Contributed by Guest Author Kim Salerno of TripsWithPets.com
No matter who you are or where you’re headed, it always pays to save when you travel. Taking pets on vacation can, unfortunately, bring along added costs. But with some good strategizing and great tips on how to get around on the cheap, you needn’t go over budget or miss out on any fun with Rover in tow. Trips With Pets partnered with Flights.com to dig up the best money-saving tips for traveling with your pet.
What to Bring
Pack as much of your pet’s food, treats, toys, and medications as you reasonably can. This will keep you from having to spend money feeding, entertaining, or running him by the vet’s office along the way. You may want to set aside a little bit of “pocket money” for your pooch so that you can treat him to something great – if you happen upon a cool little pet bakery, for example, you can go ahead and indulge him in a treat without feeling guilty – it’s already accounted for in your budget.
How to Travel
Driving is often, but not always, a lower-cost option. You will have to sit down and carefully weigh factors such as gas, hotels, car rentals, pet fees, and the number of people you are bringing along with you to find out what’s best for your specific trip. Which pet travel tips make the most sense for you? Would gas money and car rental fees end up being more than airfare for four? Does saving on three nights of hotel stays stack up to the expense of a plane ticket and a pet fee? Or, is the convenience and comfort of flying worth the added moolah?
Who (and How) to Fly
Choosing an airline can be tricky. You might find an airline with a low pet fee, but it might have a higher fare. Or, conversely, the pet fee might be steep on a cheaper ticket. If you do your homework thoroughly you may be able to find an airline with low fees and fares and save yourself some money. Your best bet may be JetBlue, Southwest, or Spirit Airlines – they all feature low pet fees, and are usually known for reasonable fares.
Book your flight early. There are only so many pets allowed on any given flight, and you don’t want to blow your budget on a more expensive last-minute ticket change.
Where to Stay
Several affordable hotel chains, including Red Roof Inn, Motel 6 and La Quinta, let your pet stay for free. If you’re looking to save money on a more upscale experience, Kimpton’s line of boutique hotels all welcome pets at no additional cost. Other affordable (and moderately affordable) chains have a low pet fee, including Doubletree, Quality Inn, and Best Western. There are also a wealth of independently owned accommodations in every price point that make for cheap pet travel with little or no fees.
A convenient and fun option for nature lovers is a vacation rental. The affordability factor is the self-sufficiency. You bring and cook your own food, so you never have to stop at restaurants, and your (free!) activities are built right in – you can enjoy the lake, ocean, mountain, or woods with your pooch without having to get into your car and go anywhere.
No matter where you decide to stay, make sure your pet is groomed, flea-free, and de-ticked before your trip so that you don’t incur any charges for dirtying the room or causing an infestation.
As with your flight, book your accommodations early. Some hotels have limited numbers of pet friendly rooms. If they fill up, you risk being forced to miss out on a deal, and you may have to book a more expensive room with a higher pet fee elsewhere.
What to Do
There really are about a million and a half free or cheap things to do with your pet everywhere you go. There are leash-free dog parks in nearly every city and town. Dog-friendly people parks exist just about everywhere, where you can do everything from hiking to fishing to enjoying a picnic in the sunshine. There are pet-friendly malls where you can window shop and festivals you can attend with your dog. Many museums don’t charge to walk their grounds with your pet, and some have really cool things to see, like sculpture gardens and historic artifacts. You can even take a self-guided walking tour of the city together.
There are also low-cost things to do with your pet, including ferry or trolley trips, guided walking tours, or train rides. With a little research, you will find a way to enjoy yourselves on the cheap.
Bonus Tip: Try thinking outside the box when planning activities. There are lots of unconventional, yet really fun (and affordable) pet friendly adventures that offer local flavor and charm – consider apple picking in a family-owned orchard, touring a local winery or microbrewery, taking a nighttime ghost tour, or even panning for gold.
Where to Eat
Dining on the road can take a huge chunk of your budget, and planning is essential, especially when you travel with your pet. Rover can’t come with you inside most restaurants, and it is dangerous to leave him behind in the car. You could rely on drive-thrus, but fast food gets old quickly, and eating in the car is cramped and confining.
One solution? The grocery store. Bring a pile of store-bought (or homemade) snacks from home, and fill a cooler with sandwiches, sodas, and water. Have potted meat, canned tuna, and peanut butter on hand so you can make impromptu sandwiches when necessary. For dinner, grab a fully cooked chicken and some sides from the deli, and head to the nearest park or rest stop for a picnic with your pet.
Another solution? Pet-friendly restaurants! And yes, dining out can fit into your budget. There are plenty of really affordable sit-down restaurants that welcome pets in their outdoor seating areas. Look for sandwich shops, burger joints, delis, coffee houses, and even food trucks.
Saving money always takes work, but the sacrifice is worth it if it means you get to take your dream trip and bring your furry dream companion along for the ride.
Kim Salerno is the President and Founder of TripsWithPets.com, a pet travel guide that provides online reservations at more than 30,000 pet friendly accommodations across the U.S and Canada. Kim spends her free time traveling with her four-legged kids, Tucker, Charlie, Brownie, and Diamond.