Pets are family and as such, we love it when they join us on our travels. Traveling with your best friend (dog, cat, ferret, whatever) can offer unique rewards: companionship, far away dog parks, souvenirs from pet stores, an immediate opening for conversation with strangers.
But there are also some unique challenges. Not every place is pet friendly—and that’s okay! We want to stay where we’re welcome. There’s also a spectrum of what “pet friendly” means. Accommodation runs from “There’s an additional fee and zero perks” to “We’ve got a whole welcome kit for your critter and a pet spa menu!”
Here’s how to sniff out the details when planning a trip with your pet.
Selecting your stay
Decode the restrictions
Dig deep to find exactly what the hotel or vacation rental allows when it comes to pets—and what it’s going to cost you.
Look for size restrictions, whether the fee is per pet, and what, exactly, is expected of you as the owner. Some places allow pets but they do not allow you to leave them unattended, ever. Some places allow pets but require you crate your critter if you intend to leave them alone. Some places allow pets but only certain types of pets, and only one per room. If you’re having trouble understanding—or finding—the rules, pick up the phone or scribble an email. It will save you a lot of bother.
Take advantage of the perks
Nothing feels so welcoming as a gift bag for your fuzzy companion. It’s a thrill to find your Airbnb host has left a package of treats. Pet friendly resorts might give you a special tag, or a discount at the dog wash, or have their own enclosed dog park. Some places will hand you practical items, like a sheet or blanket to throw over the bed if that’s where your friend sleeps.
Make good room choices
Does your friend bolt when you open the door? Avoid rooms that open to a busy street. If your vigilant dog barks at every other dog he encounters, you might prefer a motel when you can more easily see who’s coming, rather than risk a shouting session in an enclosed hallway. If you’re in a vacation rental, does it have a securely fenced yard or will you need to keep your animal on a leash at all times? Can your aging hound handle stairs?
You know your pet’s needs best, so keep them in mind when you book a stay. But also know you may not have a lot of choice. Some hotels allocate specific rooms for pets and if you don’t like the offering, you may want to choose a different property entirely.
Make a plan for walks
Dog owners know that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog, so make sure your stay has a good place to walk (and attend to business) nearby. Tools like Google Street View can be very helpful in assessing if your stay is in a dog-walk-friendly location or if there’s a park nearby.
Sometimes there’s no choice and you’ll have to stay on a busy arterial or in the heart of a crowded urban neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean there’s not good walkies nearby. Zoom out just a bit. Who knows what you’ll find.
Choosing between a vacation rental or hotel
Maybe it’s just one night and it won’t matter where you stay with your pet—after all, you’ll pack up and head to your next stop the following morning. But vacation rentals do have some advantages for those traveling with pets.
Airbnb and VRBO type properties are more likely to be in neighborhoods where taking your dog for a walk is much easier. They beat out a motel just off the interstate with a fast food joint and a gas station as your nearest neighbor. And, if you book a standalone stay, you’re more likely to have a yard where you can let your pet out in the middle of the night if you need to.
However keep in mind that even a fenced yard might not be secure enough for your curious companion. The owners might have a big lazy dog while you’ve got a fence climbing cat. Never let your pet out unattended, or you may end up fetching Fido from the neighbor’s yard at five in the morning.
>> Read our guide to saving money on hotels.
Preparing and packing
You’ve booked your stay, you’re fully informed on the rules and regulations, and you’ve confirmed the fees. You’ve mapped the neighborhood for parks and pet supply stores. Now it’s time to pack. What does your pet need? You know best what makes your pet comfortable, but here are a few tips.
You don’t have to carry the original paperwork with you, but it’s a good idea to scan your pet’s medical records and store them somewhere you can access them online, or keep pictures of them on your phone. If you do have to seek medical care while you’re away from home, you’ll be glad you’ve got your pet’s records handy.
If you’ve got the space for it—perhaps if you’re traveling by car—a pet gate can be handy. It will allow you to open your door and keep your pet contained. Your dog or cat or rabbit should be on a lead when they’re outside in unfamiliar territory; make sure to pack a leash and harness or whatever you use to keep your critter close.
Food and treats
Traveling can be stressful on your pet, so now is not the time to switch up their diet. If it’s at all practical, bring enough meals for the entire duration of your stay. Yes, this might mean you need to check a bag and it’s worth it to keep your friend comfortable.
If carrying meals isn’t possible, look into shipping chow in advance or having Chewy deliver directly to your destination so it’s waiting for you. It’s okay to splurge on treats to coax your pet to eat, just don’t overdo it; the last thing you want is to deal with a sick critter.
Don’t forget toys and comfort items
Make space for your pet’s favorite chew toy, motorized mouse, whatever they like to play with when they’re feeling frisky or need distracting. Set aside some playtime, too. It will help your pet unwind in a new location if you’ve taken the time to play fetch or let them pounce on that feather thing they love. Chew toys, especially the kind you hide treats in, can help give a dog something to do if you need to leave them alone for a while.
Animals appreciate a familiar blanket, bed, or crate to snuggle into when they’re in an unfamiliar location. Experienced travelers will toss a t-shirt or pillow case they’ve used so their pets can have the familiar scent of their owner with them.
Poop happens, be prepared. Your cat will need a litter box, your dog will need poop bags, your chinchilla… what does a chinchilla need? Regardless of the kind of critter, be prepared for clean up. Potty pads are handy for all critters, just in case. Did you forget something? In many destinations, Instacart and other deliver-on-demand services can shop for you, bringing essentials directly to your hotel or vacation stay.
Should you medicate your pet?
For some animals, the anxiety of being away from home is simply too much and medication is the only way to get them through it. Talk with your vet about anti-anxiety medication. Pet owners are seeing good results with CBD infused treats, too; talk with your vet about this option as well. Do a test run before you make your trip to confirm that the medication has no unforeseen side effects.
Enjoying your stay
Do a check-in double check
Now’s the time to ask those last minute questions of your hosts, whether you’re checking it at a front desk or trading text messages with the vacation rental owner or manager. What are the rules, exactly? Are pets allowed on the furniture or not? Is there a good place to take a walk nearby? What about a good pet store?
Ask away! Some places will ask for additional contact information in case there’s an issue with your critter during your stay.
Leaving your pet solo
Many accommodations require you to crate your critter if you leave them alone, while some places do not allow pets to be left solo at all, crated or otherwise. Your pet will be happiest with you, of course, so if you can take them on your outings, so much the better.
Ask your hotel if you can arrange for housekeeping to make up your room when you’re out with your pet. If not, you may want to leave a note to let them know you have a pet in the room, and where they’re located. It’s your responsibility to make sure your pet is crated during any service visits.
If that’s not possible, you may need to arrange for daycare. Thankfully, there are services like Rover where you can get petcare on demand. Register before your trip if you want to use an app; you can book drop off sessions in advance if you know your plans. Some larger pet stores offer day camp, too. That’s another good reason to make sure you’ve got medical records; in case you need to check your critter into day care.
Keeping the peace
If you prioritize your pet’s well being, they should be calm and well rested should you need to leave them alone. That said, minimizing disruptions is a good practice. Hang the Do Not Disturb tag and arrange for housekeeping, if you need it, at a time when you and your pet are out of the room. Turning on the radio or TV can provide some calming white noise for your pet, or mellow the distraction of sounds coming from outside. If you must leave your pet solo, make sure you’ve met all their needs first.
Get tips on flying with your pet or taking a road trip with your four-legged friend.
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