When I packed my bags, sold my furniture, and took off around the world with my small business and small dog, I knew it would be amazing. I knew that I’d love having Luna with me for hiking adventures in the Swiss Alps and visits to the Eiffel Tower. I knew it would be fantastic to fall asleep every night — whether in a hotel, a holiday rental, or a friend’s guest room — with a warm puppy snuggled up beside me. I knew that I would love traveling with a dog.
And I was right.
But I also didn’t see the whole picture. Traveling with my dog hasn’t just been wonderful because of snuggles and companionship. It has also been wonderful for a few reasons that I never expected.
As a woman traveling alone, having a dog along (even a pint-sized one) makes me feel secure. This is especially true when I rent apartments, which I often do, because on the off chance that someone did try to break in, I know that Luna would alert me. She’s not a day-to-day barker, but when someone new is coming up the stairs, you better believe she makes herself heard.
Even more unexpected, I feel safer having her with me as I’m exploring the sites of a new city. Because it seems much less likely that pickpockets or scam artists would target what appears to be a local out walking her dog, not only because a local probably isn’t carrying her valuables around with her on her walk, but also because a dog might bark or bite.
Which brings me to the second unexpected benefit of traveling with my dog …
When I’m out with Luna, I can’t help but make friends. The little old ladies on the Paris Metro pick her up and kiss her face. The other little old ladies waiting for the bus in Belgium ask her name and coo at her. Tourists constantly stop and ask me for directions, which I frequently can’t help with, and then, when they realize I’m not a local, want to know the whole story — how is it that I have my fuzzy little best friend along for the ride?
Having a dog with me, I’m immediately seen as someone who belongs, a local, a contributor to the city’s culture and economy. I’m seen as friendly and approachable. I’m seen as someone who wants to be part of the city — not just snap a few shots and be on her way.
Even better, though, I also feel like a local. Whether I’m walking Luna through Paris or Perugia, Italy, I feel grounded. I feel like I belong. I feel like we’re part of the story, part of the landscape — not just observers. Luna, like magic, makes every landscape feel like home.
Which brings me to my third unexpected benefit.
When I arrive in Paris or Rome or Edinburgh after a long flight, I’m exhausted. And I find jet lag hard to deal with — there’s no hopping up the next morning ready to take on the world. Oh, no; that’s not me.
But now that I travel with a dog, I’m compelled to get up, to have a routine, and to see the city I’ve traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to see.
How does my dog accomplish all that? By needing daily walks and twice-daily feedings, by waking me up if I try to oversleep, and by forcing me to walk outside and remember that I’m in Tuscany or the Black Forest or the Alps. And as soon as I walk those few blocks to the dog park, I remember how new and interesting and different of a place I’m in, and I’m motivated to explore some more.
In summary: Traveling with my dog has brought me unending joy. Recently, someone asked me who my best travel buddy has been over the years. After all, I’ve been to more than 25 countries on six continents. I’ve traveled with friends, family, strangers, and often by myself. I think they thought I’d go on a rant about what makes a great travel buddy.
Instead, I smiled and answered without hesitation: my dog. Hands down. Absolutely. No question: my dog.
Gigi Griffis is a writer and humorist with a penchant for snuggly puppies, new places, and Italian cooking. In May 2012, she sold her stuff and took to the road with a growing business and a pint-sized pooch. You can read all about her adventures on her travel blog, and she’d love to be friends on Facebook.
Have you traveled with your dog? What unexpected joys and benefits have you found? What surprises you most about being a dog owner in a foreign city?