Family travel and pets

I love to travel with my family. I also love having pets. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to travel when pets are part of the family. Taking them along can be expensive, stressful and extremely limiting. Leaving them at home is also expensive and stressful to all involved. So what’s a travel loving pet parent to do?

My own family consists of two parents, two children and two extremely geriatric pets; a 14 year old grey cat by the name of Gaston, who is on a special diet for his kidneys and gets crankier every year and an equally old miniature poodle by the name of Belle who has epilepsy, Cushing’s disease, arthritis and cataracts. Back when I was single and we were all young and spry I used to travel with them quite a bit. Belle has gone with me to Banff, Seattle, Oregon, St Louis, New York City, Boston and the Berkshires and I brought both pets with me when I took temporary jobs in California and Connecticut.

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But when we travel these days, we’re forced to make a choice that most traveling families with pets have to make; limit our travels to places that we can bring the pets or leave them behind? The answer will be different for every family.

For some people, their preferred travel lifestyle can accommodate pets without too much struggle. Road trips and recreational vehicles are a pet friendly way to travel within if you’re staying within one continent. Ramblecrunch.com follows a family currently living in Mexico with their Jack Russel Terrier and I’ve heard of others doing the same. In my travels with pets, including a six day trip across the United States with a dog and a cat, I found that generally, the cheapest and the most expensive hotels are the ones that take pets. I was able to travel quite easily with my two by sticking to the Red Roof Inn and Motel Six chain, so it is possible to stay in motels with pets as well.

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Unfortunately, most travel lifestyles are not exactly pet friendly. Many mid priced hotel chains are no go zones for pets and so are hostels and most vacation rentals. Flying with pets can be outrageously expensive and cause dangerous levels of stress. And there are so many places where pets aren’t allowed. When I took my dog to Boston, we went to the Boston Common, walked the Freedom Trail, visited an open air market and admired the view from Beacon Hill. However if I took my kids there, I’d want to take them to the museums and other indoor venues as well. Hotels generally won’t let you leave the pets in the room when you’re not there, you can’t leave them in the car or tied up on the sidewalk, so what can you do?

Now some places are definitely more pet friendly than others. I loved living in the San Francisco area because I could go so many places with my dog. She was allowed on the rapid transit, many stores were fine with letting her in, she could ride the cable cars and sit by my table when I ate at outdoor patios. One Thai place in Berkeley even let me sneak her into the dining room and hide her under the floor length table cloths! New York was pretty good for dogs, some of the fancy hotels had water dishes out on the sidewalk for dogs and Central Park was doggie heaven, but many other parts of the Northeastern U.S. were pretty limiting and uptight. I’d love to know how pet owners find things in Europe, since you see dogs everywhere in many places, but I’ll probably never get a chance to check it out myself.

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But back to the dilemma; lets say you’re a family that wants to travel and you don’t want to camp or RV, you want to travel overseas and/or you want to see a lot of places where pets aren’t allowed. (i.e. pretty much anything that’s indoors). The only option really is to leave the pets behind.

For some people this isn’t really an issue. I’ve talked to some travelers who say, “Oh, it’s not a problem, he just stays on my parents’ farm while I’m gone!” or something like that. But very few of us are that lucky. My parents, for example, are wonderful loving people who are always happy to help out but also happen to live in a complex where pets are strictly prohibited. Like most pet owners, we need to rely on pet sitters or kennels when we travel.

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Finding good accommodations for your pets can be a real challenge. For our cat, we find that paying a neighbour kid to come by every day is by far the best option. It’s less stressful for him to stay home and he’s not all that fond of people anyway. For other low maintenance pets like fish, gerbils or canaries this would probably be the easiest way to go for most people.

Dogs are usually the most challenging for travelers. We went through a lot of kennels and pet sitters before we found a good option for us. Of course, having a dog with complex medical needs did not make it any easier. One of our biggest issues is that she can sometimes have seizures in the night and we didn’t feel comfortable with her being locked in an outbuilding filled with other dogs all night long, no matter how nice the accommodations were. We did finally luck out in finding the most amazing pet sitter who looks after small dogs in her home, is totally comfortable with Belle’s medication regime and even lets Belle sleep in her bedroom at night. It costs a few dollars a day more than a kennel, but the peace of mind is well worth it.

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Another option for many is house sitters. Apparently there is a real network of people who make a living out of house sitting and organizations that match house sitters with potential clients. For us I think it would be a bit of overkill; the cat care takes about ten minutes a day and our small house and yard don’t require a lot of attention, but it could be a way for people who have multiple pets to find a way to travel. I don’t really know enough about it to know how it all works, though.

But even with our own pet care situation fairly well under control, I still feel guilty when we leave them for weeks at a time to pursue our own travel dreams, especially with them getting on in years. I’m pretty sure that if they had the choice, we’d spend every day hanging out at home with them and curled up on the couch watching TV every evening. As much as we love having pets, I just don’t think there’s any way to include pets in the travel lifestyle that we want to pursue with out kids. We’re still totally committed to the pets we have, of course, but I don’t know if there are any new pets in our immediate future. But at least for now, they make the times when we can’t travel a whole lot happier!

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