10 tips for a dog-friendly road trip

During our big cross-country road trip last year (and in the months after), there’s one topic that we’ve gotten a lot of questions about: how we managed two months on the road with our dog, Callie.

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If you know anything about me, you know that I am OBSESSED with my dog. (Yes, I’m one of those dog people, and I will fly my freak flag proudly.) The truth is, like most aspects of dog ownership, road-tripping with Callie wasn’t always easy—but we wouldn’t have even thought about doing it any other way.

So for anyone who feels the same way and wants to plan a trip of your own, I put together a few tips and suggestions based on we learned from our experience. Whether you’re setting out on an epic adventure or just driving cross-country for a move, hopefully this can help you plan a smooth, stress-free trip for you and your pup!

But first, an important disclaimer: I am NOT a veterinarian, nor an expert. These are just general ideas taken from my personal experience. All dogs are different, and if your pup is an anxious traveler, gets carsick, or is upset by changes to routine, taking him on a long road trip might not be the best idea. If you have any concerns about your dog’s safety or fitness for long-term travel, you should consult with a professional.

With that said, here’s what helped us plan an awesome, dog-friendly road trip:

1. Practice, practice, practice!

Yes, you can practice for a road trip! Ever since Callie was a tiny puppy, we’ve been taking her backpacking, camping, to the lake, and on other short road trips all around the East Coast. Thanks to these experiences, we knew beforehand that she’s comfortable in the car, doesn’t get carsick (even on windy roads), and sleeps well in a tent. We also knew that she needs a good long walk after a few hours in the car—and that she has a weird tendency to try to rest her butt on the center console.

If you’re planning a road trip but aren’t sure how your dog will handle it, then take some time to test it out on a smaller scale: plan a weekend trip that involves several hours in the car and whatever type of sleeping arrangement you’d be using (tent camping, car camping, motels, etc.). Shorter adventures are a great way to prepare both you and your pup for something bigger.

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Callie admires the view at Crater Lake National Park

2. Create a comfortable and safe “home” in the car

If you’re traveling in a large vehicle like a camper or a converted bus, then this won’t be much of an issue. But for us—two tall people, a medium-sized dog, and months worth of stuff packed into a Subaru Forester—this took some careful planning and packing.

When your car is basically your home for weeks at a time, you want it to be comfortable, homey, and safe—for humans and canines both! So when you’re loading up, make sure your pup has three things:

  1. Plenty of space to stretch out
  2. Comfy blankets and pillows for napping
  3. A few toys to occupy him (or even better, a couple of his favorite toys from home for extra comfort).

Callie is crate trained, and often rides in her crate in the car—but we learned that for long stretches, she was much more comfortable in the backseat where she could be closer to us (and stick her nose out the window on nice days). Packing soft items in the foot wells and covering them with blankets gave her extra room and stability back there.

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We may not have been able to take Callie up in the space needle—but photo shoots on the lawn in front of it are totally allowed.

Of course, depending on the length of your trip, the size of your dog, the space in your vehicle, etc., a comfortable setup can look different for every pup. Which brings me to tip #3…

3. Get the right gear

Having the right gear with you can be the difference between a stressful, uncomfortable trip and a fun adventure. Here are some ideas for gear that might be worth considering when you’re traveling with a dog:

  • Collapsible crate
  • Dog hammock (for backseat riders like Callie)
  • Car restraint or booster seat
  • Backseat sun shade (to block strong sunlight)
  • Portable/collapsible bowls
  • Tether (for the dog who loves to explore but can’t be trusted off-leash)
  • Rain jacket and/or fleece
  • Sleeping bag or travel bed (to make any sleeping arrangements comfy, warm, and familiar)
  • Dog backpack (for hikes or long day trips)
  • Dog boots (for rough, snowy, or icy terrain)

A few brands we use and love include Kurgo, Alcott, and Ruffwear. And of course, don’t forget to bring plenty of treats and chew toys for your good boy or girl. 🙂

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Two of our most well-used items in action: a simple tether and Callie’s Alcott sleeping bag

4. Don’t forget your dog’s important paperwork

Before leaving on our trip, we got Callie a full check-up at the vet to make sure she was in good health and that all of her vaccinations were up to date. Then, we made photocopies of all of her important paperwork—her vet’s contact information, medical history, vaccination records, microchip information—and took several copies with us. We also left copies at home with our parents, just in case.

Thankfully, the only time we used this information was when we dropped Callie off at a boarder’s so we could explore the backcountry in a couple of national parks. But, knowing that we were prepared in case of an emergency gave us peace of mind.

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5. Make use of available crowd-sourcing resources

You’ve already found your way to this blog post, which is a GREAT start. 😉 But there are a ton of great resources out there, so do your research before heading out! Here’s a few that we found to be really helpful:

  • BringFido.com: a big bank of ideas and reviews for dog-friendly hotels, restaurants, activities, and more
  • Dog Park Finder Plus: an app that uses your location to find nearby dog parks, with crowd-sourced reviews and info
  • GoPetFriendly.com: more reviews + pet-friendly travel tips

With just a little extra research, it’s easy to find dog parks, boarders, dog-friendly restaurants, groomers, outdoor activities, and whatever else you might need while you’re traveling. Having the sites bookmarked and the apps downloaded before you leave makes it that much simpler.

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Callie enjoys the waterfront (and dog-friendly) patio at Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

6. Stop often for (dog-approved) breaks

For everyone’s sanity, you won’t want to drive for more than a few hours without making a pit stop. In hindsight, I think having Callie with us actually helped us ALL have a better road trip—even if Chris and I didn’t feel like we needed a break, we made sure to stop frequently so that Callie could sniff around and stretch her legs. Which, in the end, made us all happier and more relaxed!

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Our little rock climber living it up on a hike in Custer State Park outside of Hill City, South Dakota

Even better? Seek out stops that will give your dog extra fresh air and space. (In other words, think beyond rest stops and gas stations.) For example…our dog loves two things in particular:

A) Rolling in grass


B) Sprinting around in circles like a maniac and digging holes on the beach

Searching for pit stops with sandy beaches or lush green grass became a kind of game for us—because nothing was more fun than seeing Callie having the time of her life running, rolling, and digging across America!

7. Stick to a routine as much as possible

As a general rule, pups are creatures of habit and appreciate the stability of routine. Obviously, a long-term road trip is the opposite of stability—so to minimize stress for Callie, we worked to create routine wherever we could.

For example, only once or twice on our trip did we drive at night. Almost every day that we were on the road, we would find a spot to camp for the night by 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. at the latest. That way, we could stick to a familiar evening routine: Set up camp, go for a walk to explore our new campsite, feed Callie, cook dinner, drink a beer by the fire, go to bed. Even though our location changed nearly every night, we ALL enjoyed the familiarity of our camping routine.

Another way we created routine was with physical objects. At the beginning of our trip, Callie was pretty ambivalent about her sleeping bag. But after a week or so of camping, she understood that it was her spot—and that when the sleeping bag came out, it meant we were settling in for the night. Before long, as soon as she saw it she would happily trot over and snuggle up for the evening.

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Snug as a bug in a rug

8. Talk to your vet about adjusting your dog’s diet

This is one thing that we did NOT do—but, looking back, wish we had considered. Spending every day with Callie, we didn’t notice small changes in her physique. But when we got back home to N.C., our parents noted that she looked slightly skinnier than usual.

Sure enough, a quick check-up at the vet confirmed that she had lost a couple of pounds—likely due to a combination of increased activity and stress from traveling. Nothing drastic (and quickly remedied by increasing her food for a few months), but something we should have considered before!

Another related idea: If your dog tends to get a little bit nervous or motion sick in the car, try feeding her a smaller meal in the morning—and a larger one in the evening, once you’ve arrived at your destination for the night. This can help soothe any travel-related tummy problems, while making sure she gets the nutrition she needs.

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Callie is unimpressed by the Grand Canyon

9. Consider camping as a dog-friendly overnight option

I can (and probably will) write a separate post specifically about camping with a dog. But in general, it’s a great option for overnight stays on a road trip! In the interest of brevity, here are the few main benefits:

  • More options! Dog-friendly hotels can be much trickier to find, which makes the logistics of planning a road trip more difficult. Almost all campsites, including those at state and national parks, allow dogs—giving you lots more flexibility.
  • No pet fees! Camping means you don’t have to pay extra to bring your pup with you—a big bonus when you’re on a budget.
  • Plenty of outdoor space for walks and potty breaks! (In other words, no mornings spent cajoling your confused dog to pee on the two square feet of grass by the hotel parking lot.)

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10. Remember that your pup is a part of the family

Finally, here’s the bottom line: Bringing your dog on a road trip means making some sacrifices.

We ate a lot of meals in the car and on restaurant patios. We scooped a LOT of poop. In cities, we skipped art museums and shops in favor of outdoor strolls and dog-friendly breweries. (Okay, to be fair, we probably would have done that one anyway.) But my point is, having Callie along for the ride changed our road trip in some not-so-insignificant ways. But for us, Callie is a part of our family—and with that mindset, it never really felt like we were making sacrifices. Because of Callie, we spent less money and more time outside exploring our surroundings. We found extra joy in our travels whenever Callie was having a great time, too.

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Callie’s first trip to the Pacific Ocean in Olympic National Park

And most importantly, we had the whole family together.

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What other tips or suggestions do you have for traveling with your dog? Any favorite spots, gear, or road trip stories? I’d love to hear!

 

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3 thoughts on “10 tips for a dog-friendly road trip

  1. This looks awesome! I’d LOVE to do a roadtrip with my dog! But first I’d need to get a car…and a dog. Those are some goals right there! Have you seen the expedition happiness youtube videos? It’s all about a couple travelling around the US with their huge Bernese Mt. Dog!

    Liked by 1 person

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