Letting Go: What About the Pets?

One of the most important issues one faces when planning any type of travel is what to do with your beloved pet. When you factor in extended travel, it becomes even more difficult. And there are a number of options that you can consider.

One option is to find a pet sitter (see tips below).

When Sherry Ott first set off on her original round the world career break, she decided to find a pet sitter for her cat.

Palucci“This was one of the most difficult things I had to organize; probably because it was the most emotional for me. I had to find someone willing to take my cat for one year. This is a process that you definitely have to start early. Start asking your family and friends and see if you get any bites.

My first option fell through which left me scrambling to find someone else to take my cat. I realized that I couldn’t be too picky about this process as I might never find the perfect home, but I could find an adequate home and realize that my cat would adjust – just as humans do. In addition, once you figure out who can take your pets, then you must figure out how to get your pets to the new destination. For me that meant driving to another state. I also had to make sure that my cat had a recent check up and I gave all of her vet history to my friend in case there were any issues when I was gone.”

When Sherry decided to extend her travels (which is going on four years now) she did end up giving up ownership. Which brings us to the next option.

Much like finding the right pet sitter, you should begin your search early on to make sure you find the right home and avoid shelters at all costs. Jeff Jung learned this lesson from experience.

Max“Because I was planning to be gone for at least 2-3 years, I knew I needed to find a potentially permanent solution. This was the biggest decision I had to make when leaving. I was ‘one of those’ pet owners and wasn’t going to leave Max with just anyone. I made a mental list of people that were dog people and I thought might be open to the idea. One set of friends wanted Max but unfortunately, after a weekend trial run, we found out that one of their dogs wasn’t going to let another dog into the house. I then turned to a cousin whose beagle recently died. She had dog sat for me before and she loved my Max. Long story short, he’s now HER Max.”

Betsy Talbot also found a new home for her cat, and found that it was the hardest detail to plan of her RTW travels.

“My cat Roo has been with me since my divorce, and she has been a comfort and a joy during the ups and downs of my life since then. Parting with her to go on this great adventure was almost like giving up part of myself. In addition, we had some placement issues because she really is a loner and doesn’t get along well with other cats. After having it not work out in 2 homes, we finally found a place with a retired widow who dotes on her and gets a lot of love in return.

My recommendation for people looking to travel full-time is to start looking for a home for your pets right away. These plans often fall through due to unforeseen circumstances, and you do not want the additional stress to you or your pet so close to your departure. Even though it likely means giving up your pet early, it is best for them to do it this way. And you’ll leave the country in a better frame of mind knowing they are in the right home.”

Of course you don’t have to leave your pet behind when you can take them with you! This becomes much easier if you are doing slow travel or staying in one place like David Farley did. Farley and his wife spent a year living in Italy while he did research for his book An Irreverent Curiosity and their dog, Abraham Lincoln, made the journey with them.

“When we fly with him we always have to get a health certificate from the vet, even if it’s domestic. Plus we have to pay an inexplicable additional fee to bring the dog in the cabin with you–it depends on the airlines but it’s usually about $75-$100 each way. But for international, we had to go to JFK and take a taxi out to a USDA office in the hinterlands of the airport, have the taxi wait for us, and then get the health certificate stamped. And that’s really it. No extra shots or anything like that. In Italy, the process was more…shall we say….relaxed. We only needed a simple note from a vet saying the dog is in good health. And the three times we did this, no one at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport ever asked to see it.”

Anil Polat also travels with his pug and notes that most of the work is done before you even get to the airport and planning can take up to three months. And there are many considerations you need to take into account for the flight itself. You can read more in his recent two part series: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Internationally With Your Pets – Part 1 & Part 2. He also writes about pet travel issues on “How to Travel with Pets”.

Christine Gilbert also travels with her two labs and has tips about “Bringing Your Pets Around the World”.

For more resources like pet friendly hotels, insurance, passport & immigration information and airline policies, visit the Pet Travel website.


ZelaExtended travel isn’t the only time you may need to find a pet sitter. JoAnna Haugen is a full-time freelance writer who travels frequently when she’s not at home with her pets. She offers some tips on finding the right pet sitter.

My husband and I travel frequently (up to about 10 days at a time). We also own four pets—two dogs and two cats—the youngest of which is five years old. We used to board our animals with our vet, and, even though they were well cared for, being boarded stressed them out. In fact, the medical bills we would pay to help clear up stress-induced illnesses would often exceed boarding costs.

So we went on a mission to find a pet sitter, a person who would come to our home and take care of our pets while we traveled. Some pet sitters check in throughout the day; others actually stay in the home while you’re gone. If you’re only planning on being away for a few days or weeks, you, too, can make your absence a little less stressful on Fluffy. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to find a pet sitter:

  • Browse the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, a professional organization with a directory of certified sitters, to find a pet sitter in your neighborhood.
  • Interview your potential sitter and request references. Observe the sitter interact with your animals.
  • Make sure your sitter is bonded and insured. Get proof of this coverage.
  • Make your arrangements with the sitter as early as possible, especially if you’ll be traveling over the holidays.

Before you leave for your trip, do the following:

  • Provide your pet sitter with a thorough background on all of your pets. If any of them require medication, make sure you detail how and when to give the meds. Let her practice this before you leave. Detail any habits and routines your animals have. Make sure you show your sitter where the toys, food and leashes are (it helps to put all of this stuff in one place). Let her know what parts of your house are off limits to her and/or the pets.
  • Make an extra house key for the sitter.
  • Buy extra food, litter and supplies before leaving and show the sitter where they are stored. Make sure she also knows where the broom, garbage bags, litter scooper and other cleaning supplies are located. She should also know where things like the fuse box, fire extinguisher and thermostat are located.
  • All of your pets should have microchips. They should be wearing their tags on collars. Your sitter should walk dogs on a leash, so if your dog isn’t used to this, practice with him before you leave so that it isn’t an issue.
  • Leave contact information for yourself, your vet and emergency contacts. Introduce your sitter to your neighbors.
  • Clean your house thoroughly before you leave and clean up anything that could be accidentally swallowed by your pet. Close doors to any rooms your pets should stay out of.

You will probably pay more for a pet sitter than you would to board your animal. However, this extra expense equates to a happy, healthier pet upon your return home.

You  can read more about JoAnna’s travels on her website Kaleidoscopic Wandering and on Twitter.

Other comments

10 Comments on "Letting Go: What About the Pets?"

  1. Anil on Mon, 4th Oct 2010 3:11 pm 

    …a pug and a cat!

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  3. Christy - Ordinary Traveler on Mon, 4th Oct 2010 10:16 pm 

    Thanks for the tips! I never actually considered finding a pet sitter to come to my home. I usually just have a friend check in on my cat, but I wouldn’t do that for an extended period of time. I considered the boarding option, but I think it would be harder on my cat since they are exposed to possible disease and sickness, in addition to the stress of leaving their home environment.

  4. Emily @ Maiden Voyage on Mon, 4th Oct 2010 11:23 pm 

    I love love love these tips! My dog is my baby, and worrying about her is one big obstacle I’ve had for long-term travel. I don’t think I could bear the thought of giving her away for good, but I’m glad to hear there are other options that work!

  5. Jenny on Tue, 5th Oct 2010 11:58 am 

    I know all too well what this process is like. I’ve found homes for my dogs while I’ve been on extended trips (6 weeks and 5 months), but have gotten them back upon my return. My upcoming indefinite trip (with two dogs now) is much more difficult. My parents have decided to keep them for me in an open-ended relationship AND I have a back-up plan. I’ve written two posts recently about my experiences finding a home.

    The Dog Dilemma: What to do with my dogs while I travel indefinitely

    Dog Dilemma Resolved: Kibu and Zulu have a new home

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    […] to Backpack just covered how to travel with pets…but I was actually traveling to take care of pets. As you would expect, I don’t really need […]

  7. Akila on Wed, 27th Oct 2010 2:16 pm 

    Great post. Our dogs stayed with my parents while we were traveling but, now, we are taking them with us when we go on our European journey. We are very lucky because my parents love our dogs and our dogs love my parents. But, without a doubt, being away from our dogs was the hardest part of our travels.

  8. Stephanie on Mon, 15th Nov 2010 5:19 pm 

    Thanks for this post! I’m considering take a year to travel and am having such an emotional time trying to figure out what to do with my 5 yr old Pug during that time. To leave her is heartwrenching but I can’t deny my dreams for a 20 pound pug! Thanks for the information and making me feel more secure in my choices for both (hers and my) futures!

  9. 5 ESSENTIAL DETACHMENT SOLUTIONS FOR LONG TIME TRAVEL « Brazilnutty on Tue, 15th Feb 2011 9:36 am 

    […] This is just the solution I came up with. There are many more around. You can read about other stories and their solutions here. […]

  10. Erik on Fri, 10th Jun 2011 1:39 pm 

    Great tips on finding a pet sitter. I went on vacation last month and had to figure out what to do with my puppies. Fortunately, I found this site hat helped me find pet friendly hotels at http://bit.ly/g6lVxr

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