At The Aspen Animal Shelter, You Can Rent-A-Pet On Your Vacation

hikers with dog
Courtesy of Aspen Animal Shelter

If you’re a frequent traveler as well as an animal-lover, there are two scenarios that likely describe you: petless and sad about it, or pet-owner, but usually forced to leave it at home or board it. Neither is a happy option, but the always-innovative Aspen Animal Shelter has a furry, feel-good Band-Aid for you.

The for-profit, no-kill shelter offers a Rent-a-Pet program that allows visitors to borrow dogs from two hours to an entire weekend. Explains Director Seth Sachson, “Our motto is ‘Exercise your heart. Walk a dog or cuddle a cat.’ It’s meaningful for a shelter to have this type of program, because these are adoptable animals, and visitors and volunteers are helping the dogs get exercise and develop socialization skills.”

Rent-a-Pet, which is also open to residents, pairs pet-friendly people with dogs (or cats) to ensure a good fit. If your desire is to spend a full day out on the trails, you’ll get an athletic animal that’s up to the task. Casual strolls may find you with a more mellow mutt. And, bonus: like most ski towns, Aspen is incredibly dog-friendly, so you’ll find that many hotels (including the toniest of properties) welcome pets.

What Are The Rules For Breastfeeding On A Plane?

It has happened yet again: a mother breastfeeding on a plane was allegedly treated poorly by an airline staff member. The mother was breastfeeding on an American Airlines flight last month while sitting in a window seat next to her husband. Since American Airlines has publicly stated that breastfeeding is allowed on their flights during all stages of flight and that flight attendants should not place restrictions or requirements on breastfeeding mothers, the mother felt free to breastfeed. However, a disgruntled flight attendant requested that she cover up, citing that there were kids present on the plane at the time.

The couple refused and the flight attendant later returned to their aisle, telling a girl seated in the aisle next to the husband that her seat was going to be changed, projecting that the girl was uncomfortable despite the fact that the girl hadn’t complained about the breastfeeding. According to the couple, the flight attendant did not offer service to the couple for the remainder of the flight.

American Airlines responded to the complaint filed by the mother in a letter that was posted to Facebook by a friend of the mother. American Airlines stated in the letter that they believe it is reasonable to request that a mother cover up and that breastfeeding be conducted with modesty and discretion, despite the fact that the manual states that mothers should be able to breastfeed without restriction or requirement and the fact that 45 states allow mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location.

United Airlines, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and others have stated that breastfeeding is not prohibited while on the plane. Whether a breastfeeding mother should be required to cover up, however, seems more ambiguous. What are your thoughts on requiring or requesting that breastfeeding mothers cover up?

The Issue of Breastfeeding in Public

5 Tips For Traveling With Pets

puppy in back pocket
Beverly, Flickr

For those of us who consider pets members of the family, leaving them behind when we travel often isn’t an option, especially if they’re a certified companion or therapy animal. Sometimes, however, we just want to bring our furry friends along. Fortunately, the travel industry has cottoned on to this fact (we hate to give Paris Hilton credit for anything, but she probably did help to facilitate this one), and an increasing number of hotels, airlines, bars, and even restaurants are cool with guests bringing along an animal.

If you’re thinking of hitting the road (or skies) with your dog, cat, or even rabbit (don’t laugh; the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel has a lot of guests from Asia who travel with their bunny buddies), here’s some tips on making the journey easier for everyone involved:

Do your research
Don’t waste your precious holiday time trying to find a hotel last-minute that accepts pets. Book rooms beforehand, and be sure to ask about pet deposits. CNN posted an article today on the 12 of the world’s dog-friendliest hotels. Many properties go to great lengths to ensure your loved one (no, we’re not talking about your spouse or partner) is comfortable, well-fed, and walked regularly, even if you’re busy enjoying other activities. The same book-ahead/ask questions before, not after, approach should apply with regard to airlines and other forms of public transportation.

cat looking out porthole
Eugenio, Flickr

Assess your pet’s attitude
The cardinal sin of traveling with a pet is toting along an animal with behavioral issues. This is especially true if you’re flying or taking another form of public transit. No one is going to sympathize with you if your cat is yowling or your dog isn’t housebroken. Hotels also don’t appreciate pet damage. We get it, it’s your baby. But be honest with yourself (better yet, ask someone unbiased, like your vet) about your pet’s behavior, and whether or not they’ll make a good travel companion.

Get to the vet
You should always take your pet to the vet for a physical before a big trip, or if you know they’re an anxious traveler. Sedatives can reduce their stress, (and in the process, that of seatmates and guests in neighboring rooms), and you also want to rule out any health issues. Try to avoid traveling with baby animals, especially those that haven’t had all of their immunizations.

If you’re traveling overseas or even out-of-state, certain documents such as rabies certificates will likely be required. A pet passport will also be required for certain countries, and will make traveling with your animal easier. Quarantine is also required for certain species traveling to and from specific destinations, including Hawaii (which doesn’t have rabies, and they’d like to keep it that way, thanks). A clean bill of health from your veterinarian is also commonly required.

hiking with dog
Laurel Miller, Gadling

Flying the furry skies
Airline policies vary, so be prepared to make a lot of calls. Pet Airlines is a handy aggregate site that directs you to the pet policies of various airlines and hotels. If at all possible, have your pet travel with you in coach. Airline travel is stressful for pets regardless, but in cargo, the temperature can reach dangerous levels (be it heat or cold), and once in a blue moon, mistakes do occur with regard to transfers or baggage handling. It’s worth the extra dollars to keep an eye on your pet; you may also want to consider pet insurance.

Try to stick to a schedule
As previously mentioned, travel can be stressful for pets. It’s important that you stick to regular feeding times (if there’s a major time change, you’ll have to slowly adjust it) and your usual pet food; changing an animal’s diet suddenly can result in gastrointestinal upsets. Exercise and playtime are also critical. While you’re at it, suss out the nearest 24-hour emergency vet clinic.

Five Things To Bring On A Long-Distance Bus Trip In A Developing Nation

chicken bus
David Dennis, Flickr

It may be a cliche, but it’s true: if you want to get off the beaten path when you travel, at some point you’re going to have to take a long-distance bus ride. Even if you’re not a backpacker, some destinations are accessible only by the most inconvenient of methods. I’ve traveled by bus, Land Rover, bush plane, horseback and canoe, and while not always comfortable, I take great delight in using alternative forms of transit.

If the idea of taking the bus gives you the heebie-jeebies, be aware that it’s primarily bus travel in the U.S. that sucks. I’ve yet to have an experience on Greyhound (it’s called the “Dirty Dog” for a reason) that wasn’t totally jacked up. There’s always a toilet overflowing, an addict nodding out and drooling on your shoulder (true story) and a guy who can’t stop screaming into his cellphone or having a conversation with himself. But I love long-haul trips in developing nations, no matter how janky the ride. It’s the best way I know of to see and experience a country. It’s cultural immersion at both its most infuriating and its best, but I’ve yet to have a bad experience with regard to fellow passengers.

There are, however, some key items you’ll want to bring with you. I speak from painful/mortifying experience. Read on for what you’ll need for any bus journey lasting more than a couple of hours (bear in mind that in many parts of the world, you can’t rely upon bus timetables; I recently took a four-hour trip in Paraguay that turned into 11 due to monsoonal flooding. And there was no bathroom on board). Bringing snacks and extra water is crucial; usually vendors will come on board during stops, but you should never rely on this.

empty toilet paper roll
GorillaSushi, Flickr

1. A blanket or ultra/microlight sleeping bag
You’d be surprised how many clapped-out buses crank the AC. If you get cold easily, 14 hours of that might render you nearly hypothermic. Conversely, if you’re sensitive to heat and in a tropical country, bring along a packet of Emergen-C or electrolyte chews (I love Honey Stingers and coconut water) and something to protect you from the sun.

2. Imodium®
Trust me, if you’ve ever suffered from gastrointestinal issues while on a long bus trip, you’ll do anything, anything, to ensure it never happens again. That said, don’t let fear deter you from trying all those great street foods. I’ve learned, however, to dial down the gluttony before a lengthy journey. Ladies, I’ve also had to deal with a UTI on a bumpy 14-hour ride through rural Mexico. Pack your first-aid kit accordingly.

3. Toilet paper
See above; if you’re lucky enough to even be on a bus with a toilet, don’t count on it being well equipped. Also be prepared for pit stops on the road, whether by your necessity or someone else’s. TP is also great to use as a tissue, as an impromptu washcloth, or to wipe that weird goo off of your shoe from the aforementioned pit stop. Hey, I’m just reporting the facts.

4. Sleep aid
Even if you don’t suffer from insomnia, you may want to bring along something to help your slumber on overnight trips. Rutted-out roads, blaring DVD players, blasting radio, crying children – sometimes all at once will make you glad you have an ace in the hole. If nothing else, bring ear plugs.

5. Baby wipes and/or antibacterial gel
You’ll be grateful for these on sweltering rides, especially when the windows are jammed open and you’re dealing with noxious clouds of carbon monoxide or dust. Also useful after aforementioned bathroom runs, and before snacking.

Why Ditching Preconceived Notions Can Make For Better Travel

Bora Bora beach
Michael Stout, Flickr

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had heightened expectations or an ill-informed idea of a destination prior to a trip.

Me too. Many things influence our preconceived ideas about a place: daydreams, prejudice (I’m using this word in its traditional sense), and prior experience, as well as literature, the media, television and film. Example: Most of us entertain certain romantic notions when planning a trip to Hawaii or Paris.

Stereotypes exist for a reason, of course. But with every trip, I’m reminded of why preconceived notions are best left at home (unlike your passport). Besides avoiding the inevitable disappointment if your holiday is more “The Hangover” than “The Notebook,” there are other good reasons to approach an upcoming trip – be it business or pleasure – with an open mind. Read on for ways to recalibrate your expectations, and ensure a richer, more rewarding travel experience.

salar de uyuni rainy season
Juan Gatica, Flickr

Lower the bar
When you set unrealistic standards – whether for a hotel room, honeymoon, tourist attraction or country – you may be robbing yourself of fully enjoying the experience. If you’re convinced you’re going to meet your soul mate by parking it at the bar of a tropical resort, you may be bummed out with the outcome. Likewise, don’t assume your business trip to Delhi is going to leave you despairing at all the suffering in the world. Often, the best moments in travel come when we’re not trying too hard.

On a recent trip to Bolivia, I did a four-day tour of the Southwestern Circuit, from the craggy spires of Tupiza to the blinding expanse of the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat). Our small group really clicked, and for three days, it was non-stop laughs. On our final day, when we arrived at the salt flats at sunrise, a young woman in our group was devastated that the weather was dry. She’d spent years dreaming about visiting during the wet season, when mirror-like pools stretch seemingly into infinity.

Never mind that rainy weather means key sections of Uyuni are inaccessible (including the stunning Isla del Pescado, a cacti-covered “island” in the midst of the flats), and that we’d lucked out by missing the last of the season’s storms. This poor girl was inconsolable, and later confided that her trip was ruined. I felt for her, but her dashed dream served as a strong reminder to dial down the expectations. She was so distracted by what wasn’t there that she missed how absolutely captivating the salt flats are when dry.

bungee jump
Peter Bekesi, Flickr

Push past your comfort zone.
While you should always keep your wits about you and listen to your intuition whether you’re traveling or at home, there’s a difference between trying something new, and being foolhardy. On that same trip to Bolivia, I was presented with an on-the-fly opportunity to try rap-jumping – from a 17-story building.

I’m not afraid of heights, but the idea of climbing out the window of La Paz’s tallest hotel and rappelling face-down to the busy streets below had me shaking. But I trusted the company and equipment (full disclosure: I’d already done prior research, and spent time with their guides). Accidents can still happen but I felt I was in good hands. I had a blast.

Be receptive to changes
As a control freak, it can be hard for me to admit defeat in the face of time constraints or other issues that affect my travel itinerary. For the most part, I’ve learned to roll with it. If not for the monsoonal deluge on the day I planned to take a cargo boat on a three-day trip up the Rio Paraguay, I wouldn’t have ended up at a dreamy agriturismo in the nearby countryside.

plane tickets and passport
mroach, Flickr

Reduce anxiety
On a recent business trip to El Paso (which required me to visit several factories near the border), I was pleasantly surprised by everything. Although my hotel was just 10 blocks from the aforementioned border and adjacent to the rail yards, the neighborhood was perfectly safe and I enjoyed several evening strolls around the nearby arts district. I also learned that El Paso is ranked the nation’s safest city of its size. I could have saved myself considerable angst if I hadn’t let media hype about Ciudad Juarez seep into my imagination.

I had a similar experience years ago in Naples. I’d always longed to visit the city but was put off by fearmongering fellow travelers and (ahem) guidebook writers. I was positive I was going to get shanked while in pursuit of the perfect pizza, but my desire to see Naples trumped my fear. As it turns out, I felt very safe as a tourist, even at night in the notorious Forcella (not as dodgy as it used to be, and the home of some of the city’s best pizza, which I’d take a shiv for, any day).

Obviously, my fleeting impressions of these two cities could easily be debunked, but the point is that I let a lot of rampant paranoia do my pre-trip research for me. If you go looking for trouble, you’re sure to find it. But I also believe in the travel adage that you’re just as likely to get hit by a truck while crossing the street at home. In other words, be smart and be safe, but don’t let fear stop you in your tracks. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you.