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"TrustedHousesitters: Branding A Lifestyle" — Aaron And Brianna Shade, Travel Bloggers

Brianna Shade (00:00): Sorry, the cat is playing with a toy like right at the beginning. We're gonna pick, I know, I'm taking the ball out so the cat doesn't

Sam Thorogood (00:11): Oh, okay. Yeah.

Brianna Shade (00:12): Sorry. All right. We are Aaron and Brianna with Big Tiny World Travel and we help other travel dreamers afford to travel indefinitely. And this is our love letter to TrustedHousesitters.

Sam Thorogood (00:43): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Aaron Shade (01:26): Uh, so TrustedHousesitters, I mean, we were planning a trip around the world and we wanted to find ways to find free lodging and, and doing that we also, uh, were going to local meetups where we're learning a lot about travel there. And, and we heard about TrustedHousesitters through that, uh, through the meetup because we met some other travellers that had been doing travel around the world for like seven years. And, uh, that really kind of inspired us like, hey, we can make this possible because if we get a lot of different house sits, we don't have to pay for lodging each night. And, uh, in fact, when we were using the programme, we had, you know, four and a half months in Europe, we didn't have to pay a dime for lodging. So, I mean, it was just, it was just so powerful to find, like, hear about other people's stories with the programme and then then making that, uh, reality with our own travels.

Brianna Shade (02:17): And what's funny is we had heard about it before we started travelling, but then kind of forgot about it until we were like a month and a half into our travels and then were reminded by some fellow travellers. I'm like, oh yeah, there's this thing. And we should look into that. And so we started looking at pet sits, uh, actually in London, uh, is where we were when we first started looking and they were all over the place. And so it was kind of a jumping over some hurdles trying to learn, you know, that learning curve of getting used to the programme and, uh, what the tips and tricks are to actually get your first sit and, uh, have other people trust you to stay in their homes with their pets and that sort of thing thing. So, uh, it was an interesting introduction to it. Uh, but we were very glad we found it. Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (03:04): So I think it'd be worth at this point, maybe zooming out a little bit and explaining a little bit more about what you do cos you live really amazing lives. Do you wanna just share with the listeners how you live and, and what your kind of vision is for, for life?

Brianna Shade (03:16): Certainly. So we are perpetual travellers. Uh, we call ourselves unlimited travellers because we're not necessarily full-time travellers. We like being able to have the freedom to go and travel as much as we want, but also the freedom to, you know, come home and spend time with our own pets. Uh, we have two cats and so a lot of people kind of get into their heads, this idea that, oh, if I'm gonna be a full-time traveller, that means I have to be on the road 24/7, but that's just not the case. We're all about having the freedom to travel, which also means having the freedom to not travel when you choose and being able to simply get up and go whenever we want, when we see that there's a good cat sit in Calgary, for example, which is where we are now, uh, in a place that we want to visit, uh, we can just get up and go. And it's wonderful having that freedom to be able to travel whenever, wherever we want, uh, and TrustedHousesitters certainly helps us do that.

Sam Thorogood (04:14): So tell me more about the, the process. How would, how would one go about, uh, starting with TrustedHousesitters?

Brianna Shade (04:21): Sure. So it's basically a programme that matches homeowners who have pets usually, uh, with travellers who want to visit a certain location. And so you just join the programme. Uh, I believe as, as of this time, it's about 120 USD uh, to join the programme and it's for an annual, uh, subscription to the programme. And then from there you can browse any homeowners who are travelling, looking for somebody to come into their home, to, uh, visit with their pets, uh, or care for their pets and just be a presence in their home. Uh, or conversely, if you are travelling like us and have pets at home like us, uh, then you can join as a homeowner, uh, and invite other travellers to your city to come watch your pets. So it, it it's both sides. And once you join the programme, there's no cash interchanged between homeowners and pet sitters. Uh, so it's effectively free lodging, uh, or a free pet sitter, whichever side you're on, or you could be both. Uh, so it's a really wonderful programme. And the thing that I love most about it is the fact that it feels like each party feels like the other is doing them a huge favour. Uh, so it's, it's great all around.

Aaron Shade (05:38): Such a win-win situation there. And I wish we found it sooner because we were always begging our friends to come watch our pets when we were going, uh, away for Christmas or whatever else, hey, just stop in a couple times and, you know, check up on 'em and, uh, you know, scoop their litter and all that stuff. But

Sam Thorogood (05:53): Yeah, and like you say, you're seeing it on both sides of the equation, aren't you, you know, you're, you're, you're hosting, but you are also, so that, that's fascinating. That's really, really fascinating. How, tell me more about, um, you know, getting started, is it difficult because presumably a lot of it runs on reviews and that kind of thing? So how do you, how, how, how do you prove that you are legit kind of at the start when you don't have any reviews to back you up?

Aaron Shade (06:16): So before you start, it's good to get some personal references that you can get onto the website. So that can kind of help, like, especially if they have any knowledge of your experience with pets and those reviews can kind of help just show that you're a human being and there is also a verification process now, isn't there?

Brianna Shade (06:36): Yeah. They do like a background check and, uh, that sort of thing to make sure that you're a legit person and not just some random person on the internet. Uh, but before we started, we got a review from like my parents, uh, with whom we've we had stayed for a while. And one of our friends that we, uh, had stayed with while we were travelling and they had a cat and, and, um, our landlord, I think, uh, gave us a, a reference as well. So just anybody who can give you kind of those character references before you get started is really great. Um, and then the first, uh, cat sit that we did was in Taunton, England. And it was this tiny town out of the way that is possibly a little harder to get a pet sitter. Uh, and so someone is always going to be your first host, um, or your first pet sit, pet sitter, uh, depending on which side you're on.

(07:31): Uh, so it helps to have a really robust profile. Uh, for us, we have a lot of experience with cats in particular, that's our specialty, uh, we're cat people. Uh, and so we're able to highlight the fact that we had a 15 year old cat who needed daily, um, subcutaneous fluids, uh, and medications, and, uh, that we have a 20 year old cat. Now having a cat reach that age, says something about us as pet owners. So really being able to highlight any of those situations where you've had to care for a cat or a pet, um, who is particularly sick. For example, we had an incident even during our pet sitting with TrustedHousesitters, where a cat was sick on our watch, uh, and how we handled that situation. Uh, and so being able to highlight that in your profile really helps boost your trust, uh, on, on the platform for sure. Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (08:32): And talk to me about some of the places that this has taken you, where, where in the world have you gone with TrustedHousesitters? It will be a long list.

Aaron Shade (08:38): Okay. So we had TrustedHousesitters, uh, in Europe. Uh, we, we even like we were, I swear we were getting directed around Europe based on where we could find a pet set. So that

Brianna Shade (08:53): Was my fault.

Aaron Shade (08:54): Uh, I mean, we were in Montenegro, that's where we had the sick cat, uh, that we had to take care for. We went to Istanbul, so there was a,

Brianna Shade (09:02): The city of cats.

Aaron Shade (09:03): Uh, British expat in Istanbul that, uh, hosted us basically there. So

Brianna Shade (09:08): We, and interestingly had a cat named Kedi, who had named, had an affinity for Istanbul. So 'kedi', is Turkish for cat. So she moves to Istanbul with this cat named Kedi and everyone's looking at her like, you do know you just named your cat cat, right?

Sam Thorogood (09:27): Amazing.

Brianna Shade (09:28): All of these cats have amazing characters and we stayed in Portadown, uh, Northern Ireland or, uh, yes, Northern Ireland and then Taunton, England. Of course, we stayed in Las Cruces, Chile. Um, we've done some local ones. We did one in Seattle. Uh, we've done some in our hometown of Portland even. So you don't even have to go far if, if you just want to stay in a different house for a little bit in your own city, that's totally doable as well. Uh, just kind of get your own space or, or maybe stay in a neighborhood that you're curious about maybe moving to.

Sam Thorogood (10:02): That's fantastic. And, and the really, they, they're asking you to look after the, the, the house and the cat, but beyond that, there's no other cos I I've done, um, Workaway, which, you know, there's a, yeah, there's a bit more of a, kind of a exchange of skills and return for board and lodge, but it sounds like this really is, is looking after the house, looking after the pets and then that's it.

Brianna Shade (10:20): Pretty much. Yeah. Sometimes they'll have we, uh, plants to water. We had a huge garden in, uh, Las Cruces that we were caring for. Uh, some, and, and you can, it ranges the whole, uh, whole variety of pets, uh, that you have access to. Some people have birds, some people have, uh, you know, livestock, some people have horses that you could care for. Uh, so, and some people, like I said, we're pretty much exclusively cat people. So we tend to go for the cats specifically because we also love to travel and have the freedom to go out during the day, uh, and not worry about leaving the pets, uh, at home, uh, during the day. But cats are pretty, pretty self-sufficient in that regard. So it gives us a lot of freedom to travel during the day as well. Uh, but I know a lot of people are dog people as well, and they can bring the dogs with them, uh, while they're travelling and go out to the parks and visit the, the city and, and all of that kind of thing as well. So yeah, there's a lot of flexibility with it, which is great. And some people don't even have pets. Uh, that's a, a very minority of the programme. Uh, so some people just want a presence in their house or they just want people to, you know, collect their mail on a daily basis and water their plants and, and that sort of thing. But usually there's a pet or, or three or five in the household.

Aaron Shade (11:42): Oh yeah.

Sam Thorogood (11:43): And, and talk to me about the brand and the way they kind of present themselves on their website, the system, the, the, is it very user-friendly? Do you, do you find that it's a very easy website to navigate?

Aaron Shade (11:53): Yeah, I think, uh, the website it's, um, very easy. I mean, even when you enter it, it shows you a bunch of different sets that are available immediately, but you can just do a search on different cities or areas of the world you wanna look at, or even there's a map you can look at that shows all the sits all around the world and you can just kind of zoom into a different city and, uh, see where there might be a sit that you wanna stay in.

Brianna Shade (12:17): And that's pretty much what we used when we were in Europe. It's like, where do we wanna go to next? I don't know, where is there a cat sit? And so we can look at the map, see what's close by and kind of migrate around Europe. Uh, for example, uh, just using cats, uh, is really interesting. And you can filter down to the specific, uh, pet that you wanna care for. You can filter down to a given location. If you have a specific location in mind, for example, uh, for Calgary here, we were specifically looking at Calgary and we could set alerts, uh, and say, okay, when is a new cat sit coming in Calgary specifically? Uh, you can also filter to the duration. So say for, for this one, we wanted at least a week, uh, in Calgary, it doesn't help us to fly, um, halfway across the country, if it's only for three days, you know?

(13:06): And so you can set up those alerts with those filters and then you get it straight into your inbox or an alert through the app, uh, saying, Hey, there's a new cat sit because one of the tactics of securing a pet sit from a traveller's perspective is to apply as early as you possibly can because some homeowners will kind of take the first one that they like. Uh, and so if you it'll even tell you how many people have applied, um, with a range, so it won't tell you the exact number, but it'll say zero to three people have applied or, uh, 15 to 18 people have applied. And if you're getting up into the teens, twenties, that's too many people who have applied, we won't even bother applying for those because it's very unlikely by that point that you'll get that sit.

Aaron Shade (13:48): We noticed that a lot in Hawaii. So if anytime we wanna go to Hawaii, it's like, you better get right on it or else you're not gonna get in because they're gonna

Brianna Shade (13:55): Those popular places.

Aaron Shade (13:56): Yeah. Anything really popular is gonna go fast.

Sam Thorogood (14:00): Wow. And, and, and from a kind of design point of view, what do you like about the, the way they present themselves, their logo, their colours, those kind of things?

Brianna Shade (14:10): I like how it's all bright and very fun and playful kind of like the pets, uh, that are involved. Um, I actually kinda like their older logo better. They just recently did a brand refresh. Uh, and now that's kind of a dog face that looks like a house. Um, but it used to be a paw print, uh, with a little heart in one of, one of the paws, uh, one of the, the little toes and a house in the, the main paw print. And I liked that because it was a little more generic, but because I'm not a dog lover and, and now their, their brand looks specific to a dog. I'm like, eh, I like the other one because I could think, oh, that's a cat print. Uh, so, but it's still fun, fun. And it's clever the way that they've combined this, um, motif of the, the house, plus the pet, uh, all into one little logo. It's kind of cute.

Sam Thorogood (15:01): Has the brand done anything that has really surprised you, um, as you've been journeying with them, has, has there been anything that's been quite surprising?

Brianna Shade (15:10): I just love the fact that I, I don't know, it's just a brilliant system in, in, uh, it, it surprised me right from the get go of like, wow, this thing exists of, we don't have to pay money to stay in literal million dollar homes, uh, all around the world. And that's just baffling to me. When you look at, uh, Airbnb costs or you look at hotel costs, um, or even hostels, I mean, hostels were always the de facto cheap place for travellers to stay. And that just isn't the case anymore. And I really appreciate that we can get a place to ourselves, our own space. It's plenty spacious, and we've got a kitchen and we can watch TV whenever we want. We've got a little patio and, and all this stuff. And so it's, it's just amazing that it exists. And then on the flip side, again, as pet owners ourselves, it's like, wait a minute, you mean, I can get a free pet sitter, live-in pet sitter? Like, that's amazing to me because pet sitters are expensive. They really are. And so to have this exchange programme where again, everyone feels like they're the ones getting the best end of the deal, you know? So it's just great all around.

Sam Thorogood (16:29): Have there been any times where it's, something's got a bit wrong or it just, it's been a bit hard to love the brand. It's been a bit hard to love what TrustedHousesitters is, is offering?

Aaron Shade (16:39): Mm. More in the experience sometimes. I mean, we don't always have the best pets. Or occasionally ones that are a little more, more obnoxious that we have to deal with. Or, uh, I remember there was this one time we were house sitting. It was in Carlisle, UK. Uh, and, uh, another little tiny town. And, uh, there was this, uh, kitten there and the kitten, like, I was like eating my food on the table and this kitten comes up and just starts munching on my food on the plate. And I'm like, no.

Brianna Shade (17:11): So some of that is like training on the homeowner's side. So we can't really fault the brand for it.

Aaron Shade (17:18): We can't fault the brand for it.

Brianna Shade (17:19): Uh, like I said, they did recently go through a brand refresh. They, they kind of went to a tiered system now, so you don't necessarily get as many, um, it's good and bad. So they, you don't have as many, uh, uh, you can't save as many alerts for example, of different places, uh, because they restricted that, uh, on the, the lowest tier, I guess. Uh, so you'd have to upgrade to get some of those, uh, additional things, but at the same time, uh, they added, uh, background checks, which they didn't have before. Uh, which I think is a good thing. Uh, obviously for the homeowners, uh, their app kind of went through this quirky growing pains period where it wasn't working like at all, uh, for several months. Um, but it was kind of nice because it was still kind of on the old system.

(18:12): So I could set up all of those alerts that I wanted, like, hehe, I can get around this maximum of five alerts if I just do it through the app. Uh, but the problem is I couldn't, uh, browse through all of my profile and everything else on the app because that part of it was broken at the time. Uh, but I think they've fixed most of that now. Uh, so I can't, I can't work around that, uh, that maximum anymore, but that's okay. Uh, so we're still grandfathered in, at one of the lower tiers. Um, and of course they try to upsell us to one of the higher tiers, which gives us a verified badge on our account. And it allow, it gives us access to, uh, they have some guarantees. So they'll pay for, uh, hotel stays if your, your homeowner cancels at the last minute, that sort of thing, um, which we didn't have before. Uh, so it's something that we're kind of used to not having, I guess, uh, and we haven't really had an issue with that, fortunately, uh, but it's certainly nice to have that kind of thing and maybe we'll upgrade in, in the future. Uh, but we still love the company.

Sam Thorogood (19:19): How would you describe TrustedHousesitters to someone that had never heard of them at all, or maybe never even really heard of the concept of house sitting? How would you, how would you sell that to someone?

Aaron Shade (19:29): TrustedHousesitters? So I guess this is a good way to sell it is that, hey, we travelled around the world and for four and a half months in Europe, uh, we had free lodging and we did it through this programme called TrustedHousesitters, where we watched cats all around the world. Sometimes they dictated our travels and, uh, it's a great home exchange type of thing in a way, because you can stay in other people's homes and you have your own place. You don't have to get an Airbnb. You don't have to stay in a hostel. You don't have to stay in a hotel and spend $120 a night when you can spend that on just the programme itself.

Brianna Shade (20:06): For a year.

Aaron Shade (20:07): Entire year, for an entire year. So, um,

Brianna Shade (20:11): It's a, it's an exchange between travellers and homeowners, where homeowners, who are travelling, looking for somebody to care for their pets and travellers, looking for a place to stay. It matches those two

Aaron Shade (20:23): Yes.

Brianna Shade (20:24): Individuals up, which is really great.

Sam Thorogood (20:27): So win-win yeah.

Brianna Shade (20:28): Absolutely.

Aaron Shade (20:29): Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (20:30): How, how would you summarise your journey with them? So how, how long have you been with them for now? Few years?

Brianna Shade (20:35): A couple years now.

Aaron Shade (20:36): Uh, 2019.

Brianna Shade (20:37): Yeah, we joined, we, we joined late 2019, like around this time 2019. Okay. So, uh, that would actually be to 20, 20, 21.

Sam Thorogood (20:47): Yeah. About three

Brianna Shade (20:48): Three years. Uh, that, that we've been with with TrustedHousesitters and it's, it's been, it was interesting seeing kind of their development, uh, with their latest growth, but, uh, it's been a great programme all around. Uh, we haven't really had any negative experiences, which is good. Uh, it helps that we have a killer profile, uh, and a lot of experience with cats. Uh, and it helps that we tend to be particular with the homes that we choose. Uh, and we like to find homeowners who have reviews as well. Uh, so that's helpful for them, for sure.

Sam Thorogood (21:24): Yeah. Um, tell me more about the two of you and where people can kind of connect in with what, what you are doing.

Brianna Shade (21:30): Um, again, we help, uh, travellers who want to add more travel to their lives, uh, basically afford it because that's the number one thing that people see as a barrier to travelling more is that it's too expensive. So we teach you both how to curb the expenses of travel on how to do things like TrustedHousesitters that save us huge amounts of money on a daily basis, and allow us to redirect those funds to the actual activities that we want to do instead of just the place that we're staying. Uh, and on the flip side of that, we also teach you how to find good options for earning income while you're travelling. Uh, so the remote income sources, or if you wanna find, uh, local jobs, or if you want to start something online or, uh, set up some passive income, uh, sources, uh, we help, uh, folks find what those options are and kind of how to get started with all of that, uh, so that you can afford to travel perpetually as much as you want, uh, or choose not to, if you, if that is your choice, but basically we're all about helping you travel more, uh, and experiencing it all at a deeper level, having more of those cultural experiences and really seeing the places, uh, beyond kind of the tourist traps.

(22:50): Uh, and so, yeah, we're at and we're on all the socials as Big Tiny World or Big Tiny World Travel. So if can't find us at one, look at the other, uh, and, and we're there on mostly Instagram and TikTok and YouTube and Facebook and all of that.

Sam Thorogood (23:07): Fantastic. Pinterest the whole, the whole shebang. Well, thank, thank you very, very much. Um, so finally, I would love to just hear your, your love letter that you've, uh, prepared, um, to TrustedHousesitters.

Brianna Shade (23:22): Absolutely. Okay. Dear TrustedHousesitters, we set off for the world without knowing about you, but our lives were forever changed once you entered them. During a dearth of feline affection, you showed us a way to satiate our kitty addiction without begging locals to let us come play with their cats. Suddenly our days were filled with adventures and our evenings full of whiskers. It warms our hearts when we cannot be near our own fur babies, and we get to meet so many fascinating new feline personalities. Each one is now a friend we'll always remember. Furthermore, you provided a home for us, not just in one place, but all around the globe, more relaxing than a sterile hotel and more personal than a hostel. We can cook, relax, live, and you ask for nothing in return. This gives us the freedom to spend our funds on the exciting activities of our trips instead, which in turn enhances our travels.

(24:17): Our only regret is we didn't meet you sooner. We spent so many years begging reluctant friends to simply pop by and make sure our kitties were still alive. If we had known you back then you would've also provided us caring sitters to stay with our beloved cats. This would've quelled our anxiety and put our minds at ease with regards to their wellbeing while we traveled. Fortunately, you're here now, and we know you'll watch over our felines in the future. We love you TrustedHousesitters. Thank you for all you've provided and all you continue to give us. We're matched for life. And we look forward to many happy years together.

Sam Thorogood (24:51): Well, Brianna and Aaron, thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Brianna Shade (24:56): Thank you so much.

Sam Thorogood (24:59): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters, and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design