“Where are you from?” I queried the older couple who just walked into the museum.

“Well, we’re from Texas but we’re staying in Boulder, Colorado for three weeks.”

“Are you visiting friends or family?”

“No, we’re house-sitting some people’s house through Housecares.com.”

Huh?  With Colorado being a very desirable vacation destination, and lodging at a premium, more and more tourists are turning to “alternative” forms of lodging.  As written in a prior blog post, in mountain towns throughout Colorado VRBO and Airbnb rentals are on the uptick.  But then again, so are other venues.

When friends have come to visit us in our log home, many mention what a desirable vacation home our house would be.  As one friend said gleefully, “You literally live on a mountain top!”  Well, not quite a mountain top, but we do live on a ridge and have a lovely view of the mountains.  Couple that with the rustic, cozy feel of exposed logs, a nice guest room and a large wraparound deck, and I can see why people would think of this as the perfect alpine getaway.

Housecares.com matches tourists who are looking for nice vacation lodging on the cheap with home owners looking for free pet care.  The couple I spoke with got a lovely home and even the use of a Lexus for three weeks for the sum total of taking care of a Labrador retriever.  They’d never met the woman before and just provided a couple of references along with their application.

As a pet owner, I know pet care doesn’t come cheap.  We pay our dog sitter $30 per day per dog.  A week’s vacation cost us over $400 in pet fees.  Cat care isn’t much better.  This past winter, we paid a woman in our neighborhood $20 per visit to check in our senior cat who was ill.  You can start to understand the appeal of someone living at your house, taking care of Fido and Kitty, and you’re not paying a thing.

Then there’s the house swap.  On homeexchange.com, you find someone who’s interested in your location, and you literally agree to take vacations during the same week with each of you staying at the other’s residence.  If you live in a desirable location like an island in Hawaii or in our case the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, this can work quite well.  And the cost of lodging in a highly sought after tourist mecca?  Zip.

But still, there’s something about these arrangements that makes me uneasy.  How well do I really know my dog?  He seems great around the family and neighbors, but what if something sets him off and he bites the touristas?  Or in our case, what happens if a wildfire breaks out?  We have a set evacuation plan down of what to take and where to go to get out within 5-10 minutes.  But how will Bill and Barbara from Iowa handle that kind of situation?  In the moment of high drama, would they manage to drag Fluffy out of the car and pack our fire boxes?

Also, sure you check references, but how much do I trust someone I don’t even know with MY STUFF?  It’s one thing to give your neighbor the key, the same neighbor that you will see day in and day out upon returning from my trip.  But it’s another to give some faceless couple access to all that’s near and dear to me.

So what do you think?  Is free lodging on your vacation worth opening the door to your home to complete strangers?  Is saving hundreds of dollars on pet-sitting fees worth it?

Maybe I’m just not that trusting…