle, Belize. This is a five-month assignment with two dogs and two cats.

The house is beautiful, right on the Belize river with tropical flowers and fruit trees blooming continually.

We see gorgeous birds every day and regularly hear the howler monkeys across the river. The owners have been doing this schedule and using house-sitters for almost 10 years.

They go back to the US during the rainy season and spend several months visiting and sailing.

How did you find out about housesitting?

We got an early start on retirement by buying a house in Ellijay in the North Georgia mountains in 2017.

We commuted to Atlanta weekly until the COVID lock-downs, when our company went 100% remote.

We love our home in the mountains on the Coosawattee river, but realized that since we could work from anywhere, that we should get out and Work from Anywhere.

We decided in 2021 that we would put our home on the short-term rental market by the end of that year and travel as much as possible while still working remotely.

Getting the house ready was a hard, difficult process that took us about 6 months (and multiple trips to the thrift stores and landfill). So far, it has been successful, though the income is not as much as we hoped.

Our first step in researching was a subscription to International Living magazine. 

Great stuff, a really good starting point, but it focuses mostly on retirement and not as much on digital nomad-specific sources so we’ve moved on to blogs and social media forums.

We get a huge amount of information from blogs/SM specific to digital nomading and the areas we want to visit. 

It was during our expanded search for more digital nomading content that we discovered house sitting when I ran across the Traveling Housesitters blog.

House-sitting turned out to be the missing piece in making our digital nomad lifestyle a reality.

Why did you do petsitting? What is the main motivation?

Pairing house-sitting with a digital nomad lifestyle allows us to travel to more places and stay longer.

Saving money on accommodations means we don’t have to dip into savings or travel on a shoestring budget.

How much luggage do you travel with?

For the 7 months in Belize we settled on a three item per person solution based on what airlines typically allow:

  1. Checked bag (50 lb max) – on wheels so we stack for schlepping
  2. Carry-on bag
  3. Purse or Backpack

We needed to bring our work gear – between us we have 3 laptops, 2 portable screens, multiple headsets, routers, chargers, etc. We also knew it would be difficult/expensive to get anything shipped to us while in Belize, so we brought more things like toiletries, first aid kit, bug spray, laundry detergent, packaged snacks, etc. than I would if I was in a more accessible location.

For Belize the clothing we brought was minimal because there’s only one season – hot!

Europe next year will be very different – much more of the suitcase will be clothes, but we will strive to keep to the three-item limit.

Pros of House Sitting?

The biggest pro would have to be the money saved.

We are staying in Belize a total of 7 months with 5 months of free accommodations. It’s OK if we spend a little extra on food and activities, since we aren’t paying rent.

(Remember, our mortgage on our Georgia home is covered by our renters.)

We started our trip in Belize with a month on the beach at Caye Caulker and are planning on finishing up with another 10 days at the beaches in the Southern part of the country.

Getting to know the owners and locals, is also a huge Pro.

We are in near daily contact with the owners as small issues come up with the house, or they update us on their travels. We frequently send them pictures of the furbabies being adorable.

We’ve gotten to know them fairly well, even though most of the interaction is virtual.

In addition, we have met several locals who have been warm, friendly, and incredibly helpful. We like becoming regulars at the local produce stands, shops, and restaurants.

As we have done interviews for our upcoming sitting assignments, we are meeting a diverse set of people and are looking forward to making contacts and relationships around the world.

Cons of House Sitting?

There are certainly some cons, the biggest one for us is that you can’t just take off whenever you want; we are limited to activities that are within a short drive.

Also, as we aren’t paying the utility bills, we feel obligated to be extra frugal using the AC, water, etc.

Our current charges don’t require daily walks (huge fenced yard), but with other assignments I know our daily schedule will be more dictated by the needs and habits of the pets (no sleeping in!)

Other things to note:

  • You won’t always have the bed you would have chosen if you were paying for a place.
  • It’s not your house – it’s full of other people’s stuff so you can only  get comfortable to a point.
  • Travel dates are less flexible than pay-for accommodation.
  • You have to deal with house issues more closely than you would with paid-for accommodations

I’m sure we’ll find other cons, but so far, it’s going well. You just need to have reasonable expectations and be flexible.

What was your favourite housesitting experience to date and why?

We really love Belize. The country is beautiful with the rainforest, mountains, and beaches.

The local people have been extremely welcoming and are enthusiastic ambassadors for their country.

We’ve gotten to climb Mayan ruins, canoe through caves, zip line through the mountains, swim under waterfalls, watch parakeets, hummingbirds, and toucans from the deck, make chocolate, and cook over an open fire.

Being here for several months has given us an opportunity to really get to know the country that you can’t get on a two-week vacation.

Have you had any funny housesitting experiences?

One of the dogs has a habit of picking up coconuts or rocks and bringing them in the house. I

have about three rocks and two coconuts in the living room/deck right now.

We try to go to the local festivals and there was a large show, like a US state fair back in May.

Our landscaper was entered in the bull riding event at the rodeo, so of course we had to go cheer him on. He didn’t manage the required 8 seconds, but was able to walk away. The whole day was great fun.

How do you decide on a destination?

We have an informal Bucket List of places we’d like to visit.

Mark has done a good deal of research on countries that are welcoming to digital nomads, so we put those at the top of the list. We had planned to start our nomading in Mexico, after a trial run in Florida. Then we found the Belize posting.

We were both excited since we had visited the Belize before on several cruise excursions and had always enjoyed our stops here (plus they speak English). So Mexico will have to wait.

The next sit we have lined up is in Connecticut in December because we were looking for something geographically close to NYC, where my daughter and son-in-law live.

Several of our bucket list destinations are in the UK, so for 2023, we decided we would spend up to 6 months there and started looking for assignments online.

That’s when we joined the as they have a more robust list of international housesits. We’ve landed six assignments from January through September 2023. We’ll be staying in Oxford, the Cotswolds, both coasts of Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales.

Going forward, I think choosing a general, larger geographic area we want to visit, then finding the specific sitting assignments will be how we pick our destinations.

Was it hard for you to secure your first housesitting gig? How many applications did you have to send before you got accepted for your first assignment?

We started with (because it was cheaper) to see if we could land an interesting assignment in an area we wanted to visit. We found the Belize assignment in just a few days.

We were lucky that our very first application was accepted. I think it helped that we had a good Zoom session with the owners and found we have a lot in common with them.

While we don’t have a lot of references for house-sitting yet, we have decades of experience as homeowners and pet owners, so I think people are comfortable trusting us with their homes and furbabies.

For the upcoming assignments in the UK, we accepted six assignments, but applied for at least 20 that we didn’t get

My advice is to pay attention to the suggestions on the websites and blogs as you create your profile and introduction letters.

My first version of the application letter was fairly short and succinct. I thought people would go look at our profile. I was so wrong.

After reading an article on what makes a good application letter, I totally re-wrote the piece. Turns out that “more is more” here. People don’t necessarily want to go look at yourprofile, so be sure to put your highlights in the initial letter. The new application letter has gotten much better response in terms of interviews and sitting offers.

Tips for others wanting to get started?

  • Do your research on what the house/pet-sitting lifestyle is really like to see if it’s going to be compatible with your likes/dislikes. Read lots of blogs and articles.
  • Are you going to be able to work remotely? If so, what equipment and infrastructure will you need? Dependable high-speed internet is a deal-breaker for us.
  • If you are traveling internationally, know about the passport, visa, and other government requirements. Make sure your passport has at least 6 months left before expiration.
  • Investigate the local healthcare options where you are going — who are the providers, will you have access, how much is a standard sick visit?  This is especially important if you need regular medical care or prescriptions. Find out how much your medications cost in that country without insurance and how to get them. Consider an international health insurance policy. If you are a US citizen know that your health insurance, including Medicare, will not cover you overseas.
  • Get the recommended vaccinations on the CDC website.
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees! (We spent $70 in fees our first month, ouch!)
  • Consider applying for Global Entry or TSA Precheck (some credit cards will reimburse the fee).
  • Figure out what to do with your mail at home while you are away. There are multiple services that can scan or forward items to you.
  • Know the tax rules if you will be away from your home country more than 6 months in a calendar year.
  • Research the transportation needs/solutions before you get there – cars, buses, trains, private/public, uber etc.  Determine what your needs will be and if there is an affordable solution. Will your car insurance cover you on rentals or if you drive the owner’s car?
  • Consider getting an international driver’s license.
  • If you’re housesitting with a partner, make sure you’re compatible and in agreement on how to handle the division of labour, money, etc. Can you problem-solve effectively together? Here in Belize, we spend nearly 24-7 together. My husband and I have been married 18 years and working together nearly that entire time, so we were already used to being together more than most couples.

Did you ever have any unusual pets to take care of or responsibilities that were out of the norm?

Not while pet-sitting, but when the kids were at home we had lizards, snakes, fish, birds, hamsters, as well as the usual dogs and cats.

One of our upcoming sits will be with Stanley the turtle– daily responsibilities: turn on light in the morning, drop in pinch of food, turn off light at bedtime.

Where to next (when you can)

First, we have to get back to Georgia to see our friends and family. The next assignment is Danbury, CT, then in September 2023 we head to the UK. I get to spend my 60th birthday in Wales – how cool is that?

Want to follow along with Beth and Marks’s adventures? You can here

Want to try House Sitting As Well?
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Check out the resources for getting started as a house sitter here.

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