Traveling with dogs

 

What happens when you want to see the world but can’t bear to leave Fido at home? You do what we did: lots of research, mistakes, and pay lots of money. Read on to share our experiences and learn from our mistakes. (Not that this presumes you are taking your pup on the plane with you. I have no experience with shipping a dog via cargo)

DOMESTIC

We started by doing a shorter trial run to Portland. My in-laws live there and we thought this would be a good opportunity to see how they would do in their carriers, through security and so on. It would also give us some good first-hand experience in going through all the procedures since we knew we were planning on taking them with us to Italy. After following most of the suggestions found online regarding not feeding them several hours before the flight, giving them something that smells familiar in the carrier, leaving the carriers out & getting them used to being inside during car rides, we were ready to take off.

First of all, taking a dog can be expensive. Be prepared to pay the extra fees as well as deal with the dog counting as your personal item; if you’re a light packer you’re good, but if not, it may mean having to check an extra bag. Just food for thought. The fees seem to be about the same for each airline, around $100 per dog, one-way. In our case, more expensive than the Southwest ticket for ourselves #eyeroll

Speaking of Southwest, they were perfectly helpful to us & our animal companions. They tagged the carrier and just reminded us to keep the dogs inside the whole flight. Otherwise, no issues whatsoever.

Security from the human side was the same except for the fact that you don’t go through the 360 hands-over-head x-ray machine. You go through the old faithful one since you have to carry your dog through with you. The empty carrier goes through on the belt like everything else. I recommend just carrying the leash with you (collars can stay on) just so its easier to keep control of the dog should they wiggle free somehow. After clearing the metal detectors we had our hands swabbed and the swab scanned to see if there were any harmful chemicals hidden on the dog & once cleared, we were done. Very easy.

On the plane, the carriers must stay under the seat and for some taller readers this may pose a problem. Since we aren’t cursed with height, the carriers we have (Amazon Basics, Medium) will slide either underneath with them facing out or you can tuck it sideways. We found sideways to be more comfortable for us and the dogs but if you do have longer legs, having them lengthwise (tucked all the way under on one side) may be more comfortable for you.

Flight concluded, we evaluated the differences for the long flight & some of the things we learned. Since we were still in the US, no customs issues or anything else other than getting the rental car & having some fun.

INTERNATIONAL

There’s a lot more to go through in this instance, although the basic principles are the same – make the reservation with the airline after you’ve purchased your tickets, don’t feed them within 3 hours or so before the flight, take them out through security, etc.

Here’s some other things to consider:

Breaks – This may mean that you don’t get to do a non-stop flight but getting them out to stretch & run after several hours is a good idea & good for you too. If you do choose to do the long haul flight, we’ve heard of folks taking the carrier into the restroom to let the pup stretch but our flight attendants likely would have frowned upon that so use at your own risk

Water – Based off a tip found online, we asked the flight attendant for a cup of ice & put that whole thing in the carrier. This way, as it melted, they could remain hydrated but not have access to a whole bunch all at once.

Temperature – Plane temps can vary quite a bit as we all probably know. Down there on the floor, the temps can be even different. In our case, it was warm for the first flight but pretty cool on the second one (daytime vs. evening) so we partially covered the carrier with one of the airline blankets. Not so much to block airflow of course, but enough to provide a little insulation. This was in addition to the blanket that was already inside.

Requirements – biggest deal ever!!! Please quadruple check all the requirements for the country you are visiting. I messed up & it was quite a costly mistake. Timelines for getting things done are non-negotiable so you will absolutely need to be perfect on your timing.

Learning Point: coming into Italy, a dog will need to have a 15-digit microchip, current rabies given after the microchip and a minimum 21 day incubation after the rabies before entering the country. Even if the dog is current since it’s primary as a pup, this must be done. We were short on the days and no amount of bargaining, pleading or explaining helped; no health certificate can be issued by your veterinarian. Speaking of make sure your vet is accredited and you get your health certificate notarized by the the proper authority. In Italy’s case, this meant within 10 days of arrival and, for us, a several hour drive away from home. As you can see, lots and lots and lots of planning and prep is needed to make this as smooth as possible for both of you.

(Interestingly, we had more issues in Canada going through customs than our final destination, Italy. But your mileage may vary)

So bottom line is that with lots of planning and prep, it can be very smooth to engage in air travel with your beloved four-legged friend. If you have any tips or thoughts, please share in the comments below.

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Driving in Italy

Driving in Italy

First thoughts…don’t do it. Public transit works just perfectly near the cities.

Second thought…nope, still not worth it.

Ok the fine print. I did (am) doing it a the moment and it’s not all bad…

First the good stuff. You truly do get to see a lot of things that perhaps you wouldn’t normally. Well my wife and Nacho would see more. I however am usually zoned in on the road and the GPS while attempting to decipher all the signs. In any case, there’s a lot more of the countryside than you could possibly imagine and the old buildings and rolling hills are a nice counterpoint to the ridiculous speed limits. But before I get there, let’s talk drivers.

The drivers have a reputation for being crazy. In my experience they aren’t so much crazy as they just know exactly where they’re going & since we don’t we slow them down. This would annoy anyone methinks (try driving in San Francisco with the myriad of barcode-stickered Fords and Toyotas…yeesh). As you cruise around, looking at the scenery or trying to figure out what that sign says or what the current speed limit is, they are off to work, school, shopping, etc, etc, etc simply trying to go about their day. Round-abouts confuse the normal American as it seems to be a complete free-for-all but just keep moving and everything works incredibly well. The country roads heading through the hills and even cruising around 80 mph on the AutoStrada can be actually quite nice.

Of course, being near the city is a whole different beast, especially anytime around rush hour. The movies paint a picture of masses of metal, swearing, and honking; this appears to be mostly true. The honking seems to be more of an indicator that someone is near you or that you’re doing something wrong (for instance entering a driveway going the wrong way. Yes. Experience) as opposed to the use of the horn back in the States where it’s a way to express just how angry you are with that other moron behind the wheel. This could still happen if you do indeed drive like a moron, but more often than not, it’s just a notification. Like those annoying pop ups on your iPhone. Just keep your nose clean, stay to the right unless you’re passing and don’t get in the wrong lane when entering or exiting the autostrada (More on that below)

Now for the downsides.

The speed limits. Around town anyway. Though the 130km/h on the toll highway and even the 100 or 90 on the standard highways make perfect sense and are very easy to cruise at, the 50/60/30 switches when around town make no sense. Most sites say that 50 is the limit in the developed portions but there will inevitably be a sign saying 30 all of a sudden which requires a slam of the breaks for you & everyone behind you. Why? Because of the second nitpick I have with driving here.

The speed cameras. Since apparently Italy has a problem with not having enough police to monitor the roads, they use cameras to catch speeders. No officer is needed; it’s just a picture of your license plate, your speed and the cost that you receive in the mail a month or more later on. I’m pretty sure I will have a bunch of them waiting for me when we get back.

The zones are always after a warning sign that it’s coming up which helps but as a foreigner it’s difficult to know exactly what they look like where they are & how quickly you have to slow down to avoid a major ticket & fine. It seems like most of the other Italians just cruise around without caring or maybe they just instinctively know where they are all at – must be nice to have such a carefree attitude. Not a luxury I can afford.

It doesn’t help when the other driver is right behind me and when I have to break hard to get to the appropriate speed to pass the camera, the driver behind me slams on his brakes and then throws his hands up in frustration with me. I don’t mind them being close; I’m more frustrated with the cameras and speed limits that don’t make any sense. But of course this isn’t the only hard part about driving in Italy.

The ZTL. Disclaimer: with a bit of diligent research you can pretty easily avoid driving through these areas. Most GPS units seem to guide you around the areas you aren’t allowed to be in and looking ahead of time at a map of the ZTL and comparing it with a Google Map of the area to see where the parking lot is, you should be fine.

However, the reason it’s a bit of a frustration to me is not for the actual ZTL which servers a great purpose of preserving the historical center, but the signage that is posted around in other, supposed non-ZTL areas. For instance, we exited the highway nowhere near the historical center only to come upon a “Zona Trafffico Limiterio” sign at the end of the off-ramp before a merge. There was literally no other way to turn or place to go to avoid driving into it. Think of driving down a one-way street and about halfway through it, bam, a sign and a camera. This feels like too much of a trap to be real but here we are. Can’t wait to see what that fine will be, especially since we took that off-ramp 3-4 times over the last week.

Another similar one was at the start of a particular round-about that we had to use to head towards the proper freeway. If I follow the rules of the round-about (going all the way around it to get to my “3rd exit”) I pass a ZTL sign & camera. Essentially I entered the zone for about 10 ft then circle around and leave but the fact that I still crossed that barrier on camera means I will likely get a fine. While I may have been able to avoid it by going completely in the other direction in the first place, if the authorities know people have to go around it, why not put it on the other side to catch those entering & continuing into the restricted area instead of just catching everyone regardless of where they are headed…just feels too much like a trap to me.

Nacho agrees:

So yeah. Here’s the cliff-notes version of some tips. In a future post, I’ll make some notes about how we got the car & the service used.

⁃ Utilize the car’s GPS, Waze, Google Maps, etc as much as possible. But remember this isn’t a substitute for point #2 especially since these devices will only give you the fastest or shortest distance, potentially ignoring areas you won’t be allowed

⁃ Try to familiarize yourself with the basic signs ahead of time. Speed limit, no entry, one way, the blue/white arrow ones that show you where you lane is, no parking, no stopping, etc, etc, etc

⁃ Gas is expensive, especially since it’s by the Liter. Spring for the diesel IMO which will still be expensive but at least you’ll go farther on a tank. Self-service is cheaper than full-service, just remember to press the button for the amount you want it to dispense after getting approval on the card reader

⁃ Make sure you use the “Biglietto” (entering) and “Carte” (exiting) lanes for the tolls. When exiting, I like the combo Carte/cash & coin lane(s) just in case the card reader doesn’t work.

If you can afford it, the costs of staying nearer to public transit (in any form, bus, train or tram) can far outweigh the freedoms of the car & it’s costs. Our use case was very specific but in the future, I would likely just rent a car for a few days at a time, as needed & pay more to stay nearer the city center.

Any tips you want to share or horror stories about driving in Italy?