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How to have a pawsome time on your next vacay!

Holidays with your fur babies may be getting easier than you thought. Here’s some inspiration for travelling with your pet.
pets, travel, dogs, cats
When pets are such an important part of the family, more and more travellers are clear that they want their fur babies with them wherever they go. Image: Shutterstock/Dora Zett.

The pandemic has brought some profound changes in the way we think and travel. What was earlier considered more of an exciting exploration, is now looked at as an escape from the familiar. We may be hungry for a change of scene but want to take along all those we love. Multi-generational travel to secluded spots is increasingly popular. And when pets are such an important part of the family, more and more travellers are clear that they want their fur babies with them wherever they go.

Like Aditi Chakravarty and Yash Kulshrestha, working professionals from Mumbai, who have travelled extensively with their ginger cat Paco (@pacomeranaam). The trio has done road trips from Mumbai to Delhi and multiple train journeys between Mumbai and Mathura. Aditi says, “Having travelled across highways and miles with our pet cat and loving every minute of it, I can safely ask all pet parents who are worried about their pet travels to keep calm. Just a few checklists and basic preparedness can ensure all of you have the smoothest (for them, the snooziest!) travel time.”

Aditi, Yash and Paco, the travelling trio, are very comfortable when they hit the road!
pet, travel, dogs, cats
Paco often gives Yash directions. To the nearest fish market, perhaps?

Aditi’s top tips for travelling with your pet

ROAD TRIPS
Preparation: If your pet is tiny, always put a bell around their neck so you can gauge their movement in the car. Pet them occasionally and always keep things that are familiar to them around – such as their toys, water bowls, their food container, towels and carrier, if any. It’s best to create a cosy corner for them on the backseat with a waterproof mat underneath for them to relax and go to sleep. Be careful while you are driving, since pets sometimes attempt to crawl under the seats owing to their knack of finding cosy places. This may lead to them coming near the accelerator, clutch and brake of the vehicle. Try to block off the access to this part of the vehicle for maximum safety.

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Curiosity often makes a travelling cat stay alert.

At the destination: As soon as you enter a new hotel room, keep their water bowls and litter box ready for use at a time when they feel at ease. This typically takes Paco about four-five hours. Don’t panic if they seem stressed and distant. Pets don’t know the concept of a room or a hotel or a house. For them, anyone else apart from familiar faces is a potential threat. It’s natural for pets to poop and eat/drink much later after you have settled in the hotel room.

pet, travel, cat
Everything is new and strange for your pet. Make sure you keep some familiar objects to comfort them in a new place.

TRAIN TRAVEL
Preparation: Submit an application to the station master or ASM/main railway office to get a coupe in first class (no other cabin allows pets). The application should mention the PNR number, reason of travelling, dates and a request clearly written that you need a 2/4 passenger first-class coupe from the departure point. This can be done anytime a week in advance of the trip.

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Paco inspecting his upper berth in the first-class coupe. Yes, it met with his high standards!

Day of travel: You’ll find out if you’ve got a coupe or not only four hours before departure. If you haven’t got one, don’t fret. Your co-passengers will need to adjust with your pet travelling with you. It’s best to explain the situation and request them politely. Ensure you reach the station at least 90 minutes before the scheduled departure to complete all the formalities. Get an application signed by the Station Master, mentioning the same request. The Station master will give you the stamped form, which you need to fill and submit at the Freight section of the station. You will be granted a ticket for your pet here, post payment of x amount of money, depending on your pet’s weight. For example, a six kg cat is roughly charged INR 650. In case you are late or want to avoid the above steps, take your pet directly to the coupe and pay INR 2500 to the Ticket Checker as the one-way ticket/fine charges.

pet, travel, cat
The peripatetic Paco is always travel ready now!

A twist in the travel tail

While capable pet parents like Aditi and Yash may make it look this simple, it isn’t always that easy. Traditionally, the world hasn’t been as pet-friendly as we’d like it to be. Picking the right destination, choosing the best mode of transport, finding accommodation that welcomes furry friends, making sure that our pets are safe, comfortable and well cared for, all of it takes a lot of planning. But times are changing and so are pet-related policies.

Many hotels these days are opening their doors to pawsome guests. For example, the Four Seasons properties in Mumbai and Bengaluru have welcomed pets from the start and have even hosted pet parties and brunches over the years. The W Goa at Vagator extends a welcome to two pets in its villas. Same for the Accor-owned Sofitel Mumbai BKC, which, in keeping with its French roots, has a pet-positive policy that even throws in treats and bedding. Taj Wellington Mews, the IHCL’s long-term luxury serviced apartments in Colaba, Mumbai, are pet-friendly too. Since October 2020, all 13 of their Seleqtions hotels across India have been offering Pawcations, recognising the increasing demand. These feature in-room amenities and outdoor facilities, including pet-friendly bistros, access to lawn gambols, room service menus, and specially curated experiences for four-legged guests.

The IHCL group’s amã Stays & Trails, India’s first branded homestay portfolio, which was launched in 2019 and has 44 heritage bungalows in the choicest destinations, has been pet-friendly since the inception. All of their holiday cottages and villas have gardens and large open spaces that are perfect for pets.

Websites such as Airbnb, Saffron Stays and Vista Rooms, which connect travellers with homeowners for holiday rentals, also have a ‘pets’ filter for vacation accommodation searches today.

Wags are in the details

But there’s a big difference between ‘allowing pets’ and hosting pooches with a hearty pat and a welcome mat. For example, A Dog’s Story, is a relatively new chain of pet-centric getaways that’s leading the way for a very different holiday with the four-legged friends. We spoke to founder Himmat Anand (also founder of the Tree of Life Resorts and Hotels) about hospitality for pets and what it entails. Excerpts from the interview…

Himmat Anand, whose ‘paw-perties’ under the brand A Dog’s Story are revolutionising what pet-friendly accommodation means.

How did you come up with the concept? Were you inspired by any particular place you had visited on your travels? Or was it simply because so few pet-focussed or even pet-friendly options exist?
It all started with my Labrador Jugnu and me going on holidays. Most hotels I checked, turned us down – ‘Pets Not Allowed’. And those who allowed Jugnu in, were as if a favour was being done. They did nothing special for him. I also believe that hotels that just put a tag of being ‘pet-friendly’ that’s not enough. It is also all about being ‘pet loving’. What are they doing for the pet? This led me to think – why not create a brand where you can stay only if travelling with a pet? Why not have a style of service where the pet is your preferred guest and the human is only accompanying the pet ? That’s how A Dog’s Story was born, with Jugnu as its mascot. We launched the first one in Jaipur, followed by another in the Mussoorie foothills. The third at Corbett is due soon. With time, we started getting requests from people who did not have a pet but wanted to stay at our properties, as they were pet lovers. We have slowly and selectively opened up to this too. 

travel, dog, pet
A Dog’s Story’s garland welcome makes a pet feel special. And the pet parents are happy too!

Did you have to design the space and furniture and fittings in any specific way to be safe for pets?
Pets are the most accommodating and undemanding guests you can get! And since most of them come from cities, open space is their top priority. All our locations are between two and three rooms, in acres of land. We do try and give each room its own gated space and garden, which is not always possible, but the huge open areas around make up for this. Rooms are uncluttered, yet comfortable so that the pets have enough free space to move around. There is no restriction on their using the bed, sofa or whatever else. And at the same time, the accommodations are very comfortable for the pet parents, with all the facilities and service that they would expect.

travel, pet friendly
Having plenty of space for pets, especially canines, to run around in is an essential, says Himmat Anand, founder, A Dog’s Story.

Is A Dog’s Story only for dogs or does it also accommodate other species?
We have mostly been associated with dogs. We have, however, had two parrots and a couple of cats as our guests too. I am waiting for the day when a horse or elephant checks in! We welcome them all.

travel, dogs
Garlands, toys, sterilised bowls… the pets get all that they need for a fun vacay and more at A Dog’s Story.

What sort of amenities do you offer for pets in terms of bedding, meals, activities, etc?
Like I said, the pet is our top priority when with us. We offer our guests a garland welcome and welcome drink. In-room amenities include a mattress, sterilised bowls and toys to play with. There is a Wags menu for them with various types of stews, pasta, and egg and vegetable preparations. We are also happy to prepare any special dietary requirements that they may have. A chef is on call for them. We are also happy to babysit the pet for a while in case the pet parents want to go to town or do something on their own.

travel, dog, pet
The complete family holiday includes the fur babies in every way.

Has it been a positive experience running a place like this or have there been people who have not fit in with your philosophy despite being pet parents?
I would not like to tag any guest in any category. All I know is that in the 16-odd months that we have been in existence, we have mostly received unending compliments from those who have stayed with us, congratulating us on the concept and the standards we offer. Whenever there is a query on social media for a pet holiday, it is gratifying to note that A Dog’s Story is mostly recommended.

travel, dog
The next time, you can plan a holiday FOR your pet, not just with him or her.

What tips can you give a would-be traveller who wants to find a stay that also suits their pet? What should they look for in any hotel that claims to be pet-friendly? 

  • I have for long advocated that pet parents should occasionally plan a holiday ‘for’ their pet and not just ‘with’ their pet. There is a huge difference, because in the former type of travel, your pet becomes the focus – his/her comfort, enjoyment, food, travel time etc – it should be all about the pet and not about you.
  • Choose locations which are around 5-6 hours of driving – no more. Break your journey if you have to, for the convenience of your pet.
  • Like I said above – open spaces are very important for pet holidays.
  • Dogs are very territorial. Check whether there any other resident dogs at the property or strays in the areas around.
  • Check on the rules. Can you take your pet for walks without a leash? Do they have a menu specific for pets’ palates and dietary requirements? 

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