Are you part of the growing number of senior “pet parents” who are opting to take their beloved pet with them when they travel? According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, over half of the respondents travel with their pet. And why not? When the children grow up and move away, we can become very attached to our pets. So taking them along when we travel only seems reasonable. After all, they are part of the “family.”
That’s not to say that traveling with your “fur-son” or “fur-daughter” isn’t going to present some challenges, as well as limitations. But just as it is true with everything else in life, if you want something badly enough you will find a way.
While traveling by airplane is doable with a pet, I’m going to leave that topic for another day. The suggestions presented here concern road trips, specifically with a dog along. Everything comes from my personal experience, but I think most people will find it relatable.
It All Started When I Was Young(er)
When I was growing up, I remember traveling across the country by car with my parents, brother, and our dog. At the time, I paid very little attention to how the dog was cared for since that was Mom’s responsibility (sound familiar?). I do recall having a special dish along for him to drink from, and letting him out for potty breaks whenever we stopped. But that’s about it.
Fast forward a couple dozen years (or perhaps a bit more), and now I’m the one traveling with a dog. She’s a beautiful Korean Jindo named Princess. Since neither my husband nor I can stand the thought of putting her in a kennel (or doggie jail, as we sometimes call it), she travels with us whenever our son is not able to care for her at home due to his work schedule.
I know that I’m not alone. In fact, in our recent travels, I noticed lots of other people traveling with one or more dogs along. That presents the first challenge for us since Princess is not particularly well socialized around other dogs. But with a little planning and some “defensive” parking when we stop, that can be handled without too much difficulty.
Preparing Your Vehicle
You will need to spend some time making a safe place for your pooch to ride in your vehicle. For us, that means putting down some blankets and a dog bed in the back. Then we “barricade” her so that she can’t come forward to the front seats. Some people prefer a travel crate, and that’s fine if your dog is already accustomed to using one. Also, make a place for a leash right next to the door she will be going in and out. Finally, stash a water bowl and water where you can easily get to them.
Princess is a senior dog and needs to get out and stretch her legs every couple of hours. This is perfect for us since my bad knees need frequent stops as well. We don’t always need gasoline, so frequently we just stop at a rest area. Most of these areas have specific “pet exercise” areas, so it’s important to pay attention to the signs.
Being the good pet parent, I let Princess out to do her business first. She has to be lifted in and out of the car, but she waits (more or less) patiently for me to come around and help her down. We always pick a parking spot that is as far away from other vehicles as we can get. I let her sniff and explore more or less to her heart’s desire. I also always have a couple of plastic bags in my hip pocket if she decides to make a “deposit.”
We follow the “water out, water in” rule. If you stop for a potty break, that means that she should also have a drink of water as well. I keep her own bottle of water and a dish with a towel right next to the door we use to let her in and out. It’s also a good idea for the humans to drink water as well, since dehydration when traveling can be a problem.
Princess doesn’t have much of an appetite when we travel. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. She doesn’t have much of an appetite for her regular dog food when we travel. There are just too many opportunities to “help” the humans with their food. Sometimes we even buy a sandwich just for her and give her the meat from it. Always follow that up with a drink of water as well.
When we stop for the night, I put down her travel dishes with water and her usual dog food. I also have an elevated folding feeding stand along. As most pet parents already know, pets who are dealing with arthritis and/or neck problems strain unnaturally when they have to eat and drink from ground level. We have a permanent stand at home, but it’s a little large to travel with. I just purchased a folding footrest, and it does the job beautifully.
There are plenty of pet-friendly hotel and motel chains available. Some charge a fee, and some don’t. Of course, if you are traveling with a service animal, the law requires that you can stay anywhere without charge or prejudice. Just don’t try to “sneak” in a dog. Making advance reservations is highly recommended.
Princess is super quiet and super chill about staying in a hotel. She doesn’t bark unless someone actually knocks on the door (which is rare). We have it down to a science by asking for a ground floor room, with access to an exit door other than through the lobby. This means that we can come and go without disturbing anyone. I look out the peephole first to be sure the hallway is clear whenever I can.
We don’t leave Princess in the hotel room alone. We take turns going to the car or the breakfast area. When we need to leave the room, we take her with us. She is far more comfortable sitting and waiting inside our car (in appropriate weather conditions, of course) than she would be staying alone in a foreign hotel room.
What a Cute Dog. Can I Pet It?
First of all, Princess is not an “it,” she is a “her.” Second of all, no you may not pet her. Although I’m reasonably certain that she would not bite anyone, I just don’t like the idea of a complete stranger touching my dog. Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t want strange people touching and petting me – so the same goes for my dog. I make no apologies.
The first few trips we took with Princess, we would take her bed in with us to the hotel room. More recently, we discovered that she was much happier “sharing” the bed with us. Before you remind me that housekeeping doesn’t wash the bedspreads, or that she will leave hair everywhere, I need to mention that we always put down her own blanket and/or towels to protect the hotel linen. Also, we always get a King Size bed. Usually, she sleeps quite contentedly right in the middle between my husband and me.
Of course, if you have a bed hog, you may want to bring a travel bed or pillow to put on the hotel room floor. Pick a location that is far away from the door, but still within eyeshot. Dogs will naturally want to face the door when they sleep, so pick a spot for their bed that will accommodate that tendency.
Make a List
You really should make yourself a pet packing list, so you don’t overlook any essentials. Here is a sample to get you started:
- Harness and leash
- Bed, and travel blanket(s)
- Bone (or chew toy)
- Food (ziplock bag with enough for the trip) and bowls
- Water bottle
- Medications (as needed), and soft food to “hide” it in
- Certificates (e.g., health, rabies, service animal if applicable, etc.)
- Roll of paper towels for “accidents”
- Empty trash bags
Travel is an adventure, and traveling with a dog along can be very enjoyable when you are prepared. They force you to literally slow down and smell the roses. And don’t forget to take pictures along the way, if only for yourself as you reflect back years from now.
Carolyn is a lifelong learner, musician, author, world traveler, truth enthusiast, life optimizer, and all around bon vivant. Working for 32 years at the Southern California Gas Company, she retired early at 55 to pursue projects that brought her joy and personal fulfillment. She is a freelance author, a contract instructional designer, and has published two books while currently working on a third. She writes articles and blog posts on topics from politics to weight loss. She is a patron of the arts, and finds great joy in playing an instrument, singing, and/or listening to music every single day.