Amy Burkert and her husband have spent the last 3 years travelling with their dogs Ty (Shar-Pei) and Buster (German Shepherd) all over North America. Their experiences have sparked the very comprehensive pet accommodation database Go Pet Friendly, something like a Trip Advisor for travelling animals that even allows you to plan your road trips through North America in advance. She tells suitcases&strollers why travelling with pets is an important part of every family vacation.
It’s hard enough to travel with kids. Why travel with pets as well?
For a lot of people, their pets are members of the family. Leaving them behind makes the trip less fun because you worry about them or miss them so much that it's hard to enjoy yourself. And it's expensive to pay for a kennel!
Travelling with the dogs has added so much to our travels. We get out and do things that we otherwise wouldn't have considered, simply because it's fun for the dogs. There have been days of hiking, boating or hanging on the beach that we would have missed if it hadn't been for Ty and Buster.
What about dogs that don't mingle well with others? Are they still suitable to travel?
We travel full-time with a dog that doesn't get along well with other dogs so it definitely can be done. Ty was attacked by another dog when he was six months old and ever since he hasn't liked other dogs. No dog is perfectly behaved and if we all waited for that, we'd never go anywhere!
The great thing about travelling is that it gives you so many opportunities to train your pet toward more desirable behaviours. We carry treats all the time and we've taught Ty to look to us for treats when he sees another dog. It works great because he's really food motivated and he'll completely ignore another dog if we have something delicious in our pocket.
What about cats? Can they really travel? Don’t they prefer to stay at home?
I always thought that too, but a lot of cats like to travel. We just did a Summer Pet Travel survey on our Take Paws bog and discovered that about 6% of people who answered the survey travel with their cats. What I've learned is that cats can be taught to travel. It's easier if you start them out as kittens, but even older cats can adapt as long as you introduce them to the experience slowly.
Do you need to "settle" pets into new accommodation?
We travel by RV and the boys really consider this their home no matter where it's parked. But when we stay in hotels we do give them some time to settle in and adjust to the new surroundings. To help them understand that we'll be staying for awhile we bring their beds and a couple of their favourite toys. We've also found that if we sit down and relax they'll do the same, so we let the unpacking wait for a few hours until the dogs have calmed down.
Does travelling with pets mean you are limited to budget travel? Are there stylish accommodation options too or will we be stuck camping?
It used to be that only the cheapest, undesirable hotels would accept pets. As more people have begun travelling with their pets, that is definitely not the situation anymore. Fantastic hotel chains like Kimpton Hotels allow pets of all sizes, without additional fees, and offer great amenities like a nightly "yappy" hour.
When planning a holiday, how can you figure out if the accommodation is really pet-friendly?
Of course, the definition of “pet-friendly” is open to interpretation. We've found places that run the gamut from barely pet tolerant to those that spoil the dogs more than we do at home! Figuring out where a location falls on that scale can be a little tricky.
One of the first things I look at is any additional pet charges that will be imposed. Expecting pet travellers to pay ridiculous fees for having their dog along isn't pet-friendly in my book. I also notice if they offer advice on where you can walk your dog, nearby restaurants with outdoor seating that will allow your dog to join you and any pet-friendly activities in the area. Finally, if they offer special perks like dog beds, bowls, treats and sometimes even items on the room service menu, you can be pretty sure you've found accommodations where the staff will love your dog as much as you do.
What sorts of things should you pack for your pet?
Pets need a lot of stuff when they travel. If you travel often it makes sense to get them their own travel bag and leave some of this stuff packed so it's easier to get ready to go.
Here's the list that we use:
• Food and treats. If you are not certain that you can pick up the brand you feed your pet along the way, pack enough for the whole trip plus a little extra. Don’t forget the can opener for canned food.
• Drinking water. If your pet’s stomach is easily upset, it pays to take drinking water from home with you.
• Food and water bowls. Portable bowls pack easily and are great when you are out and about. Anti-spill water bowls are fantastic in the car (or RV).
• Proof of vaccinations and your pet’s health records. You’ll need these at some of the dog parks and camp grounds. Also, if you want to use a pet sitter, daycare or kennel services while you are travelling they will need these documents. Don’t forget to take your vet’s telephone number, and the telephone number for the National Animal Poison Control Center [in the US or other relevant authority wherever you are travelling].
• Current identification tags. Include your cell phone number or other phone number where you can be reached while you are away on your pet’s tags.
• Photos of your pet. In case your pet gets separated from you, a current photo can make it easy to create posters quickly and can be used to prove the pet belongs to you.
• A couple of rolls of paper towels and some carpet cleaner. For muddy paws and other messes.
• An old towel. In case of rain or to use after swimming.
• Your pet’s bed and a couple of toys. To make them more comfortable when you spend the night in unfamiliar locations.
• All their medications, vitamins, supplements, etc.
• Plastic bags. To pick up after them along the way.
• First aid kit.
• Pet insect repellent and sunscreen.
• Leash. Many places require your pet be on a leash no longer than six feet. You may also want to consider an [additional] long leash (15 to 20 feet) if you plan to hike with your dog or let them run in an unfenced area.
• Your camera. You’ll want to capture these memories to share with your family and friends.
Where are your top 3 places to travel with your pets and why?
· Austin, Texas, USA. Austin is an amazing, pet-friendly city with lots of trails, easy access to the lake and more pet-friendly businesses than you can shake a stick at. It's where we spend the winter months because we always have such a good time there with the dogs.
· The Black Hills in South Dakota, USA. I've loved South Dakota for as long as I can remember. Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest are stunning and the hiking is fantastic…and dog-friendly!
· Anywhere on the beach in Oregon, USA. The Oregon coast is breathtaking. It's rugged and rocky in places and calm and sandy in others. The best thing is that there is no private property on the coast. It's all public access and most of it is pet-friendly.
Camping is often an easy and cheap way to travel with pets. For travel tips on camping as a family, see the suitcases&strollers story here.