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Tips for Traveling With a Pet

By Kate Strassel | Citizens Bank Staff

You adore your pet. You also love to travel. Luckily, taking to the open road — or the sky — doesn’t mean you have to leave your best friend behind. In fact, 31% of respondents to this 2018 survey said they planned to travel with their pet more than six times in the coming year.

A safe, enjoyable trip with your pet means doing your homework ahead of time. Read on for helpful travel tips to prepare you and your four-legged companion for the journey.

Before you go

Just like traveling with humans, a successful trip with your dog or cat (or any other animal) requires some preparation beforehand. Keep these recommendations in mind when you’re getting ready to drive or fly with your pet:

  • Rehearse the trip — especially if your pet has never ridden in the car before. Start with short drives and gradually increase the length of time of each trip. They should also ride in their crate or carrier on each test drive to get used to it.
  • Offer a light meal or treats a few hours before leaving.
  • Get your pet some exercise before hitting the road or boarding the plane. A good walk or run will tire them out and make them more likely to sleep during the trip.
  • Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date. You’ll also need to check with your destination’s vaccination and documentation requirements.
  • If your pet is on any medications, special food, or flea/tick prevention, make sure you have a sufficient amount to cover your trip plus an extra day or two.
  • Know the policies for pets at your destination. For example, does your dog need to be crated when left alone in the room?
  • Map out where the nearest ER vet is located to your destination.

What to pack

Must-have travel essentials for your pet include:

Getting there

Whether you’ll be taking a road trip or flying the friendly skies, your pet’s safety and comfort should always come first.

Pets should always ride in the back seat — for their safety and yours.

Traveling by car? It’s safest for your pet to ride in the back seat — preferably secured by a harness or in a crate — both to minimize distractions for the driver and reduce your pet’s risk of injury. Be sure to have water, a portable bowl, and treats handy to give to your pet at rest stops.

Speaking of rest stops, make them often — more often than you would if you were traveling alone. Your pet should be on a leash and wearing identification tags every time they leave the vehicle — no exceptions. “There’s a high risk of being scared in new places,” says Jocelyn Strassel, a certified vet technician and animal behaviorist with MSPCA-Angell in Boston, Massachusetts. She also stresses the importance of never leaving your pet alone in a car, even for short periods of time.

@sugar_moakley via Instagram

Flying with a pet involves a bit more planning and patience, but dog mom Katie McCurry can confirm it’s a viable option. Her dog, Rigby, is a registered emotional support animal (ESA) and flies with her often. “When packing for the flight, I make sure to have extra waste bags in my carry on satchel, a foldable bowl (for ice on the plane), a plastic baggie of his treats, and his favorite plush toy for comfort,” says Katie. She also ships Rigby’s food and a chew toy or two to her destination via chewy.com so she doesn’t have to deal with bringing them on the flight.

Even if you fly with your pet regularly, Katie advises calling the airline before every flight to confirm the rules and regulations. “I’ve noticed some airlines are updating their policies more frequently, so I want to make sure I’m up to date and prepared,” she adds.

Book a direct flight whenever possible to minimize the amount of stress for both you and your traveling companion. Contact your airline well in advance of your trip to avoid any last-minute surprises or complications. Ask if your pet can travel in the cabin with you (most airlines require the pet’s weight to be 20 lbs. or less; ESAs are an exception) and about the sizing requirements for their crate or carrier.

Rigby never flies without his favorite toy!

Also, don’t forget that you’ll be taking your pet through security with you, which can be stressful enough. “Rigby and I have to go through security separately,” Katie points out. “I have him sit and I walk through the big metal detector. Then I call him through the side metal detector. Then I have to get him leashed up, grab my bags, and get my shoes back on — all while the line is accumulating.”

One more thing to consider: If you’ll be taking an Uber or cab from the airport to your destination, find out their pet policies ahead of time to avoid being turned down at the curb.

You’ve arrived

Once you reach your hotel, home, or apartment, take some time to acclimate your pet to the new surroundings. Keep the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door at all times, including when you’re in the room.

If your pet will be spending time alone in the room, leave the television on; the background noise can provide some comfort and normalcy in an unfamiliar environment. It’s also a good idea to request a room away from the elevator or other high-traffic areas — that way, your pet won’t think it’s you returning every time someone walks by.

Lastly, don’t stay away for long stretches of time. After all, the point of bringing them along was to enjoy the trip together!

Explore your surroundings

No matter where your travels take you and your pet, a quick Google search is likely to reveal a number of nearby animal-friendly businesses, restaurants, parks, and other attractions. As with your transportation and lodging, consider your pet’s comfort level when choosing an activity. “Make decisions for your pet, not you,” advises Jocelyn. Even if it’s something your pet enjoys doing at home, like visiting an outdoor café, an unfamiliar venue could stress them out.

@sugar_moakley via Instagram

Would they rather stay home?

Think about why you want to bring your pet. Are you worried they’ll miss you — or that you’ll miss them? Either way, separation anxiety isn’t a strong argument for bringing them along, especially if their temperament isn’t conducive to stressful situations. Your pet’s personality should give you a pretty good indication of whether they’d love every minute of the trip or if they’d prefer hanging out at home with a pet sitter.

What to remember

With a bit of preparation, patience, and a sense of humor, traveling with pets has the potential to be a rewarding experience. Whether you’re traveling by car or plane, taking the time to plan out each step of your journey will minimize surprises and maximize your enjoyment. If you decide that taking your pet along isn’t in their best interest, don’t feel bad: they’ll love you just as much when you return as they did when you left.

More information

Traveling with a pet can be stressful enough without worrying how you’ll pay for the trip. Consider opening a Citizens Bank savings account and use automatic deposits to fund your vacation.

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