So the boyfriend and I are about six weeks into our second cross-country American road trip. We’re traveling with two clingy, lap-dwelling Chihuahuas, which is important to note because it affects where we stay, what we do, and how we pack. This isn’t our first rodeo either. We drove across the country — 26 states in 9.5 months — last year. Sophie and Mia have probably seen more of America than most Americans. They’ve also lived overseas and flown around the globe in both cargo and first class. Because our luggage situation is forever tight, we’re strict about packing. If something isn’t useful, it’s dead to us. That leaves no room for bone-shaped leash dispensers with rainbow-colored poop baggies (cheap sandwich bags work just fine), elaborate car harnesses, canine life preservers, or pet tents. We carry only the basics, and those basics have to be travel-tough. What follows are the seven products that have served us well — on the road, in the air, and in pet-friendly rentals around the world.
Flying pets in airline cargo is the worst, but I feel marginally better knowing these quick-drying, padded crate inserts make our dogs’ journey a little more bearable. We have used the liners on multiple long-haul flights, including a grueling 25-hour jag from New York to Bangkok via Seoul. The inserts are stiff, so they won’t bunch up or shift around like typical pee pads, but they’re also thinly cushioned. They come in multiple sizes, and you can scale up or down depending on your crate’s dimensions. But the coolest thing about these pads is that they convert any excess liquid (urine; vomit; the drip, drip, drip of those shitty pet-crate water bottles) into a gel on the underside of the pad. Super absorbent! Once your pet reaches their final destination, all clean and dry, just toss the pad and use a rag to wipe down the floor of the crate.
When transporting pets via cargo, crates must be IATA-compliant. IATA stands for International Air Transport Association, and its rules vary depending on the size of the animal, when you’re traveling and where, which airline you’re using, and so on. Our go-to crate is a Petmate Sky Kennel. Sophie and Mia weigh eight and four pounds, respectively, so we use the smallest kennel: 21 inches by 16 inches by 15 inches. (Carriers go up to 48 inches by 32 inches by 35 inches.) The plastic is heavy-duty, there are ventilation holes on all four sides, and the crate comes with “Live Animal” stickers. The only annoyances are the plastic nuts and bolts. Many airlines — including Korean Air and Austrian Air — require that these be swapped out for metal parts.
Definitely the least sexy recommendation on what is already a pretty unsexy list, but these fasteners are a must if you’re traveling by air. The metal nuts and bolts replace the standard plastic wing nuts on the aforementioned Sky Kennel. They’re available in multiple sizes and sold in 8-, 12-, 16-, and 20-packs.
Collapsible water bowls are a no-brainer for us. We tuck them into our carry-on bags and keep one in the glove compartment of our car. The durable silicone is lightweight, easy to clean, and won’t tip over in a moving car. Each dish also comes with an attachable carabiner, if you’re the type of person who likes to wear a dog bowl on your belt loop. (I’m not.)
Our older girl, Sophie, eats way too fast. Like, she inhales her food until she starts choking violently. It’s pretty ugly, and now that she’s going on 15 with a stage-four heart murmur and regular seizures, we try to avoid food triggers. The unusual puzzle shape of these bowls forces gluttonous dogs to slow their roll. Sophie rarely gags when she uses it because she has to think about how to extract the food, as opposed to just blindly gobbling.
I don’t know what Royal Canin puts in its Chihuahua kibble designed for “miniature jaws” and “fussy appetites,” but the pellets are greasy and smell like garbage. This airtight container puts that funk on lockdown, while keeping the dog food fresh. The spin-top lid is easy to get on and off, and I like the grippy side handles for loading and unloading on the road. Our bin is just 4.5 gallons and holds up to 15 pounds of food, but you can order a 50-pounder if you have a bigger mutt.
Dogs have accidents, it’s a fact of life. In our case, it isn’t pottying indoors so much as eating things they shouldn’t and then throwing up from one end of an Airbnb to the other. In an especially harrowing incident last year, Sophie the Vacuum Cleaner consumed an entire bag of chocolate-covered acai berries stupidly left within grabbing range by my boyfriend. She then proceeded to puke purple all over our host’s bed, sofa, and rug. Sophie was okay — quite pleased with herself, in fact — and the bedding, upholstery, and carpet turned out okay, too, thanks to this miracle-working spray. You gotta scrub the spots like Cinderella, but every one of those stains eventually came out. Bonus points for the fresh orangey scent.
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