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Travel with your pets in style

Traveling with your pet has gotten a lot easier since John Steinbeck and his beloved standard poodle embarked upon the cross-country road trip he chronicled in "Travels with Charley".
Image: Queen Mary 2, Cunard Cruise Line
Cunard cruise line has been catering to four-legged clientele since 1840, having hosted such distinguished guests as Rin Tin Tin and Tom Mix's horse, Tony.Cunard
/ Source: Forbes

Traveling with your pet has gotten a lot easier since John Steinbeck and his beloved standard poodle embarked upon the cross-country road trip he chronicled in "Travels with Charley". Although four-wheeled vehicles remain the most popular transportation choice for the four-legged, 53 percent of pet owners who responded to a recent TripAdvisor survey said they wouldn’t dream of traveling without their pets, which is why it’s no surprise that you’ll find companion creatures on planes, trains and even cruise ships.

Gayle Martz, author of the animal travel guide, "No Pet Left Behind" and the inventor of the airline-friendly line of pet carriers, the Sherpa Bag, has devoted her life to making animal travel safe and hassle-free. “I created the whole concept of the soft-sided carrier so pets could travel under the airplane seat,” she says. “My goal is to have pets accepted as part of the family.”

Until that day arrives, products like Martz’s specially designed carriers, microchipping and pet GPS devices take a lot of the worry out of pet travel, making owners more inclined to go for it. “I have one client who lives half the year at the Ritz Carlton in Boston and spends the other half down in Key West,” says Barbara DeBry, owner and founder of Puppy Travel, a luxe pet travel agency. “We make sure their pair of Jack Russells go where they go.” Yet another Puppy Travel client brings his dog to Italy with him each Christmas.

Traveling with an animal, especially internationally, comes with a sometimes confusing set of problems that can often seem arbitrary and designed to stymie. “You can’t bring dogs on safari in Africa,” DeBry explains. “Fiji, Malaysia, any island nation … They literally have a ‘no pets’ policy.”

Not that this stopped DeBry from helping one woman relocate her two little Maltese pups to Malaysia. “We had to fly them into Hong Kong and redo all the health documentation there.” Apparently it’s okay to import if the animals originate in Asia—they just can’t come straight from the U.S. The cost for all this red-tape wrangling? $6,000.

Before you consider taking your pet out of the country—or even to Hawaii, for that matter—make sure to check that country’s specific set of rules and regulations regarding pet importation. And, begin planning as far ahead as possible. You’ll need a “pet passport” listing all the animal’s shots and medical history by a USDA-certified veterinarian (check your vet’s accreditation, because many aren’t), and the pet generally needs to be microchipped and in some cases, even quarantined. And be sure to ask your airline about frequent pet flyer miles.

Once you or your travel agent have the proper paperwork, the fun can begin. “Paris is a wonderful city for dogs,” says Martz.

Jerry Hatfield, founder and owner of another pet travel agency,, concurs, “You can take your pet into any restaurant, any hotel… They have a different feeling about pets.” In fact, you see them everywhere. Happily, recent campaigns have made it so the notorious "droppings" situation on the street is considerably improved. Hatfield also cites Germany and Italy as great places to bring your four-legged friend, but warns that most countries in South America are resistant; and, you’ll face seemingly insurmountable problems bringing an animal into Guam, Hong Kong, Beijing or London.

Image: The Little Nell, Aspen, Colo.
Surrounded by miles of pet-friendly hiking trails and people-friendly ski slopes, the Little Nell welcomes your four-legged friend with personalized ID tags, food and water bowls, plush bowls and plenty of treats. Owners are greeted with a copy of the hotel's whimsical \"Petiquette\" manual, which lays out the laws of the land. Walkers, sitters and groomers are available and best of all, Aspen has the added advantage that fleas can't survive at that altitude so you won't leave with any pesky little hangers on.

Some hotels, unofficially of course, may even prefer pets to some other guests. Hatfield recalls one memorable exchange at an unnamed New York City hotel bar. "It was fairly empty and so my dog was sitting on the bar stool when the manager walked in. I thought he’d be annoyed, but he told me he’d much rather have a well-behaved pet than a child.”

Even in cities that don’t welcome four legs with open arms, it’s still possible to vacation with your pooch on the sly. Twenty percent of responders from the aforementioned TripAdvisor poll confessed to smuggling a pet into their hotel room. But with many luxury hotels offering everything from individually monogrammed brass tags to special meals and pet massage, you might wonder why anyone would bother being sneaky.

Image: Privileged Pup Pet Massage Service; Ritz Carlton, Sarasota, Fla.
We humans don't have a corner on the stress market; little Trixie or Scrambles are also subject to stress, which is why the Ritz Carlton's Members Spa Club now employs several specialists in pet massage. And yes, just like people massage therapists, these folks have to be specially licensed. Depending on your pup's needs, you can choose between Swedish, full-body relaxation, invigorating sports or senior massage therapy. The massages take place in your guest room and includes instruction for you, a gourmet biscuit and a commemorative photo of your pooch's blissed-out face when you're done.

“Loews is the most pet-friendly of all the chain hotels,” reports Hatfield. “Pet-friendly” is a bit of an understatement. While all Loew’s hotels welcome cats and dogs, the chain’s Nashville location will arrange for singing lessons and a recording session for your dog, while the San Diego branch offers surf lessons at their Su'ruff Camp.

Other hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, W and Westin hotels roll out the red carpet for their furry guests, providing custom beds, treats and special bowls. Services like walking, watching and grooming are also generally available by dialing the concierge.

Steinbeck and Charley didn’t have such creature comforts available back in 1960, but Gayle Martz sees things evolving even further. Not content with strapping in her little Shih Tzu Kartu under the seat in front of her, she sees private jet travel as the wave of the future. “I want to start the Sherpa airline,” she says. “The planes would have a kennel section and attendants, along with a people section for the pets’ owners.”