The Ultimate Guide to Vacationing with Pets: Essential Packing List and Travel Tips

traveling with dogs

Written by Scott Shetler on

Scott Shetler is a freelance writer who enjoys offbeat destinations, national parks, urban adventures, cultural experiences, and everything in between. Follow his travels on Instagram @quirkytravelguy and his blog, Quirky Travel Guy.

traveling with dogs

Traveling with pets can be a challenge, but this list of packing and travel tips will make bringing your dog or cat on vacation a breeze.

Traveling itself can be overwhelming enough without adding pets into the mix.But when you bring your dog or cat on vacation, it takes a lot more than a neck pillow and travel blanket to ensure your fluffy friend’s comfort on a long journey. In general, pets are used to following established routines, and any departure from that can be scary—for the animals and for you. But that doesn’t mean bringing Fido along on your trip has to be a nightmare. Before you hit the road, read up on these pet-friendly travel tips and consult our handy packing list of pet travel essentials like this packing list for travel with dogs.

5 Essential Tips for Traveling With Pets

1. Bring along some comforts of home. Pets can get a little freaked out by the sudden change in their surroundings, but you can help minimize the disruption by maintaining some level of familiarity. Bring some of your pet’s usual toys, food, bedding, and even things like the litter box (if you can fit it!), so they have at least a few familiar items. It’s best to keep all these pet travel essentials easily accessible during your travels—use packing cubes to stay organized. We recommend the Pack-It Isolate Cube for any smelly items, from old toys to delicious treats, as it’s treated with an antimicrobial agent to help neutralize odors.

2. Use a carrier. The Humane Society recommends keeping both dogs and cats in carriers while in moving vehicles. Cats, in particular, don’t enjoy car travel, but carriers help to minimize stress and keep them stable and safe. Don't forget to restrain the carrier by securing a seatbelt around the front, so it doesn’t slide all over the place.

3. Read up on policies. If you’re traveling by plane, review the airline’s pet policy in advance. The Humane Society strongly discourages putting pets in the cargo hold, for safety and stress reasons, although on some airlines, that’s the only allowable way to transport animals. But other airlines do allow you to bring a small dog or cat in a carrier as your carry-on item in the cabin. There tend to be stipulations with that, though, so make sure you research thoroughly ahead of time to avoid any issues at the airport. On most airlines, you’re allowed to bring one personal item onboard with you in addition to your carry-on (that is, your pet!). In that case, bring a smaller bag like the laptop-friendly Convertabrief to hold entertainment and snacks for both you and your pet—it has tuckaway backpack straps, a shoulder strap, and grab handles for transportation ease if your hands are full with Fido!

4. Make frequent stops. Taking a road trip, perhaps to one of these dog-friendly national parks or dog-friendly East Coast hikes? You may be able to tolerate six hours of driving without stopping, but it's unlikely your pet can. If you're driving with your dog, make regular stops for bathroom breaks, stretching, and fresh air. Cats don’t need quite as many stops, but plan a few short breaks so they can get out of their carriers to move about the car and use the litter box.

5. Have an emergency plan. Hopefully all will go smoothly, but it’s important to prepare for the worst-case scenario on the off chance your pet falls ill or gets lost during your trip, Be sure your pets are wearing their ID tags, and have a few photos of them on your phone. Keep their medical records with you and bring a first aid kit in case of emergency. (Your vet should be able to advise you on what to include.)

Pet Travel Essentials Packing List

In addition to the usual items you’d take with you on any trip (this ultimate packing list can provide pointers), here's a list of pet travel essentials and tips for camping with a dog. Focus first on the basics such as food and waste receptacles, then add in comfort items like toys, towels, and grooming supplies as space allows.

  • Your pet's favorite toys and bedding

  • Litter box or waste bags

  • Leash/harness/collar

  • Crate or travel carrier

  • Food and treats with collapsible travel bowls

  • Drinking water (especially if you’re going to be on a long road trip or journey during which water won’t’ be readily available)

  • Medications and medical/vaccine records

  • A formal health certificate from your vet if necessary (many airlines require one)

  • Towel (for cleaning up messes or wiping wet paws)

  • Travel throw (to serve as a blanket or car seat cover)

  • Grooming supplies

  • Pet first aid kit

  • A laundry bag like the Pack-It Isolate Laundry Sac (if your pet has an accident along the way, you can throw soiled linens in this antimicrobial bag to prevent the smell from getting everywhere!)

Once you’ve prepped thoroughly, including packing all the pet travel essentials for your dog or cat, there’s nothing left to do but to enjoy your vacation! Hit the road and make some memories with your four-legged best friend.

Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

10 Road Trip Essentials You Should Always Pack

Essential Tips for Road Tripping with a Dog

How to Plan a Cross-Country Road Trip