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9 Tips for Planning Dog-Friendly Vacations

planning dog friendly vacation
Allianz - planning dog friendly vacation

I recently took my collie mix on a five-day road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. I thought he would have a wonderful time frolicking in the woods, hanging his head out the car window and smelling all kinds of exciting new smells.

The reality was…. not quite as dog-tastic as I expected. Here’s what I learned about planning a vacation with your dog that's safe and stress-free.

1. Assess your pet’s tolerance for travel.

My dog loves car rides around town, so I assumed he’d love a 900-mile road trip. However, it ended up just being too much for him. Because he’s an active dog, he disliked being stuck in the car for hours; and because he likes routine, he wasn’t happy about the unpredictable schedule. By day three, he seemed a little depressed.

In retrospect, he probably would have preferred to stay with his favorite dog sitter, who bakes him homemade dog treats and once took him to have his picture taken with Santa Claus (true story). Lesson learned.

2. Protect your rental car, inside and out.

Some rental car companies do allow pets in their vehicles, but they’ll charge you hefty fees to clean animal hair from the upholstery and/or fix any damage your dog causes.1 It’s wise to keep your pet in a crate while in a rental car, or cover the back seat with a sheet. Of course, be sure to first check your rental agreement to see whether pets are allowed in your rental car.

To protect the car itself, we recommend the OneTrip Rental Car Protector. For only $11 per calendar day, you can have primary coverage for covered collision, loss and damage up to $50,000.

Remember – we cannot cover damage caused by a violation of your rental agreement, so stay safe by renting from a company that specifically allows dogs in your rental agreement.

3. Always get travel insurance — but understand what’s covered.

Travel insurance is vital for any vacation, because it can protect your trip investment and your peace of mind. But there’s one thing that pet owners should know: travel insurance includes service animals as defined by the ADA, but not pets, in the definition of “family member.” This means that if your dog gets sick before your trip, that would not be considered a covered reason for trip cancellation.

However, travel insurance can help in some situations when you’re traveling with your pet. Let’s say you’ve already paid $150 in pet-boarding fees at your destination, but then you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason. Trip cancellation benefits could reimburse you for those pre-paid, non-refundable costs.

Or, if you experience a medical emergency while you’re traveling, you can call 24-Hour Hotline Assistance. Our hotline experts will do their best to ensure that both you and your pet are well cared for. For instance, we’ve placed pets in reputable local boarding facilities while their owner is recuperating in the hospital. (Please note, however, that the insured traveler is responsible for paying any costs associated with special services like pet boarding. Read your plan documents so you know what your travel insurance covers.)

Get a customized travel insurance quote for your next vacation.

4. Safety should come first when you're driving with your dog.

Your dog can't speak to tell you when she's overheated, dehydrated or feeling ill, so it's up to you to keep her safe. When traveling with your dog in the car, make sure she's properly secured in a crate or with a seatbelt harness. Don't let her stick her head out the window, the ASPCA warns, because of the risk of being struck by an object.2 And never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle. Even on a mild day, the car can heat up rapidly, causing heatstroke.

5. If you're flying with your dog, plan carefully.

Flying is not fun for your dog, but there are ways to make the experience less stressful. Invest in a well-built travel crate (hard-sided if your dog will be flying in the cargo hold, soft-sided if he's small enough to travel with you) and travel bowls. Visit your veterinarian within 10 days of your flight to get a health certificate for your dog. And be sure to read your airline's policies on flying with your dog, including restrictions on weight and breed, prohibitions against sedation, quarantine requirements, and what can be placed in the crate.

6.  Know the difference between hotels that allow dogs and truly dog-friendly hotels.

Now that vacationing with your dog has become common, it's not that hard to find hotels that allow dogs. But you'll notice that some do it grudgingly, with strict size limits or breed restrictions. For a genuinely dog-friendly vacation, look for a hotel that welcomes dogs with open arms (and treats). According to the American Kennel Club, some of the most dog-friendly hotel chains include:

  • Motel 6, which has no weight limit and no pet fees, and allows up to two pets per room
  • Four Seasons, which pampers pets with dog beds and bowls filled with Evian for no additional charge (at some locations)
  • Kimpton Hotels, which also provides luxury pet amenities
  • Marriott Hotels, which has more than 1,500 dog-friendly locations across its portfolio of hotel brands.

One tip I learned the hard way: Ask for a ground-floor room, if available. When I checked into a fourth-floor room in a dog-friendly hotel during my trip, I found out that my dog was terrified of elevators. Poor guy!

7. Reduce the chances of your dog getting lost.

When you're vacationing with your dog, proper identification becomes essential. If you haven't had your dog microchipped, it's a good idea to get it done before you leave. Companies like HomeAgain not only register the chip in a national database, but can provide counseling and advice if your dog runs away. Make sure all tags are securely attached to your dog's collar, and bring recent photographs with you, just in case.

8. Treat your dog to a little vacation of his own.

Rover doesn't have to sit in the hotel room all day. While your kids are exploring Disney World, your dog can enjoy a 25,000-square-foot dog park at Best Friends Pet Care in Orlando. The VIP Luxury Suites include potty walks, playgroups, a flat-screen television, webcam, bedtime story and, after a three-day stay, a bath. While you're touring Sonoma wine country, the Dairydell Canine "doggie dude ranch" treats your dog to massage, swimming and nature walks. A special “Tour ‘n Train” program for travelers teaches your dog obedience while you’re sipping rosé.

9. Double-check that your dog is welcome at your destination.

This advice applies equally to friends' homes, hotels, parks and other public places. If you're heading to the beach, check the leash laws. In some parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, for instance, dogs are prohibited on the beach during the high season; in other parts, they're allowed year-round.3

In my case, I assumed I could take my dog hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — but then I found out that the park only allows dogs on two short trails. In fact, dogs aren’t permitted on trails at many large national parks with extensive backcountry areas: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Rocky Mountains, and others.4 Bummer. Happily, I did get a chance to let my dog run off leash at a friend’s mountain property. I’ll never forget how joyfully he zoomed through the woods and jumped into the creek. For that moment alone, taking my dog on vacation was worth it.

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