If you’re like a lot of travelers this holiday season, you may have altered your normal flying plans due to the coronavirus pandemic and a second wave of shutdowns. With so many unknowns and various restrictions depending on the destination, the 2020 holidays can be difficult to navigate.
“There’s no denying that the holiday season will feel different this year,” says Erin Ballinger, the Destinations Editor at pet travel website BringFido. “The biggest Thanksgiving ‘paw-rades’ will be virtual and the carols will be hushed at Christmas Markets around the world, but your pup can still get into the spirit of things.”
If it’s safe to visit your loved ones this year, you may be considering a road trip in lieu of an airplane—which makes it even easier to bring your favorite furry companion. “More people are traveling by car this year in general,” Ballinger says, “and since it's safer and easier to bring your pet when you travel by car, more people are choosing to bring Fido as well. We expect this trend to continue into the holiday season.”
If your dog has never experienced a long-haul drive, there are a few things to keep in mind as you make your way to your parents’ house. Consider these tips when planning your holiday travel to make your road trip as smooth as possible. Note: Check local regulations and COVID restrictions for your specific destination before you set out on your trip.
“Train” your dog ahead of time
If you have a younger puppy or a dog without much car experience, dedicate some time to acquainting them with slightly longer rides leading up to the big travel day. If a positive reward system works for you and your pet, bring treats and reward them along the way for getting into the car, lying down, eating on the go, or going to the bathroom at rest stops.
Exercise before you leave
Sitting sedentary in a car for hours makes humans feel a bit restless and your furry companion can feel the same way. To prepare, let your pup burn off some energy the day before by taking him to a doggy day camp, a dog park, or with you on a long walk or run, Ballinger recommends. “Before you get into the car, go on a walk and make sure that Fido takes care of business,” she says. “Play a game of fetch before heading out on the trip so your dog has expelled a lot of energy and will be tired so he can relax in the car.” Do some legwork before leaving to find a dog park or pet-friendly trail where you can stop along the way—you’ll both appreciate the active break.
Think through your food
Feed your pup a light meal about an hour before you get in the car, then try to maintain a similar eating routine to what you follow at home. Pack a small cooler with easy pre-portioned Ollie food packs, and make sure water is readily available at all times. Ballinger suggests items like a bone or a peanut-butter-stuffed KONG toy to keep your dog occupied between meals. Bringing snacks is important to keep you satiated en route, but it’s also key to maintaining your distance from others on the road. “Your plan to self-quarantine could be undone by a single hunger pang,” Ballinger says. “Avoid this potential pitfall by packing plenty of food and water for you and Fido to enjoy on the road so you can avoid unnecessary stops in crowded places. When you do have to refuel or use the bathroom, plan your trip around rest stops off the beaten path, where you’re less likely to run into strangers and there’s usually more space for dogs to enjoy a nice walk.”
Create a dedicated space
You wouldn’t want to endure a long road trip sitting on top of a suitcase surrounded by boxes of presents, and neither does your dog. If they need encouragement to make a home in a part of your car, bring their bed, crate, or a favorite toy. They don’t need a ton of room—the equivalent of their normal sleeping space is sufficient. There’s no guarantee that your dog will calmly lay down where you want them too, but this will increase the chances.
Plot out pet-friendly hotels
Whether you need accommodations along the way or as your home base once you reach your destination, you’ll want to identify the pet-friendly hotels in advance (BringFido’s site and app can help you find and book properties and also alert you to any feed or size restrictions). For peace of mind, many pet-friendly large hotel chains have developed new protocols for cleanliness and safety since COVID hit. Some accommodations have even leveled up their pet offerings for the holidays, from doggy gift bags to plush beds. At the Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite National Park, for instance, dogs are welcome at Christmas dinner and there’s even the option to treat your pup to a dog massage in the spa.
Anticipate more stops than usual
Traveling with a dog can be wonderful, but you do have to give them some extra time to go to the bathroom on the road. The delayed ETA will be worth it when you have them by your side at your final destination.