Tips for Traveling With Your Dog For The First Time

Before I start giving you my tips for traveling with your dog for the first time, let me tell you what NOT to do.

If you follow @henrythesmol on Instagram, you know the story. The day we were supposed to board the plane to Orange County, California, the most unexpected thing happened.

I get to the desk to check-in, the agent at the check-in counter takes my passport, looks at it and then at me and says, “Ma’am, your passport’s expired.”


Needless to say, my passport fiasco set our trip back 24H. So, little disclaimer, before you travel, step 1: check your passport.

In all seriousness, traveling with your dog for the first time can be stressful, especially if this is unfamiliar territory, like it was for me. Luckily, there are TONS of resources online to help you, including my newbie perspective!

This blog post covers the logistics of our travels, including how to fly with your dog and how to book a pet-friendly hotel. You can read all about the dog-friendly activities we did in California here!

Follow @henrythesmol on social media!

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traveling with your dog for the first time
traveling with your dog for the first time

Tips For Traveling With Your Dog For The First Time: Pet-Friendly Flights & Hotels

A Pet-Friendly Flying Experience

In addition to making sure your own passport is valid (LOL), you’ll want to read up on all the rules pertaining to your airport and airline as far as pets are concerned.


Visit Your Vet Before You Travel

You will be required to have official vet documents with you at all times. These documents include general health information, vaccination information, and microchip details. If you haven’t microchipped your dog, I highly recommend you do. We scheduled an appointment with our vet and indicated when we’d be traveling and for how long. The vet also prescribed Trazodone for the trip, which made traveling a lot easier for us. Henry literally slept the whole way!

I can’t remember if this was covered by pet insurance, I don’t think it was, but if you are considering traveling with your pet I would highly recommend pet insurance, in case of accidents/emergencies. You can read all about my favorite company and how they saved us a few times here.


Airline Compliant Pet Carrier

Henry is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), and back in March 2020, this meant he was allowed to sit on our lap in the plane, throughout the flight. Today, however, the rules around ESAs are different and as of March 1, 2021, ESAs are no longer accepted in the cabin.

So, if you plan to fly with your dog, you’ll need an airline compliant pet carrier that adhere to specific dimensions. You can read more about the technical details here.

To give you an example of what’s expected, here are some pet carrier rules taken direclty from the Air Canada website:

  • It must be leak proof and well ventilated. Both soft-sided (preferred) and hard-sided carriers are accepted in the cabin.
  • It must be big enough to allow your pet to stand up, turn around and lie down safely and comfortably. No part of the pet may extend outside the carrier.  Your pet could be refused travel if the carrier is deemed to be too small for the size of the animal.
  • The pet must remain in the carrier and the carrier must remain under the seat and closed at all times.
  • It will count as the one standard carry-on item, which you’re allowed to bring on board.

Training your dog to get comfortable in a carrier, weeks before you travel, will definitely be beneficially to a stress-free experience. Here are some airline compliant pet carriers I found after a quick Google search:


Because we were travelling with Henry for the first time, we booked our flights early (and also because I have anxiety and I wanted to over-prepare). But with additional travel fees, and all these rules, along with the fact that some airlines have a maximum number of pets allowed per flight—we wanted to be MAJOR ready.

All airlines are different, so this is just to give you an idea of what to expect. I highly recommend reading the requirements on your airline’s website, or even picking an airline based on the pet traveling requirements.

That said, we didn’t encounter any problems flying with Henry. At the time, he was about 7 months old and happy to follow us wherever we went!


Booking A Dog-Friendly Hotel

In a past Dog Mom Talk blog post I had the opportunity to chat with world traveler and expert dog trainer, Nicole Ellis. She has SO many helpful tips on traveling with your dog for the first time, including how to find a dog-friendly hotel. You can plan your first trip with your dog by using her ultimate travel checklist here and read the interview here.

When booking a hotel, you want to make sure, of course, that it’s pet friendly. Some hotels will have specific pet packages or a flat pet fee (which is usually an added room charge that usually includes cleaning fees, and sometimes other fun perks!)


Consider Nearby Dog-Friendly Places

We booked our stay through Hotels.com; we found a great deal among many pet-friendly options! We ended up staying at Pasea Hotel and Spa, and I’m SO glad we did! It was the best first dog-friendly hotel experience we could’ve ever asked for. It’s no wonder it was named #1 best pet-friendly hotel by USA Today Readers Choice Awards (2020). 

You know it’s a great dog-friendly hotel when your pup is greeted with treats right when you walk in! They also have a fabulous 1100 square-foot dog park with a dog-sized lifeguard station and a gorgeous mural featuring dog angel wings—the perfect IG travel photo ops! 

Pasea Hotel is minutes away from the popular Huntington Dog Beach and right by Pacific City, an indoor/outdoor mall and eatery. Wherever you’re traveling, make sure to read up on which stores and outdoor dining options allow dogs before you go.


traveling with your dog for the first time
traveling with your dog for the first time
traveling with your dog for the first time

What To Pack When Traveling With Your Dog For The First Time

For your first vacation with your dog, consider the essentials you use on a daily basis. In our case, we planned for a week of meals (this was easy, because Henry was still eating puppy kibble at the time), his collapsible travel dog bowl, a portable, refillable pet water bottle, his favorite blanket and a few of his favorite toys.

We also packed a few pee pads that we placed in the shower of the hotel, although the next time we stay at a pet-friendly hotel we’ll bring belly bands with us, as Henry has a tendency to mark in new places. Dog wipes and shampoo were also in the mix, just in case. To avoid bringing the whole shampoo bottle, we filled one of those small travel bottles.

Wipes, water, treats, poop bags and tissues were always in my backpack wherever we went.

Letting Henry explore the room and get acclimated to the new space was the first thing we did. We created a little safe space by placing his blanket on the dog bed provided, although he did sleep on the hotel bed with us. I remember us walking so much throughout the day that he would sleep so well when we got back to the room!

traveling with your dog for the first time
traveling with your dog for the first time

Traveling with your dog for the first time involves a lot of planning and preparation. You want to be sure you check the airline requirements, and book the right pet-friendly hotel for you and your dog’s needs. When it comes to packing for your dog, pack the daily essentials, and don’t forget their food!

We have so many amazing memories from our first trip to California with Henry. Staying at Pasea was definitely a highlight, but we visited a bunch of dog-friendly spots throughout the trip. If you’re looking for things to do in California with your dog, I share my favorite dog-friendly places we took Henry in my follow-up blog post, here!


  1. WhaT a helpful post! I loved all your photos and i really appreciated the airline carrier information. I’ve often wOndered about that and really appreciate you linking airline approved carriers ?

  2. Yay! So glad you enjoyed it. Happy to help! The dimensions for pet carriers seem to vary from aircraft to aircraft, so it’s definitely a little detail to check when you’re planning your trip!!


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