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Traveling With A Pet

Roma is a sweet girl, looks to be pet all the time!
Roma is a sweet girl, looks to be pet all the time!

Pets and Travel may not necessarily mix well together.

How you choose to deal with your pets during travel can bring their own separate issues. My wife and I adopted a black domestic longhair cat named Roma from a shelter a few years ago. After moving across the country, flying with the cat, and traveling without the cat, we’ve explored various options to cope with traveling when you own a small pet.

Our pet cat roma has flown across the country and back, twice!
Roma has flown across the country and back, twice!

Traveling with your carry-on pet

The airport experience with your pet could be good or bad depending on how well your pet adapts to change. For cats, more often than not, they do not like change, and this applies ten-fold to my cat.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when bringing your pet on-board:

  • To fly with a pet, you have to pay a fee

You will have to call the airline to reserve a ‘slot’ for your small pet as most flights have an animal limit that they cannot exceed in the cabin. This plane ticket for your pet will cost you $125 one-way on American Airlines, or $250 round trip. Fees may differ on other airlines.

  • If you have a pet carrier, make sure it is a soft shell carrier.

Airlines will advertise that your pet carrier must be within certain dimensions. The pet carrier manufacturer will advertise that it is airplane-ready. NONE OF THAT MATTERS. What does matter is whether the carrier will fit under the seat in front of you, and every airplane is different.

I was almost not allowed to check in for a flight once because the check-in attendant was pretty sure my hard-shell carrier would not fit under the 747 we were scheduled to fly in. He explained that if it were a soft-shell carrier, it would be no problem. Facing an expensive flight forfeiture and a sad ride home, I had him call his supervisor over. She let us board anyways on a gut feeling that the carrier would fit. It turned out that the check-in attendant was right – most of the carrier did not fit, those seats sit low!

Our pet cat was miserable in this hardshell carrier, she does much better in the softshell nowadays.
Our pet cat was miserable in this hardshell carrier.
  • You have to carry smaller pets through the metal detectors.

Remember how I said my cat does not like change? No sooner than sending the carrier through the x-ray machine and walking through the metal detectors, my cat meowed like hell and relieved herself on my shirt and the floor. The TSA agents had some paper towels for me to use. I picked up the waste, but had to stand and wait with cat and ‘product’ in hand until another TSA agent could come and swab my hands for explosives (because you know, my cat can be a bomb).

Therefore, be prepared with wipes and an extra t-shirt regardless, but also be prepared to go through this standard operating procedure: walk through with your pet without metal on your leash, and prepared to wait for your palms to be swabbed for explosives.

  • Some, if not most airports have pet relief areas

A quick Google search can easily tell you whether or not the airport you’re flying into has one. Sometimes, the relief area is AFTER the security checkpoint. Be sure to do your research before you book your flight!


Traveling without your pet

After our cat’s experience with flying, my wife and I decided to look for alternatives.

  • Pet-sitters

This is the least stressful option for your pet, but somewhat stressful for the owner. You hire someone to come and watch over your pet while you’re gone. If family and friends aren’t around to help, you have to be comfortable with strangers accessing your home to care for your pet. This may involve an interview process of some sort. Depending on who and how much you pay, this method may ultimately be cheaper for your wallet than the next option.

  • Boarding

This is likely the least stressful option for the owner, but somewhat stressful for your pet. You bring your pet to a boarding facility that will care for your pet while you’re away. Usually, you pay a fixed daily rate, with additional options for a fee like cuddle time, baths, special diets, etc. At our “pet hotel,” cats are placed in their own cubicles with food, water, and litter. Dogs are boarded separately and socialized amongst other dogs in both indoor and outdoor facilities.

Our method of choice

Boarding makes a lot of sense for us – we currently live on the other side of the country from our family, and we’re finding that it’s relatively difficult to make friends as adults if you don’t have any social hobbies. With a cat who is easily stressed in transit (even 10-minute car rides can be miserable for both our cat and us), we can find peace of mind knowing our cat is in good hands.

It also makes sense financially. We typically take 10 day-vacations. At $20/day where we board, it comes out to $200 before taxes and fees, around $230-$250 after factoring in cuddle time and window boarding. Guess what – $250 is what we would have paid for round trip plane tickets for our pet!


These are only a few options, and certainly there are other considerations for traveling with large dogs or multiple animals. For the rest of us with one or two small pets, the above options and tips can help you plan for your next trip!


Have any tricks, tips, or comments? Leave them in the comments section below!

About the author


Jonathan "Jonny" Avila is a chubby young professional with a cat, wife, and a taste for life! Believes in 'paying it forward' by sharing the tools, tips, tricks, and lessons from his own experiences so you too can jump on the Travel Bandwagon and enjoy what this wonderful world has to offer!

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