13 min read

Pet Travel Tips for the Holidays [Expert Advice]


Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 11/14/2022, edited: 01/04/2023


How many pet experts does it take to help you plan the “pawfect” holiday getaway? Five, by our count! To help you start your holiday travels on the right paw, we asked 5 experts to share their top pet travel tips with us:

  • Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS, veterinary consultant with Wag!
  • Dr. Jacqueline Brister, veterinary consultant for Embrace pet insurance
  • Karley List, Director of Marketing at OC Pom Rescue in Placentia, CA
  • Jim Umlauf, founder of 4Knines, manufacturer of car safety systems for dogs
  • Steph Wiggins, founder of DJANGO, a dog clothing and accessory brand

Read on to see what they had to say!

person holding a laptop with german shepherd dog resting their head on the keyboard

Best times to book holiday travel plans

When is the best time to book travel plans for the holidays? Early October, if you want the best prices. So before you put up your Halloween decorations, sit down with your doggo and start working on your holiday plans.

Check out these expert tips for bagging the best holiday travel deals:

  • Book flights and hotels as far in advance as you can. Our experts recommend booking at least 4 to 6 weeks before your departure date.

  • To save money, book an early or late flight. Tickets are usually cheaper for flights that depart between 5 AM and 7 AM, or after 8 PM. The busiest times are typically between 5 PM and 7 PM.

  • Travel on weekdays. Most people tend to travel on the weekends, or on the Friday afternoon before the holiday. Book a weekday flight to beat the crowds.

  • Consider traveling on the holiday itself. Most people will be spending the holidays with their family, which means roads and airports are way less crowded than usual.

  • Be flexible with your travel dates if possible. Compare different departure dates and times — by booking a flight a few days or even hours earlier than you originally planned, you could save big bucks!

person holding tablet with a black and white dog on their lap sitting on the floor next to a coffee cup and binder

Pet-friendly holiday travel checklist: things to do before you go

Whether you’re traveling with or without your pet, you’ve got your work cut out for you! Here are the top tasks you need to take care of before you set off, according to our experts:

  • Determine whether your pets are fit for travel
  • Visit your vet
  • Arrange pet-friendly accommodation if your pets are tagging along
  • Book overnight care if your pets are staying home
  • Find the right travel carrier and help your pets get comfortable with it
  • Locate the nearest emergency vet clinic to your destination
  • Invest in pet insurance

orange cat lying down in a gray and green travel carrier for cats

Determine whether your pets are fit for travel

Before setting off on your big holiday adventure with your pets, ask yourself: “Is it really a good idea to bring my pets with me on this trip?”

We’re not saying this because we want to discourage you from traveling with your pet. But traveling can be super stressful even for healthy, well-behaved pets. You may want to consider making other arrangements if:

  • you’re traveling to a cold climate and your pets are sensitive to extreme temperatures
  • your pet’s health isn’t what it used to be
  • your pets aren’t well socialized or house-trained
2 veterinarians in green slacks standing next to a white bulldog sitting on a vet exam table

Visit your vet

It’s a good idea to book a check-up with your vet to confirm your pets are fit for travel. During your pet’s check-up, take care of any boosters, medications, or preventative treatments that need refilling or administering.

Dr. Brister also recommends microchipping your pet if you haven’t yet. If they’re already chipped, check the registry to ensure your address and contact information are up to date.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your vet as many questions as you need to. Your vet may even be able to advise you on pet travel regulations specific to your destination (this is “pawticularly” important for international travel — more on that later).

white bulldog wearing a branded robe with the logos of kimpton hotels and wag!

Arrange pet-friendly accommodation if your pets are tagging along

Depending on when you book, you may have some trouble finding a hotel room during peak holiday periods — let alone one that’s also pet-friendly.

And even pet-friendly hotels enforce strict pet policies. When searching for a pet-friendly place to stay over the holidays, be sure to read the fine print. Pay special attention to pet fees, size and breed restrictions, health requirements, and special holiday rates. If you have any questions about the pet policy, contact a member of staff before booking your stay.

Wag!’s top pick for pet-friendly accommodation is Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, where pets of all shapes, sizes, and species are welcome as long as they can fit through the front door! Kimpton truly pampers pets with complimentary extras like toys and treats.

Plus, when you book a stay at Kimpton, you might even qualify for a free month of Wag! Premium, plus a free 20-minute Walk or Drop-In service! Check out our news article to learn more about Wag!’s partnership with Kimpton.

Bonus tip: Once you arrive at your final destination, be extra mindful of the environment, says Steph, founder of DJANGO. “Is there anything in the new setting that could be a problem for your pup or even endanger them? Check for uncovered garage cans, low-hanging holiday decorations, and small nooks or crannies where a dog could sneak into. Make sure food and any harmful plants are well out of reach as well.”

Book pet care in advance if your pets are staying home

Can’t bring your fur-babies along for the holiday fun? Start looking for overnight pet care as soon as “pawssible”. Dog boarders and sitters have limited availability, and spots fill up fast over the holiday period. Be aware that prices of overnight pet care are typically higher during peak holiday periods due to increased demand.

Whatever your plans, Wag! has got your holiday pet care needs covered. Pet Caregivers on the Wag! platform offer a range of affordable overnight pet care services to suit your needs and budget.

Just need someone to check on Charlie a few times a day? Book a Drop-In visit for quick and easy pet care. Does your doggo need extended cuddle time on their home turf? Book a local dog sitter to keep them company! If your pets would be comfortable crashing at a Pet Caregiver’s pad for a few days, a Boarding service is the “purrfect” option.

Not sure which pet care service you need? Download the Wag! app to browse Pet Caregivers near you now!

Find the right travel carrier and help your pets get comfortable with it

Your fur-babies will be spending a lot of time in their crate or carrier, so it’s a good idea to find one that’s comfortable and secure. “Make sure your travel carrier has a cushioned lining on the bottom and that it's big enough for [your pet] to move around, but small enough to fit airline requirements,” recommends Karley List with OC Pom Rescue.

Once you’ve found the “pawfect” carrier, you’ll need to let your pets get acclimated to it before the big day. This will reduce fear and stress while also keeping them safe and secure.

“Leave the carrier open at home and let them explore it; throw some treats and toys in there,” says Karley. “Gently put [your pet] in it, then build to transporting them in it (in your car, on walks, etc). Always praise them before, during and after.”

veterinarian wearing blue scrubs and a stethoscope holding a black cat

Locate the nearest emergency vet clinic to your destination

“Get contact information for the closest emergency vet to where you’re staying,” recommends Dr. Brister.

This is one item many pet parents forget to include on their holiday travel to-do list. By locating your nearest vet clinic ahead of time, you’ll know exactly where to go for the best care for your pet, rather than frantically trying to find these details after an accident occurs. Make a note of the facility’s contact info and save it in your phone for easy access.

You may also want to double-check the holiday hours of your preferred vet clinic — just in case staff at an emergency vet clinic need to contact your vet for more information about your pet’s health. To be extra safe, request a copy of your pet’s complete health record and bring it with you to your destination.

person holding a credit card sitting on the floor in front of a silver laptop next to a black and white dog

Invest in pet insurance

Did you know Black Friday is one of the busiest days of the year for veterinarians? It’s no wonder why, with so many pet parents letting their four-legged friends join in the Thanksgiving feast.

Many ingredients found in holiday staples — like onion, garlic, and leek — are toxic to dogs and cats. Pet insurance can keep your wily woofer safe if they snatch a snack from the table without you noticing.

Be sure to apply for a policy well in advance of your travel date (ideally 4 weeks before you head out). Most pet insurance providers enforce a waiting period, which means your pet’s coverage likely won’t go into effect the same day you enroll. Waiting periods range between 2 and 30 days on average. Longer waiting periods may apply for specific conditions.

Find the “pawfect” pet insurance plan for your fur-baby with Wag!’s pet insurance comparison tool.

Tips for traveling with pets via car

Driving your doggo to greener (or snowier) pastures this holiday season? Here are some tips for ensuring your road trip goes without a hitch:

  • Invest in a crate, car seat, or other car safety device for pets
  • Train your pet to tolerate car rides
  • Prepare for anxiety and travel sickness
  • Make plenty of pit stops

black and white dog sitting in a car safety seat for dogs behind the passenger seat of a vehicle

Invest in a crate, car seat, or other car safety device for pets

“During your travels, be sure to secure your pet in the car with a crate, carrier, or travel harness,” recommends Dr. Brister. ”Keep their collar on for the ride, and have a leash readily available in case you need to stop.”

Sure, letting your doggo ride shotgun makes for a cute photo op. But having a free-roaming four-legged passenger could prove deadly in a crash. Even at low speeds, an abrupt stop can turn an unrestrained 75-pound dog into a projectile with more than 2,200 pounds of force. Not to mention that, in some states, it’s illegal for pets to roam free in a vehicle.

Securing your pets with a crash-tested car safety system can protect you, your fur-babies, and other drivers in the event of a crash or traffic incident. You’ll find a range of vehicle safety systems for dogs available at big-box pet stores and online retailers, from backseat hammocks to vehicle harnesses with seat belt attachments. We like the 4Knines seat belt with a 360° swivel clasp and the no-choke harness with reflective straps that come in four sizes.

“It’s also a good idea to have a rear dog seat cover in place so that any accidents, fur, dirt and drool can easily be cleaned up without any permanent damage to your vehicle,” says Jim, founder of 4Knines.

How to secure your pet’s crate in your car

If you don’t have a car safety system, keep your pets in their crates at all times while driving. Place the crate behind the driver’s seat or passenger seat — avoid placing your pet’s crate in the middle seat if you can. If the crate is small, you can simply buckle it in with the seat belt like you normally would.

If the crate is large, it may be a good idea to invest in special safety straps. These straps contain a metal clip at one end that hooks on to the crate and a seat belt buckle at the other end that locks into your car’s seat belt latch.

Alternatively, if you’re driving an SUV or a hatchback, you can secure the crate in the cargo area by threading bungee cables through the bars of the crate and attaching them to the cargo tie-downs.

Related: Which Car Safety Seat is Right for My Dog?

brown and white dog with their head out of the open window of a car

Train your pet to tolerate car rides

“If your pet hasn’t ridden in the car much, take lots of practice rides that include treats and praise,” says Dr. Brister. “That way, when the day to travel comes, your pet won’t be as nervous or stressed.”

Does your fur-baby only ever ride in the car to go to the vet? If so, chances are they have a negative association with car rides. This association won’t be easy to break, but it’s certainly not “impawssible”!

When training your dog (or cat!) to tolerate car rides, start slow. For the first training session, you might simply want to leave your car parked, with the engine off, and let your buddy sniff around the interior and exterior at their own pace. To create a positive association, consider feeding your pet treats or even a full meal in the car.

Once your pet has warmed up a bit, try cranking up the car with your pet inside. Don’t go anywhere just yet — you’ll want to get them used to the sounds of the engine, blinker, and radio before you drive off. If they seem okay with all the sights and sounds, go for a small test drive. Choose a destination that’s a whole lot of fun for your pet — like their favorite trail, dog park, or pet store — to help break any negative associations.

Over time, you can increase the duration and distance of each practice trip. With enough patience and treats, your pet will be begging to go for a ride in no time!

Related: How to Train Your Dog to Like Car Rides

hand holding a beige tablet in front of a brown and white jack russell terrier dog

Prepare for travel sickness and anxiety

If your pet hasn’t been on a long car journey before, ask your vet about how to keep them comfortable during the drive. “Anxiety medications, supplements for nausea, and stress-reducing pheromones may be useful,” says Dr. Brister. “If your pet is prescribed a new medication, consider a trial dosage and a short trip around town before the actual travel date.”

Already know your pet is prone to travel sickness? “Ask your vet for some anti-nausea medicine before you head off,” recommends Dr. Simon. “It can also help to travel on an empty stomach.”

Pets experiencing nausea or vomiting due to motion sickness may not want to eat their usual food. “If the journey is long and your pet will need to eat, offer small and bland meals of things like boiled chicken and rice,” recommends Dr. Simon.

Don’t exactly have time to cook a bland meal to bring with you in case your pet gets sick? Karley List with OC Pom Rescue recommends bringing pumpkin puree packets or probiotic pills for upset stomach. You can also find pre-made, freeze-dried chicken and rice pouches for dogs at pet stores and online retailers — just add water, and they’re ready for your pup to eat! Individual packs of peanut butter can also help your pet’s medication go down a little easier.

Related: 11 Vet-approved Products to Soothe Your Pup’s Anxiety

black and brown dachshund dog on a red leash standing in front of a person on a sidewalk

Make plenty of pit stops

“When traveling with your pets, be sure to take plenty of pit stops,” says Dr. Simon. “Every hour or so, your dog would appreciate the chance to stretch their legs, empty their bladder, and have a drink or snack.”

While most adult dogs can hold their bladder for 8 to 12 hours at a time, it’s a good idea to give them a potty break as often as you can. Plan to stop at least once every hour to enjoy a breath of fresh air with your fur-babies. If you’re driving long distance, you may want to mark rest stops, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants on your smartphone’s map app ahead of time to stay on schedule.

Traveling with a feline friend? Consider training your cat to walk on a leash ahead of the big day so they can also stretch their legs too!

Need a helping paw with training your pet before your trip? Book an in-home or virtual trainer today!

Tips for traveling with pets via plane

Taking to the skies with your fur-family this holiday season? Here’s what you need to know about flying with a pet over the holidays:

  • Read the airline’s pet policy (and check it twice)
  • Visit your vet to discuss health certificates and travel documents well in advance
  • If traveling internationally, research pet travel rules for your destination

white dog wearing a pair of black glasses sitting in front of a silver laptop

Read the airline’s pet policy (and check it twice)

Flying with a pet isn’t as simple as booking your flight and taking your pet through security. Most airlines enforce strict pet policies that include size, breed, and weight restrictions for dogs, as well as travel crate restrictions. Not to mention many airlines don’t allow pets in the cabin, which means they may need to go into the cargo hold instead.

When researching airline pet policies, here are a few things Dr. Brister says you should look for:

  • whether any special paperwork (like health certificates) is required
  • where the pet will be kept during the flight
  • how to get through the airport with your pet
  • types and dimensions of accepted pet carriers
  • what kind of care the pet will receive during travel

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for pet fees and breed restrictions. If you have any questions, reach out to your preferred airline’s support team before booking your flight.

To get an idea of what you can expect from the most “pawpular” airlines, check out our guides to pet-friendly airplane travel:

veterinarian in green scrubs using a stethoscope on a ginger cat lying on a vet exam table

Visit your vet to discuss health certificates and travel documents well in advance

Many pet airlines require four-legged passengers to have a health certificate from a veterinarian. That’s why it’s important to ask about health certificates well in advance of your travel date, says Dr. Brister:

“Regulations differ from state to state and country to country. International health certificate requirements can take up to 6 months to complete, so it is very important that you begin the process early.”

When you schedule your vet appointment, don’t forget to keep these tips and tasks in mind, too:

  • Ensure all your pet’s vaccinations, boosters, and parasite preventatives are up to date.
  • Talk to your vet about non-core vaccines if you’re traveling to an area where Lyme disease is prevalent.
  • Ask whether you’ll need to deworm your pet at any point during travel. (Some countries, like Ireland, require pets to be dewormed within 96 hours of arrival from certain countries.)
person holding a blue U.S. passport in one hand and a suitcase handle in the other

Research pet travel rules for your destination if traveling internationally

Traveling abroad with a pet this holiday season? Prepare to cut through a whole lot of red tape.

Many countries impose strict rules on importing pets, from lengthy quarantines to special microchip scanner requirements. Many countries also require pets to have a valid pet passport (yes, that’s a real thing!).

To learn more about the pet travel rules specific to your situation, visit the appropriate embassy or the government website of the country you’re traveling to. Airline staff may also be able to assist you.

Related: 7 Things You Need to Fly Internationally with a Pet

brown and white dog wearing sunglasses standing next a mesh carrier bag in an empty airport

Keep your pet comfortable at the airport and on the plane

If your dog is allowed to accompany you in the cabin, you’ll be able to bring them with you to the gate and board at the same time.

Karley List with OC Pom Rescue has some “furrific” tips for keeping your pet comfy before and during your flight:

  • After you've checked in and are headed to your gate, look for the dog relief area. Every airport has a patch for dogs to relieve themselves. Take them there right before you board your flight to give them a final opportunity to go.
  • Walk them around if you have time so you can get their energy out!
  • If you have a long flight or layover, bring a bully stick, bone, or puzzle toy to keep them busy and occupied.

brown pug dog standing on a white suitcase in the cargo area of an SUV behind a stack of suitcases

Holiday packing list for your pets

Bringing your pets along for a holiday getaway? Don’t “furget” to include these must-haves on Peanut’s packing list.

Essential items

  • Travel crate
  • 2 leashes (including a spare)
  • Collar
  • ID tag
  • Harness
  • Pet bedding
  • Food and water bowls
  • Enough pet food for the trip
  • Bottled water
  • Waste baggies
  • License
  • Proof of vaccinations
  • Medications
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Pet first aid kit
  • Towel or pet-safe cleaning wipes
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Litter and tray (if traveling with a cat)

Optional items

  • Benadryl or motion sickness medication
  • Anxiety wrap
  • Service dog or emotional support animal paperwork
  • Pet passport (if traveling internationally)
  • Grooming supplies
  • Sweaters or clothes
  • Dog booties
  • Paw balm

orange and white cat sitting next to a red present and red christmas ornament wearing a santa hat and robe

How to travel safely with pets this holiday season: wrapping up

And that’s a “wrap” on our pet holiday travel safety guide! Big thanks to our experts for contributing their time and expertise to this article.

Here’s a quick recap of all the expert pet holiday travel tips we covered above:

  • For the best prices, book your flights and hotels in early October. Try to aim for an early or late flight on a weekday to avoid crowds.
  • Visit your vet to discuss health certificates, travel requirements, vaccinations, and preventative treatments.
  • Arrange pet-friendly accommodation or overnight pet care “ruffly” 6 weeks before your departure date.
  • Invest in pet insurance and locate the nearest emergency vet at your travel destination to ensure you’re prepared for an emergency.
  • Protect your pets on the road with a crash-tested car safety system.
  • Find the right pet carrier and help your pets get used to being in it for long periods of time.
  • Give your pet plenty of exercise within 24 hours of departure to keep them comfortable during the long journey.
  • If you’re driving, plan to stop at least once an hour, and come prepared for travel sickness and anxiety.
  • If you’re flying, read your airline’s pet policy carefully, and research pet importation rules if you’re traveling internationally.

Don't "furget" to invest in pet insurance before traveling this holiday season! Use our pet insurance comparison tool to find the best quote.

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