The Truth About Nomad Life with a Dog

My miniature Australian shepherd, Penny, has an impressive travel resume of her own — one that rivals most humans. Now 5 years of age, Penny has been on planes, trains, and boats, and has visited some 35-40 states. 

So when I made the decision in 2020 to embark on a nomadic lifestyle, there was no question that I would bring my miniature Australian shepherd Penny with me… even knowing that traveling with a dog will make my full-time vagabond life much more complicated. 

Still, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Here are some of the realities I’ve encountered:

Truth #1: You will have fewer options. 

When you’re traveling with a dog and looking for accommodations, you will invariably have fewer options. While the percentage will vary slightly depending on the area, the general rule-of-thumb I’ve seen is that 75% of available lodging is not dog-friendly (leaving 25% that is). Alas, decreased available inventory means slimmer pickin’s when it comes to location, amenities, and price. Book early, and read my recommendations for securing pet-friendly accommodations. 

Staying with friends or family is sometimes made difficult too, if people have allergies, dislike dogs, if their dogs dislike other dogs, or if they believe it will be difficult to accommodate a dog for some other reason. I’ve received several invitations that have fallen through because the person offering did not realize or remember I was traveling with my 25-pound 4-legged companion. 

Truth #2: It will be more expensive. 

Even though more and more hotel chains and Airbnbs are allowing dogs these days, they’re doing so with additional charges. I’ve seen non-refundable pet fees range anywhere from $20 a night to $50-150 a stay. I’ve also had an Uber driver send me a $50 cleaning fee for “pet hair,” (which I disputed considering the hair was of the wrong length and color) — and now, just to be safe, Penny only sits on my lap in rideshares never making contact with the seat. 

Another trend I’ve noticed, most recently in Boothbay Harbor in Maine, is the existence of a “dog ticket” — IE) the harbor tour is $25, but the dog upcharge is $20 — which becomes $45 together. So while businesses are getting wise to people bringing their pets around like kids, they’re asking you to pay a premium for the privilege. 

Truth #3: It will be downright difficult or impossible sometimes.

Sometimes, you won’t even be able to bring your pup, period. County to county, even city to city, ordinances vary, and local rules apply. What’s a good girl or boy to do?

For example:

  • In Missoula, dogs aren’t allowed at the outdoor farmer’s market or in breweries.
  • In cities like Anchorage and Boston (and a lot others), dogs are not allowed on outdoor patios where food could be served.
  • Some beaches have designated dog hours (early morning or late in the day) or only allow dogs in the off-season.
  • The majority of national parks do not allow dogs on trails, including Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton.

So how do I cope? Sometimes, that means Penny stays in the hotel room or Airbnb, or even in the car for a little bit, if it’s cool enough out. Other times, I choose a different establishment or activity that is dog-friendly and put my dollars towards that. And once in a while, making a sale is more important than the rules and the proprietor says (case in point, Bozeman, MT): “Hey, the health inspector doesn’t work after 5 p.m., come on in!”

Truth #4: There will be unexpected upsides.

I usually tend to take a “ask for forgiveness” approach and take Penny almost everywhere (especially if there isn’t any visible anti-dog signage). Nine out of 10 times we’re met with the response:  “Hey, your dog is the cutest!” instead of “We don’t allow dogs in here.”

In Silverton, Colorado: I got pulled over for speeding twice in the same day, and each time, Penny’s grinning face tickled the cops into giving me a warning.

In Taunton, Massachusetts: Penny made eyes at an 11-week-old Aussie puppy and her parents and I set up two puppy playdates (and adult socialization time!).

In Juneau, Alaska: Penny and I walked into a seafood market and instead of ushering us outside the clerk brought out a bowl-full of salmon bits for Penny to feast on (she’s definitely mastered the art of getting treats from shopkeepers, that’s for sure)!

Truth #5: You have your best friend with you!

Five and a half years ago, when I decided to get Penny, I had no idea I would one day be living a nomadic, unstable life. But since I am, I’m glad it’s with my dog, especially since I took care to expose and socialize her very early to a variety of experiences, people, and animals — she takes the constant change in stride! 

And the incredible benefits of being with her outweigh all the challenges.

⭐️ My dog is my companion, for hiking and breweries and patio dining and beach lounging and bedtime snuggles. 

⭐️ My dog is a conversation starter, icebreaker, and stranger-meeter, and we meet a lot of people together.

⭐️ My dog is a protective force. The fierce bark that comes out of her 25-pound body would cause any predator to pause, and I feel much safer in her presence in all sorts of places. 

⭐️ I am my dog’s caretaker. She inspires — and requires — me to meet the day, to get outside, to take breaks and provide for her mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The unconditional love of a dog is unparalleled, and I notice a distinct difference in the fulfillment I feel doing things with Penny, just the two of us, compared to my life before her. Mundane activities are more meaningful with her by my side, and the special moments are made more special because she’s experiencing it too, with an exuberant grin on her face and her lolling tongue. Cheers to many more years, Penny ❤️

Disclaimer: PET ADOPTION IS NOT A TREND OR PHASE. TOO MANY pets are surrendered to shelters each year. Adopting a dog is a highly personal decision not to be made lightly and must be undertaken with the utmost seriousness and understanding that adoption is a lifelong commitment. Be sure.

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