I’ve been traveling to 12 countries with my two pups (one of them is a rescue) and was active with the rescue group NorCal GSP Rescue in Northern California. Travel with pups can be an adventure of a lifetime and these are a few of my favourite dog-friendly cities and places:
Berlin is a great European capital and if you’re looking to travel with a dog, it’s an absolute gem! Berlin is very green – it has so many parks and forests, that you can easily find a new place for your pooch to pee every day of the year.
An ideal place is Grunewald, where dogs can run free over 8 sq km. There is lake to swim in (Grunewaldsee), and you can get lost there for hours. There is lots of nature around Berlin you can visit by taking the tram (get your pup a ticket!). Generally, most cafes and restaurants will allow dogs and typically bring you a bowl with water without even asking. Lotta and Louis always enjoy visiting our capital, where they go on walking tours to see the many sights or merge with the pack of our friends’ dogs and sniff some big-city air.
We moved from Germany to San Francisco two months after I’d spent an extended vacation in California. I had only seen SF for one afternoon, but when I found a good grad school program in the City, I decided to make the (9000 km) move with the pups. Little did I know that this city would turn out to be my favorite city ever, and especially that San Francisco would be such a great place to live with dogs.
It was quite an adventure to travel with two suitcases and two flight kennels across an ocean, and I was crazy nervous during the flight. But when we arrived, everything was great and the dogs started loving our neighborhood park (Alamo Square) immediately.
I have read multiple times that there are more dogs in SF than children, and I believe it. Due to the many start-ups and tech companies with their relaxed office rules, many people can bring their dog to work. This lets the “I don’t have enough time” barrier to entry into puppy-parenthood sink, and is certainly a factor. I myself was able to bring Lotta and Louis into some of the offices I worked at, although I always had a dog sitter come and walk them for two hours while I was busy. This kind of infrastructure to have your dog taken care of is absolutely amazing, and Lotta and Louis always loved to go on walks with Active Dog Adventure Club.
Naturally, you can only go on nice walks if there’s beautiful nature around and that’s probably what I loved most about SF (even more than the food). Within 20 minutes of driving you can reach beautiful beaches like Crissy Field, Baker Beach and Fort Funston, all of which allow dogs to roam off leash. Within 30 minutes to an hour, you can reach most of the open space preserves in Marin county. The views at Old Saint Hillary’s Open Space Preserve or Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve for example are absolutely stunning. More information on the preserves can be found on their website.
And if you want to take a short stroll to the park, there are off-leash areas in parks like Alamo Square, where you have a breathtaking view of downtown right behind the Painted Ladies. There is also Buena Vista Park with views of the western neighborhoods and the Pacific, and Bernal Heights Park, with views of the entire city and the Bay. The other popular parks like Golden Gate Park, Duboce Park and Dolores Park also all feature off-leash areas, so you can always find a spot where you can play Frisbee or have a picnic with your furry friend.
We stayed in Portland for about 10 days on an extended road trip and discovered far more than a hipster-y city full of street food and craft beer. Portland is only about 30 minutes away from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and offers so much to do and see for nature lovers, that you can fill a whole vacation easily.
I was lucky to get to stay with friends that I had met on Instagram who recommended some hikes. One of the trips we did was to hike up Angel’s Rest, which offers an amazing view over the Columbia River. It’s under an hour drive from Portland and the hike is about 8km round trip, which made it a perfect afternoon hike with Lotta and Louis.
However, I made sure to keep them on leash at the top as that was quite high! Portland also has a huge urban forest called Forest Park which offers wonderful hiking on 5,200 acres directly in Portland. Although it rained quite a bit when we were there, we had a blast hiking several trails in these green lungs of Portland. Definitely a great place to live or at least visit, especially with dogs!
I had always dreamed about visiting Greek islands, and after leaving Istanbul we took our time and made it to Athens, where we boarded a ferry to the Cyclades. The ride to Santorini was 7 hours and dogs are not allowed in the indoor areas of the ferry, but it was a non-issue for us since the weather was great and we had a comfy place on deck.
On Santorini, we stayed at a wonderful guesthouse called Utopia, which belongs to a bar and restaurant right at Perissa Beach. Everyone there loves dogs and you can also bring them to the restaurant and to the beach. They even care for stray dogs in the area, which I loved!
To see the famous white houses of Santorini, I went to Oía several times, a magical place. Since we were visiting at the end of the season, the restaurants weren’t too packed and I was able to bring Lotta and Louis in. That would probably not be the case in high season. Same is true for walking around town. It was perfect when we were there, but some local friends I made, said that it might be too packed when all the cruise ships bring in thousands of people a day. Anyway, we enjoyed our strolls through the romantic alleys with their many terraces and dead-ends on people’s roofs.
After four days, I decided to take the ferry back and get off in Naxos, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We had a place overlooking Plaka Beach and since there were no cars anywhere close, I pretty much let the pups do their thing.
On the second day, we discovered Aliko Beach, a game changer for us. Such a pretty beach with turquoise water and even a little chapel by the beach, and we had it all to ourselves. Whenever I want to feel free and happy, I think myself back to that beach. It’s like our little paradise. Especially since beach vacations in such special places are typically something I can’t bring my pups to. Being able to swim in such a gorgeous place together with Lotta and Louis was unreal.
Europe – The road trip, dangers, the rescue
After moving back to Germany from San Francisco, I felt the urge to travel but wanted to go somewhere I could bring the pups along. So I decided to do a two-month road trip through Europe. We went through 12 countries and stayed in eight of them, with our furthest destination being Istanbul. I had been to Italy, Turkey and Greece, but I wanted to get a different perspective, meet more local people and discover the places by simply letting it happen instead of planning things out. Also, I was curious to see Switzerland, the former Yugoslavian states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, as well as Bulgaria.
From a dog-owner’s perspective, some of these countries are somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand, these countries have beautiful nature and very friendly people, lots of whom love dogs. On the other hand, many have large stray populations and the local governments are unable to provide care and shelter. While so many people try and help the dogs by feeding them, running castration and adoption programs, killings by the government or individuals happen on a regular basis.
If you travel to any of these places with your dog, always make sure your pup has all the needed paperwork, vaccinations and insect-repellent to prevent infections through ticks and mosquitos. Don’t let them eat anything from the ground as some disgusting individuals might put out poisoned food, and be sure to inform yourself beforehand on how to act if you and your dog run into stray dogs.
We had an encounter with a little stray mutt when we were in Bosnia. She had something wrong with her eye and she kept coming to my house by the river Una, trying to get shelter (we had heavy rains) and of course, food. Since it was the end of travel season and there wouldn’t be any more people to feed her or trash to eat for months, I knew I had to help. I contacted the local vet that my host had introduced me to and reached out to German Facebook-groups that facilitated adoptions from Balkan countries.
A wonderful woman offered to help find Bonnie a home in Germany, and the vet was willing to perform surgery on Bonnie’s eye and to neuter her. Since she was unfit to travel with us, a wonderful Bosnian friend that I had made in the process offered to take her in after her surgery while I continued my travel, and after four weeks, I returned to Bosnia on my way home, and picked up a healthy, sassy, beautiful little girl. Two days later, I was able to give her into the loving arms of the lady that offered to find her a home, who instantly fell in love with Bonnie and kept her as her own. She still sends me pictures every now and then, and Bonnie is living the good life now.
Dog Rescue: Here’s How You Can Help
There are some wonderful organisations that help with pet rescue, abused and neglected animals etc – here’s how you can get involved where you live, perhaps you could even give one of these gorgeous babies a loving home:
NYC, US: Animal League is the world’s largest no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization. Their commitment is to rescue, nurture, and adopt animals.
NYC, US: Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue – Saving Badass Dogs From Idiot Humans. We love their motto! All-breed dog rescue from high kill, rural shelters in the southern US states and get them adopted into wonderful forever homes.
LA, California, US: Hope for Paws rescue dogs and other animals who are suffering on the streets and in shelters.
Washington, US: PAWS rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, sheltering and adopting homeless cats and dogs, and educating people to make a better world for animals and people.
London, UK: Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has helped more than three million animals and their vision is that every dog and cat should live in a home where they are treated with love, care and respect.
UK: RSPCA is the oldest welfare charity and helps animals find a new home. From rescue to changing laws, their goal is to prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate animal suffering.
UK: Dogs Trust’s mission is to bring about the day when all dogs can enjoy a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction. And they’ve been doing it since 1891!
UK: Blue Cross for animal hospitals, clinics for treatment cats, dogs, small pets and horses and they help to find them the happy homes they deserve.
Germany: Rescue Me! -their mission is to help people adopt purebred and mixed animals from individuals, families, shelters and rescue groups needing to place them in an emergency.
South Africa: Woodrock Animal Rescue are one of the oldest independent domestic animal rescue centres in South Africa founded in 1992 by Nicholas and Estelle (Stella) Meldau.
Australia: PetRescue is a national animal welfare charity enabling all Australians to discover the joy and unconditional love a rescue pet brings.
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India: Animal Aid is a vital rescue center, hospital and sanctuary for injured and ill street animals. They rescue thousands of hurt and sick animals each year and provide sanctuary to those who need life-long care.
Delhi, India: People for Animals has a nationwide network of 26 hospitals and 165 units. They rescue and rehabilitate sick and needy animals, set up and run shelters, ambulance services, sterilization programs, treatment camps and disaster rescue missions for animals and lobby on animal issues in parliament.