All work and no play can put anyone under the weather, which is why so many people are gearing up for their summer vacations. But when you have an emotional support animal (ESA), getting away for a break can be a little more challenging.
Emotional support animals are used by people who have a verified mental health condition or emotional disorder. This can range from anxiety attacks to clinical depression, and must be recognized by a medical professional. To have an ESA, a medical professional must also certify that the animal will benefit the sufferer in some way, allowing them to better live their life. This means that emotional support animals are often integral to a person’s wellbeing, and as such, will most likely be taking a summer vacation with them!
Where to Go
First of all, domestic travel will prove far easier than international trips. When leaving the States with any animal – ESA, service animal, or regular pet – you’ll have to consider a litany of checks such as “obtaining a health certificate, updating vaccinations, diagnostic testing, or administration of medications/ treatments,” according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. And this is before you’ve even got off the ground!
Furthermore, within the U.S., laws such as the Fair Housing Act offer limited protections to prevent property owners discriminating against a person based on their support animal, even if they rarely apply to vacation rentals. However, outside of the States, they won’t apply at all, and despite some vacation rentals having their own non-discrimination policies, this is worth considering. That said, many destinations around the world are very animal-friendly, and if you gather the required paperwork, you can expect a warm welcome from countries such as France, Spain, and the U.K. Even domestically, laws surrounding emotional support animals can vary widely, so you’ll need to read up on your specific destination before packing your bags.
If you’re looking for a city break, some places are far more accommodating of you and your ESA than others. Portland, for example, has more dog parks per capita than any other major city in the U.S., meaning they’re likely to be very receptive. Or Boston, where “local bars offer ‘Yappy Hours’ [when] patrons can bring their dogs along while they grab a pint.”
If you’re more of a “get back to nature” kind of person, there are plenty of national parks to visit that allow you to bring along dogs, such as the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado or the North Cascades National Parks in Washington.
Of course, one of the biggest deciding factors on where you will go is how you will get there.
How to Get There
One of the most frequent forms of transport for summer breaks is flying, and there’s great news for the jet-setters of the summer season: ESAs are strongly protected under the Air Carrier Access Act. The ACAA covers “any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support,” according to the Department of Transportation. This means that your companion can ride with you in the cabin of domestic flights or those departing from the U.S.
However, there are limitation to the protections offered to emotional support animals. Firstly, while the ACAA covers a range of support animals, there could be situations when unusual ESAs are barred from the cabin. For example, if the animal is deemed too large or heavy to fit in the cabin, if it is a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or if it could cause a significant disruption of cabin service, then it can be disallowed. And, although they might, airlines are “never required to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders,” according to the Department of Transportation.
Additionally, it is generally required that you contact your airline in advance, and ESAs will require documentation to fly. This documentation, in the form of an ESA letter, should be no older than a year and state that you have a recognized mental or emotional disability and need your emotional support animal. The documentation must be provided by a licensed mental health professional whose care you are under, with the date and type of professional license they hold, as well as where it was issued, clearly marked.
Furthermore, just like other U.S. legislation, the ACAA doesn’t apply to flights outside of the country! This means that if you are transferring (or even just returning home), your emotional support animal could be placed in the hold. Furthermore, some animals are banned from foreign countries (and even other states), meaning there is no way you can travel with them – the serval, for example, can be kept in about half of U.S. states, but not the other, and would land you in big trouble in countries such as the U.K.
Avoiding the Hassle
While the ACAA does allow you to fly with relative ease, it can still sometimes be a little too stressful, especially if you have an unusual ESA. If you want to avoid the hassle of navigating the ACAA, checking with vacation-property owners, and researching state laws, there are some other options.
First, staycations are becoming increasingly popular! A staycation is when you remain at home, but travel each day to attractions or leisure activities within driving distance. This may not be a traditional summer vacation, but when you’re always jetting off, you often miss amazing experiences in your own backyard.
If you’ve got itchy feet, however, and really want to go traveling with your ESA on summer vacation, then why not plan a road trip? There are many companies offering animal-friendly RV hire, generally on the condition that the vehicle is returned in the same condition as when you left. Of course, if you’re parking up at campsites, you’ll still need to check their animal policies, but it gives a lot more flexibility than short-term rentals and public transport.
There are plenty of protections that allow you to fly, and stay, with your emotional support animal on summer vacation, but many more options if you’re looking to avoid the hassle. At the end of the day, it’s mainly about deciding what kind of holiday you want – beach break, nature hike, city break, etc. – and then researching a specific destination (even if that destination is just one town over!).