“He is a good friend and traveling companion, and would rather travel about than anything he can imagine.” —John Steinbeck, Travels with CharleyDog Driving

John Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip across the United States wouldn’t have been the same without the companionship of Charley the poodle. As you head off on summer vacation, you may wonder whether your pet has a similar yen for travel. Read on to determine whether you should bring your pet on vacation, as well as how to make the trip enjoyable for both of you.

Should you bring your dog on vacation?
In making this decision, consider her temperament and your destination. Does she enjoy car rides or do they make her antsy? Is she calm or anxious when staying in unfamiliar places?  And when you get to your destination, will she be able to accompany you on dog-friendly outings, or will she have to stay alone in the hotel room?

Should you bring your cat on vacation?
Cats are requisite homebodies who don’t travel well. Think of it from the cat’s perspective: hours or days spent huddled in a cramped carrier, followed by a stressful adjustment to strange new surroundings? No thanks! For all vacations except extended ones, your cat will be happiest if you hire a pet-sitter and let him hold down the fort at home.

What to bring
Unless you’re headed to the Westminster Dog Show, your pet won’t need a giant suitcase of accessories. Items to pack include:

  • Food and bowls
  • Bedding
  • A leash, collar and tags (and consider having a second tag made with your destination contact information on it)
  • A crate or carrier
  • Toys
  • Comb and toothbrush
  • Medication and vaccination records

On the road
Although your dog’s idea of heaven might be riding shotgun with her head out the passenger window, this arrangement is not ideal! All pets are safest in carriers that have been secured to the seat by a seatbelt. Pet harnesses don’t necessarily protect your pet in a crash. Dogs who ride in the front risk hitting their noses on the dashboard during sudden stops, or being trapped or suffocated by the airbag. And when your dog rides with her head out the window, she can be injured by particles in her eyes or even larger debris.

To ensure your pet’s comfort on road trips, make frequent pit stops to let her relieve herself and stretch her legs, and provide her with food and water on her normal schedule.

In the air
The Humane Society of the United States recommends that you do not travel by air with your pet. Traveling in cargo is often too hot, cold, or poorly ventilated, and can harm or kill your four-legged friend.

If you must travel by air, call the airline to see if you can bring your pet on board with you in a carrier, and what sorts of restrictions they have or health records they require. For pets that must travel cargo, you can take these steps to make their trip as safe and comfortable as possible:

  • Always take the same flight as your pet.
  • Book a direct flight, or a flight with as few layovers as possible.
  • Avoid flying during extreme winter and summer temperatures.
  • Check with your veterinarian about tranquilizers specifically for air travel.
  • Stop giving your pet food four to six hours before the flight.
  • Prior to entering the airport, let your pet relieve herself, and give her 15 minutes of exercise to help her relax.
  • Notify the flight crew that you have a pet in cargo.
  • Make sure your pet does not have loose tags or a collar that could get stuck in the wire door of the carrier.
  • Always label the carrier with your contact information and destination. You can also write “live animal” with arrows pointing up, as well as tape a picture of her to the outside in case she escapes during the flight.
  • Pets with short snouts, such as Persian cats, pugs and bulldogs, should never travel by air, as they are at increased risk for oxygen deprivation.

 Finding accommodations
Not every hotel or rental cottage allows pets; sites like Pettravel.com and Petswelcome.com can help you find pet-friendly lodging. Attractions such as beaches and parks may also prohibit pets, so it’s wise to research your destination before you travel.

Not every pet is a born traveler like Charley the poodle. Many pets will endure a little loneliness at home much better than they would the stress of taking a trip. For those who do enjoy the hitting the road, however, a little planning for their comfort and safety will ensure that they enjoy the getaway as much as you do. — Meredith Southard

An animal lover since she could shriek the word “doggie,” Meredith Southard has written for national and statewide publications on topics such as wildlife rehabilitation and rescue, conservation dogs, and the animals of Ohio’s wetlands. On warm spring nights she can be found traipsing around vernal pools with a flashlight, looking for salamanders and frogs.