Sharing your life with a dog is a big responsibility, but also a huge source of joy. I don’t think I’d laugh half as much if I didn’t share my life with Mega (adopt don’t buy 🙂 ). Sure, there are times when it’s cold and rainy outside, you’ve got a fever and just want to die in bed, but the dog needs walking. Or the long summer weekends, when you want to take a beach break so bad your heart is aching, but you either can’t or don’t want to leave your dog with someone else. I’ve dragged Mega with me to all kinds of places, so I wanted to gather and share what I’ve learned so far. Traveling with a dog has its inconveniences, but it’s always great fun and besides – it’s a way to meet more people and get into more adventures 🙂

Traveling with a dog
Mega and I in Greece

Pros and Cons of Traveling with a Dog

Accumulated from my own experience and what I’ve seen from dog people around me, this is probably not an extensive list, so I’d love it if you could share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, or Instagram:

The Pros

You are together!

Anyone who’s ever lived with a dog knows that the four-legged fur ball gradually becomes a part of the family. Its soul might not be in a human body, but you still connect with it and love it. Together is always better than apart!

Traveling with an extra pair of eyes

When I see Mega chasing the waves on the beach and sniff every single thing on our way in the forest, my soul feels full. When we are together, I notice a lot more details, thanks to her doggy instincts.

Another perspective on local culture

One of the main reasons why I love traveling is the opportunity to see and understand different cultures. And when a dog comes along, an otherwise hidden aspect comes to light – the local people’s relationship to animals. For instance, a few days ago I came back from Thessaloniki, Greece, where strangers on the street kept petting Mega and even encouraged their kids to go play with her.

It’s fun!

I don’t think this one needs explaining 🙂

Traveling with a dog
Photo: Oscar Sutton

You meet new people

This is just as true for traveling as it is for walking in the park. A dog by your side is like a magnetic field, usually for interesting, genuinely nice people. This is especially useful if they are local and offer a bit of advice on your destination.

The Cons

It’s more difficult to find transportation and accommodation

Even though some types of transportation have dog options (more about that below), and the number of hotels that welcome furry guests seems to be growing, you’re definitely not going to have as much choice if you’re traveling with a pup.

More luggage

This is pretty relative. For example my parents used to carry huge bags of blankets and food for Kali – our first dog. When I travel with Mega I only carry her food and water bowls (the rubber foldable ones are super convenient), a lead, bags to clean up after her, her blanket or bed. Still, no matter how minimalistic you might be, if you’re traveling with a dog you’re certainly going to need a few extra items.

You won’t be allowed everywhere

In most big European cities that I’ve gone to dogs are welcomed in all the cafes and restaurants. A recent trip to Rome surprised me though, because even butcher shops didn’t mind their customers’ dog companions. On the other hand, places like museums, galleries, waterparks and similar establishments would only allow service dogs. So you have to either be certain that your furry friend is going to wait for you patiently and quietly in the hotel, or you have to adjust your trip to include only dog-friendly entertainment.

How to Get Around with a Dog

If in your mind the pros of traveling with a dog make for a stronger case than the cons and you’re considering taking a vacation with the canine, then the next step would be to figure out how to get to your destination.

By Car

The most obvious choice, especially if it’s your own. And lately a lot more carpoolers seem to be ok with a dog riding along. Just make sure you let them know that your pup is going to be a good travel buddy (unless he’s not). The amount of dog hair you have to deal with after will be significantly reduced if you go for a back seat dog cover. And, if you’re planning to leave the little rascal in the car by itself, don’t forget to crack the windows.

Hitchhiking

Last summer a friend and I went to the Balkan Rainbow gathering – a hippy event that goes on all over the world and where, ironically, dogs are frowned upon. The location was far from Sofia, where we live, and near a small middle-of-nowhere village. So, to get there and back, we hitched a ride with a total of 16 cars. During the trip, my dog Mega tagged along but all the drivers cared about was whether she’d be inclined to regurgitate her breakfast. As she was not, many of them soon even forgot there was a dog in their own car. Similar to shared rides, hitchhiking seems to work best when I first explain nicely and patiently to the driver that my dog is used to traveling and will stir up no trouble, apart from a few hairballs.

Traveling with a dog
Photo: Sandra Seitamaa

By bus

In Sofia, just like most other European capitals, dogs are perfectly acceptable passengers. Intercity travel is a bit more complicated, and dogs are only allowed on if they are small and are willing to spend the journey in a crate. In Bulgaria and, I’ll go ahead and assume that the same is true for most of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, there is more flexibility with small companies. They usually use old rackety buses and minibuses and if you’re your most charming self the driver might agree to take you on with your dog, provided you slip him a buck or two.           

By train

The Bulgarian National Railway might have its fair share of shortcomings but it does get a whole bunch of bonus points from me for its lenient behavior with dogs. According to the rule book they’ve posted online, small dogs, cats, and rabbits (that’s right, rabbits) are to be transported in leakage-proof crates, and larger or hunting dogs go to the last carriage. My dog is 16 kilos, which makes her middle-sized, and the railroad employees have always been very sweet with her (not so much with me). You can’t, however, take your dog on a sleeper train.

If you want to get a Eurail Pass, which allows you to take several trains within Europe for a pre-determined amount of time, you won’t be able to bring your furry buddy, unless it’s a guide dog.

Apart from that, each country and train company has its own rules, but for the most part, within the EU, you can take a dog weighing up to 5 kg for free, in a crate. Larger dogs should have a muzzle and a ticket.

By plane

There are 3 options here: companies that only allow service dogs (as far as I know it’s only budget airlines like WizzAir, Ryanair, EasyJet, etc.); you can take your dog in the cabin if it’s up to 8 kilos and travels in a crate; larger dogs go with the checked luggage and also travel in a crate. Unless you’re flying with a service dog, you also have to purchase a ticket for your pal.

Before you embark on an airplane journey with a dog heavier than 8 kilos I strongly suggest to thoroughly research the airline and talk to a trusted vet. Some airlines have terrible conditions for animals and don’t account for the fact that temperatures get extremely low in the airplane luggage compartment, which could be a risk for your dog’s life.

Hotels, apartments, camping

Even though pickings are slim, if you’re accompanied by a dog, in the past few years it’s been getting easier for me to find accommodation when I’m traveling with Mega. To find a home away from home, the following is usually useful:

“Pets” filter on accommodation websites

If a place has gone out of their way to make sure that they are listed as dog-friendly, there is little room for worrying left. Still, before booking make sure you check if any extra fee is required for your dog’s comforts. I’ve had to pay around 5 euros extra per night for Mega but recently I met a guy who told me how some mountain hotels in Bulgaria asked him to pay 15 euros per night for his large dog (the breed is Bulgarian shepherd – pretty large indeed).

Traveling with a dog

Facebook groups

There are several, but for Bulgaria, Greece, and the Balkans I use one called: „Хотели, в които допускат с домашни любимци.“ For other countries, I would recommend: “A Dog Abroad: Traveling with Pets”, which is for digital nomads but still useful if you’re not. These are places where users generate genuine reviews of places they’ve visited with their dog, so I’ve always found them to be an invaluable source of information.

The good old phone call

Might sound a bit archaic to you, but lately I’ve found it indispensable. During my last trip to South Bulgaria and Greece’s Halkidiki, we had to figure out last minute accommodation several times. In that area, the hotels that allow dogs aren’t many in the first place, let alone when you want to check in in an hour. So I just picked a few places and called. I feel like this type of conversation always has a happier ending when it begins with: “I am traveling with a middle-sized dog, she is very quiet and well-behaved. I really hope you don’t mind.“ Although some of the hotels immediately decline, many are more than happy to welcome a dog. Recently, for example, in the south of Bulgaria my opening was answered with: “Well, we’ve put down on the website that we don’t allow dogs, but all of us here are total dog people so you’re welcome to stay.”

Let me go ahead and be presumptuous by saying that this strategy is more likely to work in Southern and Eastern Europe than Central and North. What do you think? 😉

Traveling with a dog
Photo: Jf Brou

Camping with a dog

The longest I’ve spent camping with Mega is 10 days, at a wild beach in the Bulgarian Black Sea, called Irakli. I’ve also taken her to the mountain but for shorter periods of time. For her it’s bliss and I am always happy to see how free she is. Once, for instance, I pitched my tent near a river and the first thing I would do every morning would be to open the tent. Mega would run out to the river and splash around like the happiest dog in the world.

If you chose to camp with your dog, it’s vital that she’s used to staying in the tent by herself, provided it’s not too hot inside. I’ve witnessed an unhappy pug tear a tent apart, in search of freedom.

To avoid a similar development, you can leave your dog in the tent for just a short while at first, with toys and its own blanket or pillow. Keep close the first few times. Then, gradually increase your pup’s alone time in the tent, as well as your distance from it. It’s the same principle as when you’re teaching a new puppy to stay home alone.

For my next camping trip, I am considering getting a children’s play tent, where my dog can sleep. It would make keeping my own tent clean easier. Have you tried something like that?

Traveling with a dog
Mega enjoying herself in Sandanski, Bulgaria

Traveling with a dog is an adventure of its own, whether you’re going to go play hippie at a wild beach for a few days, want to go abroad, or just live the hedonist life at a SPA resort. It’s probably not the simplest way to travel but at the end of the day “Good things don’t come easy”, and clichés are clichés because they are true 🙂

I’d be curious to learn about your dog’s adventures as well, so please leave a comment below, get in touch on Facebook or Instagram.