Road Trips with Dogs: All You Need to Know
Planning road trips with dogs can be tricky, whether you’re a seasoned traveler or organizing your very first trip together. But you can already picture it. The windows down, the fresh air rolling through the car, and then … something. For now, the vision ends there.
To keep things simple, we’ve gathered the best of our essential tips and created an easy four-step roadmap to planning your perfect trip.
What’s Your Style?
Some people hear ‘road trip’ and automatically picture a fully-equipped van, straight from a carefully curated Instagram feed. Others might imagine themselves in their normal car, or winding cross-country in a comfy motorhome.
The first step to organizing your trip is discovering what sort of traveler you are. Choosing the right method of transport for your journey is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success.
The Best Way to Travel with A Dog
The best way to travel with your dog is the way that you feel the most comfortable.
While it is important to take into consideration that you’ll need enough space for you and your dog, you also want to be comfortable in whatever you’re driving.
If you regularly head out in an RV, then you won’t have any problems driving one for an extended period of time. If you’ve never touched a motorhome or hitched a tow in your life, then such a bulky vehicle can take some getting used to. Depending on the type of trip you’re going on, it may not be the time to learn.
The same goes for your usual car. If you’re traveling with three large Great Danes, is a small hatchback the best option?
Which Vehicle is Best for Road Trips with Dogs?
If you like a more luxurious style of travel, you’ll feel right at home in an RV. These are the perfect compromise between needing to find a hotel every night and roughing it outdoors in a tent. They also provide lots of room for your dog to move around and stretch their legs during stopovers.
When traveling in an RV, you must still secure your pet as though you were riding in a car or van. The bonus is that you’ll have far more room to do so!
If you’ll be towing a trailer rather than driving a motorhome, I also strongly recommend taking some tow classes before you hit the road. While the process might seem self explanatory, these lessons demonstrate some great hints and tips that can’t always be picked up over the internet. Safe towing practices can save lives.
This may also go without saying, but never leave your dog unattended in the RV. It may feel like a home, but even with preventative measures like air conditioning in place, things can quickly go wrong. I don’t think I’m the first person to have heard the old horror story of a vehicle being stolen with a pet trapped inside!
While Instagram has shown us exactly how extravagant people movers can become, you don’t need anything fancy to make road tripping in a van with your dog work.
Van life definitely has its advantages. Your supplies are always packed and secure, you don’t need to worry about supervising your pet during long setups, and it’s much easier to quickly pull in and out of campsites. This lack of stress makes it an incredibly dog friendly way to travel.
The biggest downside to van life is the lack of storage space. While this can be worked around with roof racks and cupboard installations, these costs can add up financially and take time away from your trip. The average van is unlikely to be able to fit a crate for your dog as well as your own mattress for sleeping, meaning you might find yourself with a new bunkmate or two.
If you’re a solo traveler or planning on spending most of your time outdoors, this slightly cramped sleeping situation may not bother you as much as it would a couple or someone traveling with purpose. If your dog normally sleeps with you anyway, that might even make this a win!
For most people, particularly first timers, the most accessible way to road trip is to use their own car. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, either!
With preparation and careful packing, road tripping in your regular vehicle can be incredibly comfortable. You have the advantage of already being confident driving your vehicle, meaning you can venture into places you may not otherwise, like winding mountain roads or more remote areas.
Cars also provide space to properly secure your pets in the back seat, whether you choose to use a crate, seatbelt extension or another method.
The biggest con? It’s unlikely you will be able to sleep in your vehicle, so you will require either equipment like a tent or hotel accommodation.
Okay yes, a hire car is still a car. The upside? It can be slightly more customisable. If you don’t normally use your car to travel long distances, or you’re traveling with multiple dogs, having the option to temporarily bump your vehicle up in size can be quite handy.
Before booking, however, you’ll need to check the hire car company policies carefully. Some rentals have specific requirements for traveling with pets, while others won’t allow dogs at all.
Traveling with a Dog: Plan Ahead
While spontaneity is exciting, the key to a successful road trip with a pet is to plan ahead. You can still leave a little bit to chance, like your daily activities, but important milestones such as your final location, any overnight accommodation, and bathroom breaks should be organized before you leave.
This will reduce the stress levels of both you and your dog. As obvious as it might sound, it’s important to remember that our dogs can’t communicate in the same way that we can. They may be able to whine for a bathroom break, but they can’t outright ask, and little signals can be missed if you’re focused on the road.
If you’re like me and will be traveling with multiple dogs, the importance of planning ahead increases tenfold. I often take the dogs out on solo road trips and, while it’s incredibly rewarding, having more than just one dog dependent on you can really add to the chaos.
When planning your route, you’ll need to consider:
The Dog Friendly Destination
If you’re road-tripping with the purpose of seeing your family and friends, you’ll likely already have your final destination planned. You’ll already have considered the weather, the distance covered, and be somewhat familiar with your route.
On the other hand, if you’re simply traveling for leisure, you have the world at your feet. So where should you go?
Our biggest recommendation to beginners is to start small. It can be difficult to predict how your dog may react to a longer journey, and starting with a shorter trip gives you a chance to work out any kinks. Nobody wants to end their holiday with their tail between their legs. Finish this initial trip on a high and you’re all the more likely to want to go again!
Where exactly you should aim to end up will vary on your starting location. I’ve always found a dog-friendly beach or lake within a two days drive to be a fantastic starting point. The roads on these sorts of trips are often in great condition since they’re used so frequently, and you’ll often be surrounded by other travelers who also have dogs with them should you need any advice or back up supplies.
If you’re a more experienced traveler, or just a more confident driver, you might feel comfortable wandering further off of the beaten track. This is such an exciting time and a great bonding experience for you and your dog. If you’re more inclined towards this sort of trip, remember to:
- Research the weather well in advance. Different dog breeds will have different needs, and you don’t want to end up somewhere completely unsuitable for your travel companion.
- Familiarize yourself with multiple routes or print paper maps. The wilderness isn’t known for its internet access, which can make being faced with a sudden road closure much trickier.
After all of this, you might still find yourself in a situation constantly faced by travelers. You just don’t want it to end!
This is perfectly normal. If you find yourself at your end destination, riding the high of a successful trip, and simply not ready to go home, pause and take a moment to plan your next steps.
You need to consider the needs of both you and your dog, and this can take some organizing. Ask yourself:
- Is the climate of your next stop appropriate for your dog, or will you need to buy new supplies like a snow coat or dog-friendly SPF?
- Will there be pet-friendly accommodation available, or will you end up stuck sleeping in the car? Will you need to book in advance?
- What activities will you be participating in? You don’t need to hash out the specifics, but if you’ll be hiking, you may need to plan to stop for more water before arriving.
Depending on the length of your road trip you may just need to account for one overnight stop, or you might need to book a few.
Unfortunately, not all accommodation is dog-friendly. While you might be okay sleeping in your car overnight, this can be slightly trickier with a dog in tow. Keep in mind as well that depending on where you’re traveling, camping in your car might not even be permitted legally.
If you do find a great spot that accommodates your four-legged friends, be sure to check their terms and conditions before booking. Some overnight stops may have specific requirements for leashes or muzzling. Sadly, many campgrounds and pet-friendly hotels also still discriminate based on breed or size. If your furry friend often faces these types of issues, you want to be sure you’re giving your business to more accepting spots.
Bathroom Breaks during a Road Trip with a Dog
Bathroom breaks are another stop that must be at least roughly planned in advance when you are traveling with a dog.
Just like overnight accommodation, it can be tricky to find stops by the side of the road that are pet friendly. Depending on which areas you’re traveling though, you may not be able to simply stop wherever and whenever you need to.
Before leaving on your trip, try recording how often your pet needs a bathroom break. This will help you space out your stops accordingly. If in doubt, we always recommend planning more stops than you think you’ll need.
Worst case scenario? You and your puppy end up with an extra opportunity to stretch your legs.
Packing The Right Gear
By now, you should have a rough idea of the type of trip you’re planning. Progress! Before you finally set off, however, you’ll still need to prep and pack the appropriate supplies for your trip.
Packing for a solo road trip can be hard, but packing for a road trip with your dog (or dogs, plural) can feel like balancing on a tightrope. While you want to be prepared for anything, you also don’t want to cart along a load of equipment that does nothing but take up space. If you have more than one dog on board, then the issue of space becomes even more sensitive. So what is an essential, really?
Our list of dog road trip essentials has been narrowed down to only include the things we’ve found we really needed on our many cross-country trips. Each time we head off on a trip, I simply print off a copy of this list and tick things off as I purchase them and pack them. It keeps the process simple and means I never end up forgetting an essential.
If you’re planning on taking the adventure a little further and trying your hand at camping, the dilemma starts again. What sort of tent will you need? What exactly is essential, and which products just make things that little bit easier?
Our comprehensive list of the must-have dog camping supplies for 2023 is another great reference point. Covering everything from car essentials to SPF, this is the ultimate ‘must-pack’ list for any doggy camping debuts. We found these products to be efficient and worthy investments that earned their space in the car. As an added bonus, many of them can be shared between two dogs. This means you won’t have to double up and can save a little extra room in the back for lounging around.
Planning For The Good and Bad
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones.
This rings especially true when you’re road tripping with a dog. Just like us, our dogs can have bad days. If you plan for common issues ahead of time, you’re less likely to start up a sweat if they pop up on the road.
If you’ve followed the packing list, you’ll be prepared to face any ailments with a well-fitted first-aid kit at the minimum. But what about smaller bumps in the road?
Our three biggest ‘stones’ on the road have been:
Motion sickness and road trips don’t sound like the best match, and that’s because they usually aren’t! Luckily, having a dog who suffers from motion sickness doesn’t have to be the end of your adventures.
These handy ginger motion sickness remedies are great preventatives that will keep you chugging along. Ginger remedies are natural, easy to administer, and highly effective. More than once have they saved us from a nasty situation while out on the road.
If the problem runs a little deeper than simple nausea, you might need to consider if your dog is suffering from car anxiety. This isn’t always obvious and can present as motion sickness. Doing some preliminary research and working to get your dog used to the car before embarking on a longer trip will help you tackle this.
As we mentioned before, this usually comes down to poor planning. Stopping for a spontaneous hike is incredibly exciting but not always appropriate. If you know you’ll be tempted off the beaten track then it is best to always pack more water than you think you could possibly need. This will also account for any sudden changes in the weather – see below! Don’t count on the winter chill to get you through without incident.
As much as you research and plan, ultimately, you can’t control the weather. Traveling extensively, we’ve been stuck in our fair share of unexpected weather events.
For that reason, I’ll be the first to tell you that it never hurts to have a simple cold-weather kit or doggy raincoat on hand at the minimum. You don’t need to carry a full wardrobe for your dog, but having these simple supplies on hand will do more good than harm.
One last tip, fluffball owner to fluffball owner? Don’t put off all of your car cleaning and maintenance until you get home. There’s nothing like coming home to a clean house after a holiday and you shouldn’t treat your car any differently.
The best way to stop your car from becoming a giant mud pit or hairball on wheels is to prevent it from getting like that in the first place. If that fails, we still have a few other tricks up our sleeve.
Time To Go!
You’ve poured over maps, booked cars and accommodation, and thoroughly researched weather appropriate gear for your dog’s specific breed.
Now take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is a holiday.
You’ve done everything in your power to set yourself up for success. Remember that in the end, your dog isn’t worried about having the most optimal trip. They’re just excited to spend time with you! Which vehilcLike with most things, it’s deciding where to start that is the most difficult part.