Airbnb family holidays: Take another life for a test drive

Psst! Wanna know a secret? I love nothing more than sniffing around someone else's home.

I know, it sounds strange: like a cross between a human and beagle. A beaglewoman, if you will.

But there's something special about seeing a snapshot of another family's life: the books they read; the quirky kitchenware, and idiosyncratic artwork.

Airbnb offers a panoply of properties for families, but there's nothing quite like house sitting if you want value-for-money.

Your best bet is Mindahome.com.au. It costs $49 a year to register as a house sitter and is free for homeowners.

Edwin Breetzke, his partner and two children, aged 3 and 4, recently stayed at a home in Brisbane for nine days. He estimates the savings to be about $1600.

"For the kids, it's an adventure as they get to play with other people's pets and explore new things," Edwin says.

"We actually still have contact with the owner we house sat for, and the kids still talk about the pets. What a nice couple we met!"

He's already planning their next house sitting adventure, on the Sunshine Coast for Easter and Hervey Bay for Christmas.

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This is also an important service for rural families.

Louisa Farthing and her family were extremely restricted on holidays because they couldn't find anyone to look after their horse stud in Laguna, near Cessnock in the NSW Hunter region.

"Before Mindahome we would have to rely on finding someone local to house sit," Louisa says. "We'd have to check their availability first and then book our holiday around the dates they could do."

Now, they have plenty of experienced house sitters and animal lovers to choose from.

But are they trustworthy? It must be weird having someone you don't know using your stuff.

"We didn't worry about having strangers in our home, because house sitters provide references, which can be checked out," Louisa says.

Mindahome says that having a house sitter should not affect your home and contents policy but it's worthwhile checking with your insurance company because every policy is different.

A week before our last holiday, we realised we hadn't organised for anyone to look after the dog. ("I thought you were going to do it!" hubby and I said to each other, simultaneously.)

Minutes after filling out the forms on Mindahome's website we were emailed by the lovely Maree, whose references were impeccable.

An experienced house sitter in her mid-50s, Maree watered our plants, walked the dog, and collected the mail while we were away for a week.

"I've just moved down from Queensland," Marie explained. "I'm living with my son and his new baby, but I don't want to become a burden. House sitting means I can give him a break, and enjoy my own space, as well."

We came home to find the house spotless - and it didn't cost us a cent.

So, why not sniff around someone else's stuff?

Beats a sterile hotel room, any day.

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