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Packing your dog’s gear for travel: An update, and a collaboration

I’ve written several posts about the dog gear we bring with us on trips, and how we pack it for car and airplane travel, but when Gigi Griffis (who writes The Ramble, and whose posts about her current trip across Europe with Luna, her Schnauzer-Yorkie mix, have frequently been featured in past Chloe’s Clicks) asked if I’d like to contribute to a collection of posts about packing for dog travel, I happily agreed. Things change over time, after all — new products come out, and new habits arise, and this is a fine opportunity to let you know about them. I’m looking forward to hearing Gigi’s packing tips, as well as those of Sonja and Stefan, the human team behind Montecristo Travels (Monte’s a remarkable dog, but the packing is surely done by his bipeds!). Links to their posts, which I haven’t yet read, are in the last paragraph.

This is Chloe’s idea of packing, not mine

Some things have not changed: This is still Chloe’s comprehensive packing list, and I always run an eye over it before I call myself ready to go. I add new things to it, as they arise, but I don’t take things off (we no longer really need Bitter Apple, for example, and after Chloe frightened herself by snagging a claw in her Poochie Bells, we no longer use them, but those items are still listed).

Packing for car travel in your own car

If we are leaving on a road trip in our own car, we pack Chloe’s gear in totes. Her 24″ long metal Midwest travel crate, and three crate pads, fit in an extra-large Land’s End tote bag, and the many-pocketed tote that sits on top of her home crate gets heaved in next to it (in addition to the usual stuff it contains, including her grooming supplies, a few choice toys, an extra leash and harness, and her Pawz booties, we add any jackets she might need, a stocked food kit and a couple of different bags of treats, for variety).

Chloe’s XL Land’s End tote, holding her metal travel crate, 2 crate pads, 2 bedsheets, and her crate cover. It all fits, despite how it looks in the picture — the tote handles come together comfortably.

Please note that the L.L. Bean tote we use for Chloe’s everyday organization was discontinued a couple of years ago — every so often, I search for good alternatives (they have to have a zipped top, and lots of capacious side pockets), and the one I like best right now is actually a diaper bag.

Chloe’s car-safety solution (these days, the Pet Tube from Pet Ego, with the optional Pet Ego “comfort pillow” and an extra, soft pad) is already in place, and she’ll be traveling in it, so no need to pack that. We do toss in her Pet Ego messenger bag, in case a stealth solution is needed. As you know, I keep the sneaking to a minimum, but on a road trip — especially a solo one — there are times when I must sneak. I will not leave Chloe in the car, under any circumstances, so when I stop at a convenience store for a bathroom break, for example, she comes in with me.

Packing for car travel in a rental car

Packing for this is the same as packing for air travel, which I’ll turn to next — with one difference. If I know that we’ll be driving a rental car at our destination, I pack Chloe’s Pet Tube (it zips into a pancake that’s 18″ in diameter, and about 3″ thick) and its comfort pillow in her Big Red Suitcase (both will fit if I eliminate one of her three big crate pads). When we arrive, I install the Pet Tube in the right rear seat of the rental car, add the extra, soft pad from her in-cabin carrier (the extra-small Plush Sleepeez pad from Pet Dreams fits well both in Chloe’s large SturdiBag carrier and on top of the Pet Ego comfort pillow), insert Chloe, and off we go.

If it’ll be a long road trip at our destination, I pull out Chloe’s many-pocketed tote and put that on the seat next to her — easily accessible from the front seats and from the driver’s side passenger door. The Big Red Suitcase goes in the trunk, to be dealt with when we stop for the night. It’s a messy scene in the car rental area while all of this is happening, since I have to open Chloe’s suitcase completely, on the ground, to access all the stuff I need, but it only takes a couple of minutes before everything is zipped back up again.

Packing for air travel (checked bag)

Over the years I’ve offered a handful of suggestions for air travel packing, and more than one reader has added to the list. The trickiest part of the process is packing a travel crate for your pup. A crate is an excellent idea for travelers with dogs because many hotels require that your dog be crated while you’re absent; in addition, a crate gives your dog a familiar haven as you change environments, and keeps her from bolting out of the room when house cleaning (and the house cleaning cart and vacuum) enters.

If you (unlike me) have a pup that won’t shred a soft-sided crate, you’re lucky, because they’re compact and lighter than the metal crate I pack for Chloe. I recommend the Creature Leisure soft-sided crate; the medium size that works well for Chloe also fits in a large suitcase (which can itself be soft-sided, in this case).

If you prefer a hard-sided but plastic Vari-Kennel/Sky Kennel kind of crate, you can either leave it assembled and check it like a suitcase (you can pack light, bulky things in it — nothing too heavy, or your handle will pull off), or (and this was a reader’s suggestion), you can unscrew its sides and pack the top and bottom, nested together, in a suitcase.

We use a metal Midwest crate for Chloe, and the one she has at home is 30″ long. I initially thought I’d be packing it up each time we traveled, so I bought a 32″ suitcase to hold it. I chose a hard-sided suitcase, because the edges of the metal crate would wreak havoc on a soft-sided suitcase (which, in turn, wouldn’t protect the crate from airline baggage handling). Because I wanted the hard-sided suitcase to be as light as possible — you’ve seen Chloe’s packing list, and you know how long it is — I ended up buying the phenomenally expensive Samsonite Cosmolite 32″ Spinner suitcase, in red. I’ve never regretted it: It’s light, it’s sturdy, it’s easy to wheel around, and it’s impossible to miss coming off the baggage claim belt.

I did change my mind about the crate, however. We pack the next smaller size instead (24″ long), which keeps the weight down and leaves room around its edges for Chloe’s soft furnishings. Here’s what Chloe’s suitcase contains, on a typical trip:

Open side, from bottom to surface

  • Sham-wow towels/camping towels (filling in the indents between the channels for the suitcase’s handle)
  • Nylon-twill-over-foam crate pad, about 1.5″ thick
  • 24″ Midwest single-door crate
  • Two (one, if I’m packing Chloe’s Pet Tube) soft crate pads
  • Two bedsheets and a fitted crate cover, rolled up and inserted around the three outer edges of the crate

Zipped side

  • Chloe’s many-pocketed tote, the entire thing inserted into an extra-large Ziploc bag to corral the small bits and protect against liquid (shampoo, enzymatic cleaner, etc.) leakage
  • Chloe’s food kit
  • Pet Ego messenger bag
  • Pet Tube and comfort pillow (if car travel at the destination is planned)

Even fully loaded, the Big Red Suitcase has always squeaked in at just under 50 lbs. You could, conceivably, divide your pet’s gear between your suitcase and that of a companion, obviating the need for a separate pet suitcase, but I’ve never managed to be that efficient.

The more you travel, the more routine this packing job will become. Between trips, I leave most of this gear in the Big Red Suitcase, so that when the time to pack arrives, all I have to do is grab the tote that rests on her home crate (keeping her everyday gear organized), put it into the XL Ziploc bag, fill the food kit with the appropriate amount of food and treats, and place both — along with Chloe’s messenger bag and her Pet Tube — in the zipped side of the suitcase.

Please note that if your everyday, many-pocketed organizational tote is bursting at the seams, you can purchase a second, smaller tote with just the gear your pet needs for travel (rather than all of her toys, and both of the fanny packs you use for dog-walking, and all three of her water bottles, etc.). That makes packing even easier, because that fully-stocked travel tote can live in your pet’s suitcase between trips. In this post about our typical hotel room set-up, you’ll see Chloe’s pink-and-orange travel tote on top of her crate, not her cream-and-green home tote.

Packing for air travel (in-cabin)

Although some airlines may allow you to board with a carry-on as well as your pet’s carrier, most don’t. What if your pet’s suitcase doesn’t end up at your destination at the same time you do? You’ll see, in Dog Jaunt’s packing list, a section listing the gear I carry into the cabin with me, either in my “small personal item” (in my case, a robustly-sized purse), in the pocket of Chloe’s in-cabin carrier, or tucked into one of the many pockets in my travel vest. I strongly recommend a many-pocketed vest for travelers with dogs, since your small personal item has to go in the overhead bin, and on bumpy flights you may never be allowed to access it.

The links in this post will lead you to other Dog Jaunt posts about packing, but here are two fresh, new links. Gigi Griffis is simultaneously posting about packing for dog travel on her blog, The Ramble, and I’m looking forward to reading about her process, especially now that she and Luna have been traveling for so long around Europe. Montecristo, living life eight inches off the ground, is simultaneously posting about packing for dog travel on Montecristo Travels — he and his bipeds always have good (and often delightfully swanky) ideas, and I’m looking forward to hearing them. [A valuable addition to the collection arrived after we published these links: Akila, part of The Road Unleashed team, sent her dog travel packing recommendations from Europe, where she and Patrick are traveling with pups Abby and Chewy.] I’d love, too, to hear your packing tips! Please leave them in a comment, so we can all benefit!

10 comments

  • Montecristo Travels

    Wait … Chloe has her OWN suitcase? OMG’s I SO need to talk to the bipeds!
    (on a more serious note – wow very thorough! I love how different our posts were even if the subject is the same! and I grinned at “if often delightfully swanky” …)

  • Gigi

    Thanks again for doing this. I love that you broke yours down for car vs. air travel, carry-on vs. checked bag. Really, really excellent!

  • Cassie

    Wow, I love the pet tube! I’ve never seen anything like that! Looks like a soft and comfortable solution that gives your pup good mobility! It looks a bit big for our dog (who uses a car harness attached to the seatbelt) but a perfect solution for a little dog!

  • Galahad and Yvaine

    Ah, you like your totes..I have a thing for duffel bags.

    Of course, my two cockers…well, we assume they’re cockers; they look like cockers, they’re the right size, and they have docked tails, but you never know for certain when they’re adopted from a shelter. Anyway.

    My two cockers both have their individual meds, lotions, sprays, and so on–allergies, senioritis, cardiac conditions, GI issues, etc–and duffel bags give me lots of zipper pockets for sorting and organizing. Dog 1 AM meds, Dog 1 PM meds, Dog 1 as-needed meds, Dog 1 topical meds. Then repeat for Dog 2. “Clothing” (they’re often clipped short for applying topical meds, and so they don’t have a nice protective coat). Food. Toys. Of *course* they don’t play with the same toys. Their regular leashes travel with them, but we also bring extensible leashes for potty walks when we’re staying at a place that doesn’t have a fenced yard–one dog finds it embarrassing to be watched while he goes. I need lots, and lots, and lots of individual compartments.

    I’ve been looking covetously at those relatively new “cube” packing cases, thinking I could make things EVEN MORE organized if I sort larger items into those, and THEN put them into the duffels. Sort of like having the whole inside of the duffel bag acting like the zipper pockets all around the outside.

    One duffel bag I bought came with a small matching waterproof flat case, which I suppose was probably intended for toiletries, but is just the right size to hold wet or muddy dog boots. (The dog boots are for protection against hot asphalt, areas with sandspurs, or other surfaces that may hurt the pups.)

    The dogs wear their harnesses EVERY time they leave our property. So at home, to reduce jangling, they only wear their ID tags on their collars. Their rabies/license tags and the tags that came with their microchips and so on are attached to the harnesses instead. They wear boots, or storm suits (someone forgot to tell Yvaine that cockers are water dogs) or warm vests if they’re clipped, and so on as needed, but the harness is for every time.

    One thing I’ve got that you might want to consider: I picked up a bulk pack of those cheap laser pointer/LED lights that come on keyrings, and another of small trigger clips. I threaded the clips into the keyrings, and I’ve got one clipped to EVERYthing. Every luggage bag and toiletries bag, at home by every door and by the bed, various places throughout the house. If we have a power outage, if I can’t reach/find the regular flashlight, if there’s an emergency in the dark…there’s always a light source within reach somewhere.

    One thing I never, EVER want is to hear some unknown noise coming from one of the dogs and not be able to determine what caused it IMMEDIATELY. And on a less adventurous note, it’s easy to grab one if it’s just a little dark, rather than digging around for the flashlights or fumbling for light switches.

    Also Galahad is deaf, and one of the things he’s been trained to do is to come when a light flickers on and off. This is most useful at night in our large backyard; I turn the porch light on and off, and that’s usually enough to get his attention. But if he’s facing the wrong way, I can use the laser pointer to make a flashing dot in front of his nose and get his attention. then flash the LED or the porch light on and off. In other situations–say, a power outage or a dark unfamiliar house–I can flash the LED on and off and he’ll know where I am, and that I am calling him.

    Since I’ve done so much training of foster dogs, I found that some dogs respond better to hand signals, some to voice. So I tend to train every dog with both. This came in handy when Galahad went deaf, but the various light training didn’t occur to us until he started to lose his hearing. It’s so useful, though, I’ll include it in training programs for any dogs we have in the future, whether they can hear or not.

    ~ ~ ~

    Oh, and if we’re just going on a short trip, not a road trip, I let the younger cocker carry all their lightweight-ish gear in her waterproof doggy backpack. In theory, the backpack is also a harness–but I don’t trust it entirely, and the tags are on their regular harnesses anyway, so I just clip the leash through the D-ring on the backpack-harness and on the regular harness.

    If we’re going to a park, or on a walk, or otherwise don’t need ALL the gear, she carries the folding water bowl in one side of the backpack, and a few poo bags on the other side. If there isn’t potable water available where we’re going, I carry the water bottle; that’s a bit heavy for a 20-lb dog.

    If we do pick up poo, it gets wrapped in a second bag, the “clean” bags go in with the folding water bowl, and the poo-bag goes in one side by itself. And thrown away when we reach a garbage bin.

    And the backpack gets washed out when we get home.

    ~ ~ ~

    At home, most of this stuff lives in a trunk. I generally store a lot of the travel stuff in the travel duffel in the trunk; if I use it at home, when we’re done I put it back. So when it’s time to go somewhere we’re mostly packed already. I have a second duffel for spares, things we’re only likely to use at home, things that are seasonal, etc. And another for things we definitely only use at home.

  • I am just loving your comments, Galahad & Yvaine — you are clearly a person after my own heart. Would you tell me more about your duffels? The only ones I know of are long, low tubes with a long zip and handles — but you seem to have found duffels with multiple zipper pockets and that intrigues me greatly. The packing cube concept is a good one, I agree.

  • Galahad and Yvaine

    🙂 Thanks!

    Hmmmm…I may be mis-using the term, but the ones I’m finding seem to be calling themselves duffels too. They’re the soft-sided bags, very like the ones you’re familiar with, but with many additional zipper compartments around the structure.

    They’re actually the reason I landed on your site [somehow, I’m really not sure! the internet takes us on straaaaange journeys]; I was looking for duplicates of the LL Bean duffel set we have, so that we can keep using reasonably matched luggage, but without having to have one person use the giant-sized one and carry it around half-full. It seems LL Bean no longer MAKES them, and…people don’t seem to be selling them on ebay either, how very odd.

    I did find one, but too small:
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=230892274115

    See, it’s got extra pockets on both sides and one on the front.

    The bigger they get, the more pockets they can fit. Our medium-sized one has a wide pocket across the back, a wide pocket across the front, and a small flat pocket in the flap of the front pocket, plus one large compartment each on the left and the right.

    The giant one has a compartment inside the _top_ flap in addition to everything else.

    Here’s one I was considering, since I can’t find the exact right ones:
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=380492270909

    Sometimes they have internal divisions too. I tend to think this is the Ultimate Solution to storage and organization, so I have a lot of these in a lot of different configurations 🙂

    I know these links won’t last, and I apologize.

    ~ ~ ~

    Incidentally, I love my furballs; I think of myself as a “big dog” person, but my husband had a cocker as a child and so that was what we got him…and I was just enchanted by this 25-lb creature, with the ego of a Great Dane and the playfulness of an otter. When my last big dog’s health failed, we went looking for another dog like my husband’s cocker, and we found something…similar, but different, in funny and silly ways.

    But I am SO ENVIOUS of your ability to “sneak” your dog in her messenger bag, and to take her on flights in the cabin with you, and to carry her places that would be a lot harder for my fluffheads to go. You lucky, you. I don’t think Chloe is even _that_ much smaller than Yvaine; Yvie is just 20 lbs. [She’s even the same color scheme as Chloe.] Oh, it would be so delightful to take them everywhere. I used to do that when I was a single college student and had one large dog; we sat in outdoor dining areas, we went to parks, she semi-quietly and semi-acceptably snuck into the university theater with me along with a number of other places on campus. If I ever left town, it was a road trip and of _course_ she came with me. Later on we had foster dogs for a long while, so it wasn’t a big deal to take just one dog out for a fun trip from time to time; there were lots of dogs at home.

    But now there’s the two cockers, and I don’t like to leave one at home alone. And it’s a lot harder to sneak two, especially when one was very badly socialized for the first part of her life and VERY NOISILY loves EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING, and will loudly chirp out her dismay until you let her go greet ANYthing that moves. Even the cats in the feed store that repeatedly swipe her in the face. She still loves them and wants to kiss them. She’ll sit-stay if I insist, but the occasional chirping is still an issue if attempting sneakiness. [Hey, it could have gone the other way; she could be scared of everything. I’ll take happy noisiness.]

    And I will simply not check dogs as cargo, so they can’t fly with us. And my health is pretty weird–we’ve just returned from a road trip to see a specialist [of course the dogs went with us on the trip; the specialist is pretty cool and allows them in the office], which was why I was thinking about the dogs and luggage at the same time–so I can’t do outdoor dining in some temperatures anymore 🙁 Grumble grumble whine.

    So I admire and am envious of your ability to take Chloe as many places as you do. That’s delightful.

  • Galahad and Yvaine

    Oh, yeah, Mary-Alice, that’s a nice one! With the braced-open mouth like on an old-fashioned doctor’s bag, or like they’re using on higher-end tool bags, very very nice. I see that one has handles on the sides instead of big end pockets, though, and I prefer the extra pockets 😉

    I use this sort of soft-sided bag for tools, too, the kind made for tools with extremely heavy-duty canvas and hardware–I have a lot of tools–and sometimes I just wish they made the tool bags in luggage size without making it cost hundreds of dollars per. I can find things like “Mechanics Bags” that appear to be military surplus and look pretty good [and come in more colors than olive drab!], but the largest I’ve seen with exterior pockets is 19″ (http://www.amazon.com/Texsport-118-canvas-tool-bag-Canvas/dp/B0051DVEU6/). The rest of the large military-surplus looking ones do seem to be just big bags with a single zipper across the top (http://www.amazon.com/Apparel-Force-Rothco-Tanker-Tool/dp/B002PF29EI/).

    One of my other home storage options is something I have trouble finding consistently. It’s a big plastic/rubber type tub, with a hinged lid at the front. It’s got little feet that allow it to stack, or keep it raised slightly off the ground (always a concern in rainy, humid, buggy Florida). Here’s one:
    http://www.fleetfarm.com/detail/suncast-storage-trends-stacking-bin/0000000054502

    I love these things; they’re great for storing large items that I frequently need to get to in a hurry with one hand, but also want to keep pretty tightly secured. Like, for example, kibble. Or large tools. Or things stored outside. Or laundry. But generally if I can find them, they’re either ridiculously overpriced for a plastic tub, or the shipping is outrageous because they’re oversized…or they’re not in stock and the store doesn’t know when they’ll get more.

    It’s unfortunately not very stable when stacked; the feet have a tendency to shift out of their indentations. I’ve drilled matching holes along the edges (through the lip of the bin and the lid over it) and secured them together with tight bungee cords. That helps them stay stacked without shifting.

  • Galahad and Yvaine

    Hmmm, this is the bin I like…
    http://www.amazon.com/Suncast-Corp-BH188810-Hopper-Bin/dp/B001VSWV1G/

    That’s 18 gallon, I found a few more and they all either list their dimensions or quarts, so 18 gallons is 72 quarts…

    OoooOOooooOOoo, loooooook, it comes in blaaaaaaack:
    http://www.amazon.com/WTM-BBCL-32-Stackable-Hinged-32-Quart/dp/B00A2N09H4

    Only 32 quarts tho, so not quite half the size of the ones I really find useful. But then, I’m sure I could find uses for smaller ones, too 😉

  • Mari-Car

    I was reading your 13 hour travel to Miami/Bahamas. Did your pet pee/poop while on board? If so, how did you handle it? I am planning for a 13-14 hours flight from Detroit to Japan and I want my pet and myself to be prepared and comfortable.

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