Before I became a guide dog user, travelling for leisure or work involved sorting what I needed for family or myself. When you add a guide dog into the equation there were some tips that I found useful to consider. My work involves a reasonable amount of travel and I enjoy getting around the country when I am on leave. I have found that if my travel plans are well organised it is more likely that my guide dog Willa and I will be as comfortable and less stressed as possible.
I always indicate when I am booking accommodation, flights, or seats on buses and trains that I am travelling with a guide dog and require assistance. This is essential for staff, as they will aim to ensure they can provide the most practical and safe seating options for both of us. When flying especially, we are usually boarded prior to other passengers, which is ideal as you can get yourself and your dog settled and listen to the safety brief which is important. When requesting assistance at the original booking, staff can also arrange to meet you at your destination to assist with location of luggage and bus and taxi stands outside.
I always double check prior to my travel date with the airline, bus or train company by calling them to ensure Willa has been noted down as accompanying me on the trip.
I have always ensured Willa has had an opportunity to toilet close to departure time including a good run outside prior as this usually encourages emptying of the bowels! Staff are usually very willing to advise of the closest ‘patch of grass’ at departure venues and keep in mind to get to your departure point well in advance to ensure your dog can be well prepared for the trip away.
If you were planning to travel internationally, I would recommend speaking with your Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, vet, airline and customs/immigration to get important information and up to date guidelines. For long distance travel overseas, it may be worth considering giving your guide dog a well-earned break at home and blow away those cobwebs on your long cane! If you do decide to travel with your guide dog it is essential to research vital information at least six months in advance to ensure all things are covered.
When packing bags, I take suitable blankets for a dog bed, a small towel, a familiar toy, food bowl, poo bags and grooming equipment. I also pack spare dog food enough for two extra meals to be prepared for travel cancellations. If you are planning to be away for some time, I have always ensured that I take enough dog food or that I can get the same brand at the destination to avoid potential allergies. I have also found it practical to have luggage that is easily identifiable and correctly labelled for ease of location for staff and myself.
On the day of travel, if we are flying I have always not fed Willa until we get to the destination. I have a compact bowl with fitting lid that I put her meal into and put this into my backpack so it is handy to give to her when we arrive. Remember to ensure your guide dog has the formal identification tags on the collar and take your ID card. Having the contact number for your usual vet and Guide Dog Mobility Instructor can be useful too. I have had mostly very positive experiences when away with Willa however be prepared for situations where staff or the public may need some guidance around etiquette when around guide dogs. I also enjoy giving positive feedback when due as this goes a long way.
Have fun and Bon Voyage!