I’ve been traveling the world as a serial expat for 9 years. This last near-decade has seen me through some big changes- from joining the Peace Corps and trying out long-distance with my college boyfriend, to spoiler, that not working out and me moving to Panama single as could be, to inadvertently meeting the man I’d married while enjoying said single life, to now traveling with a husband and our baby, a rescue dog from Vietnam named Bandido.
(A serial expat is someone who moves from their home country but instead of picking one country abroad and staying there, they constantly move, settle in, and move again. You stay longer than a nomad but are always looking for your next home abroad.)
Through all of those stages of my 20s, living abroad has been the only constant. While it has taken me from country to country, it’s presented me with the same challenges and joys as it always has. From struggling through a new language to finding the best local lunch spot, I’ve done it all the same from single to married, just changing the basics of traveling solo vs. traveling with my partner.
But adopting Bandido was where the real kicker came in. Traveling with another person just means discussing your options with them before buying the next plane ticket. It means compromising at times and challenging each other at other times to do something out of our comfort zones. That’s not quite how it works with a dog.
Visas are already tricky enough, especially with my husband and I from different countries with very different visa rights but now throwing in the rights of a dog to leave one country and enter into another, that’s a whole other challenge we really didn’t plan well for.
Here’s the thing though, while traveling with Bandido has been a challenge, it’s been an excellent challenge that I wouldn’t change for the world. Bandido stole our hearts in Da Nang, Vietnam (after the initial shock of my husband surprising me with a dog on my 29th birthday) and quickly became part of the family. When it came time to move from Vietnam, there was never any doubt that the added hurdles would be worth it. He was our son and we knew we’d do anything to make sure he moved as comfortably as possible.
Now that we’ve traveled extensively in Vietnam with Bandido, have flown him around the world back the US, lived in a van with him, and are now gearing up for our next move to Europe, there’s a lot I’ve learned and a few things I would have done differently if given the chance.
If you find yourself in the same situation, either wanting to adopt a dog while abroad or already having a dog and deciding if moving abroad is still in your cards, these 10 dog travel tips are for you. Just be sure before you commit to adopting a dog, you're willing to do what it takes to move him or her with you if the time comes. There's nothing worse than seeing expats ditching their pets along the way because it becomes too "inconvenient."
1. Take is slow
This is my favorite travel tip in general, for dogs or not. I love slow travel and taking my time to fully embrace a city, town, or country before moving on to the next spot. While this has been an important aspect of my travel personality before Bandido, it’s even more important now.
Travel is stressful for dogs. They don’t understand what’s going on and in a lot of cases, they’re stuck in a crate and not with you to coax them through the journey. The less you can move them, the better. Don’t fly your dog for a weekend trip to the beach. Fly your dog because you’re moving to the beach and will be there for months or even years before moving on.
On that same note, slow travel allows you to prioritize other means of transportation. Sure flying is the quickest but it’s also a pretty stressful way to get your dog from point A to point B. If given the chance, drive. If you don't own a car or out of the country, you can easily rent a car. Bandido is most comfortable in a car where we have the freedom to stop whenever we want. Plus, it's the most fun way for us to travel, too. Or book a train cabin to yourself, allowing your dog to get out of their crate and have some pace to enjoy the trip with their nose pressed against the window.
Sometimes this isn’t possible though and I get that. We had to fly Bandido from Vietnam to the east coast of the US. The fastest flight possible was 22 hours. It wasn’t our first option but it was our only option, given the fact that ground transportation wasn’t even possible out of Vietnam when we were leaving. We had originally planned to move from Vietnam to Europe and travel super slowly via trains but you and I both know COVID didn’t give a damn about our travel plans.
Bandido made it to the US no problem. His crate was in good condition when he arrived and as soon as he got out of it, he was his same old self immediately. Knowing this, I still wasn’t eager to put him on another plane but given our lifestyle, I know it'll happen again.
Giving him at least 6 months in between that flight and the next one was really important to us, even if that has meant staying put in the US longer than we usually do. But if we had been in a rush, we wouldn’t have been able to convert a van and see as much of the US as we did on our Western road trip.
If you’re not eager to travel slowly, look at it as an opportunity, not a punishment. Realize you don’t just have to sit tight and wait to be able to move again but instead can use the time to embrace more of the country than you ever would have thought possible.
2. Travel based on your dog’s personality
Every dog parent knows, your dog has their own personality. Some need wide open spaces to run wild, others are nervous in crowds. Some need their space and others want to be right with you all day.
Pick where you go and how you travel based on this. Now that you’re deciding to travel with your dog, you shouldn’t only go where you want to go but where you and your pup would have the best time possible together.
For us, we know Bandido likes his space, the beach, and anywhere he can watch squirrels and cows. Anytime we can get him to a dog-friendly beach, we do. We look for dog parks wherever we are to ensure he gets time to stretch his legs. And for us, the van was the perfect medium to travel since my husband and I got to explore the US, Bandido always had his own space and didn’t need to worry about strangers in hotels wanting to befriend him, and all 3 of us were happy with the accessibility to nature our home on wheels provided us.
3. Research dog-friendly places
To double down on the previous tip, be sure you do some research before you and your pup travel together. Get a good idea of how dog-friendly the area is, if you’re able to rent an apartment with a pet, and if there are places that allow dogs to run leash-free, especially if you won’t have access to a private yard. This can help you narrow down your next home abroad so keep it in mind when deciding where to move.
We’ve been surprised countless times how either unfriendly places are or how extremely welcoming they are. In the US alone, it’s really gone from town to town, with some places not allowing dogs on their beaches, trails, or parks, and others allowing them to go anywhere, even handing out treats at every shop downtown.
You’re not just traveling for you anymore, so it’s important you’re taking them somewhere you can both enjoy. Nothing can make or break a trip with your pet more than how dog-friendly the place is.
4. Pack their favorite things
Have a stash of their favorite treats, bring along their favorite toy, and make sure they have the necessities to make a new place feel like home.
For Bandido, that’s his favorite toy. It’s too tough to travel around the world with his bed but it’s easy to pack his favorite stuffed animal and an extra bag or two of his favorite treats. These things, especially his toy, symbolize home for him.
Take some time to observe your dog's favorite things and be sure to pack them. I'd also suggest looking into what you can or can't get easily in your new home to know if you should bring any thing else, like certain medications, as well.
5. Give them loads of love
This one might be obvious but I’m not immune to the excitement a new place brings. I’m quick to get laser-focused on my new surroundings and can prioritize where I am vs. who I’m with. Now that I know that about myself, I’m able to take a second and shift my focus to ensure Bandido (and I guess my husband, too) isn’t an afterthought.
This has helped him deal with stress. He’s an anxious rescue dog after all and I know change isn’t always the easiest on him. But with him knowing that we’re still together and our family unit is intact, he’s much happier and at ease.
Reach down more often than usual for an ear scratch and let them know that even if their environment changes, your relationship with them won’t.
6. Remember: a tired dog is a happy dog
Be sure that regardless of where you are and what you’re doing, your dog is getting exercise. I love spending time in new places eating and drinking but while I’m doing that, Bandido is laying by my feet waiting. While it's fun for me, it's not his ideal way to spend a day.
Before or after you indulge, be sure they are too. Walk instead of using transportation, find a place they can run or meet up with other dogs they can play with. Go on hikes, take them swimming, or just give them the space to chase their own tail. However, your dog loves to get his or her energy out, be sure they’re getting that every day.
We’ve noticed this isn’t just fun for Bandido but helps greatly with his anxiety. It’s an easy thing for us to do to ensure he’s loving our new environment as much as we are.
7. Train your pup
This is something that honestly we should have been better on. Bandido is great but that’s really due more to his calm personality than our training abilities. When off the leash, he comes most of the time, but other times, he simply looks at us and chooses he’d rather not come.
If he was better trained, I’d be more comfortable with him in more situations. Luckily though, he’s great on the leash and is small enough to pick up if needed, so we have that option.
There are loads of times we’re in new places and they allow Bandido to come in, like shops and cafes, since he’s well behaved, where mischievous pups aren’t allowed. We can only be thankful for him for making us look good. Since we work online, it's great having the option to bring him into our office for the day, instead of having to constantly leave him behind.
Another way of training that we dropped the ball, is curbing his anxiety when he’s left alone in new places. It takes him a bit to realize a new place is his home and we’ll be back for him. His initial thought is that he’s been abandoned and in some cases, tries to dig his way out. We’re quick to fix whatever needs to be fixed, and this isn’t always the case, but it adds to the struggle of knowing when he’s ready to be left or isn’t quite comfortable yet.
The better trained your dog is, the easier the serial expat life will be for you all.
8. Respect others if they don’t love your dog as much as you do
I’m a huge fan of dogs, whether it’s my own or someone else’s, I want to know them all. This is why Rover has been such an excellent source of income when accessible. I want to hang with all of the dogs!
While I don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t want to become Bandido’s bestie, I have to understand that not everyone feels the same way about dogs that I do and respect their space.
Keep your dog on a short leash when walking and don’t allow him or her to smell every person and animal they pass but instead wait for someone who is eager to meet them to come to you.
I’ve also realized this will drastically change from country to country, based on culture. For example, in Vietnam, people didn’t want to be near Bandido but it was understood that all the dogs would stop and sniff each other unless it was aggressive and usually tied up. This got us and Bandido used to socializing with every dog nearby and staying clear of humans.
In the US, it’s been the opposite. Many people want to meet Bandido but most dog owners keep their dogs away unless they say otherwise. It’s been a learning curve for us and him to realize this difference.
I have a feeling our next home abroad will have its own relationship with dogs that we’ll have to be observant to learn.
9. Socialize your dogs
On the same note, it’s important that your dog is well-socialized and can handle the attention from people and other pets. If your dog isn’t friendly to other dogs for example, and you move to Vietnam, I can guarantee you that your dog will come into contact with countless other dogs on your walk, usually running freely in the streets. And vice versa, if you bring your dog to the US, a lot of people will be begging to give your dog a scratch every time you’re out with him or her.
Bandido inherently doesn't warm up to strangers so we've had to put a lot of effort into getting him used to being around new people. Since we rescued him, it's hard to know what it's life before us really looked like, but it's obvious it wasn't ideal.
We always carry treats when we're out with him to let eager humans give him. This has shown him strangers can be wonderful and while he doesn't need to run and greet everyone he sees, he also doesn't need to be skittish around them either.
Get your dog socialized equally with dogs and humans and if they’re still not comfortable, learn how to express that in the local language so you don’t offend anyone or get led into any unwanted experiences for you and your pup.
10. Realize sometimes it’s better to leave your dog at home
I love traveling with Bandido. It’s added a whole new layer to our lifestyle that I’ve really loved exploring but sometimes it’s not worth bringing him.
Let’s say you’re going on a 3-week trip to Morocco. You want to travel to the cities and the Sahara and enjoy all the country has to offer. Leave your pup at home. You’ll be able to travel stress-free, not needing to worry about how dog-friendly the country is, and your pup won’t need to navigate the anxiety of a new place for such a short amount of time.
If on the other hand, you’re going on a weekend hiking trip, bring your pup! So long as you’re driving to your destination and your dog loves the outdoors, that’s a trip where you won’t have to worry about navigating a new culture and understanding how dog-friendly it is. This is something you and your dog will equally enjoy, with no added stress.
And as a very important bonus, if you’re moving to a new country, be sure you check the requirements for your pet to enter.
Most need certain shots and vaccines to be able to fly and these vaccines will change depending on where you’re going and where you’re coming from. Your vet should be able to help you navigate the process and make sure you have everything you need to ensure you and your pup arrive to your new destination ready to explore.
Happy travels to you and your pup!