A sentiment I read a bit too often in homesteading circles is that once you have a homestead, you can never leave the house again. I’m here to tell you that this is false. In my 17 years of homesteading, I have gone on many, many vacations, including a month-long honeymoon to Costa Rica, a three week road trip, and countless shorter trips. I love to travel and it’s a priority for me, so (although it can be stressful), I figure out ways to make it happen. Here’s how.
How to Homestead and Still Go on Vacation
Find a great house sitter
Okay, this is probably the hardest step, so let’s get right to it. The biggest key to having a successful and relaxing vacation is to have an incredible house sitter. I feel very lucky in that we’ve always had amazing people care for our home, gardens, and animals. It has not always been easy, and it’s the step that feels the most out of my control, which means that it causes the most stress. But here are some ways to find a great house sitter:
- Get acquainted with other homesteaders in your area, and work out house-sit trades. Get to know other people with cows, goats, chickens, gardens. Chances are that they will need help at some point. Offer it willingly and generously.
- Sweeten the deal. Do you have fresh, raw goats milk to offer? How about abundant garden produce? Offer these as trade for animal care.
- Check out the FFA or 4-H clubs in your area for willing teens who might want to help.
- Be very, very clear on what your expectations are, and communicate them clearly. Do you need someone to live at your house and do a few hours worth of work each day? Or do you just need a quick 10 minute pop-in each evening and morning to do the chickens and feed the cat?
- Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for a house sitter. Chances are that someone is available and might enjoy a homestead-based “retreat.”
- Make up a Homestead House Sitting document, and update it regularly. Include all chore information, important phone numbers (don’t forget the vet and the neighbors) and anything else that your house sitter should know. Ours is 7 pages long (yes, we are very detailed people), but it’s super clear, and tells our sitter everything they need to know, in case they forget a detail. We also put duct tape on feed bins and label them with the amount of feed to be given to each animal. Super helpful.
Prepare Well in Advance
If the vacation is the finish line, the weeks leading up to your vacation are the grueling marathon. I tell you this not to scare you from travel (because it’s totally worth it, and helps prevent homestead burnout), but to be realistic. On our homestead, for every week that we will be gone, I expect to spend a full week preparing to leave. I’m writing this post as I prepare for a two week trip. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about:
- Mulch the entire garden and water it if we don’t get sufficient rain
- Kill cabbage worms in the broccoli and kale patch
- Make sure the cow barn is full of straw and that all feed buckets have been filled
- Check on water catchment levels around the homestead, and make trips to the pond as necessary
- Pick and preserve all snap peas that are ready
- Schedule blog posts and newsletters for the next three weeks
And so on. It’s a lot of advance planning, but the extra work that goes into getting ready makes life much easier for our house sitter, and allows for a much more relaxing vacation experience because we’re not thinking about what we should have gotten done.
Timing is Everything
You know why we traveled to visit family in late March this year? Because we dried up Creme Brûlée, in anticipation of her calving in May, and therefore could secure house sitters who did not have milking experience. Yes, it’s true … my cow is dictating my life!
Since we homeschool, we are free to travel on any schedule we’d like, but certain times of years make it much more easy to leave the homestead. Winter, for one, is a great time to travel. In my ideal world, I would spend the month of February in a sunny location, while someone who LOVES cozying up by a wood stove and knitting would enjoy my house for a month, and pet my cows. But, in order for that to work, we need to breed Creme Brûlée for an April birth. Not impossible, but it requires planning.
Similarly, I really hate leaving in August and September because it is harvest time in the garden, and I have lots of food preservation to do. Figure out what times of year feel more spacious, and plan your travel accordingly.
Create Smart Systems that Allow you to Get Away
This is absolutely essential for vacation-loving homesteaders. The better your systems, the easier it will be to prepare to leave, and for someone else to care for your home. Here are some examples of ways we make travel easier:
- We switch over to once a day milking about 6 weeks into having a calf, and leave the calf on her dam. If we need to get away in the summer (as we do now), we only need a milker once a day. If the calf is 3-4 months and older, he/she will drink all of the milk, and we can leave for a week or two without even needing a milker! Yes, we sacrifice some milk production, but it’s worth it for freedom.
- In the garden, I only water plants once a week, deeply. This eliminates daily tending, and heightens that chance that rainfall will take care of my watering needs. (An exception to this is young seedlings, which need more water.) In 2017, we left for the entire summer and still managed to plant a garden before we left and get a harvest!
- We now have a root cellar to store food and canned goods. We can move anything that might be damaged by cold into the root cellar, close the door to our house, and not worry about someone having to come by and keep the house warm. (One of the only bonuses of not having running water in our house is no frozen pipes – score!)
- Our chickens and ducks are low maintenance, requiring food and fresh water only once a day. The rest of the day, they are allowed to forage and free-range on the property for extra nutrition.
Take the Animals with You
Okay, I know this is not really realistic for all you pig/chicken/cow/sheep farmers out there, but hear me out! We are a camping and backpacking family and love getting out in the wilderness. When we had Alpine dairy goats in Oregon, we would regularly go on 2-3 day backpacking trips with the goats! We’d milk them in camp, enjoy granola and milk for breakfast, and need minimal house sitting at home.
The point is, find ways to be creative, and if you love to travel, make it work for you!
What are your best tips on how to have a homestead and still go on vacation?