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

I love Spain.

When a friend of mine in Majorca asked if I could spend two weeks at her place looking after her five cats, I jumped at the chance.

I had never done anything like this, so I set up a video call with my host, 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 a few years ago, said she was leaving in a few weeks to take a coaching course in Arizona and needed someone reliable to look after her. Firo, Jabbo, Nunik, Orion and Yoda were rescued by him as kittens.

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

Markus Lange | Getty Images

She told me that during the hot weather the cats mostly lived outside, so I had to keep an eye on them and feed them twice a day. In exchange for payment, I could stay in his living room and even use his car.

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

I was excited but a little nervous. I’m used to traveling alone, having visited Vietnam, Bali, and Las Vegas alone, but I’ve never stayed at a stranger’s house on a trip abroad. I was worried that I would feel isolated.

But my fears were unfounded. I had a day’s handover with Daniella, who showed me around the center of Binissalem – a network of attractive, narrow streets lined with thick-walled stone buildings and home to the weekly market in the town square.

Jabbo, who often wanted to eat, sat next to a sheet of information about him.

As we dined at the Es P’dal restaurant on the edge of the square, he introduced me to some of his friends – English-speaking expats who had long settled in Majorca. One lived on the island as a performer of weddings and other ceremonies; the other was a life coach. Daniella added me to their WhatsApp group where they share their upcoming activities.

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

Daniella told me about her pets, all male and neutered, printing a picture and summary of each: Firo, a soft-furred ginger was the youngest; Yoda, the shy green-eyed gray wheel, liked to spend his days outside; Nunik, a white-bellied tabby who loves to eat tuna; long-haired Orion was the secret boss of the house; black and white Jabbo often begged for food.

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

Holger Leue | Image Bank | Getty Images

Of course, after driving Daniella’s white convertible home from the airport through the one-way streets of Binssalem, Jabbo rubbed my leg and looked at me for food.

I soon settled into a routine. I would wake up at eight to the sound of the town’s church bells, then go downstairs to clean up the leftovers from the cats’ dinner before feeding them breakfast. I would replenish the dry food they grazed during the day and make sure they had fresh water.

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

My favorite beaches include the pebbly Cove S’illot, close to a small restaurant with turquoise sea and a long stretch of pale sand, and a spectacular view of Muro and Pollenca Bay on the north coast.

Back in Binissalem, I would check the garden for the cats, feed them dinner, and on cool evenings I would sit on the sofa with a furry friend.

One of the cats in the author’s care is Phiro, a pale ginger tabby.

Lucy Handley

One day I took a yoga class at Bini Balance, a short walk from my temporary home, where Christina taught in English and Spanish. He then invited me to a weekend retreat in the nearby Serra de Tramuntana mountain range that runs through the center of the island.

I did yoga one day in a clearing through the trees and ate paella cooked outdoors.

My friend Holly, who introduced me to Daniella, invited me to creative writing classes taught by Alice LaPlante, a longtime Stanford faculty member and author and editor living in Majorca. I joined Holly and others at Alice’s house in Palma, the island’s delightful capital, for a class on short story writing and scene-setting techniques. The next week we met to discuss a novel we were all reading.

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 the shady Palma square.

But finally it was time to leave and go back to London.

Cat sitting made me feel like I was living on an island and I was sad to leave my five new friends.

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