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Small dog, big suitcase: Packing Chloe’s stuff for airplane travel

Chloe’s a small dog, but her suitcase is the biggest one we own. When we’re dealing with travel logistics, my husband and I complain bitterly; when we’re rational, however, we both realize that a 32″ suitcase isn’t that bad, considering that it contains her housing, bedding, dishes, food, and grooming and clean-up supplies. (You’ve seen Dog Jaunt’s travel checklist and packing list — we never travel with all of that stuff, but even a portion of it occupies a lot of space.)

We used to fit all of Chloe’s gear into a 28″ suitcase bought at Tuesday Morning (such a deal!), but she’s lost respect for the Creature Leisure Den that was her first travel crate, and now we have to pack something sturdier. Sturdier means larger, unfortunately: The collapsible wire crate that fits her best, a medium iCrate from Midwest, is 30Lx19wx21H (for shorter trips, we pack the next size down, which is 24″L). That’s too big for her old suitcase, so we went shopping. We chose a Samsonite Cosmolite 32″ Spinner suitcase because it’s hard-sided (the metal crate needs more protection than the Den) and light (we’re still shooting for under 50 lbs., and the metal crate is no lightweight). It was astonishingly expensive, but I hope to get years of use out of it.

So here’s how it works:

On one side of the suitcase, we pack two crate pads, topped with any other soft goods we’re carrying (for example, a fleece blanket, a couple of dog jackets, and the crate cover). I’d also normally add her ShamWow towels, and plenty of them, to the heap, plus an old sheet to keep dog hair off hotel beds.

Crate pads, cover, blanket and dog jackets -- plus Fran the cat

The collapsed metal crate rests on top, protected by the soft goods and elevated by them to the widest part of the suitcase (which is a good thing, since the crate only just fits).

Now with the collapsed metal crate on top

10/25/10 To date, we’ve mainly used her 24″ long wire crate, even though the 30″ long one does fit. The smaller crate is lighter, and we’re always flirting with the 50 lb. weight limit as it is. We center the small crate in the right side of the suitcase, and put two rolled-up sheets and the rolled-up crate cover around the edges. To protect the mesh on the other side of the suitcase from the crate, we put one of the crate pads on top of the crate. Here’s what her suitcase looks like with the smaller crate inside:

The last crate pad goes on top, but it's off to the side right now

The other side of the suitcase holds Chloe’s messenger bag, for use once we get to where we’re going (it’s not a good airplane carrier, but it’s an invaluable stealth bag), as well as Chloe’s tote (which holds her food, grooming and cleaning supplies, treats, toys, leashes, etc., etc.) For travel, we typically put the tote in one of those vast, XL-sized bags that Ziploc came out with for home organization, but it wouldn’t photograph so well in a plastic bag. That side of the suitcase has a zippered mesh cover, which also helps to keep the gear in Chloe’s tote from moving around.

Messenger bag and Chloe's tote go on the other side

I pack a few essential supplies in my carry-on bag (including a couple of meals, treats, chews, poop bags, a water bottle and collapsible travel bowl), so that if Chloe’s suitcase goes astray we can make do until it’s located.


  • Edie

    Ok, now I doubt I will ever travel with Frankie by plane. I am the worst packer, ever, for myself — particularly pathetic given that I’m a longtime travel writer — and the idea of getting everything I need for Frankie in an additional suitcase is daunting. Car trips allow you to just throw everything in the trunk (and even then I generally forget something).

    Seriously, I’m impressed, especially by the neatness!

  • Thank you both! I love luggage and packing and things that organize other things, so this is no hardship for me. It is much easier taking a road trip, though — in that case, everything just goes in open-topped L.L. Bean totes, lined up in the trunk. There’s nothing I like better than a tote.

  • Mary Haight

    Great article! I appreciated the attention to detail here and Tashi would love nothing better than to come along with me on trips:-) Now I can be prepared!

  • GoPetFriendly

    LMAO! First, you guys are SOOO neat and organized. Definitely agree with Edie. Second, I am just imagining the time it took to bring it all together. Probably the first few trips were the hardest and then pretty easy after that? But this is very instructional for people who may be thinking about how to travel with a pet via airplane. Sometimes, people (like me) need to see how it’s done and that it can be done before they do it themselves. I will definitely mention this post in my weekly news round up.

    PS – Open and honest. We pack our “dog bag” for the car pretty thoughtfully, too. It’s just that the car is more forgiving and there are no luggage fees!

  • Thanks, Mary! and thanks, GoPetFriendly! You’re quite right — it took several trips to reach this point. We started by packing her stuff with ours, and checking her Creature Leisure Den separately in the carrying case you can buy for it (and learned that the carrying case can’t really stand up to a lot of airplane travel). At another point, we tried packing her stuff in her PetMate crate and checking the whole thing, but the crate handle pulled off halfway through the trip:
    Now I’m just hoping, very earnestly, that Samsonite’s claims about the durability of its Curv technology are actually true — it’s a phenomenally light suitcase for its size, and I’m dubious….

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  • Namaste

    My goodness you are precise and smart!
    Luckily for me my little flying pig, her native american name, needs very little when we travel.
    Well, I keep it that way. We just use her sherpa, and I put in some bully sticks for the ride.
    I pack in the side pouch of the sherpa, wet ones, many plastic poop bags, her outward hound collapsable water bowl. Because she fasts the day of travel I also pack light snacking foods like carrots and other treats and her meal for our arrival.

  • Namaste, that sounds gloriously streamlined — good for you guys! I’d be thrilled to lose the crate (and therefore the whole reason for a separate suitcase), but Chloe firmly declines to treat her travel carrier as a travel crate, so there we are. Alas. I’ll think of you and the flying pig the next time we’re schlepping the Samsonite….

  • Jo

    Is it just me, or does this seem a bit extreme? It’s a great blog and I’ve spent about an hour just looking through all the travelling stuff you talk about, but I never need an entire extra suitcase to travel with Daisy (large Maltese, almost 8kg). Pet jackets don’t come along, and we don’t use a crate, so that already makes a bit difference. Food really depends on how long the stay is (usually no more than 4-5 days visiting my dad), and piddly pads are just bought on location, because they do take up lots of space. Other stuff such as treats, toys, brush, comb, etc. are fairly small… I usually need a bigger suitcase to travel with Daisy, which in my family is the biggest suitcase that is not considered bulky baggage on a plane – but never an extra suitcase…

  • Hello, Jo! It is, indeed, extreme, and it’s all because of two things: (1) We find a crate really helpful when we’re traveling with Chloe (keeps her safe from housekeepers with their casual attitude towards open doors, as well as vacuum cleaners; gives housekeepers a sense of security, since they have no idea Chloe’s a sweetheart; and gives Chloe a sense of security in strange places, since she regards her crate as her lair); and (2) The fact that Chloe learned early on to scrape through soft-sided crates. So we travel with the smallest size metal crate that works for her — which still requires a big suitcase. Most of the rest of the contents are bulky but light (throw sheets and crate pads). The remaining contents are small, and if you didn’t travel with a crate, you could easily distribute them around the corners of your own suitcase. Indeed, if you traveled with a spot-sided crate, it wouldn’t take up too much room in your own suitcase — and we’ve done that a couple of times (crossing our fingers that Chloe wouldn’t remember the wild days of her youth!). How much you pack (and how you pack it) depends on your dog, the place where you’ll be staying, and her/your needs!

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