How to save money on travel? Cat-sitting in exchange for a free stay



I love Spain.

So when a friend of a friend who lives on the island of Mallorca asked if I could look after her five cats in exchange for staying in her house for two weeks, I leapt at the chance.

I’d never done anything like this, so I organized a video call with the homeowner, Daniella, who spoke to me from her living room in the small inland town of Binissalem.

Daniella, a business coach from Switzerland who moved to Mallorca several years ago, said she was leaving in a few weeks to take a coaching course in Arizona and needed someone trustworthy to look after Phiro, Jabbo, Nunik, Orion and Yoda, all of whom had been rescued by her as kittens.

Binissalem, Mallorca, is surrounded by vineyards dating back to Roman times.

Markus Lange | Getty Images

During warm weather, the cats mainly lived outside, she told me, so I would need to keep an eye on them and feed them twice a day. In lieu of payment, I could stay in her ensuite guest room, and even use her car too.

“Do you have experience with cats?” Daniella asked. I had to be honest: I hadn’t looked after them since I was a teenager, but I’d always found my friends’ pets to be cute and good company.

I was excited, but a little nervous. I’m used to traveling solo, having visited Vietnam, Bali and Las Vegas alone, but I’d never stayed in a stranger’s home by myself on an overseas trip. I worried I’d feel isolated.

But my fears were unfounded. I had a day’s handover with Daniella, who showed me around Binissalem’s center — a grid of attractive, narrow streets flanked by thick-walled stone buildings — and where a weekly market was held in a town square.

Jabbo, who often asked for treats, sitting next to an information sheet about him.

She kindly introduced me to several of her friends — English-speaking expatriates who were long settled in Mallorca — over a meal at Es P’dal, a restaurant off the square. One had made a life on the island as a celebrant officiating weddings and other ceremonies; another was a life coach. Daniella added me to their WhatsApp group where they shared upcoming activities.

After dropping Daniella off at the airport early the next morning, my adventure as a first-time cat sitter began.

Daniella briefed me on her pets, all male and neutered, printing a photo and summary of each: Phiro, a soft-furred ginger tabby was the youngest; Yoda, a shy green-eyed grey tabby liked to spend his days outside; Nunik, a tabby with a white belly loved to eat tuna; long-haired Orion was the secret boss of the house; and black and white Jabbo frequently begged for food.

Playa de Muro near Port d’Alcudia has warm, shallow water and white sand.

Holger Leue | The Image Bank | Getty Images

Sure enough, after driving Daniella’s white convertible from the airport through Binssalem’s one-way streets to her home, Jabbo rubbed himself against my leg and looked up at me for a treat.

I soon settled into a routine. I would wake around eight to the sound of the town’s church bells, then head downstairs to clean the remnants of the cats’ evening meal before feeding them breakfast. I’d top up the dry food that they grazed on during the day and make sure they had fresh water.

Then, I’d check the weather and if sun was forecast, I’d work on my newsletter in the morning and then head out in the afternoon to explore.

My favorite beaches included Muro on the north coast, with its turquoise sea and long strip of pale sand, and pebbly Cove S’illot, close to a small restaurant with spectacular views across the Bay of Pollenca.

Returning to Binissalem, I’d check around the garden for the cats and give them their evening meal, and on cooler evenings I would curl up on the sofa with a furry friend for company.

Phiro, a pale ginger tabby, one of the cats the author took care of.

Lucy Handley

One day, I took a yoga class at Bini Balance, a short walk from my temporary home, which the teacher, Cristina, instructed in English and Spanish. Afterward, she invited me to a weekend retreat in the nearby Serra de Tramuntana mountain range that runs through the center of the island.

I joined for a day, practicing yoga in a clearing through the trees and eating paella cooked outdoors.

My friend Holly, who’d introduced me to Daniella, invited me to creative writing classes held by author and editor Alice LaPlante, a longtime Stanford University teacher who lives in Mallorca. I joined Holly and others in Alice’s home in Palma, the island’s delightful capital, for a lesson on short story-writing and scene description techniques. The following week, we met to discuss a novel we had all read.

Holly also suggested places to eat: La Trencadora, an Italian restaurant on a quiet street in the beautiful town of Pollenca, and Sa Placeta, which serves Mallorcan specialties in a shady Palma square.

But eventually, it was time to leave and return to London.

Cat-sitting made me feel like I lived on the island, and I was sad to leave my five new friends.


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