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Is Travel Therapy Possible with a Pet? Yes! Here’s How.

When the notion of travel therapy first crossed my mind in 2015, I had many competing thoughts that quietly attempted to put it to rest: I will miss my friends and family too badly. I’m afraid of moving to a new place and not liking it. I like the community I’m building here. Travel therapy with a pet is too hard to do.

As you can probably guess, those thoughts were eventually drowned out until travel OT became an inevitability, albeit two years later. What I was happy to find is that most of these fears were unfounded, or at least overblown.

I do miss my loved ones, but I come home several times a year to see them. When moving to a new place is seen through the lens of being temporary, it doesn’t seem so scary. The ties and structures that I started back home have only grown and flourished while I’ve been away. And lastly, doing travel therapy with a pet has provided wonderful comfort in unfamiliar places; whatever minor inconveniences that accompany it have been well worth it.

So, whether you are already a pet owner hesitant to start your travel journey, or a seasoned traveler hoping to add a Rover to your roving life, I hope you find these tips helpful.

Become Familiar With Local Laws

Travel therapy with a pet is very possible, but some locations definitely make it easier than others. The first important step is doing some quick research on all applicable laws that relate to pets in a potential location. For example, as much as I love Denver, they have a very unfair blanket ban on all pit bulls, so this may be a non-negotiable for some people. And Hawaii, ever the popular destination for travel therapists, is notoriously hard to bring pets to, with extensive forms, fees, and quarantine periods meant to keep the state rabies-free.

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So, if you do have bucket-list destinations like this it may be best to hold off on getting a pet until you complete it – or at least get comfortable with the idea of someone watching your pet on the mainland. For everywhere else, it’s easy enough to do a quick Google search once you’ve figured out the location of a potential contract. Most other locales are not nearly so restrictive.

Preparing for the Actual Traveling Part

Once you have decided on a location, the fun part is getting there! I would say this is probably the most stressful part of travel with a pet the first time you do it, mostly because you don’t know how the pet will react. For me, I’ve always found it easiest to drive to my assignments, so that has been the de facto method of transporting our cat, Lunchbox, as well. But flying is also a totally valid option – just be sure to check the rules of the airline. Most will allow you to take a pet as a carry-on, but some larger breeds may have to go to cargo.

In either case, you’ll want to make sure that you have a good carrier for your pet, something that may not be a necessity when driving. Regardless of which method of transit you choose, a trip to the vet where you tell them your plans is a good idea. Not only will you be able to acquire any needed vaccinations for new locations, you’ll be able to get paperwork which may be required for your new city or housing. You will also have the opportunity to get a prescription for some anxiety medication. I know people have mixed feelings on medicating their pets, and I also try to avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Luckily, Lunchbox ended up being pretty chill during our cross-country trip and didn’t need the kitty cat Xanax – but it was nice to know we had the option. And if you’re absolutely against prescription medication, your vet may also be able to offer some more natural alternatives. One other thing we handled at this time was getting Lunchbox a new tag that had both of our phone numbers, emails, and a message that alerted anyone who might find him that we were traveling across country and to please contact us immediately if he got lost.

To prepare the car, we ended up getting a special seat that could be clipped in the back for our cat to sleep in. We also made sure to reserve him some space in the car, no matter how much of our stuff we had to jam into our hatchback. We left out a litterbox, but truthfully, he never used it during driving. When we took restroom breaks, we let him out to stretch his legs as well (he is leash-trained). Obviously, if you have a dog instead of a cat, you’ll likely need to plan for more frequent potty stops. My partner, Spencer, loves to take Lunchbox on outings, so he’s no stranger to riding in a car, which seemed to serve him well during this trip. While traveling, we also made sure to have easy access to his favorite toys and blankets that had our scents on them.

Since our trip was so long, we broke it up into several days and needed pet-friendly accommodations for a few nights. Honestly, I’d had some anxiety about this but it was fairly easy to find Airbnbs that would accept a cat along our journey. We didn’t even have to book anything in advance. Instead, we set out a rough itinerary, with plans to stop sooner if we got too tired to drive. Since we had two people, while Spencer was driving I was able to message Airbnb hosts the day of to see if they had availability. We were actually able to score some really good deals this way too, so this part of it ended up being pretty stress-free. If you’re not an Airbnb person, there are many hotels that allow pets as well. For example, Red Roof Inn is a chain in most US states that allows all pets to stay for free.

Securing Housing

One of the biggest reasons travel therapists avoid having pets is concern over housing, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t add another layer of complication to things. However, I’m happy to report that my personal experience has been pretty easy. Yes, it does reduce housing options, and yes, it often costs a bit more money, but both have been worth it, and I think most pet owners would feel the same.

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We have been able to find housing in a variety of ways. Our first place was an Airbnb and was already open to pets, so that was easy enough. I ended up taking company housing for my second contract, and they did all the hard work of looking for me. The third time around, I searched on my own again, but found great availability of pet-friendly apartment complexes as long as I was willing to put down a pet deposit.

It’s hard to say for certain because it’s all I’ve known, but I don’t think I’ve spent substantially more time securing housing than someone would without a pet, and I’ve been happy with the overall quality of all the places I’ve rented. And while I haven’t done it, there is also the fourth option of getting an RV – which comes with its own set of pros and cons, but definitely guarantees you will have pet-friendly housing wherever you go.

Care During the Contract

Once you’re on contract, it should be pretty smooth sailing, but it’s good to be prepared for a couple of scenarios. First, you should consider what your pet will do when you’re at work, especially when you first get someplace new. Depending on your pet, they may be a bit anxious the first few days after arrival, so put some time into upholding your usual routines as best you can.

Ideally, you can spend a whole day in the new place with your pet before you have to go to work. Once you do have to leave, make sure you’ve set up your pet to be as comfortable as possible. Do they have entertainment so they don’t tear up the house? Do they have access to their favorite things and items that smell like you? Would they benefit from being crated during the day?

Also, consider the length of your shift and decide if you may need to set up someone to check up on your pet during the day. While it may be possible to come home on your lunch to give a potty break, it may be good to have a back-up sitter just in case your first day is chaotic. It can be hard to make these connections in a place where you don’t know anyone, but luckily websites like Rover and Nextdoor make it easier to find dog walkers and pet sitters.

Once we have settled in a place a bit more, we’ve also had success asking our neighbors or coworkers. I would definitely recommend finding at least one person you can call during the first week of your contract. Even if you don’t need care during the day, if you have any long weekend or vacation planned it’s best to get these dates nailed down early.

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And even if you don’t intend on taking time off during a contract, do have a back-up plan in case you end up needing to. For example, when my grandmother died last October, forcing me to travel from California to Canada on short notice, my neighbor was a godsend and watched Lunchbox. We were very lucky to have her, but we also had researched nearby boarding facilities just in case we weren’t able to find someone to come to our house to care for him.

Another good thing to set up during the first week of your contract is finding a local vet. I would definitely recommend maintaining a relationship with your home vet, and keeping a copy of the pet’s records with you/scanned onto Google Drive, but it’s good to have a place to go at your contract site as well. While you may never need it, you’ll be happy you put the time into researching local options if your pet ends up needing sudden care.

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While traveling with a pet requires slightly more planning, preparation, and money than without, it’s a decision I wouldn’t hesitate to make again. Lunchbox brings so much richness to our lives, and it’s been so fun approaching this travel thing as a little family of three. I have met many other travelers who feel the same way about their furry, scaly, or feathery companions.

At the end of the day, having a little creature who is so happy and excited for you to be home is about the best reward I can imagine for a travel therapist.

Do you do travel therapy with a pet? What are your best tips for future travelers considering bringing their pets along for the journey?

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