Madoline Gourley
@Madolline via Instagram

Born in Brisbane, Australia, Madolline Gourley has found a unique way to explore the world without the hefty cost of accommodation. For almost three months, she has travelled across Canada, visiting Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and other cities. Unlike most full-time travellers, Gourley hasn't had to pay any rent. Instead, she is living with cats.

Gourley, 34, has always loved cats, having grown up with multiple pets during her childhood and adolescent years. When she is not housesitting, Gourley lives with her parents and her cat Gracie in Australia. "My mum likes to think she is the cat's mum," Gourley joked. "My mum enjoys when I'm gone because the cat is forced to love my mum."

What Housesitters Do and Where to Find Gigs

Gourley housesits for people with cats that need to be taken care of while they are away on vacation or business trips. She establishes connections with cat owners through housesitting services like House Sitters Canada, Mind My House, or House Carers.

While some website listings ask for someone to watch the house, most sitters will be asked to feed and hang out with animals, sometimes several animals. "You have your domestic animals like cats and dogs," says Gourley. "But there are people who have iguanas, people who have a complete farm that you have to look after—so horses, cows, chickens."

Although Gourley said that most animals are immediately trusting, she warned that some animals might take a little time to warm to their new carer. Gourley recalled an incident with a cat named Isabelle in Vancouver. "It was an older cat—I think she was 13 or 14. They did warn me that she took a while to warm up to you. They were correct," she said. "She was a bit hissy and didn't really like me, but after the third or fourth day, she wanted to sit on my lap, and she would let me pet her."

In contrast, two Toronto cats she stayed with during her second trip across Canada last year were at the opposite end of the spectrum. "They were the most beautiful, lovely, funny, perfect cats. And they [the owners] actually invited me back to house sit for them this year." Gourley will be looking after Henry and Josie for all of July.

Financial Benefits of Housesitting

Madoline Gourley
A house where Madolline Gourley stayed as a housesitter in South Carolina, US. @Madolline via Instagram

Considering how costly travel has become in recent years, with even the most affordable room-sharing places in Toronto costing more than $100 per night, cats have become Gourley's saving grace. Rent prices can quickly exceed $500 for travellers wanting to stay in a well-known hotel in a prime location, such as the Sheraton in Vancouver.

"Travel isn't as affordable as it used to be, so if you're willing to house and cat sit for someone, you can see some great places. While you don't get paid, it kind of is like a free vacation," Gourley said. According to a recent Globe and Mail article, a couple saved around $6,000 when using a house-swapping programme, similar to Gourley's cat-sitting gigs but without the four-legged company.

Visa Complications

While housesitting is a great way to save money while living rent-free, Gourley revealed that her career has not come without complications. As reported by Australia's, without a valid work visa, Gourley was questioned and deported by US border officials in 2022 and sent straight back to Australia.

According to Gourley, US immigration does not care if sitters are not being paid for their arrangements made possible by sitting websites; the problem lies with what the traveller is doing. From her experience at the US border, Gourley learned that feeding a cat constitutes "productive activity," and to carry out any type of productive activity, the traveller needs a work visa.

The Next Housesitting Adventure

Madoline Gourley
@Madolline via Instagram

Gourley has been fortunate enough to obtain her EU passport in a bid to expand her sitting activities to Europe. With an EU passport, she can stay in Europe and cat-sit for people there. "I have just been successful in getting Croatian citizenship through my grandma," she said, noting that language barriers could be problematic. "I just speak English," she said. "It might be a bit difficult, I am aware."

What About a "Real" Job?

To boost her income, while Gourley is already saving money by not having to pay for accommodation, she is also looking for remote work with a work permit and saving for the occasional lull in her schedule. "By the time I head home, I'll have spent six months in Canada without having to pay for a place to stay," she said. "I don't have a permanent job back home, I don't have a mortgage, so I guess I do have a lot of flexibility that isn't afforded to a lot of people."

"But at some point, I think I will have to settle down and get a permanent job and only cat-sit a few weeks a year when I have vacation through my permanent job," she continued.

Gourley has also launched her own travel blog, One Cat at a Time, which she uses to update her followers on her adventures across the globe and advises fellow house-sitters on immigration and visa requirements for different nations.

Gourley's unique approach to travelling the world by housesitting has allowed her to explore numerous cities without the burden of accommodation costs. By caring for pets, primarily cats, she has discovered a way to live rent-free, enjoy new experiences, and connect with people across different cultures. Despite the challenges, including visa complications, Gourley's journey showcases an innovative way to travel and live abroad. Her story is a testament to the benefits of thinking outside the box and pursuing unconventional paths to achieve one's dreams.