I can’t think of a vacation I’ve taken that didn’t involve making arrangements for the pets. Growing up, we always had a mix of cats and dogs—a tradition that has continued since I moved out of my parents’ house.
Today, between my parents and my own family, there are a total of two dogs and three cats. It’s not exactly a menagerie, but it can feel like one when it’s time to go on vacation. We’ve boarded our pets, hired a pet sitter, and relied on family or friends to stop by.
The one thing we haven’t tried is traveling with our pets—though that comes with additional costs, too. The bottom line is that when you’re a pet owner, every trip you take comes with the added cost of taking your pets with you or leaving them behind.
So what are the extra expenses you need to budget for? I queried my pet-loving Facebook friends to find out.
The cost of leaving your pet at home
From my casual observations at highway rest stops and chain motels, traveling with pets seems to be more common. Still, most people leave Fluffy and Fido at home when they go on vacation, especially if a flight is involved. When you leave your pet behind, you have three main options for care.
Board your pet at a vet, kennel, or other “pet hotel”
Generally, this option offers the most peace of mind. You won’t worry about whether or not the pet sitter showed up, and if your pet becomes ill they can be treated at the facility.
Some kennels even offer webcams so you can watch your pooch play happily in your absence. However, pet boarding may not be the cheapest option. It depends on how many pets you have and the facility you choose.
Some of the pet owners I talked to said boarding would be cheaper than hiring a pet sitter in their area, but their pets hate to be boarded. This gets at one of the core truths of pet ownership: It’s a relationship, so there are emotions involved and money is only one of the factors you base decisions on. Most pet owners want to provide the best situation for their cats and dogs, even if it’s more expensive.
I talked to Aston Veterinary Hospital in Pennsylvania—my parents’ longtime vet. For cats, they charge $33/night per kitty. Dogs are priced by weight, with my parents’ medium-sized dogs (in the 20-pound range) coming in at $34/night.
The vet also helpfully reminded me that one of the dogs is due for a distemper shot, so while you might eventually pay for one anyway, it becomes part of the cost of boarding. You can also pay extra for grooming services such as baths and nail trims.
If you have a dog, a kennel seems to be a cheaper boarding option than the vet. In Lancaster, PA, Sonja pays $15/day to board her dog at a kennel. Erin of Wernersville, PA, pays $25/day for her three dogs to stay at the kennel.
Kennels usually offer add-on grooming services as well, and also require dogs to be up-to-date on vaccinations. Both vets and kennels may have limited pick-up hours, so you’ll end up paying for an extra day if you don’t get home before closing time.
Similar to a kennel but accommodating both dogs and cats, there are a wide variety of independent and chain brand pet hotels across the country. In the past I’ve used PetSmart’s PetsHotel for cat boarding.
It was cheaper than the vet at the time, but I didn’t like the many add-on costs. Yes, they’re optional, but when you’re faced with paying $9-$22 for “one-on-one play,” you either don’t and feel guilty, or you pay extra and resent having to put a price on attention for your pet.
Hire a pet sitter
Some pets love to go to the vet or kennel—they revel in the extra attention from strangers. Others are traumatized or behave poorly away from home. And if you have more than one animal, it may be cheaper to pay one daily rate for a pet sitter than the per-animal rates charged by vets and kennels.
When I asked people what they pay for pet sitters, the per-day cost varied widely from $15 for cats to $100 for dogs. The latter seems to depend on where you live and how many daily visits your pooches need for walks, feeding, and general attention. You can also pay someone to act as a house and pet sitter, staying in your home and caring for your cats or dogs while you are away.
Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to find a pet sitter:
- Use Nextdoor to ask your neighbors for pet sitter recommendations. You may also find a neighborhood teen willing to check on your pets for less than the cost of a professional pet sitter.
- Browse profiles of nearby pet sitters on Care.com.
- Kate of Hillsborough, NC, recommends Rover.com for all things canine.
Rely on the kindness of friends and family
From what I observe, dogs are a bit more high-maintenance than cats. So this option may be more feasible for cat owners, who really only need someone to stop by once a day to refresh the food and water bowls and clear the litter boxes.
I usually ask my parents to look in on our cats while we’re away, and in return I care for their cat when needed. If you can find a friend or family member to trade favors with, you’ll save hundreds of dollars.
The cost of taking your pet on the road (or in the air)
Your pet is part of the family, so you may want to bring them with you when you travel. This can also be cheaper than leaving animals at home or boarding them.
Look for an airline that allows pets to ride in the cabin, even if they have to stay in a carrier under the seat. Karla, who moved to Seattle last summer, paid $95 for her dog Winston’s one-way ticket on Southwest Airlines from Chicago to Seattle. He had a smooth flight in his carrier beneath the seat in front of her.
New York’s JFK Airport even has its own pet terminal, called The ARK, where animals can enjoy spa treatments, get ready for flights, and board overnight while owners are traveling.
Make sure ask if there’s a pet surcharge? Sonja and her family stay at the Red Roof Inn when they bring their dog on the road because the chain doesn’t charge extra for pets.
Also consider giving your dog some medication so they can relax. Kate recommends giving your dogs Benadryl at night so they won’t become a barking nuisance to other guests.
Pets at the beach
Staying in a hotel is one option for traveling with your pet. But if you’re traveling with a large group or can’t find a pet-friendly hotel in your destination, look for a vacation rental home or condo that allows pets.
However, you might be asked for a non-refundable pet fee for a week’s stay that is equal to or more than what you’d pay for a pet deposit on a yearly rental lease.
When Kate searched for a pet-friendly beach house she found that “the house was more run-down than comparable rentals and the pet fee was $300. I asked if they could lower it and maybe increase the damage deposit and they came down to $250.” She opted to board her three dogs instead.
Thinking of getting a pet? First consider if you can afford all the extra costs of pet ownership.
Once you’ve locked eyes with your furever friend (yes, pun intended), it’s hard to make purely rational decisions. However, there are ways to reduce the expense of traveling with pets.
Whether you leave them at home under a friend or family member’s care, or find a pet-friendly hotel that doesn’t charge extra, it’s possible for animal lovers to take a trip without breaking the bank.