Bare feet on the dash, hair whipping around your face, and singing along to the B-52’s Love Shack at the top of your lungs. Nothing beats a summertime road trip. But there is something that would make your liberating escape even better, and that’s being able to look up and see your dog’s happy, panting face in the rear-view mirror.
My chocolate lab Marta and I have been hitting the road together since 2015. From splashing around in Finnish lakes to inhaling Italian gelato and sniffing Black Forest trees to flirting with the best-looking doggos in Bordeaux, travel-savvy Marta has ticked no less than 16 European countries off her list.
Whether you’re planning to drive through Italian wolf country, abscond to mutt-mecca France, or head to some of Europe’s canine-loving capitals, here are 8 tips on how to make your highway journey a bit more hound friendly.
1. Decide on a dog-friendly itinerary
Although Europe’s dog-friendly movement has gathered much strength over the years, some countries are more lenient towards our tail-wagging travel companions than others. France, for example, is fabulously dog friendly. Marta can trot into most hotels, cafés, and shops without anyone even batting an eyelid. That’s not to say that there aren’t any rules on where pups can and can’t go, it’s just that there seem to be fewer regulations here, plus the French tend to kinda ignore them anyway.
Other great European doggo destinations are Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, the UK, and the Netherlands. Here, you’ll find a plethora of dog-friendly businesses, not to mention locals that will stop in a heartbeat to bend down and give Marta’s ears a good scratch.
Our fave so far: hands down, our Scando-tour. The lakes! The forests! And plenty of other off-leash awesomeness.
2. Take stock of your hound’s health and safety
Visit the vet a month before you travel to make sure vaccinations are up to date. While dogs can travel freely between most EU countries with an EU PET PASSPORT, some countries (the United Kingdom, Norway, and Sweden) have additional requirements. For example, some may require that pups take a worm pill 5 days before travelling. Another must-do is getting your four-legged adventurer microchipped and updating their dog tag with your country’s calling code. Last, but not least, you’ll want to protect your hound against lurking fleas and ticks and other nasties. Having to go to the vet for tests and/or treatment is a pain in the mutt and a road-trip buzzkill for your doggo if there ever was one.
3. Pack pup smart
Buy or make a doggy first-aid kit and make sure it includes a tick removal tool. Other essentials include a retractable water canister, poop bags, your dog’s regular food, snacks, and, of course, health docs and passport. Having had to empty out the entire car to find her ear drops, food, and toy octopus a few times, I now put all of Marta’s stuff in one place. In fact, I stick most things in a hanging wash bag and place it over the back of the seat. Don’t forget that smelly blanket to make your hound feel at home in new surroundings. This comforter is also essential if you plan to travel by ferry and are asked to leave your dog in an outdoor crate.
Even though doggos love hanging their head out of the window to feel the sun on their snout while their fur is being pummelled by hurricane-force winds, it’s simply not worth the risk! Properly restraining your dog can be the difference between life or death for both you and your hound. Use a pet seat belt or a crash-tested crate, some even include pup airbags for extra safety.
Our fave: the five-star crash tested Gunner Kennels are spacious and super safe.
4. Take lots of breaks
Although Marta is the first to admit that alternating sleeping with chewing on a stuffed Kong and sniffing at a gap in the window (apparently gathering real-time intel on her current location, that sneaky ol’ spydog) is nothing to be, well, sniffed at. She gets bored after a couple of driving hours. The occasional snort and/or whine usually tells me as much. Stop every two-three hours so you can both stretch your legs, go to the loo, and play a high-intensity game of tug. I usually tire Marta out before hitting the road by playing an amped game of fetch or going for a good run.
Our fave: Italian rest stops. Properly trained baristas and a country full of dog lovers — need I say more?
5. Enjoy dog-friendly activities together
Whether you’re going off-grid or heading to the big smoke, there are plenty of epic things to do with your doggo. No matter where you’re headed, BringFido can point you toward spots where the happiest hounds hang, such as the nearest off-leash park, zoomie-inducing beach, and epic hiking trails. Local sites and personal blogs can tell you where to go for dog-friendly yoga classes, cinema screenings, excursions, and boat trips. Other cool things to do include having your pup surprise you with their SUP talent, renting a canoe or dog-friendly bike, or simply spending a lazy Sunday in a gastro-pub where pups get home-baked treats or a restaurant where they can join you for lunch by being able to choose from a canine menu.
Our fav so far: Marta will never forget the pig’s ears she was given by the staff at The Bull & Last on London’s Hampstead Heath.
6. Compile a puppy-perfect Spotify playlist
Just like I spend hours putting the perfect road trip soundtrack together, so too will Marta expect to be able to bob her head to her favourite tunes. Find a plethora of compilations on Spotify or YouTube, all of which are specifically created to chill your dog out. You can also install a white noise app, which might make it easier for your pooch to settle into their new hotel surroundings.
Our fav so far: Spotify’s ‘Dog Chillout’ album boasts tracks with names like ‘Night Walk’ and ‘Green Forest’.
7. Maintain your routine
Keeping the same routine (walks and being fed at the same time as usual) will mean a happier, less-stressed doggo. And less surprises for you! Try and stay in the same place for at least two nights. During one particular road trip, we travelled to a new city every day. It confused Marta and one of the results of her unsettledness was a tower-like poop on the red carpet in the lobby of a swanky hotel.
Our fav so far: A week in an Italian seaside gem during winter with endless, empty beaches for Marta to totally lose her sh**t on.
8. Book pup-friendly accommodation
Tools such as PawsAbroad and BringFido are great resources for finding bark-worthy places to crash. BringFido explores thousands of places to stay, play, and eat with your dog all over Europe, while PawsAbroad focuses on pet-friendly accommodation in Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. Of course, there are many hounds that refuse to stray from the ‘near-human status’ that they enjoy at home. It’s with those hot diggity dogs in mind that we’ve compiled a list of hotels that will happily roll out the red carpet for doggos. More on that below.
Although most booking sites have a pet-friendly filter, a lot of search results include those nonsensical hotels for which size matters — great for Paris Hilton, but a bitch for those of us who own a medium to large breed dog. If a place doesn’t mention doggos, I often email to ask whether I can bring the extraordinarily well-behaved Marta (yes, I include a cute pic). My ‘email-and-ask method’ has had a 50 percent success rate so far. Note that you’ll usually need to pay a little extra for your pup per night.
Our top hotel picks:
Here’s a handful of hotels that take things up a notch when it comes to welcoming pets.
Le Meurice, Paris, France
Le Meurice in Paris, of course, makes dogs feel at home by having a nice, plush, personalized rug waiting for them on arrival. What’s more, dogs are welcome in the bar and in one of the restaurants and hotel staff are happy to take dogs for walks in the Tuileries Garden.
The Doghouse, Bruges, Belgium
The Doghouse in Bruges sells dog treats and Belgian dog beer on site. Bag a comfy seat in their dog-friendly lounge and drink one too many together with your doggo.
Hotel Wolf, Bavaria, Germany
Another gem is Germany’s Hundesporthotel WOLF. Apart from its stunning surroundings, it boasts an agility park and dog pool where your pooch can practice their high dives.
Trigony House Hotel, Closeburn, Scotland
A UK favourite is the Trigony, a Scottish country house that provides dog owners with a welcome pack, a cute pup passport, and free sausage for breakfast. Oh, and they offer Reiki therapy for dogs as well.
Kimpton De Witt, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Also noteworthy is Amsterdam’s Kimpton De Witt. They understand that a trip is not the same without your furry friend and offer your four-legged friend amenities at no extra charge, regardless of their size or weight. From cozy pet beds to water bowls and treats, they have you covered.