I am so lucky that the pups get to travel with me between the UK and USA with the Pet Passport scheme. However, I often worry that I am missing out seeing new places and experiencing new cultures because I am worried about taking the dogs.
To help steer me in the right direction, I asked Sonja Lishchynski pet travel expert, author and face behind the incredible blog MonteCristo Travels some of her expert tips on how to navigate a new city with your pet.
There is nothing like being in a new city or town to awaken anticipation, get blood rushing, and stir a flutter of excitement in the belly. At least that’s the case for this trio: my husband, our “boy” – our now five-year-old, long hair Chihuahua, Montecristo – and me.
Whether scuba diving in Grand Cayman, hiking in South Korea, exploring the streets of Sozopol in Bulgaria, or navigating the subway maps of Paris, a new place always makes us feel alive.
I have never really had a method for navigating a new city on the first day or two upon arrival. Having the furry one with us hasn’t much changed our process, but it has added one big task: we need to do a lot more homework before we leave home. It was a strange adjustment for us at first because we always liked being carefree travelers. We loved to just show up, and as long as we knew where we were sleeping at night, we pretty much enjoyed figuring things out as we went along. We have never been drawn to any form of checklist travelling or anything that was overly planned. We would grab whatever book I had picked up on a city or town, read about our destination as we travelled there, and, upon arrival, just go where our feet would take us.
But when you travel with a pup, you do have to do some planning. I will not get into the travel planning involving paperwork, transport, packing, on-location vet contacts, or pet friendly accommodations. Let us assume for this article that you already figured those bits out.
The first, most important – and often overlooked, consideration is the culture of the country you plan to visit. Make sure you are not taking your dog into a dangerous situation. While some countries are advanced with their animal rights, others are less so. I’m not talking about entry requirements. Some countries simply will not allow your dog in the country. Period. What I am talking about is safety. I am talking about considerations such as whether the climate is appropriate for your dog’s breed. Are there aggressive wild dogs in the area? Will your dog be seen by locals as vermin? You need to do this research before you depart – heck, even before you start making your bookings and arrangements. Assuming that all checks out, here is my tip for making the most out of the first 24 hours in a new city or town.
Once you’ve checked in to your hotel or fetched the keys to your little apartment rental, the beautiful city you are visiting will beckon and call your name. What do you do? The first day I am in any new city, I spend it with my boys on foot! It’s the best – and often the only – way to really get a feel for a city and answer some questions. Walk about and be very observant until you get a feel for how pet-friendly a city may be. To really get a good feel for these important questions, walk and mingle with the locals. And how do I do this? A walking tour, of course.
Walking tours have multiple benefits. You get a good feel for the lay of the land and you get a sense of the distances between the places you may want to visit and the things you want to see. But even more, walking tours allow you to stop and ask questions at ticket booths and information stops. Ask locals and folks working in the city:
• Is a dog allowed on public transport? (I do like to try and figure that out in advance, if possible, in case I need to use public transport to get to my hotel or expand my walking tour.)
• What are the leash and off-leash rules? (In many small villages in Europe, for example, once in pedestrian-only areas, I was often encouraged to remove Monte’s leash. This is typically not the case in the U.S.)
• Can a dog dine with its humans on a patio or in a restaurant? (Europe is pretty good at this. The U.S. is hit or miss, and when it’s a hit, it’s patio only. And Canada? Well, expect a big fat no. With rare exception, dogs are not even allowed on a patio.)
• Will the museums allow a dog to enter with its humans? (You would be surprised how many of the smaller museums will make an exception and let tiny dogs enter in a bag!) Many of the walking tours I’ve taken are self-guided. You can sometimes find walking guides online (Frommers is good for these) or in guide books (Eyewitness has excellent ones).
I find that in Europe, tourist offices in or near the train station will often have maps with self-guided walking tours clearly marked. And while in a tourist office, you can ask questions without the extra challenge of a language barrier: people who work in tourist offices often speak English. I have also taken organized pet-friendly tours in large cities such as Paris or Miami. Even in Ottawa, Canada, there’s a delightful, pet-friendly haunted walk you can take. A quick search on the internet can provide you with contact information.
Don’t be afraid to ask if your dog is welcome.
Even if the tour company is not accustomed to accommodating a dog client, the company may be happy to make an exception and see how it goes. I have found this approach to be a wonderful way to pop in and out of a local church. The guide is happy to stay outside watching Montecristo, excused from walking visitors through the Church for the hundredth time.
Another benefit of a walking tour is the stretch it gives you and your dog after a long flight, train trip, or car ride. A walking tour helps you re-connect with your furry friend while you both get the blood flowing again. In addition to benefitting you and your dog, a walking tour will also give you a closer look at the plazas, village squares, and sites you might want to visit – or not.
In a nutshell, a walking tour allows you to get a sense of what part of the city is more you and what part is not. This can save you a huge amount of time and help you focus your visit on what is most important and interesting to you and your pup. Along the way, we often spot pet-friendly patios and restaurants we want to try out later. We note them on our map after confirming the pet-friendliness with a waiter or the owner.
Once you have done your walking tour – or as I like to call it, our “once over” – you will have a better sense of how to plan the next few days. This may also include planning some time away from your dog, leaving him or her at the hotel or rental apartment while you enter/visit non-pet friendly spots.
Your walking tour will also help you determine whether you can bundle non-pet friendly activities into a single morning or afternoon, minimizing the amount of time you and your dog have to spend apart. After nearly five years of international travel with a small dog, we now know that nothing, absolutely nothing, beats a walking tour to learn how to navigate a new city with your pup!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sonja Lishchynski and MonteCristo are international jet setting writers with not only an amazing blog (www.montecristotravels.com) but also the author of MonteCristo Travels To Pisa, the first in the MonteCristo Travels Adventures