If you live in the northern hemisphere, you probably started thinking about your summer vacation months ago. And if you have pets -- as over 71 million households in the U.S. do -- chances are fairly good that you've considered taking them along for the ride.
Taking a pet on a trip can be fun, but it can also be challenging for the first-timer. With a bit of planning, though, you can turn those challenges into opportunities for great summer memories. Below, you'll find nine useful tips to help prep for your vacation with Fido and Fifi. If you've got others, please share them with us.
One thing to note: dogs can be great travel companions. Nearly all are leash-trainable, so your strolls on the beach or hikes in the woods can be transformed into unforgettable experiences. Other pets...well, other pets are trickier. We've seen some cats that enjoy leashes -- ferrets, too -- but they're not the norm. Before you start packing, think long and hard about whether your pet is suited for travel.
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Tip #1: Plan for pet-friendly lodging
It might seem obvious that if you're traveling with a pet, you'd want to check with hotels, guest-houses, and campgrounds in advance to find one that's pet-friendly. However, we've all had friends who blithely assumed everything would be fine, only to arrive at their destination and discover that their lodgings weren't pet friendly at all -- or that they required a huge, non-refundable deposit. To make sure you're not left in the lurch (especially when booking online), don't just go by a listing, which might not have been updated for years: pick up the phone and call to verify that the place accommodates pets. If you're planning a hotel stay, click here to search for a list of pet-friendly properties.
Tip #2: Give your pet a tune-up
You probably wouldn't set out on a long road trip without having your car checked out, right? The same goes for your pet. Before you roll out of town, stop by the vet for booster shots, rabies tags, and such. That'll ensure that Max is in top-top condition, and if for some reason you have to kennel him (see #9 below), you'll be prepared -- provided you remember to take his paperwork with you. If you haven't already done so, you should probably have your pet chipped while you're there, just in case he or she bolts or gets separated from you on the road.
Tip #3: Book activities in advance
Once you start looking, you'll find that there are pet-friendly activities in almost every vacation destination -- even in big cities. Do your research in advance, though: some attractions are open to pets on certain days of the week, and some have special restrictions. BringFido.com maintains a huge list of activities that you and your pets can enjoy together.
Tip #4: Buckle up (both of you)
If you're traveling by car, be sure to restrain your pet -- ideally in the back seat or cargo area. The safest plan of all is to put him or her in a travel kennel and strap it to a seat. There are less restrictive options, like car seats and harnesses, too. If your pet's a jumper, make sure there's a barrier of some sort to prevent him or her from getting in the front seat with you. We also recommend investing in a blanket or seat cover, which will make cleaning up hair and little accidents much easier and preserve the value of your ride. Sites like DrsFosterSmith.com have a range of options to chose from.
'Beau & Coda in the Car' by Nicole Engard on Flickr
Tip #5: Squeeze the breeze
Many pets -- especially dogs -- love to feel the breeze of an open window as they zoom down the road. It's not the safest way to travel, but if you're inclined to let Rex have his way, be sure the window is cracked just enough for him to get his snout out. If your car has electric windows, engage the lock; that'll keep your pooch from accidentally lowering them -- and potentially leaping out of the car to chase that tasty-looking armadillo.
Tip #6: Let the water flow
As we mentioned in our list of hurricane evacuation tips just last week, it's crucial that you provide plenty of water for your pets to consume on the road. It's not just a matter of hydration, it also keeps them cool, which is doubly important when your car's stuck in traffic on a hot stretch of blacktop.
Tip #7: Carry plenty of kibble
Most vets recommend against changing a pet's food too often. Humans love variety in their diet, but for companion animals, consistency is key. Feeding them the same food they get at home -- at the same time they normally get it -- will give your pets a comforting routine in their strange, new environment. This goes double for pets who are inclined to be nervous and jittery.
Tip #8: Never leave your pet in the car
Surely you don't need to be reminded about this one, but just to be on the safe side: don't do it. We're watching.
Tip #9: If all else fails, kennel
So you get to your destination, and Bowser is having problems. He's rambunctious, he's aggressive with other guests at the hotel, or something else has gone haywire that's sending your vacation rapidly downhill. Don't lose your cool -- some pets just aren't cut out for travel, and you may not figure that out until you're on the road. You can still salvage the family vacation: just ask around for nearby kennels, and give your pet a break.
If you haven't boarded your pet in a while, you're in for a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of kennels available today that seem more like spas than the ugly cages you remember from childhood. (Some of us who travel in the South like PetParadise, but there are many others to choose from.) If you feel especially guilty, drop by once a day to say hello -- but don't be surprised if your pet drops you like a hot rock once other critters bound onto the playground.
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As we said above, traveling with a pet is never easy -- it takes preparation, and it's likely to boost the price of your vacation, too. But if you're looking for a memorable getaway experience, it'll be time and money very well spent.