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How to Road Trip Safely With Your Pet

Dogs and even cats can travel with you this summer!

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It’s estimated that 70 percent of US households now have pets, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association. There’s also been a rise in animal travel: More and more Americans are hitting the road with their fur babies, perhaps because pets and their owners got so attached to each other during the long quarantine portions of the pandemic. But taking your animal along for the ride can be complicated — especially if you aren’t prepared. Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to safely road trip with your pet.

Kim Salerno, CEO of TripsWithPets.com, founded her site with the intention of helping people find pet-friendly accommodations on their car journeys. “I have three large dogs — and one of them is a pitbull — so I know the challenges of finding a place to stay!” she tells First For Women. “I wanted it to be not just about finding pet-friendly hotels, but also about helping people travel safely with their pets; a lot of our blogs are about things like securing your pet in a vehicle or how to get them used to a harness or the dangers of leaving them alone in the car.” Salerno’s company can even help you map out how far you want to drive each day of your trip — they recently assisted a family moving from California to Florida with four dogs and two cats in tow.  

Amy Burkert, founder of GoPetFriendly.com, started her site with a similar goal: to provide users with information about pet-friendly hotels, vacation properties, restaurants, campgrounds, and attractions. The site now has more than 65,000 listings for places in the US and Canada. “Remember, this was 2009 — traveling with pets wasn’t as common back then as it is now,” Burkert shares of her site’s origins. “We sold our house, bought an RV, and traveled full-time with our dogs to show people the kinds of things they could be doing with their pets. We went all over the country and wrote about the pet friendliness of the destinations we visited.”

Here, pet travel experts Salerno and Burkert share insight into their businesses and provide some advice for adventuring with your furry friend.

An Increase in Pet Travel

Salerno has definitely noticed an uptick in pet travel since her site launched in 2003. “A growing number of people think of their pets differently now,” she muses. “You hear them called ‘fur babies’ and we call ourselves ‘pet parents’ instead of ‘owners.’” When Trips With Pets started, seniors dominated the market; retired folks and empty nesters had disposable incomes and were willing to spend more for the convenience of bringing their pet on a trip. Now, Salerno says, younger generations like millennials are spending just as much — or even more — on their animals.

The pandemic also had something to do with it. From March 2020 to May 2021, 23 million homes adopted dogs or cats, according to ASPCA president Matt Bershadker. Burkert’s site launched in 2009, and over the past 13 years she has noticed the number of businesses catering to pet travel increase. “Of course, we all had to hit the brakes during the pandemic,” Burkert says. “But during those long months of isolation, more people adopted pets. And all of us built deeper bonds with our furry family members. Once it was safe to travel again, people were not willing to leave their best friends behind.” Her site now sees more traffic than ever before. 

“I also think people have come to realize that including their pets in their lives adds a level of depth to the relationship that wasn’t there before,” Burkert says wisely. “When you’re watching your pet live their best life, playing in the waves or hiking a mountain trail, you realize you’re living your best life, too. The opportunity has always been there, and now more people are recognizing it.”

Tips for When You’re on the Road 

The experts shared some specific ti[ps for taking your pet on a car trip:

  • Make sure your pet has a collar with an ID tag or a microchip so you can more easily reunite with them if they run off or get lost. 
  • Find a hotel that offers a pet-sitting service for when you go out somewhere and can’t bring them along. 
  • Make sure they get potty breaks in the car.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in the car. 
  • Make sure it’s cool enough in the car. In 2021, there were 59 reports of pets dying in cars or from other heat-related causes, according to PETA.
  • Keep feeding on a road trip to a minimum — you never know when they’re going to get a tummy upset. They also tend to dehydrate in the vehicle, so provide lots of water. 
  • Buckle them in!

Although many people let their dogs hang out in the car’s back seat (or sit on an owner’s lap), both experts were particularly passionate about making sure your pet is safely buckled in (just as a human should be). “Whether you use a crash-tested car harness or a secured carrier, keeping your pet safe while you travel is the top priority,” Burkert advises. (Cats probably won’t allow themselves to be buckled in, so a carrier is the best option in the case of feline pals.)

“Buckle in your dog instead of letting them run free,” Salerno agrees. “If you stop fast, dogs are very vulnerable. They’ll fall off the seat. If you’re in a crash and they’re free range, they’re a projectile that can go right through the front windshield.” Trips With Pets sells a harness crash-tested by an organization that also crash-tests seatbelts for children. “These harnesses attach to the car’s seat belt, so they’re not going anywhere,” Salerno explains. “Also, letting your pet run around in the car or lick your ear is a huge distraction to you as a driver.” 

Planning Activities to Do With Your Pet

Not every pet is a good traveler, and they’re probably not going to have a good time if you book a pet-friendly hotel and leave them there the entire time you’re out enjoying yourself. “We thought it was very important to make sure your pet isn’t stuck in the hotel room — and many hotels don’t allow that anyway,” Salerno says. Her site suggests plenty of pet-approved activities you can do together, like beaches and hiking trails. 

Both pet travel experts note that during the pandemic, many restaurants set up outdoor seating areas — and these options remain exceptionally dog-friendly. “When you’re traveling, you’re going out to dinner,” Salerno points out. “And generally, if a restaurant has an outdoor seating area, most of them will allow you to dine with your pet.” 

Just don’t force your pet into an activity. “The most important tip I can share is to know your pet and work within his comfort zone,” Burkert says. “If you live in a quiet neighborhood, your dog might not find a vacation in Manhattan appealing. Respect where he’s at, and over time you can build his confidence to be able to explore anywhere you want to go. It’s more about the relationship you have than any one trip.”

Burkert also believes in leaving time for serendipity and warns against packing your vacation itinerary too tightly when traveling with your animal. Allowing your pet to lead the way may end up taking you both to some unexpected — and delightful — new places. “Trying to convince your dog that it’s more important to take the guided tour you booked than sniff the tree in front of him will be stressful for you both,” she concludes. “Our pets teach us to be happy in the moment, and if you plan too much you’re always hustling to the next event. You never know what delightful outcome will result from following your pet’s lead once in a while.”

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