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How to Travel Without Your Dogs and Not Feel Guilty

As an obsessive dog parent, I don't like leaving my dogs home when I travel, but sometimes it's for the best. Here's how I deal with it.

Sassafras Lowrey  |  Apr 7th 2016


I saw a conversation on Facebook recently about traveling with dogs, the consensus being that the more you love your dogs, the less willing you are to go on trips without them — ever! Of course, that hit me in a tender spot because I have worked really hard to not feel guilty about traveling without my dogs. It was also super timely as I was getting ready to be away from Charlotte and Mercury for a week while at a conference, and then for a few extra days of sightseeing with my partner.

My dogs are my kids, and I hate being away from them for any length of time — even though they and their three feline siblings have a trusted pet sitter and everyone has a great time. My dogs are the focal point of so many of my daily routines, and I believe if you take on the responsibility of having a dog, they must be a priority. But I don’t think that means you shouldn’t ever travel without them!

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Charlotte and Mercury. (Photo by Sassafras Lowrey)

Sometimes, vacationing with dogs is fun, and sometimes, it’s just really impractical. Our family likes to split our vacations between experiences we can share with our canine kids and trips the humans take alone. When we plan trips, deciding to bring the dogs or not is an evaluation of how much fun they would or wouldn’t have.

Especially for those of us who are anxious and maybe a tad obsessive about our dogs, I think it’s important to evaluate if we want to bring the dogs because they will have a great time, or if we want to bring them along because we don’t want to be away from them. If it’s the latter, then for us it’s time to call the pet sitter.

Vacations that involve lots of time outside, such as camping or a trip to a beach town, are great times to include the dogs. Exploring a new city or heading to Disneyworld, which is a favorite destination for my partner and I? They are not the best fit for the dogs. My dogs are much happier hanging out in the comfort of their home with the pet sitter than being left alone in a hotel room.

So if a vacation is going to involve lots of experiences that aren’t dog appropriate, I think it’s best not to drag the dog along just so they can be in the hotel. Disney has a kennel just off the property, where guests can leave their dogs while at the theme parks — I really don’t understand why anyone would opt for that instead of leaving dogs home!

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Charlotte exploring the water. (Photo by Sassafras Lowrey)

I totally have abandonment issues. Combine this with my dog obsession, and the result can be stress and anxiety about leaving the pups — especially my special-needs youngest dog — to go on vacation. My dogs (thankfully) don’t have separation anxiety, but I definitely do.

A few years ago, when I put my separation anxiety in dog-behavior terms that made sense to me, I was able to start an emotional training regimen for myself, which has empowered me to not only travel without my dogs, but have fun while doing it and keep the guilt about having an awesome people-only vacation to a minimum.

A big part of getting rid of the guilt was saying and believing that traveling without my dogs doesn’t mean I don’t love them — it doesn’t make me a bad guardian — and recognizing that they don’t feel abandoned by me when they stay with a sitter. Saying all that aloud sounds a little silly, but they are the thoughts that go through my head as I start to pack for a trip. In talking to friends who are also obsessive dog parents, I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. I actually think that traveling without my dogs is really good for me. I love spending time with my dogs, but I also really enjoy some activities that just aren’t dog friendly or appropriate.

My favorite tips for soothing myself while I’m traveling without my dogs:

 1. Trusted sitter: I always remind myself that we have a sitter who loves our pets, and one our dogs (and cats) adore. Being able to trust that my sitter is taking good care of my pets is the No. 1 thing that makes me feel comfortable traveling without the dogs.

2. Care guide: I leave detailed instructions; the latest iteration of our pet care guide (encompassing our three cats and two dogs) is 12 pages and includes morning, afternoon, and evening charts with info about feeding, treats, play, walks, etc. Our sitter has tons of animal experience, but it helps me to relax knowing there won’t be any confusion about who eats what and when or any other detail of our menagerie’s routines.

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Mercury. (Photo by Sassafras Lowrey)

3. Emergency contact: In addition to information about our regular vet clinic, I like to include in our guide information for a good friend who is familiar with our dogs (in our case, the dog trainer I assist for) as a local emergency contact, in case anything ever came up with the dogs and our sitter needed immediate support.

4. Check-ins: One of the big things that helps me to have fun when on vacation without the dogs are the daily check-ins with their sitter. I’m very transparent with our pet sitters around my need for regular communication. Usually what works well for me is daily texting about how everyone is doing. Having that daily update allows me to not worry about the furry kids and enjoy my vacation.

5. Making friends: Dog people seem to find each other, whether it’s in the hotel hot tub or in line for breakfast. I love talking with people I meet about their dogs back home and sharing pictures. I especially enjoy the chance to make friends with canine locals!

6. Souvenirs: One silly thing that helps me feel connected to my dogs while I’m away is getting special souvenirs to bring back for them. I like to try to find unique toys or treats that I can’t easily get at home. I had a really great time doing this when I was on book tour in Europe a few years ago. I’m heading to New Orleans next week and am really hoping to find some gator treats to bring home!

Anxious pet parents unite! How do you manage your nerves around leaving your dogs and enjoy your vacation when you travel without the pups? Tell me in the comments!