Photo: EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock

How My Dog Makes Me a Better Traveler

by Aaron Hamburger Nov 13, 2014

As I read Benoit Denizet-Lewis’s amusing Travels with Casey: My Journey Through Our Dog-Crazy Country, I thought of my own experiences traveling with Mr. Fluff, a five-year-old Pomeranian rescue and the first dog I’ve ever owned.

In the two years we’ve been together, Mr. Fluff has changed my life in countless ways, especially my relationship to travel. For one thing, before I had a dog, I used to be able to decide whether to take a trip mostly on whim. Those days are gone. Now when I begin researching a vacation, my first question is, “Can I drive there, so the dog can come?” Followed closely by, “Who’s going to watch him while I’m gone?”

In Denizet-Lewis’s book, the author recounts his visits with several canine-obsessed Americans, as well as pet psychics, pet rescuers, and “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan — all taking place during a four-month driving trek around the continental US in a rented RV.

When I hit the road with my dog, it’s in a somewhat smaller vehicle than a hulking RV, specifically my candy-blue Ford Fiesta. Luckily Mr. Fluff doesn’t need much room. In fact, he seems quite content in the back seat, covered in a soft beach towel. But then, he seems to have an affection for any kind of car, so much so that whenever I walk him, he’s liable to jump into any open car door if I’m not paying attention.

The first time I went on a long-distance trip with my dog, I threw in a few of his favorite toys to keep him occupied, but it turned out he much preferred games of his own invention: snapping at dust particles in the air, or stretching up against the passenger door so he can see out the window.

Given all the extra considerations involved while traveling with your dog, why do it? Because when I’m away without Mr. Fluff, I crave his presence.

Over the course of our journeys, I’ve learned a few things about pet travel I’d never noticed before, for example, that the pet-friendly chain motel La Quinta seems basically to exist to give people like me a place to stay with their pets. (Upon first entering our room there, Mr. Fluff, who’s fastidious about toileting outside, immediately trotted over to one of the curtains, took a few determined sniffs, then lifted his leg to mark his turf.)

I’ve also learned how few businesses allow you to bring your dog inside with you. Driving through unfamiliar towns, I’m always on the lookout for restaurants with outdoor seating. I’ve even developed a bit of a sixth sense for detecting establishments where the workers either don’t know the no-pets rules or cheerfully ignore them, as at a certain outlet store in Georgia, where a clerk told me, “We only allow service animals in here.” And then with a wink she added, “He’s a service animal, right?”

I suppose it helps that my dog is small and objectively speaking rather cute, sometimes mistaken for a puppy — though I get the sense, in his own mind, Mr. Fluff thinks he’s a lion. His favorite type of vacation is a visit to a national park, where he likes to chase squirrels, chipmunks, field mice, and even deer. Once, on a foggy night in Shenandoah National Forest, Mr. Fluff, on an extension leash, darted into the mist behind the cabin where we were staying. Thinking he was after what Mitt Romney would term “small, small varmints if you will,” I ran after him, only to find the object of his frenzied barking was a medium-sized black bear, so spooked by my 15-lb dog that it ran up a tree.

Given all the extra considerations involved while traveling with your dog, why do it? Because when I’m away without Mr. Fluff, I crave his presence. His routines of walking, eating, even pooping have become so much a part of mine that his absence leaves a hole. In the middle of a hike or a museum visit, I’ll stop and think, “I wonder what Mr. Fluff is doing.” During a recent trip to Europe, I found one of the highlights of my day was getting an email with a picture of Mr. Fluff guarding one of his chew toys.

Having my dog with me when I travel makes me much more present, more aware of my surroundings. Maybe his example of immersing himself in whatever place he’s in, sniffing the ground, ears pricked, eyes wide, somehow inspires me to follow his example, to forget where I’ve been and where I’m going, and focus more keenly on where I am.

And if that makes me one of the dog-crazy Americans Denizet-Lewis lovingly describes in his travelogue, then I gladly plead guilty.

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