Wednesday 16th May
This article will focus on travelling within France, as opposed to travelling between France and the UK. You may wish to travel with your animal to visit relatives or friends, or even just to visit sites of interest around the country. In any case, travelling with your pet can be done but necessitates a bit of organisation and planning ahead. It all depends on the type of transport that you wish to use. As a dog owner, I’ve always made a point of bringing my dog with me everywhere, and it was important for me to getting her used to various means of transport from an early age. To this day, she’s travelled by car, by train, by bus, by bike (on a bike trailer), by boat (large and small ferries, and sail boat), by canoe, and even a short plane journey to go to North Ronaldsay on the Orkney Islands! I’ve travelled to several countries with her, including Ireland, France and the UK of course, but also Spain, and Italy.
So, having a bit of experience in travelling with an animal, I thought I’d share it with you and I hope this will be of interest for your future travels.
Travelling by car
This is probably the easiest way of travelling with your animal. Whatever the size of your pet and your destination, the car allows complete flexibility in terms of breaks and comfort for your animal.
If you are travelling long distances, the motorways have very good services along the way with ample room to go for a walk and stretch everybody’s legs. Some even have water games like fountains and showers, and if it’s very hot, it can be useful to get your dog wet to cool him down. With a cat of course, it could be dangerous to let him out, but you should be able to give him a break from the vibrations of the car and give him some fresh air by bringing his travelling basket outside the car and in a quiet, shaded spot. In any case, regular breaks will make for a more enjoyable and relaxed journey for everybody.
On shorter distances, if you are staying on minor roads, I always found that there are lovely villages and small towns on the way to stop and have a break. You will see them marked as “village étape” on the motorway signs. Depending on how long you want to stop for, you could go for a longer walk around the village (many have marked trails, starting point is usually the centre of the village: church or mairie), or simply amble along the streets. It is useful to know that many restaurants will accept dogs in their dining room as well as on the outdoor area. I always ask to be sure it won’t be an issue, but as long as your animal is well behaved, it is unlikely to be a problem. If you have a cat, you have to be very careful if ever you decide to leave him in the car during your break. As you know cars can become extremely hot very quickly, and personally, I would rather look a bit atypical and bring my cat in a restaurant with me rather than risking killing him from heatstroke.
Lastly, from the point of view of the law, your animal is not supposed to be able to impede your driving by blocking your field of vision or your movements, and as a “passenger” should be tied with the seat belt. This means that your animal needs to be contained while travelling. To do so, you can either get a harness that attaches to the seat belt or clips onto the belt’s attachment, or get a travelling crate which will be tied or secured to the vehicle. And your animal should be on the back seat or the boot and not be able to reach you. It is also worth noting that in case of collision, a loose animal can become a lethal projectile, so it is another good reason to have him tied and safe.
Travelling by train
The SNCF allows you to travel with your animal in most cases. There are however some conditions that we’ll look into now.
Apart from assistance dogs who travel for free and without ticket, you’ll have to book and pay for your animal to travel with you. The fee will depend on the size of the animal and of your destination in some cases. You can travel with a maximum of two dogs or two travel boxes per person in every trains except for Eurostar.
If your animal weights less than 6kg, he or she will need to be transported in a bag or box measuring 45cm x 30cm x 25cm or less. The travel fee is €7 for TGV, Intercités (regular trains), and TER (Train Express Régional, for shorter journeys). The bag or box will have to be placed on the floor under your seat, or on your knees. On Ouigo and iDTGV, the transport is free but the box counts as a luggage.
If your animal weights more than 6kg, he or she will need to be muzzelled (good luck with muzzling a Maine Coon!), and the travelling fee will be 50% of a second-class ticket for your destination (even if you are traveling first class) in TGV, Intercités and TER. There are specific fees in other types of trains (see article “How to travel by train in France”): on Ouigo larger animals travel for €30 per journey and on iDTGV it costs €35 and you must travel in iDzap. It is worth noting that this does not mean that your animal has a reserved seat, but that he is allowed to travel, he will usually have to stay in the aisle or under your seat. There are no specific designated seats for people travelling with pets, so large pets end up being a bit in the way. But far from being a problem, I often found that people like to have a dog nearby to pet, it’s a good way to engage conversation, and parents travelling with kids are usually glad to be able to distract them for a few minutes. So, expect lots of cuddles and fuss over your animal. These pet tickets are exchangeable for free until the day before the day of travel, and for 10% of the value of the ticket for the whole time the ticket is valid. They are not exchangeable past their validity period. You can be refunded 90% of the ticket’s value until the end of the validity period.
The SNCF also stipulates that animals travelling must be with a guardian at all time and are the guardian’s responsibility. The transport of animals is under the condition that other travellers do not oppose travelling with an animal. It is also specified that categories 1 and 2 of dogs (Pitbull, Mastiff, Tosa, Rottweiler, and similar types) are not allowed onboard the trains. The box containing an animal must have the following information written on it: animal’s name, identification number, responsible passenger’s name and phone number as well as the destination address.
Travelling by other public transports
Other public transports (bus, coach, or plane) have individual policies concerning the transport of animals, so it is best checking with them before bringing your animal.
As a general rule, pets are only allowed in public transports if they can be transported in a box or bag that is carried on your lap (assistance dogs are accepted everywhere). But some companies ban animals altogether, so once again it is wise to contact the transport company in the first place and ask if you can bring your animal.
It is worth noting that if you are travelling by plane, large pets will have to travel in the boot in an approved transport crate and that the whole process needs time and is relatively expensive.
To conclude, travelling in France with your animal can be a nice and relaxed experience. You will have to keep in mind the welfare and comfort of your animal during the journey. But I think the most important thing to make your travels with your pet enjoyable, is to get him use to various situation as early as possible. An animal who is used to be in a box, or who knows that the car is a pleasurable experience, will be no problem for you or other travellers, and your animal’s welfare will also be greatly improved if he is calm and relaxed. I hope you enjoy travelling in France and that your pet enjoys it too. Happy travels!