Whether you're planning a trip with a shih tzu or a sheepdog, the travel industry is learning new tricks to make you sit—and stay

By Julia Szabo
June 05, 2009
Anja Kroencke

My five pit bulls are seasoned travelers. Every weekend, they log 400 miles to and from their country retreat, in a Volvo station wagon fully loaded with essentials: safety restraints, blankets for shock and liquid absorption, a dog thermos, a first-aid kit called Bow-Ow Me-Ow, and a vial of Travel Tummy, an herbal remedy that soothes growling motion-sick stomachs. You might say we put the wag in station wagon. And we're not the only ones—according to the Travel Industry Association of America, 29.1 million Americans have traveled with their pets in the past three years.

John Steinbeck didn't know he was starting a trend with legs when he and his standard poodle took a cross-country road trip, chronicled in Travels with Charley, published in 1962. In the last 30 years, the number of Americans discovering their country and the world with their poodles and pugs and Persian cats by their side has swelled. Just 10 years ago, mentioning travel and animals in the same sentence meant one thing: safari. Today, migrating in a Land Rover with one's own herd is anything but exotic.

HITTING THE ROAD WITH PETS GETS TO THE HEART of what travel is about: seeing the world through new eyes. What bespeaks wanderlust more than a dog with its head out the car window, ears and jowls flapping?More and more, we're arranging our travel schedules for maximum pet-friendliness. Leave Rover and Fluffy behind?Not on your nine lives.

A new breed of car is making it easier to bring four-legged travelers along. In 1999, Saab became the first automotive company to offer a full line of vehicle accessories designed specifically for dogs, including a restraining system and animal-friendly harness (Saab consulted with the Humane Society, which frowns on attaching restraints to collars). Last fall, Ford introduced the similarly equipped "Have Spot, Will Travel" edition of its Focus sedan.

There's also a healthy growth industry geared to stylish animals on the go. In 1973, Louis Vuitton introduced the Sac Chat, a logo-smothered cat carrier with mesh panels for ventilation. It remains one of the company's top sellers (now joined by the Sac Chien as well). Fans of vintage design love Fifi & Romeo's Kelly bag-style doggie purse, which combines leather and antique fabrics, while Helmut Lang-leaning Modernists gravitate to K-9 Sport's En Route travel case, in NASA-worthy orange or silver microfiber.

They may not be able to speak for themselves, but animals have credit card-carrying humans who cater to their creature comforts—and fully expect hotel staffers to do the same. No wonder hospitality powerhouses are learning new tricks to get furry guests to sit and stay. All 50 properties in the Four Seasons chain welcome dogs, while "Loews Loves Pets" is the mantra at that chain's hotels, where the animals' room-service menu includes vet-approved meals to "help pets deal with jet lag and altitude adjustments" (filet mignon for dogs, salmon for cats).

BISCUITS ON ARRIVAL, DESIGNER DOG BEDS, and supercute Do Not Disturb signs are just the beginning. Hotels now offer dog-walking and cat-sitting services, kitty litter boxes, and even wildlife videos (to make your own beast feel more at ease). Is homesickness a problem?At the Alexis Hotel in Seattle, the concierge can book a session with an animal psychologist. All this is leading to a revolution in hotel housekeeping. Chambermaids at Loews hotels use HEPA filters to remove pet evidence when they vacuum the rooms, ensuring the next guest's comfort.

But what about going abroad?While many deluxe restaurants in France and Italy welcome dogs big and small, a number of countries require lengthy, hazardous quarantines, and more than a few enforce breed restrictions—which is why I can never travel to the Netherlands with my pit bulls. The United Kingdom's six-month quarantine is notorious (Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and their Pekingese once skirted it by taking up residence on a yacht docked in the Thames); many people would be shocked to learn that even closer to home, Hawaii has one, too.

Although pets have been flying in cargo on passenger planes since 1950, they haven't always survived the trip, and pet people know instinctively that the only way to ensure Fluffy's safe passage is never to let her out of your sight. Worry-free air travel is now a reality for small pets, thanks to the efforts of flight attendant turned entrepreneur Gayle Martz, who campaigned arduously to get her soft-sided, under-the-seat Sherpa Bag approved by most major airlines. The only plane that allows you to book a seat for your pet is the Concorde, and big dogs everywhere are hopeful that it will resume commercial flights this fall.

But preparing to transport your pet abroad, even in a carrier, entails a lot of legwork. To the busy pet lover's rescue comes a new species of travel agent, to tell you exactly which inoculations and documents are required.

"WE ARE A FULL-SERVICE PET TRAVEL AGENCY, so we do all the hard work," explains Matthew Oberlander of Lori Travel in Miami, which has sent cats to Cancún and a chow chow to Glasgow (by way of Amsterdam). One client who was relocating to Italy needed to move her cat, two dogs, and 11 potbellied pigs. "She made two trips back and forth," Oberlander recalls, "because the State Department allows only ten farm animals to travel at a time, and the airlines permit only two pets per plane."

It can be easier to charter a plane, an option frequently exercised by the high-flying pet set. Oberlander also advises clients to charter boats. "Rent a yacht and bring your pet on board with you," he says. "There's no headache, and you can travel anywhere you want, provided pets are welcome at your destination."

Nowhere are they more welcome than in California, which might as well be called Cloud Canine. The Cypress Inn in Carmel (where there's no leash law on the beach to put a crimp in a game of fetch) is part-owned by animal activist Doris Day and provides complimentary dog biscuits, a dispenser for pickup bags, and fuzzy blankets to protect bedspreads from sandy paws. In San Francisco, where dog runs go by the seriously P.C. term OLA's, or Off-Leash Areas, the Hotel Monaco supplies a chew toy, ball, and doggie scoop bags at check-in; provides temporary ID tags in case your pet should stray; and offers turndown service complete with bottled water and liver biscotti.

If the dog run isn't enough of a challenge, why not sniff out the Dordogne?Europeds offers Doggie Walk tours of this region as well as Provence, where dogs can accompany guests into Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels. And fitness-conscious Fidos will love Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, Mexico. They can tag along with you for beach and desert walks and wind down in tandem, too, with the ultimate spa pampering: a 25-minute side-by-side session with a massage therapist who's expert in human and canine relaxation. But nothing longer than that. "Usually," explains a staffer, "dogs don't want a really long massage."

Julia Szabo writes the Pets column for the Sunday New York Post. Her book, Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share with Your Pets (Bulfinch Press) was just published.


For information on where to go, which places to avoid, and roadblocks you might encounter, such as quarantines—plus feedback from other animal lovers—check out the following Web sites: Traveldog.com, PetsOnTheGo.com, DogFriendly.com, PetsWelcome.com, and DogsByTheBay.com.

Travel Tummy Tasha's Herbs for Dogs & Cats; 800/315-0142, fax 928/ 443-0502.

Fifi & Romeo's Signature Dog Carrier 323/857-7215; www.fifi-and-romeo.com; from $550.

K-9 Sport's en Route Ergodynamic Travel Bag 877/4-FLT-ONE; www.flight001.com; $98.

Sherpa Bags 800/743-7723; www.sherpapet.com.

Lori Travel 800/882-5674 or 305/893-0907; www.loritravel.com.

Cypress Inn Lincoln and Seventh Sts., Carmel, Calif.; 800/443-7443 or 831/624-3871, fax 831/624-8216; www.cypress-inn.com; doubles from $125; $20 per night, additional pets are $15 per night each.

Hotel Monaco 501 Geary St., San Francisco; 800/214-4220 or 415/292-0100, fax 415/292-0111; www.monaco-sf.com; Bone Appétit package $239 per night.

Europeds 800/321-9552, fax 415/883-1310; www.europeds.com; seven-day Doggie Walk, no price available at publication time.

Las Ventanas al Paraíso Los Cabos, Mexico; 52-114/40300, fax 52-114/ 40301; www.lasventanas.com; doubles from $350, each pet is $50 extra per stay; 25-minute body massage for pet and owner $90.