I love road trips. Obviously. What I love the most is that every road trip is an adventure and it’s never the same even if you travel the same route. Since 2015, I have travelled alone across country with my dogs. I’ve learnt some things along the way and I’d like to share them with you here. Or if you’re looking for some gift ideas for the road tripper and their dogs, check out our Gear Guides and Product Reviews for the things that we all want but may not get for ourselves. Being prepared for a road trip means that you can hit the road anytime with minimal effort.
Planning a Road Trip
Preparing for your road trip can be as in-depth or on the fly as you like. It’s one thing knowing how to prepare for a road trip alone, however know that planning a road trip with a dog, or several, will involve more work. The way I look at it, the road trip is my idea so I should make it as fun and comfortable for them as I possibly can.
Some of the biggest factors to consider are:
- how many days you plan on being on the road
- the longer you will be out, the more food you will need to pack for your dog and the more supplies you will need.
- where you will stay
- hotel vs motel vs AirBnb vs camping
- your fitness and energy level
- will you be stopping to hike every trail or content with sedate walks around a city park?
- how many dogs you have, their fitness, and energy levels
- juggling dogs of different energy and health levels can be tricky as your pup may want to climb a mountain while your senior citizen wants to bask in the sun.
- the weather as you may want to bring winter or rain coats or a tarp to provide shade or cover from rain
If your dog is new to travelling in a vehicle, make sure you spend some time getting them used to being inside a car. If they’re not used to being in a crate but they will be for long distances, start introducing it early on so that it becomes part of the car experience. If you want them secured by a harness, they should get used to wearing it around home before strapping them into the car. Above all, make the car a fun place. This may mean having them sit in the car, giving them a treat or special toy, and letting them right out again, then repeating that over and over again.
Be Ready to Bug-out
I have a backpack that is always ready to go with my road trip essentials like a hair brush and elastics, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste (and floss because one day I may actually remember to use it), and 2-in-1 shampoo. All I have to do is throw in some clothes and I’m good to go. I’ve even been known to keep a weeks worth of socks, underwear, a few T-shirts and a pair of convertible pants in my bag just to make it easier to go.
My travelling wardrobe consists of convertible cargo pants (the lower section zips off so I can go from pants to shorts), some T-shirts, a merino wool zip-up, and a rain jacket. Layers are the name of the game. Running shoes and a pair of sandals take me anywhere and everywhere. If I’m going to doing a lot of hiking over rough terrain, I make sure to bring sturdy footwear such as my Arc’teryx Aerios hiking shoes. I learned the hard way that the Canadian Shield will shred the soles of ordinary running shoes.
Check here for more on my essential gear.
Keep Things Accessible
Nothing sucks more than wasting time scrounging around for your travel gear. I have my regular gear in one closet and the more specialized backpacking gear in another. During road trip season, my tent is kept in the closet at my front door so I can grab it at a moment’s notice.
When it’s time to pack, I simply have to grab my sleeping bag and pad, pillow, food tubs, and camp stove and we’re good to go.
Road Trip Essentials for Dogs
What you bring for your dog is going to depend on the road trip you plan on taking. A weekend in a bed and breakfast will not require the same things as a multi-week camping trip. Not to mention your dog’s personality: are they a vigorous chewer, lazy sunbather, or need a comfort toy or blanket?
I have up-to-date copies of the dog’s vaccination records in an envelope in my glove box which I replace every year after their annual exams. That way I always know where they are and it makes crossing borders that much easier. I also keep a copy in my bag along with copies of my documents, just in case.
A reusable grocery bag has a permanent spot in my truck and holds spare leashes and collars, a tie-out with clips on each end, extra rope, and bungees. It’s not all dog-related (unless they want to bungee off a picnic table) but it’s all in one place so I don’t have to unpack my trunk to look for it. All the dogs really need for most trips is their food, blankets, bowls, and a tie-out.
The dogs have a variety of blankets and foam pads to keep them comfortable and warm. It also protects the floor of my tent and acts as an extra barrier when the temperatures drop. The pads are kept with my gear and the blankets are usually scattered around the living room so it’s quick to grab them and dump them in the backseat of the car.
I like to put a Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest sleeping pad down first then top it with an old closed cell pad. An old flat sheet covers the pads and any exposed floor and then their microfibre blankets and a down camping comforter. Yes that may be a little bit of overkill but when you’re travelling with senior citizens or dogs with think coats like Leo, they are more susceptible to the cold and dampness. If they get cold overnight, they won’t be enjoying themselves and will be be too sore for fun hikes the next day. Not to mention the fact that they will try and climb into my sleeping bag to get warm. Of course that doesn’t stop King from trying to take over my sleeping bag whenever I’m not in it. On the nights when the temperature drops more than expected, I unzip my sleeping bag so they can snuggle close, and pile all the blankets over top of us. Those are the times, as rare as they are, that I am thankful for my obsessive blanket collection.
An outdoor blanket stays permanently in the car for the dogs. I can lay it out and give them a dry place to rest, it keeps a pile of blankets relatively clean, and acts as a giant table cloth for their food bowl. It makes cleaning up all the spills so much easier and helps to keep our site from becoming a wildlife attraction.
The Value of Tetris
When you drive a small car, you become a master at maximizing space. Until I started using the floor of my backseat, I had a hard time fitting everything in the trunk. Now I keep the dog’s sleeping pads on the floor of the rear seats, which extends the backseat to give them more room, and frees up valuable trunk space. I’m a big fan of using bins to help keep things organized and dry. My dried food, dishes, and cutlery (not to mention the all-important coffee supplies) are kept in bins that stack two high and fit perfectly in my trunk.
The Road Experience
Once you’ve got your car all packed and you have an idea about where you’re going, the fun can really begin. The more preparation you put into your trip, the easier you’ll be able to deal with any issues that may arise. Even though I don’t often have the details planned, I am prepared to handle whatever the road may throw at me, be it a flat tire or an injured pup.
Consider what you would do if you got a flat tire, or ran out of gas, or your dog tried to be friends with a porcupine. Do you know how to change a tire or will you call for roadside assistance? What happens if you don’t have cell coverage? If that thought gives you anxiety, what do you need to do to address it? Will you learn how to change a tire or never stray from reliable cell phone range? Knowing how you will respond to different situations is the best way to prepare, not having every moment written in an itinerary.
Where You To
Hardcopy maps are great to have but I’ve learned that they can be hard to find. I’ve also noticed that street names on maps aren’t always the names on the street signs which can make navigation difficult. Maps like the ones with iPhones or Google Maps are great but only if you have service and they send you to the right place so you can’t always turn on the app and turn off your brain as I have been known to do from time to time. If you’re worried about going through data, what I’ve done is input the destination and then once underway, turned my phone to airplane mode.
A Roof Over Your Head
One of the biggest things I learned was that hotels and motels can be great for the night or an absolute nightmare. I have noticed that what is advertised on websites like Expedia or Hotwire isn’t always accurate. They may have one thing listed about pets (like there are no fees) but then you get there and lo and behold, there’s a pet fee. I understand that policies may change and new management may take over but it is still frustrating. The easiest way to avoid this is to call before you book to confirm if pets are allowed and whether there is a pet fee or pet deposit. Yes it’s an extra step but it can save you hassles when you get there.
Camping is our preferred way to spend the night as it is often considerably cheaper but even this has potential pitfalls. Some campgrounds have restrictions about how many dogs are allowed and they may have some places that are off-limits. It’s usually a safe assumption that dogs will not be allowed on beaches or if they are, dogs will have to be on leash so it’s worth clarifying when you book if you have water babies like I do. Sometimes you end up camping on the side of the road like we did in Arizona.
If you don’t mind roughing it even more, look into the locations and regulations of Crown land in Canada and Bureau of Land Management land in the United States. These are often huge swathes of land where you can camp for free. It goes without saying that you must be a responsible dog owner and practice all the Leave no Trace principles.
I recently discovered Airbnb and it can be a great alternative to commercial places so don’t let dogs stop you from using that as a possible resource. Which brings me to my next point…
Talk to The Locals
They are a wealth of information! I have found some amazing scenery and great food by talking to a living, breathing human instead of always relying on the online review apps. They have also been able to point me in the direction of places where the dogs can run off-leash which is a bonus when you’re travelling.
Sometimes Just Stop
I find the urge to capture every moment can be the biggest stressor of travelling. There seems to be this feeling that if it’s not on Instagram it never happened. I know because I’ve been there as I’ve been caught up in trying to get the perfect photo only to find that it was affecting my enjoyment and appreciation of where I was. Do yourself a favour and put down the phone or camera or GoPro and just experience where you are. Scratch a few dog ears, give a little cuddle, and take a moment of gratitude. I promise you won’t regret it.