Chewy on the Queen Mary 2, looking out at Southampton
A few weeks ago, an Irish woman was murdered while vacationing in Turkey with her daughter, allegedly by her daughter’s fiance. Last week, while driving through peaceful Cornwall, an UK radio deejay announced this tragedy and went on to ask the listeners whether this murder would impact their vacation plans. Overwhelmingly, the citizens of Cornwall responded that they would avoid international travel and especially travel in the Middle East for the next few months because of this one murder.
Now, there’s a lot I could say about this sort of reactionary response, especially in light of the fact that four people died in the London riots during the exact time that this Turkish murder happened. But, I’d rather quote noted and respected travel writer and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott in his recent post about the reactionary response that the TSA took following Osama Bin Laden’s death: “So why would the TSA want to spread fear and confusion after Osama’s demise? Easy. The more fearful we are, the more compliant we become.”
There’s a lot of this fear-mongering and naysaying in the travel world. Right before we left on our round-the-world trip, we heard it all: if you travel, you’ll ruin your career or go bankrupt. Worse still, if you travel, you’ll be scammed, ripped-off, suffer food poisoning, and be kidnapped by terrorists.
Abby and me on the QM2
What I didn’t expect is to hear this sort of naysaying from Christopher Elliott and Frommers, two of the biggest names in the travel world. A few weeks back, Elliott posted that he will not be traveling with his three cats during a long road trip and asked whether he should place them in a kennel for a year, put them up for adoption, or find some other means to care for his cats. There were vociferous, angry responses from “foaming-at-the-mouth pet fans." He responded with this post, arguing that because there were three incidents in the last ten years where animals have escaped or been let loose on airplanes by irresponsible pet owners, “I don’t believe cats, dogs or pigs belong on a plane, in a hotel, or a rental car unless maybe you’re moving somewhere, and even then, they should be safely confined to a carrier. Incidentally, I think this represents the view of the average American.”
First, let me make my position on this point clear: each of us must determine our own morality and obligations toward our pets, assuming that those obligations comply with the law. I applaud Elliott for thinking hard about how to care for his pets while he travels; he rightly wrote that trying to determine how to care for his cats is the “most difficult” piece of his family road trip.
I get that. When we left for the beginning of our round-the-world trip almost two years ago, we agonized about how to care for our dogs in the ten months that we would be traveling through Asia, Africa, and Australia. My parents very kindly agreed to care for them and provided them a safe and wonderful home while we were gone. We returned every two to three months to check on them and be with them, but, it was obvious that Chewy and Abby did not like us traveling. When we began packing our bags, they sat directly in our luggage, refusing to let us put anything further in, and my mom told us that they sat at the door for a full 24 hours when we left. At the end of the year, we vowed never to be separated from our pups for more than a week.
Abby and Chewy in Brooklyn
So, when we set out on our next travel adventure, we knew that our dogs would be part of the package. We spent a ridiculous amount of time figuring out how to travel the United States and Europe with them and now it’s happening. In the last six weeks, our dogs have:
• Driven with us from my parents’ home in Alabama to Brooklyn, New York, in a rental car
• Stayed in a Sheraton in Brooklyn
• Crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the kennels on the Queen Mary 2
• Stayed in a small family-run hotel in the New Forest near Southampton
• Romped through the horse farm we stayed in while in the Cotswolds
• Wandered through moors, ruined castles, and gardens in Cornwall and Devon
• Crossed the English Channel from Portsmouth to Bilbao in a pet-friendly cabin
• Settled into our apartment in leafy Madrid
I won’t say that all of this has been easy and I won’t say that they have loved every moment of our travels. They hate long travel days and anything more than five hours in the car (but, then again, I can’t say that we’re fond of those days either). They can’t stand doing their “business” on boats and they get scared by crowds of people. They need a long walk early in the morning if we’re going to leave them behind in the vacation rental or hotel.
But, then again, Abby’s tail goes sky-high when she hits the wild and untamed moors. Chewy begins drooling the moment he sees chorizo. Abby’s entirely dormant border collie nature has manifested itself with the herds of sheep roaming through the English countryside. And, every Britisher with a dog is curious about Chewy’s stubby features and constantly wagging tail because they have never seen an American Cocker Spaniel in England.
Abby's happy face at Prospect Park in Brooklyn
We’ve discovered that we love traveling with our dogs and our dogs love traveling with us. Sure, there are days that are hard and times that our dogs get angry or scared --- usually resulting in explosive diarrhea that we try hard to pretend did not just happen --- but that’s travel, in general, whether with or without dogs. (Not necessarily the explosive diarrhea bit, but the part where we're angry and irritated by traveling; in the last 6 weeks, Patrick and I have suffered from stomach bugs, lost a cell phone, broken a GPS navigator, and waited 2 extra weeks for our car because the shipping company screwed up.) Heck, that's life.
I am tired of the naysayers, the reactionaries, the critics, and the travel police. I am tired of people telling me that there is only one way to travel or only one way of caring for our pets. One murder does not justify shutting off travel to an entire area of the world, just as three isolated incidents of irresponsible travel with pets does not mean that we should relegate our dogs and cats to kennels when we want to travel.
I want to shut out the naysayers and the critics. I want to ignore them, unless they have tried and experienced what they suggest we avoid. The people who told us that we shouldn't travel around the world had never traveled long-term, just as those who claim that dogs should not travel have never tried traveling with pets.
I've done both. The four of us are doing both, actually, as I write this post. And, we're all happy, though the only way I have to judge Chewy's and Abby's reactions is by measuring the height of their tails and the grins on their faces.
Ultimately, I don't think that responsible pet owners must travel with pets because not every pet enjoys traveling. But, I think that responsible travelers must reject reactionary criticism, even if that advice carries the prestigious Frommers label.