American couple Jen Sotolongo and Dave Hoch are some of my all time favorite dog travelers. They’re veterans of a two-year bicycle trip across Europe and South America with their late dog Sora, who visited a whopping 29 countries before passing. Today, they live in Spain and have kept the adventures going with their two adopted dogs, Laila (la Loca) and Riia. Read on to learn how they travel with two large dogs and stay active on the road.
What inspired you to travel with your dogs?
It all began with Sora and the bike trip. We were tired of our day jobs in Portland, Oregon and wanted to go on an adventure, but leaving Sora behind wasn’t an option. So we just decided to travel in a way that she could come along.
How do you prepare your dog/s for travel?
Aside from all of the paperwork necessary to travel internationally with a dog, we make sure that they are comfortable in a kennel (or bike trailer) or van for long periods of time. We also get rabies titer tests done so that we have the option to travel to “high risk rabies” or “very low risk rabies” countries and return to the EU or the US.
What is the hardest part about traveling with your dogs?
Finding dog-friendly accommodations, especially in countries that aren’t overly dog-friendly, and also figuring out places to eat that allow dogs in the hot months.
What’s your favorite thing about traveling with a dog?
The bonding! You spend nearly every second together, especially during the hot months, which gives you the opportunity to learn more about one another. With Sora, who was reactive to other dogs and people, we really had to learn to introduce her to dogs in a way that felt safe. With Riia, she is space sensitive, so we make sure that she has a space in the van where she can go to be alone.
You’ve traveled extensively (even internationally!) with medium sized dogs. What advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
Finding accommodations will be challenging in a some places, because for some reason a lot of places only allow small dogs (which seem to be anything larger than what could fit in a purse).
If you’re flying, then you’ll have to send your dog as cargo and pay a fairly significant fee (ranging from $200 to $400).
Many people are very fearful of traveling with their dogs in cargo, thanks to all the media stories, but when the research is done correctly, it’s safe. It’s not fun and it’s stressful, but animals fly all the time. We just don’t hear about those stories.
Lastly, make sure that your dog is a good travel partner. Some dogs don’t like being displaced and on the go so frequently. Right now, we probably wouldn’t travel with Laila on a plane because she’s really highly stimulated and needs to learn how to calm down before she can go on a long flight.
How did your style of travel change with a dog in tow?
We tend to avoid major tourist attractions because they’re either not dog-friendly or too crowded, which is fine by us. It just means that it diverts us to lesser-known places with fewer people that usually don’t have a fee to enter! Otherwise, not a lot changed. We usually bring our own accommodation (tent or van), so that’s not a worry.
How do you find accommodations on your journeys?
We used Booking.com almost exclusively in much of Europe and South America. After arriving in a small Patagonian town and getting door after door slammed in our face at the sight of Sora, we said “forget this” and started booking places in advance. Most of the time, though, we camped. Camping almost always allows dogs.
What are some essential items that you pack for your dogs?
You and your dogs are incredibly active. What are some tips for staying active while on the road?
Go on a bike tour! Haha, we are trail runners so we spend a lot of the time in the mountains when we travel. We try to limit the number of hours we are driving each day so that we have time to go for a run or hike. If we have a long day, we try to find a picnic spot for a lunch break and play some fetch or work on training.
What surprised you the most about traveling with dogs?
It was much easier than we thought it would be. You learn what to look for in places to determine if they’ll be dog-friendly, and a lot of people will surprise you by showing their hospitality to accommodate you and your dog.
Name a trip highlight.
Just one? That’s so hard! It might have to be that time Sora was asked to represent an animal rights organization in Medellin, Colombia as the face of pet adoption. There are so many stray dogs on the streets all over South America. Many are just abandoned by their owners because the kid wants a puppy and then once the dog grows up, they don’t want it any more, so they just get another puppy and the cycle continues. We were on local TV with Sora, presented to city council, and also represented the organization at a panel about adoption and what we learned about animals as pets during our travels.
What advice do you have for people who want to travel with their dog, but are nervous to do so?
Understand what is making you nervous about traveling. Is it that your dog is reactive? (Sora and Riia both were/are and travel made them encounter situations that made them nervous over and over and over).
Is it that your dog is not well trained? (Laila’s nickname is La Loca for a reason. Travel IS one of the best training opportunities because it exposes your dog to a lot of random situations).
Is it that you’re afraid to put them on a plane? (Of course it’s scary! Talk to others who do it regularly, like animal shelters or people who compete in shows or agility competitions.)
Thank you so much to Jen and Dave!
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