We recently took a five-day holiday to Mexico and I made the decision to bring our dog, Lola. Was bringing her necessary? Absolutely not. Tedi already checked that her mom was available to dog sit, so we had a solid alternative. But what she didn’t account for is my ability to fixate on an idea, and that day my idea was that it was not a holiday without Lola.
In planning the trip, we decided to fly out of Minneapolis because it was the closest city that offered a direct flight to Cancun. I’m usually not picky about layovers, but I wanted to make things as easy as possible for Lola. But this meant that we would be seven hours away from any family support, so if for whatever reason she was turned away at the gate we’d only have one choice: turn around and go home.
Was bringing Lola putting our entire holiday at risk? Sure. But was the reward of waking up with her next to us every morning on our holiday worth it to me?? Absofuckinglutely.
This is the journey of an obsessive dog-dad convincing his partner that they should fly with their 9-year-old dog to Mexico for a five-day vacation.
Even though I was blind in my determination to bring Lola, my preparation was anything but. To minimize risk and to put Tedi’s mind at ease, there are four main areas I researched the hell out of.
Being from Canada makes travel pretty easy in general, as our country isn’t on any special rabies or disease watch list, so that was a good start. As per Mexico’s specific restrictions? Basically nada. We just had to prove that Lola had up-to-date rabies shot more than 14 days from arrival, which she did. Easy.
Next was making sure that the airline we were flying with would let her on. Each airline has specific rules, and because Lola is on the cusp of being too big I made sure to research all the fine print.
While blogs and online guides are plenty, I found them to be generally unhelpful because it doesn’t really matter what dogmom420 says about flying with pets. What matters is the rules the agent at the gate is following.
Thankfully, Delta makes it relatively easy to find that information. We had to make sure that Lola’s carrier could fit under our seat, and because each plane is different I verified the under-seat space for our specific plane. I found out that the middle seat had bigger dimensions compared to the aisle or window, so I paid a little extra to book our seats in advance.
These dimension restrictions dictate the kind of pet carrier we were allowed to use. Months before we decided on a Wild One Pet Carrier because of its size and extra features, but most importantly, it’s stylish flair. To meet Delta’s requirements, it has ample ventilation and was big enough for Lola to freely turn around – kind of. We tested her mobility in the carrier beforehand and, with a little bit of food motivation, she could squeeze out a 180. Big win for soft-sided carriers!
Once in Mexico, I knew we would inevitably leave her behind for a dinner outing, so I wanted to make sure that our accommodation would be okay with that. Thankfully we were staying with brand-agency-turned-friends Xanthe + Frank who have two little dogs themselves. So not only is their space dog-friendly with air conditioning, but our hosts are also dog-minded and would share our concern for our fur babies.
The last thing we needed to make sure of was that Lola herself would be up for this new kind of adventure, as she had never been on a plane before. This started with training her to be comfortable with her dog carrier. When we first introduced her to it she was a little suspect, but after a few treat-fuelled training sessions over a couple of weeks, she now gets excited to hop in any time we pull it out.
Three weeks before our flight we took her to the vet for her annual check-up. It was good timing to get her re-upped on medications as well as a routine blood test. Additionally, we requested signed and stamped forms stating all of her vaccine and medication history for the border agents. It was up to us to inform the vet what we needed for international travel, which for Mexico was minimal, but we still asked for additional papers with as much information as possible.
Based on the physical exam, the vet didn’t note any health concerns and gave us a few chill pills to help keep her calm on the journey. We tested one of them a week before the flight to make sure she didn’t have any adverse reaction to it.
After all my prep work, I had a high degree of confidence that we wouldn’t have a problem bringing her along. We just need to put my preparation to the test.
When we got to the airport we kept Lola on a short leash with her empty carrier in hand. We were greeted at the check-in gate by an enthusiastic stewardess who requested to hold Lola for a picture. We weren’t about to say no to our holiday gatekeeper (sad I didn’t take a picture for myself). She did mention that other agents could perceive Lola as too big for the carrier, but she gave us a pass, checked our baggage, collected the $200 pet travel fee, then pointed us towards security.
Going through security was uneventful. I walked Lola on a leash through the accessibility metal detector, and then we were free to wander the terminal. We stopped for coffee, gave Lola the chill pill, then made our way to the gate, our final barrier.
On the way, we stopped by the pet-relief area which was nothing that I expected. It was a sad, windowless room with artificial turf teeming with scents left behind by previous dogs. Lola had a field day sniffing around and eventually settled on a place to pee. No poo yet, so we just had to trust she would make it the next five hours to Mexico.
While waiting to board we could tell that the pill was starting to take effect. She gave no resistance to us zipping her up into the carrier and carrying her aboard. The flight attendants at the gate didn’t pay her any mind, we found our seats, and placed her under my seat. She was a little restless at take-off, but we just kept feeding her a continual supply of treats which she gladly accepted.
The rest of the flight was pretty average. It was void of any serious turbulence, we enjoyed watching Dune on the entertainment system, and 4 hours later we touched down in Cancun. Almost immediately after leaving the airport, she found a patch of grass for a poo. Can any other pet parents relate to feeling proud of your dog after every poo? Estaba orgulloso.
Shortly after getting to our host’s home, we took Lola on a walk through Tulum and were met with the parts of reality that can’t be researched. While the town was dog-friendly in that we were pretty much free to take Lola into almost any establishment that served food or drinks, it was less dog-friendly in other ways.
For one, some of the back streets we walked had plenty of garbage along the curb. By no means do I want to colour all of Tulum in one brush, it was just something we came across. Thankfully, Lola isn’t much of a garbage hound, but I was extra vigilant to minimize any opportunity for her to become enticed by something left behind.
More noticeable, though, was the infrastructure. Broken curbs, exposed rebar, and a few unfenced pits put the one on Parks and Rec to shame. I am 100% aware that I am a bit of a helicopter pet parent, but with the additional aspect of unfamiliarity in a place without the standard of public infrastructure I’m used to, I was extra cautious to keep Lola close.
The other challenge I didn’t anticipate was the presence of other dogs. It’s no secret that there are a lot of stray dogs around Tulum, but they were the least of the problem. It was the owned dogs with collars behind gates and on chains that created the most disruption. We couldn’t go anywhere without the jingle-jangle of Lola’s collar signalling a chorus of aggressive barking.
In one instance a gate was left open and a dog about twice Lola’s size charged her, but almost as quickly as it made contact it trotted away, tail between its legs. I don’t know if it was under the threat of my heel or the calling of its owners, Lola walked away mostly unfazed. I could feel some saliva on her back, but no obvious sign of bite marks or pain.
The other lesson I learned was to stay away from parked cars as they serve as shade to escape the heat of the day. No strays ever approached us while we had Lola, but I did hear a growl come from under one truck.
In case anything were to happen that required urgent veterinary care, our hosts knew of a vet nearby. I asked about pet insurance for Lola, but they told us that vet care was so cheap that it would be cheaper to pay for any care in cash.
After five days we took a taxi back to the airport to fly home, this time without the fear of the unknown. We checked in, paid the $200 pet travel fee, boarded the flight, watched another movie, passed through customs, and arrived back at our van, happy to be home in a familiar space, and equally grateful to have experienced something so different.
I realize limiting my travel opportunities to only go where my dog can join me isn’t a long-term solution. She has a long life ahead of her (if it was up to me she’d live forever), and we have travel goals outside of North America. There will come a time when I’ll just have to suck it up and enjoy what opportunities life has to offer without my dog with us.
That said, it was a thousand percent worth it to go to the extra trouble of bringing Lola. With all the newness that comes with travelling, it was all the more comforting to have a sense of normal. The routine of waking up with Lola between our heads and taking her on a morning walk helped me feel calm and comfortable, and if a holiday is all about coming home feeling refreshed, having her with us only helped with that goal. Mind you, I did put in about an hour or two of work each day, and being hosted by our brand agency led to many conversations about work, but as a business owner that’s something I would pay to seek out.
With a flight to Mexico under our belt, I am confident that we could fly anywhere in North America and comfortably bring our dog with us. Our plan is to mostly travel out of our van Plum for the next few years as that’s just my preferred method of travel, but it won’t always make sense for us to drive. Whether it’s to holiday on a tight timeline or to take an emergency flight home, I can rest easier knowing that I won’t have to choose between my dog and travel.