I've driven and flown cross-country with my dog. Here's how the experiences compare — and why I prefer to take her on road trips.

I've driven and flown cross-country with my dog. Here's how the experiences compare — and why I prefer to take her on road trips.
  • I've traveled with my dog by car and plane several times in the last two years.

  • My dog seems more comfortable on road trips because she has more space and fresh air.

  • When I fly with my dog, she often seems scared and struggles to use the bathroom.

I travel a lot, and I hate leaving my dog, Miley, behind.

Left: A gray suitcase zipped open stands on a wood floor with a white counter behind it. RIght: A close up of a white dog sleeping in the suircase.
The author's dog lays in a suitcase when she gets home from a trip in August 2023.Joey Hadden/Insider

Being away from my dog is the hardest part of any trip for me.

As a travel reporter, I often leave my home in NYC to explore new places. But every time I say goodbye to my dog, Miley, I sob hysterically. And every night while I'm away, I scroll through photos and videos of her on my phone and wonder what she's up to.


So I take her with me when I can. This gives us new experiences and memories together.

Left: A grey and white dog sits in the sand on a beach with houses and cloudy, blue skies in the background. Right: The author's dog stands in front of the Grand Canyon with a tree on the right and blue, cloudy skies in the background.
Miley in New Jersey (L) and Arizona (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

So when I travel in the US, I always consider taking her with me.

Whether we're at the Grand Canyon or in our backyard, Miley loves to explore. She wanders curiously and often stops to appreciate the little things, like smelling flowers and feeling the breeze on her face.

Miley has been on one cross-country road trip and five shorter ones.

The author beige joggers squats next to a grey and white fluffy dog sitting on her left. The sky is blue behind them.
The author takes a selfie with Miley at a rest stop during a road trip in May of 2022.Joey Hadden/Insider

Miley's car travels started just over a year ago when she moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to New York City.

My partner found Miley when he lived in the southwestern state and moved to NYC in May of 2022. To get there, my partner and I drove across the country with overnight stays in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

The trip was hard on her. We drove all day and stayed in different accommodations each night. But we also noticed how much she seemed to appreciate different smells, window views, and new rooms to explore.

So since moving to the East Coast, we've taken Miley on shorter road trips to Boston, Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, DC, New Jersey, and upstate New York.

I've also taken her on ten flights for trips to the Southwest.

The author in a navy sweater holds her white dog with a purple leash at an airport fate with seats and windows behind her
The author carries her dog at an airport gate in 2023.Joey Hadden/Insider

Miley has also flown back to the Southwest to visit family in Utah and Arizona three times. One of the trips had direct flights and the other two had layovers in both directions.

While Miley doesn't seem to enjoy air travel like she does road trips, we like taking her with us to visit family and friends.

Plus, the Southwest seems to excite Miley. Maybe it's because she gets to experience different kinds of nature. Or maybe she remembers and misses her original home. Either way, we want to give her these experiences.

Miley seems more relaxed in the car since she can see what's going on.

Two images of a white dog in a gray carrier on a gray car seat.
Miley on the road.Joey Hadden/Insider

In the car, we keep Miley in a carrier suited for air travel. We strap the carrier to the back seat and clip her harness to a short leash on the inside.

After Miley's first big road trip, she seems quite comfy in the car. She's gotten used to staying inside the carrier, often popping her head out to get pets from me or see the passing views.

But when we fly, Miley is stuck inside her carrier in busy airports before and after bumpy flights.

Two images of a white dog in a green carrier inside a plane cabin.
The author's dog in her carrier in an airport terminal (L) and on a flight (R).Joey Hadden/Insider

Miley has less autonomy during air travel.

In my experience, airports don't allow pets aside from service dogs to walk on a leash, so Miley has to be carried everywhere inside her small carrier.

Once we get to the gate, my partner and I unzip the carrier to check on Miley and give her some water and attention. She often seems scared during these moments, and I feel bad about the upcoming flight, where she has to stay in her carrier tucked under the seat like a carry-on bag.

She seems uneasy as flights take off and land. Sometimes she whines and squirms down there, and my partner and I lean down to pet her through the zips in her carrier.

When we're in the car, Miley loves her bathroom breaks.

Left: The author's dog stands underneath a yellow, tilted sign that says "RV'S" in patchy grass with a gas station in the background. Right: The same dog sits in the grass with an orange food and water bowl in front of her.
Miley at rest stops around the US.Joey Hadden/Insider

I'm pretty sure that rest stops are Miley's favorite part of road trips. We try to keep our daily distances on road trips as short as possible so she has plenty of time to run around, explore, and relieve herself.

Miley always seems so excited to explore grassy areas around the country. And I feel like she loves to follow new smells.

But in airports, she never goes.

The author takes a selfie while carrying her dog through an airport with a gray sign that says "Pet Relief Area" above them. Right: Inside a pet relief area at an airport with green turf and a fake rock on the ground.
The author tries to get her dog to use the bathroom in an airport.Joey Hadden/Insider

Miley rarely uses the bathroom in airports.

And I don't blame her. In my experience, pet relief areas in airports are tiny rooms with a patch of turf and a stench of cat pee. Plus, the doors have a window and do not lock. And other travelers with dogs I've encountered often don't have the patience to wait for us to finish.

One time at an airport in Denver, Colorado, a couple with a large dog barged in just as Miley was beginning to sniff the turf. "Can we go too?" They said to me after they were already inside the room.

Another time in Phoenix, Arizona, someone with a large dog barged up to the window, peeked through it, and exclaimed, "She's just sitting there," referring to my frightened dog who seemed further startled by her face and impatient voice. We hadn't been in there very long, and I wanted Miley to get the courage to at least stretch her legs before the flight.

In my opinion, there isn't typically enough room in these spaces for two dogs and their owners to comfortably fit inside.

Ultimately, I think it's better to travel with pets in cars than on planes.

The author's dog in the middle console of a car with her feet in the cupholders.
The author's dog chills after a bathroom break on a road trip in 2022.Joey Hadden/Insider

I love traveling with Miley, but I recognize that it may cause her stress, too.

In the future, I'll always consider traveling by car whenever possible so she has a better experience. And I'll avoid taking her on connecting flights when driving isn't an option.

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