My Travel Companion
Story and photos by Tod Stigall
How a furry, four-footed sidekick makes even the longest trip so much better
As I was approaching my planned retirement, I thought about what I wanted to become after leaving a long career in the aerospace industry. I decided to be “that guy who’s always with his dog” on drives around America. It was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. So, my traveling saga with Django, my goldendoodle, began.
Thus far, we’ve visited 27 states — about 10 of them more than once. I’m lucky that Django is a good-natured, calm, car-friendly dog. (My veterinarian gave me advice on how to help Django through times when travel made him a bit anxious.) But I love that he just seems to enjoy being along for the ride and tagging along on whatever adventure might be next.
Django needs very little care besides attention, protection, food and some exercise. Thankfully, he requires about the same number of potty stops as I do, about once every two hours. And, unlike my human travel companion, Django doesn’t have an opinion on “the best parking spot.” He also helps me, a reluctant extrovert, break the ice during travel, which always makes for a better trip. People immediately gravitate toward him, and he enjoys the attention.
We chose our vehicles with him in mind, too: Four-door SUVs — a Land Rover Discovery and BMW X5 — offer plenty of room for our luggage, along with a cooler. Django has his own checklist for packing and his own suitcase, which includes food, his favorite treats, waste bags, medications, grooming tools, favorite toys, bottled water, bowls and a rubber mat, a bed, his blanket and a folding dog crate. Paper towels and carpet stain remover also are on the to-pack list, as accidents do happen. I also keep photos on my phone of his most recent vaccinations.
If this seems like a lot, it is. But our driving vacations often last three to four weeks. (Retirement is a wonderful thing.)
A recent addition has been an Orvis hammock-style seat protector for the back seat. This allows Django more room to sleep and stretch out. It also has a mesh panel that allows him to see between the driver and passenger seats. And he can still hang his head on my shoulder.
Our typical routine is six hours or less on the road on travel days. We typically stay in hotels, and we try to stay for at least two nights in most cities. I’ve noticed that Django recognizes hotels in which he has previously stayed and gives his version of a smile and happy posture upon arrival when the scent and/or the people are familiar.
We stay in a mix of hotel chains, short-term rentals and independent hotels. Hotel chains are becoming more dog-friendly; Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG have many sub-chains and individual hotels that allow pets. Airbnb and Vrbo properties offer many rentals open to pups, although most have extra fees. Be sure to check out all hotel and property websites to avoid any surprises when it comes to pets.
When we first arrive, I am on the lookout for good potty spots for Django, especially if we’re in a city. Hotel staff are usually very helpful on this topic (including safety pointers for walking in the area). If you travel with your dog, research dog parks in the area and also note the nearest emergency vet.
I spend a lot of planning time looking for Django-appropriate activities, restaurants, wine places and breweries in each city. I usually check several sites (bringfido.com is a favorite). Many cities’ visitor bureaus are now publishing dog-friendly activities and businesses. But we’re always happy to find serendipitous moments, too.
Traveling with Django restricts some of the places we can visit, but the changes it requires are typically for the better. I’ve found that I prefer meeting the people of the area, hearing their stories and finding out what makes where they live special to them, as opposed to standing in front of the most popular tourist destinations for a photo (although I still have plenty of Instagram-worthy shots). Django makes all of that much easier and more pleasurable.
After a long trip, Django and I are always happy to be home in our familiar surroundings. However, thoughts of the open road soon beckon. Time to plan the next trip.
WHERE TO STAY
Django’s favorite hotels are those with extra space, a dog-loving staff and large, grassy areas nearby. Some of our top picks include:
- The Windsor Court Hotel and Loews Hotel in New Orleans
- The Peabody Memphis in Tennessee
- El Monte Sagrado in Taos, New Mexico
- Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Grand Hyatt in Vail, Colorado
- Hotel St. George in Marfa, Texas
Many of the luxury hotels, such as the Windsor Court, provide special amenities for their dog guests; The Peabody has a special floor for travelers with pets. But hotels that we’ve also had good luck with include Residence Inn, Courtyard and AC Hotel (all Marriott), Hyatt Place and Holiday Inn Express. I often look for small, pet-friendly boutique hotels and short-term house rentals, as well. The Fredericksburg Inn & Suites in the Texas Hill Country is always on our list.