How to Travel with Your Dog

I’m not going to start off by saying it’s easy to travel with your pet because it’s not. 90% of my travel is not pet-friendly, but my 45-pound Goldendoodle, Liberty, joins me when exploring pet-friendly destinations. Traveling with her for the past 7 years on over 50 flights has been a learning experience. I’m sharing my favorite dog-friendly airlines, hotel advice, travel secrets, and pet-friendly tips to help you travel with your best friend on your next trip!

The first questions to ask yourself may seem obvious: are you going to a pet-friendly destination and will you have enough time to give your pet the attention and love they need during your vacation? For example, I’ll leave Liberty at home when traveling to a big city or going on long, dangerous hiking trips. Dogs have anxiety just like we do and if your dog is anything like mine they mope next to the door until you get home from work every day. Doggy daycare is an option for dogs who love to socialize. The bottom line is, if you’ll have to leave your pup alone in a hotel room for long periods of time then you should probably let them stay with your friends or family while you travel. If you’re planning a pet-friendly trip where your doggo can tag along on most of the adventures then the next thing to think about is how to safely travel with your good boy (or girl).

Image from iOS (2)
Visiting the Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park in Utah

Driving is always the best option when traveling with your dog, but it’s not always possible. The last car rental company I used was Enterprise. They had zero issues or questions when I checked in with Liberty, but we may have been lucky. I highly recommend checking the pet policy if you are renting a car. If driving is not an option, the next best option is taking a train. There are fewer security restrictions for trains and most railways, including Amtrak, allow you to travel with your pet for a nominal fee. Train cabins are more spacious than airline cabins so you both can stretch out during the journey. The last option I recommend is flying because it can get messy quickly with different airline restrictions and requirements.

Kay and her dog, Liberty, on the strip
Layover with Liberty on the Las Vegas strip

The first thing to know is that if your dog is not well behaved, ESA certified or small enough to fit in a carrier under the seat in front of you, then you should consider leaving them at home. Most airlines allow small dogs and pets to fly in the cabin for a fee. Misbehaved dogs must remain in an animal carrier the entire flight. If you have a large pup that is not ESA certified they may be required to be stored with cargo which means they have no access to you, extra oxygen, or air conditioning during the flight. I never recommend flying with your animal in cargo. Most airlines do not allow dogs on flights over 6 hours long. You can always call the airline to confirm their pet requirements before booking your flight. If you are ever in doubt, leave your animal at home.

Another option to avoid fees and the deadly cargo area is to register your well-behaved animal as an emotional support animal. I certified Liberty as an ESA animal a few years ago which allows her to travel with me for free after filling out numerous online forms. Airline requirements and forms to fill out vary, but I have found Southwest, Jetblue, Delta, and United to be the most accommodating. For this reason, I recommend choosing one airline to travel with your pet so you don’t have to constantly ask your therapist and veterinarian to complete out multiple forms every time you fly. There are typically three separate ESA forms to complete, upload, and submit online at least 3-5 days before your flight. Most airlines also require their airline-specific physical, printed ESA forms to be present on the day of your flight. No, the digital version on your phone does not count (I have tried and it’s a nightmare).

Liberty is laying under the seat in front of me
Sleepy Liberty on a flight from New York City to Florida

Pro tip: Southwest is the best pet-friendly airline option because they do not require ESA forms to be submitted online before your flight. You simply present a printed, official ESA letter at check-in counter and boarding desk on the day of your flight for Southwest as of June 2020. Remember, if you do not have an ESA animal you can pay extra for your non-certified animal fly with you in the cabin if they meet airline requirements and fit under the seat in front of you. Another great benefit of ESA certification is that hotels can’t legally charge fees for ESA animals, although most hotels do not follow this policy and I recommend finding a dog-friendly hotel.

The next thing to consider is where you are staying during the trip. I always, always, always use Airbnb when I can. First, to save money so I can travel more in the future, but also because it’s easier to find pet-friendly options with low-to-no pet fees. If you chose to stay in an Airbnb you can search using the “Pets Allowed” filter. I have never had an issue bringing Liberty to a pet-friendly Airbnb, but I have fallen into hotel traps including incorrect pet policy information displayed online and hidden pet fees upon check-in at hotels.  I recommend calling your hotel to confirm its dog-friendly policy. Also, look at the checkout times because if you have a late flight out you may want to leave your pup in the room while you explore more. A few of my Airbnbs have allowed us to leave Liberty in the room much later than checkout. Hotels are less accommodating for late checkouts. Doggy daycare may be an option if late checkouts don’t work out. Other things to look for when booking travel accommodations: pet-friendly facilities, a nearby dog-walking area or park, and it’s always nice to have dining options that are dog-friendly like breweries or outdoor restaurants close to the hotel.

Packing for your dog is not as hard as it seems. I’m a minimalist packer and that includes packing for Liberty. Aside from a collar and leash, I typically bring collapsible dog bowls, a ball, bone, non-squeaky toy (you don’t want to annoy other guests), and a few extra rolls of doggy bag rolls because, trust me, you will need them. Dogs get nervous on trips and tend to use the bathroom a little more than usual. A few things you can purchase when you arrive at your destination include dog food, treats, and extra toys. Extra dog food at the end of the trip can be left at your Airbnb. Be sure to let the host know that you left dog food for the next guest to use. Overall, packing for your dog should be light and if you are going to bringing one thing while your travel, I would make sure to bring a toy that will entertain them on the flight and in the hotel room.

There are incredible dog-friendly vacations, but they are few and far between. When traveling with your fur baby it’s most important to consider your animal’s needs before your wants. Will your dog have to remain alone for hours in a hotel room? Do you have reliable transportation and a pet-friendly place to stay? Do you have a pet-friendly backup plan if accommodations fall through? Does your dog have anxiety or codependency? These are important questions to consider before traveling with your pet. Talk to your vet if you have any doubts and always do what is best for your good boy! Have any travel questions? Direct message or email me. I’m always here to help!

Image from iOS
Liberty hiking in The Valley of Fire


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