In honor of National Dog Day, a few tips on traveling with furry companions in America. I first drove cross-country with my large pitbull/lab/boxer mix, Butters, in 2006. In 2012 I helped my sister drive her border collie mix, Sasha from New York to Seattle. And in 2014, Butters made the trip back from the West coast to the East coast with her new little Chihuahua-mutt sister, Shorty. Our first cross country trek was slightly more challenging because cellular data networks were weak outside of cities, and most hotel networks didn’t have mobile versions of their websites. Nowadays you can find most of this information on your smartphone while driving from one location to the next. It’s still a very good idea to plan ahead when traveling with pooches though!
Dog-Friendly Hotel Chains
Motel 6– All Motel 6s accept pets AND charge no fee (as far as I can tell, please let me know if this has changed). Motel 6s are some of the cheapest accommodations you can find, so don’t expect many amenities. Wi-Fi and TV yes. Breakfast, shampoo, hair dryer, extra pillows, mini-fridge and room to turn around in the bathroom, no. If you’re ok with that, Motel 6 is by far the most affordable and consistently pet-friendly option.
Red Roof Inn– Another chain that says all locations are pet-friendly, in part due to the consistent design of exterior walkways. We did find that quite a few locations used the same rooms for smokers as for pet-owners because of potential odor issues. Personally, I think my dogs smell a lot better than stale cigarette smoke, but when you’re looking for a hotel to take a 60 pound pit mix in the middle of nowhere, a smoking room is better than no room. One step up from Motel 6, you can expect a small breakfast and a few in-room amenities. You can also expect to pay from $10-$20 per pet per night.
Super 8– Similar to Red Roof Inn in terms of quality and price, but probably the most abundant budget chain, most Super 8s will accept pets. Their iPhone app worked fairly well for comparing rates and finding pet-friendly locations while we were driving cross-country in 2014. We had only one bad experience with the Super 8 in West Amarillo, Texas, but truly great service at the Alamogordo, NM and Dandridge, TN locations. The quality and amenities did vary based on how recently the hotel had been renovated and what sort of competition was in area.
La Quinta– This was our first time staying at a La Quinta, and overall it was good enough that I would recommend the chain. Most, if not all, locations accept pets for little or no fee.
Comfort Inn– We stayed at a fantastic, dog friendly, Comfort Inn in Chandler, AZ, but with a $20 per pet per night fee, the stay was not so cheap with our two pooches. We tried a couple other Comfort Inns along the way but neither accepted pets.
*Most mid-range and high-end hotels will not accept pets, but if you call around you can probably find a nicer option in most cities. Since we are usually only looking for a place to rest for the night, the budget motels have always met our needs.
National Parks- The National Parks generally restrict dogs to paved parking lots and any paved, handicap-accessible trails. They may also be allowed in your campsite, but always on a short leash.
Other federal lands- National Monuments, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management– These are often far more dog-friendly than the National Parks because they are usually not protecting an area that is considered as sensitive or important. The policies differ from area to area, but most have good websites with up to date information about pets. Butters LOVED being able to run all around the dunes at White Sands National Monument, but seemed VERY confused by the lack of an ocean.
State and local parks– You’ll find a mix of pet-friendliness at the state and local level. State parks will usually have a good enough website to determine if your pets are allowed, while local parks are more likely to require a phone call for information.
Western states are generally more open to allowing dogs in the patio area of a restaurant, and Seattle even has a couple of restaurants that allow dogs inside. In the Central and Eastern part of the country, few states have laws actually permitting dogs at eating establishments, but that doesn’t mean the doggies have to stay at the hotel. I use the Yelp app to find restaurants with outdoor seating and then call around to see who will look the other way for my furry friends. Usually one restaurant in any sized town will allow this and will happily bring water for my pups. When all else fails, we look for a fast food joint with a picnic table or two.
*As with many motels, you may be sharing the outdoor eating area with smokers, be forewarned!
BringFido and DogFriendly are the two sites I’ve used when trying to plan a trip to a specific location with the dogs. Most vacations we leave the pups at home with a sitter so their routine isn’t disrupted, but if we know we want to go somewhere with them, these are the websites I consult first.
Crates, leashes and muzzles– Know the rules that will apply to your pet before you go anywhere and make sure you have the proper supplies. A crate is good if you need to leave your pooch in the hotel alone for a while. A long or retractable leash is great if you want to let them run around but they’re required to be on a leash. We had to purchase a muzzle for Butters to ride the ferry to Catalina Island from Los Angeles. She didn’t like it and we’ve never used it since, but it was required for her to board the boat and she was very happy to be with us on vacation.
Water and food– Make sure you always have some kind of container and water available for your dogs. Don’t expect ANY location to provide either of those items for you. Many places will, but there’s nothing worse than a panting pooch with no water. Bring enough of your dog’s regular food (plus a little extra just in case) and a few treats for your trip. You may find your dog has less appetite while traveling, or a bigger appetite if they’re getting more exercise than normal.
Poop– PICK UP THE POOP! I don’t care if other people don’t seem to be doing it, it transmits disease, can be stepped on, and may cause a hotel or restaurant to stop allowing dogs if you don’t clean up. If you love your dog enough to travel with them, make sure you’re not ruining it for the rest of us.
It’s great to bring along your furry friends, but a lot of extra work and often money when traveling. Always consider whether bringing your pet is actually in your pet’s best interest, or whether they’d be better off with a sitter or in a kennel they already know.
Oh and I think it goes without saying, NEVER leave your pets in a car for more than a minute or two and always with the windows cracked and the car parked in the shade. And definitely don’t let them drive!