Travels with Charlie: New York City to Florida and Back

Whenever someone from Petswelcome is heading out on the road with a pet, we always thrust a pencil and notebook in their hands to keep a record of their trip. Not only does it help keep us updated on pet friendly hotels, it also serves as a great template for travelers taking their dogs and/or cats with them for the first time. In this case, founding partner Fred Grayson and his wife Valerie headed down to Florida from New York City with their dog Charlie. Travels with Charlie offers plenty of insights and suggestions on places to visit as well as helpful tips on what to bring and how best to break up your driving so that everyone (people and pets) can enjoy a stress-free and enjoyable journey. This is the first of 3 installments covering their trip.

About four weeks ago, we set off on a dog-friendly road trip to Anna Maria Island (located on the West Coast of Florida) from New York City. We used  (of course!) to find all of the pet-friendly lodgings for this trip. We piled our luggage into the rear of our SUV, and Charlie (11-1/2-year-old mixed breed) jumped onto the back seat, and off we went. We made a similar trip two years ago, also to the West Coast of Florida, and last year to Asheville, NC, so we had some idea of what we would encounter, especially traveling with a 50+ lb. dog. We had tried to arrange no more than 5 hours of driving each day, but since we had to stop to fill our gas tank and our stomachs, and walk and water the dog, we found that most trips were somewhere between 6 and 7 hours.

Dog in car
On the road with Charlie.

Instead of taking I-95, we travelled inland, I-78 to I-81. There seemed to be many more places to stop along the way, especially the “LOVES” truck stops. Always a place to walk the dog and some fast food choices and decent bathrooms.

Our first stop was the Comfort Inn in Harrisonburg, VA (the home of James Madison University). This was ourthird time there, (with a $20 per day pet fee and max. 2 pets per room), it is very pet-friendly and well situated. There’s a designated dog-walking area in the back, including baggies, if you need them. Most of the pet-friendly rooms were in the back, near an exit, so it was easy to access the walking area and our car. They have a basic, but substantial buffet breakfast, included. Across the street is a large mall, and a Krispy Kreme directly across the way. We were told that when the red light was on, the donuts were hot, so before we left in the morning, we stopped in to watch the donuts come off the assembly line, and of course, took a few with us. There’s an “old town” part of Harrisonburg (about a 10-minute drive from the Comfort Inn), so if you have time, have some great BBQ at Jimmy Madison’s and then go across the street to Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn Company. They must have a dozen flavors and we bought a few for the trip.

On day two we stopped at the Wingate by Wyndham, Rock Hill, SC. There was a pet fee of $25 per day. They also had several areas where you can walk your dog. The rooms were nice, and they had a decent buffet breakfast, including a “make your own pancakes” machine, along with the usual choice of eggs, bacon, toast, cereal, etc. It was also across the road from a shopping mall, and there were a number of restaurants nearby. There was also a small town a short drive away, including The Flipside (where we had dinner) for local southern cooking.

Our third destination was the Hampton Inn & Suites, Deerwood Park, Jacksonville, Florida. There was a dog fee of $25, with a maximum weight of 40 lbs. We had made the reservation several months earlier, and in the interim, they lowered the weight limit. Charlie is definitely over 40 lbs., but we called ahead to ask about this, and they agreed that it would not be a problem. This was a somewhat upscale place, offering a great breakfast, very fresh food, and outside was a fire pit and a pool. Lots of restaurants nearby (we ate at “Seven Bridges”), and a large movie theater if you were so inclined.

Sunset on Anna Maria Island
Sunset on Anna Maria Island.

Our destination for this leg of the trip was Anna Maria Island, FL. We rented a pet-friendly house with friends for the week. It’s a small town about 20 miles north of Sarasota with magnificent beaches and sunsets. The sand was like baby powder, although not pet-friendly. But it was known for the fabulous sunsets.

However, the town, albeit small, was very accommodating to dogs and you could bring them into most stores. For a very small town, there were some excellent restaurants and even a small community theater. Our house had a 50 lb. pet limit, so it’s important to check with whomever you rent from.

Dog overlooking hot tub.
Charlie overlooking the hot tub and pool.

Some tips. Charlie was particularly easy to travel with, and we made sure to walk him often along the way. We brought along his dog bed which, I think, made his stays in the rooms familiar and comfortable for him. We are fortunate that he has no problem staying by himself for several hours at a time, to give us time for ourselves. We brought his water and food dishes, along with a large bag of his food and several bags of cookies. He primarily eats a prescription dry food (to maintain his weight) but we would spice it up at times with pieces of deli turkey, a tiny piece of left-over meatloaf (mine), and sometimes a broken cookie. He a very non-neurotic dog. We also took tweezers (in case of tics though he wears a Seresto collar), brush, scissors, and even an odor spray. None of our dogs have ever been on the furniture, and therefore we never had to worry about dog hair, except on the back seat of the car, so we have a complete dog cover for it. There’s where all his hair goes. At the truck or rest stops along the way you can always get fresh water and as it gets warmer as you head south, try to provide your dog with more watering stops. Most important, wherever you go, make sure you check the hotel’s pet policy on Petswelcome, especially the fee and weight limit. If you have a question about either one, it’s worth a call.

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