Madolline Gourley has done her share of travel in recent years, even managing domestic trips as the pandemic has disrupted many of our vacations. Even better, she’s done this without paying for lodging. Oh, and there are always cats to cuddle at the end of the day. Did I mention that? How does she make this travel utopia happen? By taking her cat sitting expertise to cities across the globe.
The Australia native got her first cat sitting job in 2017 after learning about a coworker who got free accommodation from house sitting. Gourley thought that was an interesting idea, if she could apply it to international travel. After some research, she signed up for a house sitting site and got to work on building a profile. The idea of looking for cat sitting jobs in particular appealed to her due to her past experience with felines.
She says, “I’ve had cats since I was little and my mum is a big cat fan, too. She’s also had cats all her life. When I found out about the whole house/pet sitting for accommodation thing, I only wanted to do it looking after cats because I’ve only ever cared for cats.”
She felt that to be the best sitter possible, she should stick with animals with which she had experience. Cats fit the bill.
The first lucky feline to hang out with Gourley was in San Francisco. Gourley arrived at the destination for her 10-day holiday season job and discovered a nearly new, one-bedroom apartment close to plenty of local sightseeing. Between general house duties, meal times, cat play, and some updates for the fur parents, she was able to wander around San Francisco and soak in its sights and sounds. Plus, at the end of the day, there was a cat who grew comfortable enough to sleep on the bed with her.
After getting a stellar review from the cat’s humans, she was ready to keep going. The first trip was the beginning of many other such adventures across Australia and other American cities, from waterfront apartments in Boston to a home in the Cincinnati suburbs to an architecturally designed home on a mountain in Boulder. In each place, she gets to enjoy free accommodation in exchange for some house cleaning, garden upkeep, and cat companionship. In all, Gourley has sat for more than 40 cats, all of whom she says she remembers by name. Of course, there are a few particularly memorable ones.
She explains, “There was one cat, a Birman in Launceston (state of Tasmania in Australia), called Abel. Abel hid in his owner’s bedroom wardrobe for the first few days. He’d only come out for food and toileting which was usually done in the middle of the night. The few times I caught him in the litter room, he’d run and hide. A couple days in, he became less scared and then he wouldn’t leave me alone! He’d follow me everywhere and was so smoochy. He’d also jump straight on my bed as soon as I hopped in it.”
Currently, she’s house sitting in Sydney, caring for a cat she also watched around Easter. Pixel, as he’s called, is extremely curious and makes his presence known.
Gourley says, “He reminds me of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. He’s pretty big and has the British/Scottish Shorthair face to match. He also HAS to inspect anything you bring home. So I went to Zara the other day (post-Christmas sales are a thing in Australia), and as soon as I put the paper bag on the floor, he shoved his head in. I then went to Manly Beach yesterday and bought a dress from a boutique. Same thing happened… as soon as I put it on the floor, his head was in it. He also loves to sit on the denim vintage backpack I got a few weeks ago. Another ‘quirk’ he has is he’ll pull the owners’ postcards down off the fridge to get your attention.”
Australia has been very strict with travel throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns making headlines throughout the world. As things ease off, Gourley is looking forward to getting back to her American adventures in early 2022. She was actually doing a cat sit in Brooklyn in March 2020 as cases began to take off in New York City. That trip was filled with uncertainty as the cat owner’s travel plans were up in the air and the city was largely deserted. She did have plenty of fun with felines, though. The company of cats always enhances her experience, even if it’s a little crazy like that early pandemic adventure.
She says, “I think for me particularly, as I travel by myself (by choice), having the cat to come home to, care for, and bond with, is like having a substitute friend. While you can’t engage in actual conversation, it’s still nice to have a cat for company. And their antics will always make me laugh. Travelling by way of house and cat sitting has also introduced me to some pretty cool people. I follow some of them (and their cat accounts) on Instagram and then there’s some I chat with quite often.”
She’s looking forward to sharing her upcoming 2022 adventures with cat lovers and fellow travelers. You can see what she’s been up to, read about her past trips, and learn more about her cat sitting friends at onecatatatime.co. She also has plenty of tips for people interested in taking a similar travel path, one which has helped her save more than $30,000 AUD in accommodation over the years.
She says it’s important to learn the cat’s routine beforehand, have all the necessary information on what to do if there’s an emergency, and to be on the lookout for postings that seem a little too particular about what’s expected around the house. If it seems like a touch more than you’d want to sign up for, check out other listings. She also says things are more competitive than they were when she first got her start. It may be best to start local and pad your profile first.
If you’re looking to follow in Gourley’s footsteps and combine your love of travel and cats – or if you’re like most of the internet and want to look at adorable cat photos – be sure to visit her website or follow her on Instagram. Her blog on how to get started is a good first read.
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