Travel is often about leaving the comforts of home behind, but there’s something irresistible about having Fluffy along for the ride. These days, more pet owners than ever—according to a recent study, the numbers have doubled since 2005—are opting to travel with their furry companions. Below is everything you ever wanted to know about dog-friendly travel, from choosing the right mode of transportation to securing the proper documents to staying in a pet-friendly hotel.
How to fly with your dog
Flying with your dog is no walk in the park, but with the right preparation and intel, you can streamline the process a great deal. There are a few key steps you’ll need to take: most importantly, find out whether your desired airline allows animals in the cabin. If cargo is the only option, use judgment to assess whether your pet is equipped to handle being alone inside the baggage compartment for hours at a time; sometimes, the emotional stress of being isolated below-deck defeats the purpose of having the animal join in the first place.
Second, plan on booking your pet separately by phone after you’ve already reserved your own seat on the plane. Every airline has a slightly different policy around this, but in general, the criteria are the same. To use JetBlue’s pet program, JetPaws, as an example: customers pay a non-refundable $100 pet fee (that’s $100 each way), they’re limited to one pet per person, the cat or dog must be at least eight weeks old, and must be able to fit inside a carrier of 17” length, 12.5” width and 8.5” height, or smaller, with a total weight limit of 20 pounds (as in, the carrier with the animal inside). Occasionally, you’ll see a dog entering the cabin without a carrier or kennel—this usually happens with service dogs, or when the owner has a doctor’s note confirming they require an emotional support animal.
In general, pet travel is subject to availability, so book well ahead, and try to avoid flying on holidays and weekends, when you might run into other owners—and their pets—trying to catch the same flight.
Earning points for traveling with your pet
Some airlines offer rewards programs for jet-setting pets. JetBlue passengers who fly with their furry friends earn 300 TrueBlue points on each flight. On Virgin Atlantic, animals actually earn their own points through the Flying Paws program. And through United’s PetSafe program, all animals that travel in the cargo hold earn their owners 500 MileagePlus miles for domestic flights and 1,000 miles on international routes.
How to prepare for your flight
Though many airlines welcome pets on international flights, it’s imperative to check the individual country’s vaccination laws before booking your trip. Things have gotten better—the U.K. and Hawaii used to impose long quarantine periods, but no longer do so—but never assume your dog or cat will be able to pass through foreign customs unchecked. For a comprehensive, up-to-date record of all the different requirements and laws, listed by country and by species, visit the USDA’s website.
To prepare for the trip, you’ll need to obtain a health certificate signed by a vet. (If you own a short-nosed dog breed, like a Boxer or Pug, keep in mind they can have breathing difficulties in the air, and some airlines will have nothing to do with them; this comprehensive FAQ by the AVMA offers some useful insight on the subject.)
For international flights, speak to your veterinarian to ensure you have all the necessary proof-of-health forms and inoculation records prior to leaving the country. Start looking into everything as soon as you know you’re traveling, since some of the vaccinations and forms can take time. For more resources on international pet travel, see this helpful document published by PetTravel.com.
Before traveling, you’ll need to purchase a well-ventilated crate with a secure latch. Be sure the crate has your name and address on it, along with the words “LIVE ANIMAL” clearly marked on the side, with arrows pointing up, and that the bottom is leak-proof. (Also, make sure your pet’s tags are up to date.) For extra guidance, this IATA document outlines all the federal regulations around crates.
(For an extra snazzy carrier, U-Pet’s cat-packs—with bubble viewing portholes—have been making the rounds on the internet lately; once you see the photo, you’ll understand why.)
Experts recommend doing practice runs—loading your pet into the crate, placing it in the car, and taking short drives—before the actual trip. As stressful as the travel experience can be for animals, being inside a familiar, comfortable crate can add to their all-important sense of safety.
As for meals: plan on withholding the pet’s food about six hours before flying—if he or she gets nervous around flying, this will help avoid vomiting or diarrhea. (If it’s a young pet, or a small breed, though, this isn’t recommended.) And if the pet is riding in cargo, be sure to include a clip-on container with extra water and food.
In the airport
All U.S. airports (and some major international ones) are equipped with some form of a pet relief area—designated grassy spaces where dogs can do their business before boarding. The quality of these facilities varies (the southwest has a particularly strong game, with Phoenix Sky Harbor, Reno-Tahoe International Airport and Denver International Airport all offering top-notch pet stations), though all serve essentially the same purpose. For more information, see this comprehensive list by DogJaunt.com.
Once you’ve checked in, just like with any other trip, you’ll have to pass through security with your furry friend. Here’s how it will go down: show up at the TSA checkpoint with your pet in the crate. Take the animal out of the crate (have a leash handy) so the crate can pass through the X-ray tunnel, and then walk or carry your pet through the metal detector. As one TSA blogger put it, “the checkpoint is a noisy environment that can cause your pet to flee at its first opportunity. This happens with humans occasionally as well.” (Alternatively, if your dog or cat is especially jumpy, you may ask to do the screening in a private room.)
Driving with your dog
Driving is a fun, easy way of including Fido in your travel plans, but don’t assume your pet feels the same way about road trips as you do. “Don’t plan on bringing your dog halfway across the country unless you know they’re going to enjoy it,” says Maine-based dog owner Pia DiTerlizzi, who’s made frequent trips throughout New England with her mini Australian Shepherd. “Some people want to take their dogs on these epic road trips even though they’ve never even brought their dog to the supermarket.”
Plenty of articles have been written on the correct way to road trip with dogs. While some of the tips are obvious (pack water; make sure you have a container in the car that your dog can drink out of; and poop bags... always bring poop bags!), others are less intuitive: pack an extra leash, in case you forget one or it breaks. And have treats handy in case you need to entice your wandering pooch back to the vehicle.
Better yet, microchip your pet. That way, even if a dog slips out of its collar and runs loose, ID-less, in an unknown area, any pound or vet will be able to scan the pet and retrieve your personal information.
Lastly, do not underestimate the importance of bathroom stops. “Dogs are masters at reading our body language, so when humans start to become restless, your dog will too,” explains Kuri founder Geoff Bower. As a rule, never go more than three or four hours without stopping to let your dog pee.
Pet transportation service
In case traveling with your pooch isn’t an option, but you still want him or her to be part of the vacation, there’s Royal Paws. The luxury pet transportation company offers door-to-door service inside sanitized, climate-controlled SUVs or minivans equipped with fresh linens, poop bags, bottled water, and an instruction sheet with any specific medical or dietary needs. Owners are encouraged to maintain cell phone contact with the drivers, many of whom are vet technicians, professional dog trainers, and pet behaviorists. (If you happen to be moving, rather than traveling, PetRelocation.com gets good reviews.)
How to cruise with your dog
As of now, Cunard’s Queen Mary II is the only major transatlantic cruise ship to allow dogs and cats on board. Owners can choose between two “classes” of kennels—upper (from $800) and lower (from $1,000). Just like with airlines, human cabins must be booked first, and then you can reserve a spot in the kennel.
With multiple visiting hours per day, and a full-time Kennel Master overseeing all canine operations, the amenity has garnered rave reviews from owners across the globe, like Julia and Stephen Dennison, who embarked on a 7-day crossing from Southampton to New York in 2009. “From the moment I booked a spot,” recalls Julia, “I was put in touch with the Kennel Master to ensure Fergie’s [her six-year-old pug/chihuahua mix] every need was met. In some ways, the pets feel very much like VIPs!”
Julia’s favorite moment came right before docking in New York. “At the end of the crossing, they had a celebration for all pet owners, where we took a group picture and they even gave Fergie a little QM2 jacket. The Kennel Master got all dressed up in his regalia.”
Due to its success, the Kennel Master service is expanding: in June, ten kennels will be added to the ship, as well as an improved owner's lounge area, a new indoor play area, and an extended outdoor walking area.
How to ride on a train with your dog
As of October, Amtrak now allows small dogs to travel with their owners on certain northeast routes through Boston, Newport News, and Brunswick. The total weight of the dog (or cat) inside the carrier must be less than 20 pounds, and there is a $25 fee.
How to stay in a hotel with your dog
Here at Travel + Leisure, we’ve covered everything from cute hotel pets to the most dog-friendly hotels in America. And when it comes to choosing the right home away from home for you and your pooch, the booking website BringFido offers an international directory of pet-friendly hotels. But to gain a little more insight into the process of actually staying in one of these places, we spoke to Rebecca Hubbard, Hotel Manager at the LOTTE New York Palace.
The hotel’s new Pampered Pooch package—including free 30-minute sessions with a “five-star dog walker,” and dog biscuits at turndown (from $549 per night)—is the latest example of urban hotels simplifying the travel experience for owners and their dogs.
Hubbard explains: “Guests should ensure the hotel has various items to make pets feel comfortable and at home—from water bowls, to dog beds, toys, and more.” (All of which the LOTTE New York Palace offers, in addition to personalized welcome notes and a customized room service menu. And twice a week, the hotel even hosts a pet-themed social hour with pet etiquette workshops led by a local animal training center.)
As far as inconvenience to other—non-dog-loving—guests, having your four-legged travel buddy join you in the room is as simple as calling ahead (to learn the hotel’s exact policy, and so that staff can make proper arrangements), and hanging a sign on the door to alert everyone that there’s a pet in the room.