Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the couple who travel the world staying in stranger’s homes

''We found a novel way of spending our Christmases.''
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Debra Holst, 61, from Sorrento, WA, shares her story:

My family sat around the table, Santa hats on, laughing and joking.

“Let’s head to the beach,” I suggested.

We’d all just finished our traditional Christmas meal of turkey, pork and all the trimmings.

My parents were there, as were my husband Peter’s, and our kids.

We walked to the beach with our bellies full and had a swim.

On Boxing Day, we treated ourselves to more indulgence, a delicious shrimp barbecue.

It was a quintessential Aussie affair with sun, sea and sand and we loved it.

Peter and I had both taken early retirement and after that Christmas get together, we embarked on a mammoth year-long trip around the world followed by a three-month cycling adventure across Australia.

“Why don’t we cycle across France next?” Peter suggested and of course I was game.

So, we packed up our bikes and flew to Paris.

Peter and I love to travel.

(Image: Supplied)

Then we cycled the 80km to the Champagne region.

I was immediately entranced.

We stayed at a beautiful chateau and hit it off with the owners.

Sabine never usually invited her BnB guests for dinner but she did with us and over a delicious meal she made us a proposal.

“We are planning on going to New Zealand this Christmas for four weeks,” she said. “Would you like to house sit our house for us while we’re away?”

I’d never considered it before but Peter and I discussed it.

“Why not?” he said. “It means free accommodation and we love this area.”

It was a no-brainer.

I adored the French food and it meant we’d get to experience a white Christmas for the first time.

Experiencing some cooler climes.

(Image: Supplied)

We continued our travels, excited to return to Sabine’s for the festive period, and at another BnB we met a couple called Bindy and Nigel.

I told them about our upcoming housesitting adventure.

“Have you heard of Trusted Housesitters?” Bindy asked.

I hadn’t but Bindy explained it was a website where people from all over the world could apply to have vetted housesitters look after their homes and pets.

When Peter and I got back to Australia we created a profile on the website and we were quickly inundated with requests.

With no employment obligations, we put our house up for rent, packed backpacks and set off.

“I’m jealous,” my daughter Amanda said as we kissed goodbye.

That first Christmas at Sabine’s beautiful house surrounded by breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains was magical.

We explored the fantastic Christmas markets and instead of turkey and shrimp, we feasted on foie gras, rabbit and wild-boar terrines and sipped eggnog by the fire.

The following year, we spent an incredible Christmas in Turkey.

Christmas in Turkey.

(Image: Supplied)

We’d been in the UK beforehand and I packed some Christmas paraphernalia into my suitcase as I wasn’t sure how Christmassy it would be in Turkey.

At the airport, my luggage let off an alarm.

“No explosive devises, Madam,” the officer said.

I was so flustered until I realised it was our bonbons that I’d packed that had raised the alarm.

I was as red-faced as my Santa hat as they removed them and chucked them in the bin.

I needn’t have worried because the lovely owners of the house in Kas, Turkey, had put up lots of Christmas decorations including a fully adorned tree.

The house also came with 16 cats.

One of them, a kitten who kept pulling the Christmas tree down.

That year, we went to an Armenian restaurant for Christmas lunch.

Another Christmas in Turkey on the southeastern coast we had an unforgettable experience up in the hill town village of Gokceovacik where we sang Christmas carols taking in the breathtaking vista.

Peter in Farfel, France.

(Image: Supplied)

Our son Glenn joined us on that trip.

“It’s so different from what we’re used to,” he enthused.

The coldest Christmas we had was in the Yukon region of Canada.

It got to -49 degrees Celsius.

On New Year’s Eve, we were invited to join a few locals to a firework display on a frozen lake.

Fairy lights were strung across the snow-laden fir trees.

We sat on steps cut out in the ice and warmed our hands by the bonfire.

It was utterly mesmerising.

“Folks back home are on the beach and we’re on a frozen lake,” I said to Peter laughing. “It doesn’t get more Christmassy than that.”

Afterwards, we zoomed home on snowmobiles.

Cat-sitting in Turkey.

(Image: Supplied)

For 10 years, our house-sitting adventures took us all over the world.

We went to America, the Caribbean, Thailand, Finland, Germany and Guatamala, to name just a few.

We’ve looked after all sort of pets including iguanas, frogs, donkeys, an alpaca and a llama.

One of the houses came with a room filled with special house plants that needed around the clock care including varying room temperatures and watering requirements.

When the pandemic hit, we felt tied down but got on with it.

One of the ways we managed to quell our wanderlust was getting involved with a local charity called Cycling without Age.

We voluntarily cycle trishaw bikes, a bike with a passenger trolley attached to the front, with elderly or disabled passengers sitting in it.

We’ve visited so many countries.

(Image: Supplied)

It’s been so rewarding to see the joy on people’s faces as we collect them from their nursing home and cycle them along the seafront with the wind in their hair.

We swap stories and all have a great time.

This year, we’re planning a traditional Aussie Christmas of barbecued shrimp and beach time with our families.

Soon we hope to resume our house-sitting adventures.

It’s been the most incredible experience and we plan to continue doing it for as long as we can.

Soon we hope to resume our house-sitting adventures.

(Image: Supplied)
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