Trust: To believe that someone is good and honest, or that something is safe and reliable. I have a question for you — would you give a complete stranger the keys to your house and let them stay in your place while you’re away?

My daughter and I are house and dog-sitting in Northern Italy and have been given keys to a beautiful apartment by two people that we have never met before. While they are away on their annual, three-week holiday, we will walk their dog, water their plants and keep burglars away by simply being in their place. In exchange for free accommodation, the homeowners have handed over their keys to us and trust that we won’t go through their drawers and walk off with their granny’s antique jewellery.

Anyone can be a house-sitter (well, not anyone. If you have a string of petty thefts behind you or a reputation that can knock the socks of a mafia boss, then perhaps not) and more and more people are choosing to be a ‘sitter’ in exchange for free accommodation in countries that they wish to explore or holiday in. It allows people to have a taste of living somewhere without the expense or the sterile environment of a hotel. And with homeowners knowing that their property is safe while they are away and that their animals are not having to be uprooted and put into kennels, it is a ‘win win’ situation.

Traditionally, homeowners would have paid a company to supply them with a suitable sitter and it would have been the company’s responsibility to vet the sitter and ask for references and employment history. But with house-sitting becoming a fast growing, popular alternative to the standard package holiday, homeowners and house-sitters are finding each other through house-sitting websites.

Off the beaten track is one of the largest sites and claims it connects its 500,000 ‘pet-loving members’ in 138 countries and has 1,500 house-sitting listings each month. There are many other websites now being set up to match a house-sitter and a home-owner and therefore, there is now the opportunity for people to find the ideal sitter through Skype chats and emails. Likewise, the sitter has a wonderful choice of locations. From a long weekend in Amsterdam looking after an apartment to a month in a remote country home in Costa Rica looking after some chickens and sheep. The locations and responsibilities are endless and exciting. As a house-sitter, the world really does become your oyster and it means that you can head off the beaten track and experience life in an exciting new location with the locals. And all on a shoestring.

A recent US survey found that 59 per cent of the over 50s look forward to exploring new places when they reach the age of semi or full retirement. With many blogs, forums and magazine articles either written by or for this new ‘over 50s lifestyle’, it’s not surprising that there is a wave of silver-haired backpackers seizing opportunities and fulfilling dreams to travel the globe.

This new lifestyle has also become popular with a new wave of ‘Techno nomads’. A term used for people who just need a laptop and a fast internet connection to do their work and can therefore be anywhere in the world.

I am home schooling my teenage daughter for the academic year while taking a break from lecturing and as long as we have access to my daughter’s school material online and I have my paints so that I can continue to sell my artwork through my own online business, we have the freedom and flexibility to be anywhere in the world. Our next house-sitting adventure after Italy is in Athens where we will be looking after an apartment and eight cats. We have already had a Skype chat with the home-owners and they have viewed our character references and we all feel that we are a good match and both parties are happy with the situation. It means that they can go away for their annual vacation, knowing that their cats are being fed and looked after and that their property will be safe. And for us, well, it means that we can explore one of the oldest cities in the world from the comfort of a home and not a hotel.

So, while my daughter is reading up on Renaissance artists ready for our trip to Florence next week, I’ll just continue to eat my way through the secret supply of expensive, Swiss chocolates I’ve just found behind the home-owners’ TV cabinet and try on all the family jewels I’ve just found in a box under the settee. The perks of house-sitting ...

Charlotte Arrowsmith is taking a short break from lecturing and is exploring Europe with her daughter.