Traveling Light

Traveling. One of the most exciting, and potentially stressful things I do.

I love to travel. I love seeing new places and meeting new people. I especially love seeing places I’ve only seen in movies and on TV before. The first time I went to New York City, I just had to get to the diner from Seinfeld; it felt so crazy walking around and arriving all of the big landmarks that I’d only ever known on a screen.

As it turns out, traveling gets more complicated as you get older. If you’re a wheelchair user, you understand the need to pack light; if you can’t carry it on your lap or strap it to your back or chair, you can’t take it. When I was in college, I’d visit my boyfriend, who lived halfway across the country, and I’d pack for two weeks in a 20 liter backpack. I never checked a bag, and I was very proud of my low-maintenance status.

When I got a job at a non-profit last year, I traveled for business. That meant I had to pack work  clothes (dressy…yuck) and casual. I packed in that same backpack, but it was totally stuffed for a four day trip. Growing up stinks.

Since last November, Bright has gone everywhere I have. That means that when I travel, I pack for two. Granted, she’s not a person, so I don’t have to pack clothes for her, but what she lacks in wardrobe she makes up in food and grooming supplies. The first time I packed for her, I think I went overboard. It’s not necessary to take every toy she owns.

That picture is of Bright, the famous backpack, and an entire bag full of her stuff at the airport headed to Minnesota for Christmas last year. We’ve learned a thing or two since then.

Since that trip, I’ve reduced the Bright related luggage considerably. So what are the must-haves?

  • Food, which is easily, the heaviest item. I always consider how long I’ll be gone and where I’m going before I load my bag up with five pounds’ worth of kibble. Whenever I can, I just  pack a few meals in case there are airline delays and buy a small bag when I arrive. I also stopped packing her stainless steel bowls. Bright would eat her dinner out of an old boot without thinking twice, so I don’t think she minds tupperware.
  • Grooming supplies are my weakness. Really, three brushes? Since she’s always on stage, I try to keep Bright looking pretty (see my article about grooming), but one brush will do. I love the Furminator, so that’s the one I take. I’m kind of surprised TSA allows it on the plane, though – it has a lethal look to it. I also take Quick Stop, toothbrush & toothpaste, and cotton balls (ear cleaner isn’t allowed on the plane, so I improvise).
  • Comfort items. To ease my guilt about taking Bright away from her bed, I pack a little plush crate pad. It rolls up and I just strap it to my backpack, and that way she’s got something to lay on when we’re on the plane. It also helps create a little home base for her when we’re in a new place, along with one toy.

It’s always a good idea to carry documentation, too. If you’re a CCI grad, you have an ID card. Legally, it means nothing, but when nosy TSA soldiers ask for “some ID for the dog”, they don’t even know what they’re asking for. Flash that card, and you’re good to go. (It hurts my heart to not always have time to explain my rights and demand respect, but sometimes, that’s life.) I also always carry a copy of her rabies certificate, just in case. The Department of Transportation also has a hotline you can call if you run into any disability-related service issues, such as access denial, when traveling by plane.

For any of you who have yet to experience air travel with your dog, I hope I was able to provide some helpful tips, and please feel free to ask if you have other questions or concerns. Anyone who’s an old pro, feel free to contribute!

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7 thoughts on “Traveling Light

  1. Hi – One thing I think it’s important to remember is that more and more pitbulls are certifying as service dogs, yet they are banned on many airlines and when they are allowed to fly, they fly in the luggage department so you need to be prepared to receive a very stressed dog or fight for the right to have that dog in the cabin.

    All the best!

  2. thanks for sharing your travel list and experience, i do the same with my sd lizzy, in my backpack, i keep a copy of our graduation certificate, her letter indicating she is a certified service dog, our id card from ECAD’s, i have a cloth travel bowl for her, by the way, jet blue is really great when it comes to service dogs, they highly encourage me to introduce lizzy to the crew. i do that on most of my travels now. bus, train…etc…good luck and thanks again.

  3. I’ve never flown with Buster, to be honest, I’ve been totally paranoid about attempting to do so. I tried flying with Max, my first service dog, and was given such a hard time and put through such a ringer, that I’ve never tried since. I usually fly with Southwest Airlines and the last few times I traveled, I spoke of Buster, showing his picture, at the ticket counter, the gate, & on the plane, and they’ve all encouraged me to start traveling with him. I’m so lost without him and the amount of stress I endure when I travel I know is greatly magnified despite how much advance preparation I’ve made, not to mention being apart from him is so hard on both of us. My few trips are very short as a result. I have taken him with me on Greyhound and that went very well, except that a 36 hour bus ride (each way) was excruciatingly painful for me. Max and I traveled via Amtrak after our airline debacle, and that too went very smoothly. Thank you for posting about your travel experiences, because it’s giving me hope that maybe I should plan flying next time, with my service dog. It would be nice to be able to plan a more comfortable trip, with a longer stay, without the worries, separation anxiety, and reduced stress!

    • Hey Stephanie! It can definitely be intimidating if you’ve had bad experiences in the past, but I’m glad you’re considering trying again with Buster. It’s important that you stand up for your rights as a Service Dog Partner. Please let me know if I can help at all!

  4. Pingback: I Believe I Can Fly | Help On Four Legs

  5. We don’t fly anymore, between my wife and I with 2 dogs and all our luggage it just isn’t worth the time. Typically I’ve found that unless we are going over 1000 miles, we can drive it more comfortably and only lose a few hours. With the new 2 hour early rules, extra cost for baggage, delays and limited space it doesn’t work for us. I have trouble fitting in the seats for long hours, my SPOO is 55 pounds, my wife is small as is her dog but she isn’t a service dog. I’ve investigated getting my pilot’s license just so we can fly with some freedom, several friends have planes and will get me my airtime but we don’t go that far that often to make it cost effective. We just pack up one of our gas efficient mini CUVs and head out, taking our time. Its bad enough when hotels want to argue about my dog being “too big” because she gets to stay free so they try to double charge on the small dog so I check pet charges ahead of time via my phone.
    I’ve even had people suggest I get a vest for the small dog just to stay free or fly them free because they do it. These are the same people who get us all suspicious looks whenever we go anywhere. On my last visit to the Hard Rock casino/hotel I saw several purse dogs with vests, probably people avoiding the $50 a night charge there per dog.

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