According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 50% of households own at least one dog, cat, or bird. Owning a pet is an emotional investment — and it’s also a financial one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. households spend over $500 per year on average on pet expenses.
Although much of this spending is for food, toys, and vet bills, if you frequently leave town for vacation or business travel, you probably spend a considerable amount on pet sitters or kennels as well.
Thankfully, there are several strategies that can help you save money on pet care when you go on vacation. Hopefully, the next time you budget for a trip, you can also find an affordable or potentially free pet care option that makes life easier.
Rule #1: Plan Ahead
There are numerous services and tricks you can use to reduce pet care costs. However, none of the options are viable if you don’t plan your trip with some notice or an emergency backup plan already in place.
Planning ahead is itself an effective way to save money on vacation because it lets you shop for deals, find cheap flights, and be more selective. This concept applies to pet sitting services as well, so book your travel plans at least a few weeks in advance if possible.
If you’re a more spontaneous traveler, ensure you have a pet care arrangement in place that can accommodate sudden departures.
Other Ways to Save Money on Pet Care While Traveling
Once you plan your next vacation, consider the following pet care options to help cut down on your travel costs.
1. Turn to the Gig Economy
New gig economy opportunities let motivated side hustlers increase their monthly income and work on their own schedule. However, the gig economy also helps people save money on services ranging from food delivery to pet care.
Two companies that dominate the pet space are Rover and Wag. Both platforms specialize in dog care, although Rover also caters to cat owners. Both Rover and Wag let you hire pet-friendly people in your area to help with pet-care jobs like:
- Daily walking
- Drop-in visits
- Pet boarding
- Doggy day care
In other words, you can hire a Rover or Wag independent contractor to check in on your pet, stay at your home, or provide boarding while you’re away. Your preferences will determine what you feel most comfortable with, and some options are more affordable than others.
Drop-in visits and daily walking suffice if you’re only away for a night or weekend. For longer trips, you’ll need to hire someone who offers housesitting or boarding as one of their services.
According to Rover, in-home boarding generally costs $35 per night. However, your dog’s size and competition between gig workers in your area influence prices. If you have a small dog in a popular Rover city, you can find boarding services starting at around $20 per night. In-house sitters charge similar amounts. Wag works with the same supply-and-demand model because pet caretakers set their own rates. Ultimately, both are low-cost options that are much cheaper than pet hotels and most kennels.
If you’re nervous about relying on strangers for pet care, rest easy. Rover and Wage have protective measures in place to ensure your pet and your home are in good hands. Each company runs a background check on workers and covers every booking with liability insurance. Coverage is comprehensive, although protection varies slightly different between the companies:
- Rover: Up to $25,000 vet care reimbursement per incident and $1 million in home and third-party liability insurance. Note that vet bills are only reimbursed if they are over $250.
- Wag: $1 million in home liability insurance.
From a pet insurance standpoint, Rover is superior because it includes vet bills and third-party liability insurance. However, both options are an effective way to save money on pet care when you’re out of town. If you find a sitter you enjoy working with, you can always rely on them for future travel plans as well.
2. Ask Friends and Family
Another simple way to save money on pet care during your trip is to turn to friends and family. For most groups of friends and family, lending or borrowing money is usually a bad idea, but for trading occasional favors, there’s nothing wrong with leaning on your support system to make life easier and to cut costs.
This is another reason why planning vacations in advance is important. A friend or family member can probably look after your pet for a few days, but only if you give them enough notice.
Just remember to show your appreciation if someone helps you out with pet sitting while you’re away. A simple souvenir or bottle of wine can go a long way in making people feel appreciated and increases the chance they help you in the future. Alternatively, you could offer to return the favor in kind the next time your friend or family member needs a pet sitter of their own.
3. Create a Pet Care Arrangement
If you have neighbors with pets or get to know people in your city who are pet owners, you can create an arrangement with them that’s similar to asking your friends and family for help. This approach is largely a reciprocal relationship; they’ll take care of your pet for one trip, and you return the favor the next time they’re away on vacation.
This arrangement doesn’t have to be formal. However, you should always uphold your end of the bargain, which could mean sacrificing a long weekend or changing your personal plans in the future when it’s your turn for pet sitting.
4. Try Automating Pet Care for Short Trips
Although this strategy isn’t feasible for extended travel, there are ways to automate portions of pet care to let you take off for a few days.
If you own a cat, the process is quite simple. For starters, buy an automatic food dispenser to dispense cat food while you’re away. This is better than overfilling multiple food bowls because it prevents your cat from overeating. Food dispensers are programmable, and many let you record a voice snippet and communicate with your pet over voice chat if you feel like comforting them. Also remember to fill multiple bowls of water before leaving.
Finally, buy a second litter box and prepare both boxes with fresh litter before you leave. If you’re only out of town for a few days, two full litter boxes should suffice for a single cat. Between a steady food supply, ample water, and waste management, your cat won’t have any problems being alone for a few days.
Dogs are slightly trickier because they need more exercise and don’t use litter boxes. In fact, you shouldn’t leave your dog alone without having a friend or sitter pass by at least once per day to let your dog outside.
To make being alone easier for your dog, consider options like the Furbo dog camera. This smart camera lets you interact with your dog over voice chat, dispense dog food, and get real-time bark and activity alerts to see what your dog is up to.
If you have a backyard, you can also install a dog door and an invisible dog fence that lets your dog enjoy your backyard and take care of business without the risk of running off.
Again, this isn’t ideal for long trips, but it will substantially improve your dog’s quality of life and your peace of mind during travel.
5. Pet-Proof your Home
There’s a reason companies like Rover and Wag provide insurance; there’s plenty that can go wrong when you leave your pet in the hands of other people.
When you leave your pet behind, they might become more stressed and agitated. If you’ve never traveled alone before, there’s no way to anticipate how this change impacts their behavior. This is why vacationers sometimes return home to find a destroyed sofa, scratched furniture, and other property damage. Additionally, if your pet eats something they shouldn’t or gets injured, you’re in for heartache or vet bills when you return.
Preventative measures are the best solution to protect your pet’s health and your property. For starters, pet-proof your home by:
- Securing cabinets with latches to prevent food access
- Elevating or removing items that could fall and cause damage, such as vases, potted plants, and framed photos
- Putting away anything your pet might chew on or attempt to eat
- Moving any wiring, like phone and TV cables, out of chewing range
To avoid property damage, consider buying cat scratch protection strips and protective dog scratch covers to prevent bad behavior while you’re away. Training your pets not to scratch prior to leaving also goes a long way here, but again, preventive measures don’t hurt. To go the extra mile, you can use natural anti-scratch sprays on your sofa, rugs, and drapes to discourage your pet from scratching.
Finally, ensure the person pet sitting has comprehensive care instructions and everything they need to do their job. Buy the right pet food, stock up on any necessary medication for your pet, and leave a list of contact numbers and veterinary care information in the case of an emergency. Your pet sitter should also know what vaccinations your pet has and if they have any existing health problems to keep an eye on.
As long as you adequately prepare your home and your pet sitter, there’s less chance of walking into an expensive disaster zone when you return home.
A common hesitation for owning a pet is a loss of flexibility. Admittedly, like having children, owning a pet does come with extra responsibilities and financial commitment.
However, owning a pet doesn’t mean you can’t travel. Additionally, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on expensive kenneling or pet hotels every time you vacation. If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of affordable pet care options that ensure your pet gets taken care of during your absence.
Occasionally, a travel plan might require bringing a furry plus-one along if you can’t find a solution. In that case, be willing to adapt and make the most of it. Ultimately, as long as you don’t overpay for pet care, there’s no reason why owning a pet should impact your annual travel plans and budgeting.