The Things Worth Leaving Behind

marking our territory, rhodesian ridgeback, eko

It used to be easy to pack my car. When it was just Eko and me, even when we lived on the road for a year, the trunk was never full and the cabin was always spacious. I could afford to be thoughtless about the bags I carried because I was never forced to leave anything behind.

A marriage, a child, and two dogs later – the question is no longer can we fit everything, but can we even fit everyone? With each subsequent road trip, solving the puzzle of how to squeeze the sum of my life into a single vehicle grows ever more challenging.

Looking back on our summer of travel there was a simple answer. Leave Penny and Zero behind. Place them in the safe hands of family or trusted boarder and go on the journey without them. Vacations would be so much easier and less time-consuming. All it would cost is a week away from the dogs.

And is bringing the dogs really worth leaving most of my own bags? Is it worth the discomfort of a fifteen hour drive each way? Is it worth limiting where we can go and where we’re welcome to stay?

Despite the increasing complexities of life, the answer to each question remains an unequivocal “Yes.”

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The Other Don Quixote

A little over four hundred years after Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, I pulled into a small farm outside of Austin, Texas looking for a new story. At the time, I was six months, thousands of miles, and tens of thousands of words into a narrative which felt old and plagiarized.

A man, a dog, an adventure. Travels with Charley. A Boy and His Dog. Where the Red Fern Grows. Lassie. Take your pick. This same story has been told countless times. As I toured with Eko, writing about our time on the road, I worried my journey was a tepid imitation of a familiar tale.

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[VIDEO] Just A Dog

We have precious few moments on this earth. Why do so many of us choose to spend so many of those moments with “just a dog?”

I suspect we share many of the same answers, while each having our own reasons.

This is my story. What’s yours?

Just A Dog

Rhodesian RIdgeback, blog, adventure, travel, marking our territory

For the past five years, five days a week, I’ve written about dogs. About the love, loss, joys and frustrations we experience with our pups.

To commandeer the famous Lou Holtz phrase, I believe that for those who know dogs, no explanation is necessary. And for those who don’t know dogs, no explanation will suffice.

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How to Book the Best Pet-Friendly Hotel Room

Increasingly, I see articles (like this one from The New York Times) discuss the rapid growth of pet-friendly hotels.

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

As someone who travels extensively with their dogs, I’m happy to see hospitality groups realize us adventurers-with-dogs are a growing and loyal breed

But invariably, all the articles I read neglect the most important question. With the growing pet-friendly hotel options, how do you decide which hotel to pick?

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Trust us, this is not a decision you want to gamble on

All “pet-friendly” hotels are not created equal. “Pet-friendly” is a catch all phrase which can mean anything from “We will barely tolerate your pet while charging you a mortgage payment for staying here” to “OMG I love your dog…and I guess you can stay here too.”

How to sort the wheat from the chaff? Here’s what I’ve learned are the best steps to ensure you pick the right dog-friendly hotel for your trip.

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

First, look yourself in the mirror and ask what your needs are for the trip

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

If you want high-end, top of the line service, great. Most luxury hotels are happy to serve (and charge you for) extensive pet-friendly amenities

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Just need a place to crash? Many major motel/hotel chains offer pet-friendly rooms. Be sure to double-check what the pet-fees are. Avoid places that charge daily pet-fees. If possible, book at La Quinta or other chains which charge no pet fee

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Do the math! We loved staying at Kimpton brand hotels. No pet fee, no pet-size restriction and dogs were loved, rather than tolerated. The nightly room rate was slightly above other major chains, but since there were no pet fees we often came out ahead on the bill

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Look off the beaten path. Some of our best stays were at small B&B joints who welcomed both Eko and me like old friends. With the proliferation of smaller/independent operators, don’t forget to open your search up beyond the traditional options

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Trust no one! I’ve been burned by third-party/review sites on more than one occasion. Always call ahead to verify the hotel is everything it claims to be online. If you’re expecting bowls and a (properly sized) bed, you’ll want those details confirmed before you arrive

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Be the best guest! I really appreciate all the hotels along the way that have gone the extra mile to make me and the pups welcome. In return, I make sure we’re quiet and respectful during our stay. Every dog-guest is an ambassador, and hopefully by being great guests we can encourage more hotels to open their doors to pets

dog friendly hotel, pet friendly hotel, dog friendly travel tips

Because travel adventures with your dog are awesome! 

For others who have traveled with pets, please chime in with any tips or guidelines you’ve found helpful along the way.

I know bringing your dog to a hotel may seem nerve-racking or expensive. But in truth traveling with your pets is often cheaper, and almost always more fun!

“Must-haves” for Pet Travel

We’re gearing up for a Thanksgiving road trip to NJ. I like to travel light, but I feel like I could make an endless list of things the dogs “need.” In reality the pups need very little, but there are some extras which can make the trip more enjoyable for everyone. The trick is figuring out what those “must have” extras are and what you can leave behind.

In the ongoing trial-and-error experiment that is my life, here are the goods I’ve found go the furthest when we’re furthest from home.

1. Antlers:


This new antler gets even more attention than the old one. If the pups are in the mood for chomping, in the car or at our destination, I’ve found nothing keeps their attention like the antler


In fact, it’s so popular I’ve ordered a second one to avoid these staring contests. Antlers are lightweight and don’t smell, a double bonus when traveling

2. Crate:


Heavy? Yes. Cumbersome? Yes. Essential? For now. I no longer crate Penny at my apartment, but when we’re traveling, a crate is essential for her safety. While I run holiday errands I’ll feel much better knowing Penny is chomping on an antler in her crate and not looking for trouble around my mom’s house

3. Blanket:


This green guy is the “The Little Blanket That Could.” It survived puppy-Eko and is chugging along unscathed by puppy-Penny. It’s small, comfy, lightweight and a familiar piece of home. No matter where we go, wherever I lay down the blanket is where the pups go to lay their heads 


Penny would have gone to the fire anyway, but you get my drift

That’s it! Of course we have food, waste bags and treats (yes, treats are essential), but aside from that we’re minimalists. It makes traveling with the pups easier and more enjoyable if I’m not lugging beds, toys, grooming supplies and anything else I don’t absolutely need. If something unexpected comes up, I can usually rig together a temporary replacement. More often than not, I don’t need anything else.

Traveling with pets isn’t a one size fits all process though.  So I’m interested to hear what your “must haves” are when you hit the road with your pet. If you have any good ideas, I might just have to borrow them before we leave!

Chicago’s Dog-Friendly Navy Pier

Once again we’ve got a series of rainy days ahead of us here in Chicago. But yesterday before the rain came I decided to take advantage of a beautiful afternoon and visit one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions – Navy Pier.

Unlike many popular tourist spots, Navy Pier is a great place to bring your dog

On summer afternoons, the park and the pier are filled with people enjoying the view of Lake Michigan. Last year I took Eko to Navy Pier, so after I took him for a run yesterday he was content to sleep at home while Penny played the tourist with me.

Our first stop in the park was a sculpture which I assume was commissioned to depict what it’s like trying to walk a Ridgeback.


Well, that’s what I think it is at least. It certainly depicts how I feel sometimes

With cafes on one side and the pier on the other, Penny and I strolled through the crowds and took in the sights. It was a great opportunity to enjoy ourselves while also working on socialization and loose leash walking.

After we covered the pier half of the trip, we of course had to cover the navy part too. That’s right, Penny got her sea legs (all four of them) courtesy of Seadog Cruises – a dog-friendly boat tour that operates at Navy Pier. Shocking precisely no one, my little speed demon loved her first boat ride.


“This is awesome!”

We also brought along the old-man contingent of my brother and Dutch. In his ten years of life Dutch had never been on a boat before so he was just a tad nervous at first.


“Hold me!”


Our tour took us cruising up and down the lakefront. While the boat was at top speed, the pups sat inside us with the wind whipping across our faces


During lulls in the trip, we all took in a view of the city from the water


No matter how long I live here, I don’t think I’ll get tired of this view

And as for how Dutch fared after his initial hesitance? Well, I think it’s safe to say he had the time of his life.


“I’m flying, Jack!” *cue Celine Dion music*

You know that giddy, punch-drunk feeling you have after a roller coaster ride? Turns out it’s not just for humans.


“Whoa…that was awesome…let’s go again!”

After our boat ride, Penny insisted her next adventure would be a nap on the sun-warmed deck. Unfortunately, the price of admission doesn’t cover boat naps so we had to be on our way.


“Take me home, Will.”

Our trip to Navy Pier was an absolute blast. I recorded as much video as I could, so hopefully I should have some fun clips to share next week.

If you’re in Chicago with your pup, make sure you make the trip to Navy Pier and make sure you guys catch a ride on the lake with Seadog. You’re guaranteed to have a great time and if Penny is any indication, you’re guaranteed your pup will get the best sleep of their life!

One More For The Road

It’s only fitting that 2013 end with a road trip, and so Eko and I are on our way home to Chicago today.  New Jersey is not exactly known for being the “great outdoors” but Eko had a nice romp in the woods to tire him out before our trip.


On your mark…


Get set…




One happy pup

Once again, Eko has somehow worked out the better end of the deal.  He’s sleeping and I’m driving.  The road awaits, catch everyone from Chicago!

Love Knows No Age

The best part about being home is sharing love with my two and four-legged family.


Eko shared an aftenoon nap with his  big sister, Scout


He also enjoyed an evening snack, courtesy of my pops, with Dutch


And we met a new family member!


Oh wait, no we didn’t.  That’s just a statue

My grandfather, who is 103 years old (!), is staying with us this week and I have especially enjoyed watching him and Eko cozy up like old pals.  The two are kindred spirits.


Eko sat right on Grandpa’s lap to watch the news


And instead of sleeping on the couch, Eko nested right at my Grandpa’s feet

Whether it’s 1910 or 2013, a warm pup curled up next to you is a simple and timeless love.

And speaking of time, I’m off to the mall.  Good luck to all you other last minute shoppers. Remember our motto – “Next year, I’ll get all my shopping done early.”