Whether for business or pleasure, if you’ve ever wondered about the reality of driving cross-country, checking in and out of hotels, and going to meetings with your pet in tow, the next 800 words of your life will help set the record straight.
I have a three-year-old, 63 lb German Shepherd dog that I’ve raised and trained since she was a pup. I can’t possibly imagine a scenario in which I would place her in an airplane cargo hold.And I have a big problem with declaring my dog a “companion” to get her on the plane with me. While statistically I am sure it is safer to fly across the country rather than drive, on a recent trip from Los Angeles to New York, I made the drive with my dog riding “shotgun”, so to speak.
Since I have now completed two cross-country trips with a canine, I’m in a great position to help you avoid potential nightmare scenarios. A hotel can reject your reservation or hit you with fees that double your rates and that should be the least of your worries. Indeed, there are a few things you should know before attempting any sort of trek with Fido.
When I kicked off my journey in Huntington Beach, California I already had a plan in place. My plan started with securing the dog in the car. Some time ago, I bought a pet tube because it’s a handy way to secure the dog in the vehicle. The dog won’t be able to move around in the car so:
- She won’t try to drive.
- She feels safe inside her little cave and
- For some reason she hasn’t barfed or shown signs of distress since I installed this thing in the car. The tube secures to your seat belts, and though I have never tested it in a high impact crash, it sure looks and feels like it would keep her from flying into orbit during a crash.
The second part of my plan was just as critical as the first. Core to having a good experience in pet travel is a strict “be honest with the property” policy. While you might be tempted to skirt the rules, it will end up costing you. I highly recommend calling the hotel and being very specific about what you need. Be advised that some properties restrict dog sizes and even breeds; so be specific about your particular dog.
The first leg of the journey took us from Southern California to Phoenix, Arizona, where we stayed three nights. Following my own advice, I had notified the property ahead of time that I had a German Shepherd dog. This was crucial, as I planned to leave her for a couple of hours each day when I went to meetings.
The Pointe Hilton-- President Obama recently stayed here-- is a neat resort property in a very picturesque part of town that is pet tolerant, but expect to pay a fee for bringing a pet here. They gave me a nice suite with a tiled area between the bedroom and living area, which was perfect for housing my dog. It’s important to remember that if you leave the room, ALWAYS put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. German Shepherds, like many breeds, feel that it’s their job to defend their territory and the last thing you ever want is to surprise housekeeping with the gift of unhappy jaws of death.
The second leg of the tour involved driving from Phoenix, Arizona to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since we were driving between 500 and 600 miles a day, we stopped often. I learned another lesson:be mindful of your surroundings at all times. Pet exercise areas aren’t necessarily in the best “neighborhoods.”
I’m not 100% sure, but walking the dog in a poisonous snake and arachnid area may not be the best way to go, but this is all the more reason for caution. If it is possible to avoid such areas, I would advise it for the health and safety of your four-legged friend.
Fees are a big deal when traveling with a furry companion. Of course, service dogs are permitted everywhere, as they should be, but when it comes to companions, the rules get a little sketchy. On the short end, you may end up getting the stink eye from the staff. On the long end, they may just outright deny your reservation or levy a pretty hefty pet fee. It was not unusual to see a room rate of $150 with a pet fee of $150 while the property across the street doesn’t charge a fee at all.
It’s also a big mistake to assume a particular hotel brand has one consistent pet policy across all properties. The Pointe Hilton’s pet policy is very different than the Hilton in Sedona, Arizona. From Albuquerque to New York, I stayed in mostly Sheraton hotels, with one notable exception, which I will describe later. While I didn’t always get my favorite room 100% of the time, my furry friend and I were welcomed with open arms. Can you guess why? I followed the rules by calling ahead and overcommunicating what I needed.
Another reason to overcommunicate what you require is that you quickly learn the difference between what are labeled “pet tolerant” and “pet friendly” hotels. The Sheraton Albuquerque and Sheraton Oklahoma City were amazing for a couple of reasons. One, they didn’t charge a pet fee and maintained the highest level of courtesy throughout, despite the presence of my dog. In Oklahoma, they even helped with letting me know that it was okay to bring the girl with me when I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. They were amazingly helpful.
A true pet friendly hotel will give you something of value for your fee. Sometimes, you get value with no additional fee at all! Midway across America, we stayed at the famous Cheshire Inn. I didn’t realize this until I was on the road two days later, but this St. Louis property was featured prominently in the movie “Up In the Air.”
Every room is named after an English author, and as you walk through the door you feel like you have died and gone to Tudor heaven.
There’s an Old English pub, a super secret smoking lounge and a life-size grizzly bear in one of the lounges.
Best of all, every guest receives a gift basket of pet treats at check-in. The gift bag had great dog treats, poop bags (a delicate reminder to pick up after your dog) and goodies from local businesses for everything from grooming to veterinary services and pet sitting. We were now in puppy heaven. I’d show you a picture of the gift basket, but it was gone pretty fast. Instead, please enjoy another cute photo of my dog.
The most important part of your travel plan should be observing safe driving tactics. I beat the odds and made it across the USA with my buddy without incident. We went to meetings-- well, one of us did-- we visited national landmarks and learned valuable lessons along the way.
Another reminder came in the form of highway signage. Never underestimate the power of a glowing reminder to stay awake.
I experienced monsoon rains from Missouri to Ohio so it was nice when a break in the sky allowed me to reflect on my trip as it wound down.
Here’s a recap of things to keep in mind when you travel with your fur baby:
- Secure the pet in the vehicle
- Be honest and specific when you make reservations
- Be prepared to pay fees
- Know the difference between pet friendly and pet tolerant
- Always observe safe driving tactics
- Be cautious at outdoor dog exercise areas
- Make sure your dog is tagged and micro chipped in case they run off. Consider tracking solutions such as Tagg
A couple of final notes on this subject so that property owners and managers don’t feel left out. One, I would gladly pay a cleaning fee if I were notified of the charge in advance. I have a dog that has 18,000 layers of hair and she’s constantly shedding, so I know it takes more time to clean the room and that in turn, costs you more.Also, any responsible pet owner should be 100% liable for any damage the pet might cause so go ahead with the release paperwork. More people than ever are traveling with pets and companions so the revenue upside should be very clear. Cater to us and we will come. Treat us well and we will come again. Thank you and happy shedding.