Before you hit the road (or the skies, or the rails) with your pet as your traveling companion, take some time to prep for your trip. You'll enjoy your vacation destination more if your trek there is worry-free!
Call your carrier. Policies vary for bus or train trips so call ahead: Amtrak and Greyhound, for instance, allow only service animals, but local transit companies like the Long Island Railroad and the San Francisco Municipal Railway are okay with small pets in carriers.
Book your travel plans over the phone. You need to be sure you're following all policies on things like temperature restrictions and age and health requirements.
If you can, take a direct flight. You want to decrease the odds your big guy is left on the tarmac or mishandled by airline personnel if he has to be shuttled off with the baggage.
Get the right crate. Small pets can fly in carriers at your feet, but larger ones need to travel in USDA-approved crates in the cargo hold. Make sure it's large enough for him to stand, sit, and turn around in, so he's got room to stretch his legs and rearrange his position.
Label your mate. Write the words "Live Animal" on the top and at least one side of your pet's crate. Use arrows to show the proper upright position so he's not standing on his head. And write the name, address, and phone number of his final destination on the top.
Hold on tight. All pets have to come out of their carriers at the security gate, so be sure you have them in a good hold before you take them out. "If you take nervous, anxious cats out of their carriers, they'll climb you like a Christmas tree," says Megan Blake, host of the PBS series Animal Attractions TV, who's traveled over 110,000 miles with her cat, Tout Suite.
Be a pushy pet parent. If the plane is delayed or you're worried about your pet's safety, don't hesitate to insist that airline personnel check on him. His health is more important than your popularity with the flight attendants.
Find out about fees. More hotels than ever are welcoming pets with open paws, but don't assume that because they're allowed you won't have to pay more. Most chains charge a one-time fee per stay but may also tack on an extra room-cleaning charge.
Do your research. Check out sites like wagworld.com for pet-friendly restaurant and hotel recommendations and reviews of local dog parks, or try petswelcome.com or tripswithpets.com.
Pick a pup-friendly chain. Loews Hotels, Westin, and Residence Inns have started perks programs including things like pet beds, leashes, collars and bones, maps of local walking routes, and even doggy room service. Choice Hotels, Best Western, and Marriott hotels allow pets in many of their locations nationwide, too.
Keep your room in top shape. If you leave your pet behind when you head out of your hotel room, keep him in his crate or carrier -- you're responsible for any damage he causes, and those nice clean bed sheets will be mighty tempting!
Ask your hosts first. If you're staying with family, check with them before you take your hyperactive pup or shedding-prone kitty into their home, in case they've got any allergies (or nervous children).
Vet the pet sitter. Your vet or groomer can make a recommendation of a reliable service; bring the sitter over to get acquainted with your pet before you leave on your trip.
Check out the facilities. Give yourself plenty of time to investigate all your boarding options. Drop in unannounced and ask for a tour to see where the animals are kept and how staffers handle them, so you can see conditions as they'll be while you're not there to check up.
Prepare for boarding. Once you settle on a home-away-from-home, bring your pet in to interact with the staff and let them feed her treats and play with her so they're familiar to her. Older pets may be better off boarding with their vet, in case they need extra care.
Whether you're on the road or close to home, check out the free Mo's Nose app on your iPhone, from the creators of the Mo's Nose book series. It's adorable, easy to use, and super handy: You can find everything from pet-friendly hotels to kennels, groomers, dog walkers, pet stores, parks, and dog beaches nearby (using GPS). Plus, if you choose the little icon of Mo (an adopted shelter dog) in the bottom corner, you'll get a listing of pet-related events and deals for owners that are offered in the area. The app works nationwide and will be available in the app store in June.