When Sarah Nickle takes her pet Oliver for a walk, crowds gather. The San Francisco resident has visited 28 US states with her cuddly buddy, but reactions are always the same—up to 50 people at a time, inquisitive and excited, with curious dogs peeking through their legs. It’s all for the spectacle that is Oliver walking on a leash and munching on cherry tomatoes. Why? Because he’s an American miniature pot-bellied pig!
Sarah is part of a new—and largely millennial—group of travellers who are pushing the ideas of what can be a pet beyond class and appearance. Thus, from an era of pedigreed dogs and cats strategically placed in hotels and New York windowsills, you now see the Indian pariah dog (commonly called ‘Indies’) backpacking across continents, a friendly Argentine red tegu lizard attaining cult status on Instagram, and street cats becoming biker mascots.
Chapati was a one-month old puppy when Kristina Masalova and Eugene Petrus found her on the streets of Kochi. The couple had arrived there from Ukraine as it was the cheapest outbound flight, and were on the lookout for adventure and life-changing journeys. Cut to three years later, and Chapati, a ridiculously photogenic Indie, is a brand with a loyal audience of almost 32,000. Travelling with her wasn’t on Kristina’s mind, but Indies are resilient, social and adaptable and Chapati seemed to enjoy the different environments. “Her favourite activity during our travels is hiking,” says Kristina. “The main factor is surrounding. If we are sitting at one place, Chapati should always have something to do or at least to inspect, like watch birds or people who pass by, dig sand, or chew a stick or treats.” She finds that boredom can trigger fear and mischief, even for the most perfect of nomads.
At the time of this interview, the trio were touring the Balkans in Europe, making Chapati’s tally hit a cool 30. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, though—other than managing a pet’s needs, Kristina and Eugene have to travel back to Ukraine for project-based work, with a rented apartment being the only stable source of income. But if you want to see the world with your furry friends, foresight and compromise is essential.
What to Keep in Mind
Airlines, railways, and paperwork varies with every country, and often with every kind of animal. The Indian Railways allows for dogs to travel in First Class if you book two-berth or four-berth cabins, but the rules aren’t so clear cut for the rest. They’re likely to make the journey with luggage in the brake vans for a separate fee, meaning there’s a lot of back and forth for food and hygiene checks. In every interview we had with those who travel with pets, training and research—down to the temperaments and instincts of their exact breeds—emerged as the top concern. Respect towards the animal and your co-passengers, and not the photo-op of diving off a cliff with your dog, is what makes trips seamless.
Cats tend to be lower-maintenance pets, but when on the road for hours, they need a high degree of attention. Martin is a German motorcyclist who’s been on the road for a little over two years. His travel buddy is Mogli, a mischievous black-and-white cat he rescued in 2017. Martin tells us that Mogli got used to his motorcycle, a 19-year-old Honda Africa Twin, within 20 minutes. But for those cats who aren’t so accommodating (to our knowledge, that’s most on the planet), he’s got some tips to get you started.
“Not every pet travels readily. If they are not trained from a young age, don’t expose them to unnecessary stress just for the sake of personal gain. Most cats prefer to stay in their territory, so it is important to understand them and avoid any dangers. Always carry something for them to hide in, even if it’s just a cardboard box, or a large jacket they can crawl into. Places where people would normally let them out, like open spaces, are often the opposite of what a cat prefers, as there is nowhere to hide from danger and they aren’t long-distance runners.” He also suggests having backup shelter options (like camping supplies) in case your pet is suddenly unwelcome at hotels or homestays.
“If you do end up travelling with your cat, it’s almost inevitable to let them roam at some point, so train for that as often as possible. Take them to new places, and keep an eye on them to understand their behaviour.” Intruding on the territory of another cat is a big worry, says Martin, as your pet might lose track of their new environment while fleeing competitors. For this, Martin uses a lightweight tracker on Mogli that’s equipped with radio technology. But for cats that roam further, consider a GPS tracker. They’re costlier, heavier, and need internet and satellite connectivity, but their wider reach is a boon if you venture into forests, mountains and dense cities with your pet.
Oliver was also a rescue from a breeder. He is yet to waddle across international lines with Sarah, but that doesn’t mean a bucket list is missing. “If money were no object, La Tomatina in Spain would be amazing. Oliver would get all the tomatoes in the world! Another great holiday to stroll around in would be Holi. He would look great painted like a rainbow.” Nevertheless, Sarah also has a checklist she swears by, and recommends being over-prepared as not everyone likes animals at close range. Miniature pigs ought to stay on a leash when outside, as dogs (who are their natural predators) and loud noises might send them running. Pet pigs can be entirely food-driven, so she also suggests keeping snacks on hand to make sure they don’t walk at a snail’s pace. They also get sunburns (especially if you travel to tropical regions), and can throw tantrums if the weather isn’t to their liking.
“Oliver will throw a fit if he doesn't want to do something. Walking outside in the rain absolutely does not happen,” says Sarah. “However, he is extremely loving when comfortable and trusting of those around him. If he doesn't get cuddles on a daily basis he is not a happy pig!”
Chapati’s travel strategy is far more extensive. We found Kristina and Eugene’s planning sequence mighty useful, so here it is in short:
> How can we get to the country with our dog? You could earlier travel with dogs in flight cabins, but now those weighing more than five to eight kilograms aren’t allowed with you. Airlines in Asia are particularly strict about taking animals at all, so travelling to those countries which can be reached by land or sea is easier.
> Does the country allow pet import? “There are only a few countries that don’t. For example, you cannot bring your dog to Bali, or you cannot import a dog to India with your tourist visa, even if the dog—like Chapati—was born in the country.
> Does the country have an obligatory quarantine? “Some countries put your dog into quarantine for certain periods before giving them back to you, even if you have all required documents.” This could range from seven days to six months, says Kristina. “It was seven days in Malaysia. The same happened with Iceland, a dream destination—they quarantine pets for four weeks!”
> Do we have all the required documents and permissions? “Chapati has so many documents and tests that usually it’s not a problem. But there are few issues, which other dog owners might face when travelling with pets. The blood titer test is an obligatory document for travel to the European Union and the USA. But in Asia it’s a huge problem to have it done. Also consider the following: some breeds are banned in particular countries, as is entry of puppies who are less than four months old. Documents showing microchipping, vaccinations, deworming and flea/tick prevention are easy to get, but require time.
> Is the country dog-friendly? Study cultural attitudes, find flexible accommodation and eateries, and see the potential for everyday movement and leeway on public transport.
Only if all the above check out do the duo start thinking about the route and budget. It might sound tiring or that it’d take the fun out of a trip, but erring on the side of caution is better so that once you start your holiday, there’s no more worries. Travelling with pets can also get super expensive, so you might have to mentally flip a switch and push to save money. “You can live in a hostel, cook by yourself or take preserved food with you, and try to walk everywhere.” Like Martin, she also suggests tracking your pet’s individual needs and fears, as the trope of a brave, fearless dog might not play out in real life.
What's the Verdict?
Beyond the adorable photos that make our hearts swell, have the pet owners found their travels worth all the effort? It seems like it. Oliver looks soft and tender, but he’s thrived on travels to the American West Coast and the harsh desert landscape of Arizona. Sarah, meanwhile, has picked up immense patience.
Mogli and Martin have made it to 17 countries. Kids love the kitty, but adults find the biker to be an eccentric tourist. “A few times we’ve been kicked out of restaurants. I’ve also had to smuggle her into stores to get shopping done. In Iran we were not allowed in hotels, and ended up sleeping in private apartments. Where cats are loved, she made me look more approachable. I feel many have the notion that I must be a good person, since Mogli stays with me!”
“Chapati has fully changed our travel philosophy and our biggest accomplishment was to admit to that,” says Kristina. “She taught us to no longer be stuck to sightseeing points. If the place doesn’t allow dogs, we find other things to do. No cafes? Buy local takeaway. No public transport allowing dogs? We try hitchhiking. All the waiting makes you realize that life is full of options. Just be open and flexible, and travelling with your pet will become your favourite thing in the world.”
You can follow the adventures of these remarkable rescues on Instagram at @travelingchapati, @motomogli and @oliverthetravelingpig.