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story.lead_photo.caption Karen Martin

The biggest challenge many of us face when planning a vacation is not where to go, what to pack, or how to travel. The top concern: Who's going to take care of the dogs?

I'm lucky in having a wonderful friend who stays at our house with our rowdy girl crew of terriers when we want/need to get out of town. She likes the house and the dogs, and they like her and enjoy being in familiar territory. But even the most sainted pet-sitter can't be available every time we'd like her to be.

Alternatives: Boarding (expensive). Recruiting another friend to fill in (who will have to be educated in the ways of our household and our canines). Leaving the dogs on their own with huge bowls of food and tanks of water (nerve-wracking and only acceptable for departures of 24 hours or less).

There's one more option: A dog-accompanied vacation.

We tried this years ago when our terrier sisters Paris and Dublin were about 2 years old. I had enough points on Hilton Honors to book a free one-night stay at Embassy Suites in Hot Springs, which accommodates canine companions (for an added charge that isn't covered by the points program, but there was no charge for the room).

It was fall. The weather was crisp, sunny, gorgeous. And we really, really needed a break. So we loaded the girls into the back of the Subaru Forester my husband Philip owned then and headed off on the one-hour drive to the Spa City.

Other than Paris' messy carsickness on the way there, it was huge fun. We promenaded along Central Avenue, admired the bathhouses, got a lot of dog-loving attention from passersby, enjoyed happy hour at the hotel (after discovering that the girls barked when left alone in the room, so they joined us at the bar), fetched dinner-to-go from Rolando's across from the Arlington Hotel, and had a good night's sleep. That was followed by a brisk walk up to the mountain tower and back and a generous hotel breakfast, heavy on sausage and bacon for the carnivores.

Although our situation has become more complicated (we now have three dogs, although it helps that Audi, who joined the pack several years ago, is a registered therapy dog). So, where to go, and where to stay?

Here's what Vacasa, North America's largest vacation rental company, has to say regarding traveling with pets:

Vacation home rentals are the most pet-friendly accommodations, especially those with a designated area for dogs to play outdoors. Destinations are mostly in the U.S.--preferably locations that offer hiking, parks, oceans, lakes, and wide-open spaces--and travel is by driving.

Top destinations, according to Vacasa, include Port St. Joe, Fla., on the Gulf Coast (it's recovering from 2018's Hurricane Michael and has plenty of dog-friendly beaches), Morgantown, Ga. (surrounded by Chattahoochee National Forest and borders Blue Ridge Lake), Lake Arrowhead, Calif. (a waterfront town in the San Bernardino National Forest), South Padre Island, Texas, and Panama City Beach, Fla.

For in-state travelers, the website bringfido.com recommends heading to Lake Wilson Park off-leash area, Gulley Park, and IAMS Dog Park in Fayetteville, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests in Russellville, Murphy Memorial Dog Park and War Eagle Cavern in Rogers, Bentonville Bark Park, Eureka Springs Bark Park, Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock, 4 Paws Park in Maumelle, Fort Smith Dog Park, and Hot Springs Bark Park.

Want to fly? American, Delta, Southwest, and United, among other airlines, accept pets as passengers (transported in a carrier that fits beneath the seat in front of you) at an average cost of $95-$125 each way on domestic flights. From what I saw on a recent cross-country flight, plenty of travelers are taking advantage of this.

An added bonus is that the dogs are usually released from their confining containers and can walk on leashes through airports (there were lots of incredibly cute critters in Phoenix's Sky Harbor recently) to the delight of other travelers, who make a big fuss over them.

Pet-friendly hotel chains--some with no extra charge for dogs, others with hefty non-refundable fees--include specific locations of La Quinta by Wyndham, Motel 6, Best Western, Choice Hotels, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, and Home2Suites by Hilton, Kimpton, Marriott, some Westin properties, Extended Stay America, and Ritz-Carlton.

It's best to call each individual hotel when planning a trip, as not every location allows pets, and those with pet-friendly rooms may not have any available.

We stayed at La Quinta in downtown Little Rock when we were between houses (our old house was sold, and our new house wasn't finished). It wasn't anything close to a vacation, but the staff members there were so pleasant, and the hotel so comfortable and accommodating (no extra charge for dog guests), that it made a stressful situation much better. So did the bacon and bagels at the breakfast buffet.

Now that Paris has outgrown her tendency to car sickness, we're likely to take our companion animals on another road trip before summer slips away.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

Editorial on 08/11/2019

Print Headline: Vacations with pets

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