It was early September, somewhere on the North Sea. I had just finished lunch at Taste, the Stena Line ferry’s restaurant, overlooking gray, wind-swept waters. Sated from my meal, I ducked down to the eighth-floor kennel and swiped my key-card, and found Fred, my 12-year old papillon. I scooped him up and we headed to the seventh floor doggy deck where Fred hiked his leg and marked his territory. So far, our trip had been as breezy as the wind that carried off Fred’s relief into the ocean spray.
As early as three years ago, our thirteen-day trip around Europe wouldn’t have been this easy. Since January 2012, the United Kingdom and the European Union have relaxed many of their rules for pet travel. Pet passports have replaced quarantines and small pets now can fly in-cabin to almost all countries in the EU. The United Kingdom is an exception: Pets traveling to/from the UK must go by car or ferry, or as cargo on a plane.
I first learned about this during dinner in Paris with an LA-based couple. They’d just returned from a trip to London with their five-year-old terrier mix in tow. They made it sound so simple and breezy: “Oh, you just take the train to the Calais ferry and it’s done. Just make sure the paperwork is complete. Really, it’s no big deal.”
Back in New York, I immediately began researching the possibility of traveling with my own dog. I made lists like “Fred Travel Supplies,” visited a vet that specializes in Pet International Travel Waivers and IREG for Animal Export (colloquially called pet passport, which you can download here), and finally set off for the USDA Vet Services to get an official stamp of approval.
And suddenly, just like that, our trip to Europe was confirmed. Oh, and an Oxfordshire wedding somewhere in between. As a person who’s not so keen on solo travel, Fred was the perfect buffer for me to meet new people, go off the beaten path, and enjoy the trip at a slower pace. Rather than rely on air travel to bounce from one place to the next, we breezed through the gorgeous French countryside on the train and bobbed across the English Channel on the ferry. Here are six things I learned on my trip to Europe with Fred.
1. London is crazy dog-friendly
Paris lives up to its reputation as a dog-friendly culture (at cafes, dogs are served water before their owners) but I never imagined that London would have a dog culture of its own. Doggity.co.uk, a Yelp-like site dedicated to identifying and rating pet-friendly places, became our standard resource, helping us navigate the local pub scene. When visiting the Builders Arms in Kensington, Fred and I were met by a pack of terriers roaming the after-hours pub crowd. They led us to a corner where the pub served up fresh water and dog treats. After lunch at Polpo in Soho, we sniffed out every floor at Liberty (the staff at Liberty love dogs) before sitting in the sun at Hyde Park. All adventures were just a double-decker bus ride away.
2. Doggies can receive five-star hotel treatment
The 5-star Egerton House in Knightsbridge welcomed my seven-pound traveling companion with his own bed, serving dishes, and menu, including such treats as Goose and Duck Feast with Fruits. They also offer dog-walking and pet-sitting services. Fred had free range to welcome and entertain other Egerton House guests, too—which he took great delight in doing.
3. Ferries can offer canine luxury, too
Another trip highlight saw us crossing the North Sea to Holland, before spending the second leg of our trip in Copenhagen. Throughout our eight-hour Stena Line ferry ride from Harwich to Hoek van Holland, Fred had his own secure kennel and a dedicated doggy deck. (Human entertainments included a movie theater and gaming area.)
4. Airlines can be super accommodating.
While traveling from Hoek van Holland to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport was tedious, SAS attendants took delight in having a four-legged passenger on their flight. In fact, the airline was incredibly accommodating overall. Other pet-friendly airlines include: AirFrance, American, British Airways, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, and U.S. Air.
5. Copenhagen is more fun with a furry friend
Copenhagen’s clean, quiet streets encouraged endless roaming from cafe to monument to palace. We found the city’s cafes (such as Royal Smushi and Kaf’Bar 9), shops, and gardens to be just as pet-friendly as London and Paris. Even Tivoli Gardens (one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Disneyland) has a dedicated dog day, complete with pet parade. And while Fred wasn’t able to visit the theme park this trip, we did visit the queen’s palace, the Little Mermaid, and Kastellat military fortress all in one early afternoon walk.
6. Traveling with your pet is awesome!
By the end of our adventure, we had transformed into a seamless duo, intuiting one another’s needs and moving with a unified step. My unconventional traveling companion led me to see and interact with the world in a different way. Without him, we may never have chased chickens at an Oxfordshire wedding, met a spaniel breeder on the North Sea, or explored the cobblestoned streets of Christianshavn. I get why people travel solo, and why they travel with a friend. But as for me, I’m going to continue traveling with Fred.
© 2016 AFAR Media