hmm, i always try to pick somone in the family. but im so overprotective with my pets i usally just set them up with automatic feeders or waterers and dont leave for more than two days.
do you have a animal lover in the family?
We usually have a relative as well the very few times we need pets and such checked up on. I am the suspicious sort when it comes to my place and animals.
As far as prices, you could probably ask around at pet sitters, along with the answers you get here and come up with a reasonable number for how much to pay.
If you use a pet sitting service, ask for their references and to see the company license. Some people advertise pet sitting but aren't a business so they don't have anything to back them up if something goes wrong. Otherwise, I would ask friends for recommendations.
We usually have the potential sitter over for dinner and have them feed everyone (3 dogs, 2 of which cannot be in the same room, 2 on meds; a cat on meds; fish and frog tank; and chickens) while we are there to walk them though everything including keeping the 2 dogs apart. From that, we can usually tell if the critters are going to be in good hands. We always call in the mid-evening of the first night that the sitter is there to see if they have any questions and to get a report. We write everything down (names and descriptions of pets; feeding schedules and amounts; vet number and directions; how to get in touch with us; trash days; etc.) including a check list of what has to get done daily. If we are gone more than a day or so, we have the sitter move in.
As for paying sitters, I usually find college students or people just starting out who are living in at home, in a group situation, or in a cramped apartment. They are quite glad to house sit where there is cable, food in the fridge, and some privacy. People in these situations come cheap and do a good job so that you will ask them to do it again.
I would ask a neighbor. Pick one that also has pets, that way you can return the favor. If their are no neighbors you trust with the job, ask your vet for a reference. If you get a total stranger, make sure they are insured and have them sign a liability release. If it is a minor, have the parents sign a release stating that THEY take full responsibility for injuries occuring on your property and that the child has medical insurance. Many people don't realize that not even a parent can sign away a child's right to sue for damages. The release should state that the kid has health insurance and that parents accept liability. That way if you are sued on behalf of the child, you can sue the parents for your losses. You can also show that the parents represented that the child had adequate health insurance to cover injuries. Unfortunately, I have some experience in this.
Anyway, a good neighbor is the best way to go. I live in a rural area. The fact that we all care for each others' pets and livestock when vacations and emergencies arise, keeps us all pretty close.