A backpacker claims to have worked out how to travel for free and has saved £10,000 on her trip across Australia. Hailey Learmonth, 25, searched online for "how to travel for free" before venturing to Australia from her home in Canada in January.
She hasn't had to shell out for hotel rooms or hostels though as ever since she has been staying in Aussie residents homes for free. All Hailey has to do in exchange is look after their pets and homes for between six days and three months – essentially it's the perfect holiday hack for those who love animals.
Since starting her journey though Australia, Hailey has looked after dogs, cats, chickens and cows in Brisbane, The Hinterland and the gorgeous Gold Coast – all while living rent free, saving thousands of pounds.
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Hailey, a photographer by trade, often looks after remote homes and so she's saved tons of money on going out too – around £10,400 (or $20,000 AUD) in total which she hasn't been spending on nights out and booze. Plus, she gets to hang out with animals, explore the natural beauty around her and live without any rent or bills.
To find her temporary homes, Hailey matches with homeowners via a housesitting website and agrees to look after their pets for extended periods of time. The opportunity has given her the chance to explore all the "underrated" places in Australia that many tourists neglect to visit in favour of more well-known spots.
Hailey, a photographer from Squamish, Canada, said: "It’s been a crazy experience. When I first came here, I thought it’d be good to house-sit for a while and find my feet. But it’s turned into me living in other people’s houses for the last nine months.
"I love Australia – and it’s been a fun little journey to get here. I can confidently say through working full-time and living rent free, I’ve saved around £10.4k.”
Hailey first visited Australia on a university exchange programme for four months in 2018, and travelled the east coast, to Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road and knew from then that she would return. "I met an amazing group of friends who I travelled with," Hailey added. I knew I’d be coming back."
During Covid, Hailey began looking into how to travel on a bargain for when "the world opened up again". Through this she found a number of house-sitting sites in different areas. She then "bookmarked it, and put a pin in it" until November 2022.
Hailey said: "I was a bit older, and my standards had changed a little, but I was still very much a broke backpacker trying to cheat my way through absolutely everything!"
She created a profile on Trusted House Sitters for a cost of £84 which has to be paid annually, and is matched with customers who also pay so "everyone has skin in the game". "I added loads of pictures of myself with dogs, talked about my experience with pet-sitting in the past, showed my personality – was transparent about the fact that your dogs will get lots of walking done with me, because I’m a very active person," she said.
Hailey then submitted applications for two months before her first job in January 2023, for a family with a farm in the Sunshine Coast which has plenty of beaches and surf spots as well as national parks. She spent £900 on flights out to the Hinterland where she cared for three German Shepherds, 12 chickens and eight cows for two-and-a-half months.
She said: "It was a crazy experience. I’ve never lived that rural before, especially not on a farm. It was the middle of the summer, so I wasn’t working – and we were in the middle of nowhere! I used to travel around this 40 acre piece of land with the dogs, we’d go to this dam and they’d paddle in the water. The cows would follow us down and everything! I even got fresh eggs for breakfast from the chickens. It was such a cool experience."
Now, Hailey is coming to the end of another three-month dog-sit which has seen her living back on the Sunshine Coast since July. Through freelance photography and several stints at coffee shops, Hailey has managed to maintain a constant stream of income while in Australia while still being able to meet her responsibilities towards the animals in her care.
She added: "All I basically buy for myself nowadays is groceries. I don’t go out much or drink – some of my house-sitting jobs mean I’m unable to venture very far out of my local area. I’m in total money-saving mode and just solo-ing it round the beaches and local, unexplored areas.
"When all’s said-and-done, I can confidently say I’ve saved around £10k ($20,000 AUS). The cost-of-living in Australia – and Canada – is so brutally expensive. It’s a hot commodity to live in these two countries. If I hadn’t been sharehousing with homeowners via the website, I’d probably have paid £6k in rent by now. If you’re looking to live and travel by yourself – good luck. Sharehousing seems like it might be your best bet."
However, Hailey's work visa is coming to an end and she hopes to road trip around Sydney, Tasmania, Adelaide and Perth to make the most of her last few months before she has to head home to North America. After returning to Canada, she says she’ll "throw a dart on a map" to find her next destination.
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