A European Road Trip with Four-Legged Friends

It’s a dog’s life.

One of the most common questions we are asked when we are heading off on travels around Europe is: “What about the dogs?”

When my wife Lorraine and I retired to France from Australia three years ago, we brought our Dalmatian Scooter with us and within a few weeks of finding somewhere to live, we adopted an old English Setter named Diego who had been in an animal shelter for seven years waiting for us.

We love our dogs and take them most places we go, after all they are family. But setting off on a two-month road trip through France, Spain and Portugal took a little more planning.

©Stewart Richmond

To start with we had to make sure our pet passports were up to date. You can get a passport from most vets and it contains relevant information and shows you are up to date with rabies shots which are essential for European travel.

The reality is we’ve never had to produce the passports yet. France, Spain and Portugal are all in the Schengen group of countries which means there is no border control. Often the only way you know you’ve driven into a new country is when the road signs change language.

It is worth noting that in many parts of Europe it is now compulsory to have in-car restraints for dogs, sort of like seatbelts. We have driven extensively throughout France, Spain, Portugal and the U.K., with our restraints in the car, but so far nobody has checked.

With the passports up to date, the next important thing is booking pet friendly accommodation.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. We use Airbnb to find suitable places to stay and the search options allow for pet-friendly hosts (our only other essential requirement is WiFi and a washing machine). We look for places where the whole house is on offer and there is a suitable enclosed area for dogs. We never take anything for granted and always make sure we communicate with the host letting them know we have two medium-sized dogs.

We don’t bother looking in towns and cities or at apartments and rooms in homes but look for places in a rural area close to the places we want to visit. Examples were a terrific home in Galicia, about half-an-hour’s drive from Santiago de Compostela, an incredible beautifully presented home near Viana do Castelo in Portugal and a self-contained half-house at Roses on the Costa Brava of Spain.

We also carry with us sheets to cover furniture in places we stay. They don’t take up much room and it protects couches, chairs and beds if your naughty dogs decide to get on them. Our dogs, of course wouldn’t do anything like that…much!

We also make sure we leave the place tidy and clean and swept of dog hair. Our feedback on Airbnb has been terrific with one host saying we left the place so clean it looked like we had never stayed there.

We booked each location for between three and seven days (sometimes getting a discount for the longer stay) enabling us to visit not only popular tourist attractions but to see attractions well off the beaten track.

On our latest trip we had no real issues over two months and a dozen different locations.

You will find that most European restaurants are dog friendly although we prefer to eat at outside tables where possible and most times the staff will bring a bowl of water for the dogs. Regardless of what you hear about dog friendly places, always ask before sitting down. It is shows respect and it gets you off to a good start with the staff.

We even asked at one restaurant overlooking the beach on the Costa Brava which had a big sign near the door with a dog and a tick. Our sort of place!

©Stewart Richmond

Most countries allow dogs to be taken on public transport but it is worth checking the rules before you get on a bus or train, they differ from place to place. In some countries you have to have a muzzle on your dog, in others you pay for a ticket.

When in doubt, ask and take nothing for granted. We always found life was a lot easier and people far friendlier if you talk to them nicely.

This also applies when visiting tourist attractions. Not all places like to have dogs so Lorraine and I have developed a system where one of us goes into a building and the other stays outside with the dogs and then we swap over.

We don’t even ask if the dogs can go into churches, museums and galleries, just look one at a time.

It may not be for everybody but it works for us.

The least dog friendly places in France, Spain and Portugal were beaches. Portugal has only one dog beach which we checked out on the north coast. Spain’s Costa Brava had nothing and in the high-rise resort towns, dogs are banned everywhere.

©Stewart Richmond

Having said that, out of season nobody bothers too much about the rules. We quite often took Scooter and Diego to the beach. A good tip is to look for locals with their dogs and if they can do so can you. If you are challenged, just leave. It is not worth an argument.

A few practical points to remember. When driving long distances by car make sure you have plenty of water for the dogs, stop regularly so they can have a walk and pee and most importantly have plenty of poo bags!

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