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Brett and I recently went on a 3,000 mile road trip to visit some grad schools he’s interested in. We had been organizing the trip for a few weeks, and then we did something a little crazy: we adopted a dog. That meant that our plans needed some tweaking to accomodate this addition to our family.
Luckily, I grew up with dogs who often traveled with us on family trips, so I have learned a few things along the way. If you’re planning a road trip with your dog, here are some tips for making it enjoyable and fun for everybody.
Book Pet-Friendly Lodging
Our biggest concern after adopting Maisie was finding places to stay with her. When my family travelled with dogs, we spent many nights camping. Hipcamp is a great place to find pet-friendly camping sites in group campgrounds or on private land. You can use the code JESSF3195E6 for $10 credit toward your first booking with Hipcamp! (Bonus: if you’ve got land that you’re willing to let people camp on, use the same code to get $100 cash for signing up as a host.)
For this trip, we were able to find pet-friendly stays for every leg of our trip by using Airbnb. Not only were our lodgings more cozy and comfortable than a hotel room, but they were also much cheaper—especially when you consider the extra pet fees even pet-friendly hotels charge. We actually hadn’t even considered Airbnbs before we got Maisie, but I’m really glad we went that route. Airbnb and Hipcamp will definitely be our first places to look for lodging on road trips moving forward.
Get Your Dog Used to the Car Before You Travel
Dogs and car rides are often considered a match made in heaven, but the truth is that not every dog loves to be in the car. Motion sickness is a real thing for many of them, and dogs with anxiety may find the extra stimulus overwhelming. Before you embark on a 3,000 mile road trip, give your dog some time to get used to car rides. Start with short trips to fun places, like your favorite park or walking trail and gradually build up to longer drives. Avoid feeding your pup a large meal for a few hours before getting in the car, but don’t be afraid to give them a treat or two to help them associate the car with positive experiences.
Double check your dog’s vaccination records to verify that everything is up to date, and check with your veterinarian for additional recommendations for your area of travel. If you’re going to an area where fleas and ticks are common, consider treating your dog with a preventative and learn how to safely remove ticks if you do find some. Bring your pup’s health records along (save space by scanning them and saving them on your phone) in case an emergency necessitates a visit to a local vet.
Update your Dog's Microchip Information
As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Hopefully, you won’t have to worry about a runaway dog on your road trip, but it’s far better to be safe than sorry. If your dog is microchipped, log in to your user portal to verify that your contact information is correct. It’s easy to forget to update this info if you’ve moved recently or changed phones, but if your dog does run off and you have to leave for home before they’re found, accurate microchip information can help you reconnect.
Because lost dogs don’t always get their chips scanned by those who find them, it’s also a good idea to equip your pup’s collar with a dog tag that includes your phone number(s). Many department and grocery stores have dog tag kiosks at the front of the store, and you can have one engraved for just a few dollars.
Research Pet-Friendly Attractions
The heart of any good road trip is the sightseeing, but not every destination is going to be a good fit for your dog. For example, dogs aren’t allowed outside of your vehicle at many national parks. (Here’s a great list of parks where they are allowed.) If you’re traveling in the summer and want to be able to get out of your car to enjoy nature at these parks, bringing your dog might not be the best plan.
Find a Sitter
One of our destinations was Nauvoo, Illinois, a historical city on the banks of the Mississippi that played an integral role in the early days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While there is plenty of outdoor space where we could have walked Maisie around, we knew that we were going to want to tour the historical homes, where dogs aren’t allowed. We looked at options for boarding or doggie daycare, but the nearest facility was over an hour away and very expensive.
That’s when I remembered Rover.com, a site where you can hire local dog walkers and pet-sitters, many of whom are willing to host your dog in their home. We made arrangements to have Maisie stay with a family who lived on a beautiful farm just outside of Nauvoo. They took her for a walk, gave her puppy play time with their own dog, and kept her safe and comfortable until we returned—all for less than we would have paid to take her to a kennel for the day. It was perfect.
Rover walkers and sitters are a great option if you have stops on your route that aren’t so pet-friendly. Use this link to book your first walk or stay and get $20 off!
In the mad rush to pack the car and get out the door, don’t accidentally forget to pack the essentials your dog will need on the trip, too. Here are some things you definitely shouldn’t forget to bring:
Leash, Collar, and Harness
Seems like a no brainer, but double checking to make sure you have these can mitigate disaster. (If you don’t have a harness for your dog, see tip #12 for reasons why you might want to get one.)
Their Own Bed
New locations can be unsettling for your dog, and any familiar detail can help them feel more at ease.
Food and Water Dishes
It’s not a good idea to feed your dog in the car, but providing water will help prevent them from getting dehydrated. A bowl with a wider base will mitigate spillage issues, or you can even splurge on a fancy no-spill dog bowl. If your dog isn’t keen on drinking in a moving vehicle, make sure to offer them water every time you stop.
Always pack more dog food than you think you’ll use in case unforseen circumstances delay your return home—especially if your dog has to eat special food. Not all foods are available everywhere, and unexpected changes in diet can upset a dog’s digestive tract.
Not every travel stop has water available, so be sure to bring a reusable water bottle, which you can fill up at gas stations or your nightly accommodations. This can also be a lifesaver if you get waylaid by car troubles.
Kids and Pets Spray
Brett’s dad recommended Kids and Pets spray to us, and it is by far the best stain and odor remover I’ve ever used. Keep a bottle of this in the car to clean up any *accidents.*
Cleaning wipes are great for small messes. If you hate the waste as much as I do, follow this recipe from Moral Fibres to make your own reusable cleaning wipes.
Dogs are messy, okay? Old towels are great for cleaning up bigger messes than a wipe can handle without having to sacrifice your own bath towel.
Please be a responsible dog owner and clean up your pupper’s poop. Don’t forget your doggie bags or a compact pooper scooper.
Toys and Treats
Keep your pup occupied and relaxed in the car with some of their favorite toys. Maisie is a huge fan of Kong and Playology toys (and we love that they’re not squeaky… 😉).
Just like you’d want your family members to buckle up for safety in the car, it’s important to keep your dog secure. There are a variety of options for safety equipment for dogs, including crates, seatbelts, seat hammocks, etc., and every dog and owner is going to have their preference. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to make sure it’s something that will prevent your dog from falling into the seat wells if you have to brake suddenly, or—knock on wood—getting thrown from the car if you’re in an accident.
And as cute and iconic as it might be to see a dog sticking its head out the window, it’s actually really dangerous for them. Flying rocks and debris cause serious injuries and the force of the wind can be bad for their eyes, ears, and noses. Keeping the window cracked while traveling at city traffic speeds can be okay, but if possible, you should avoid letting your dog stick their sniffer out the window when traveling at highway speeds.
Also, you should never, ever let your dog sit on your lap while driving. Not only is it distracting for you as the driver, but if you are in an accident and your airbags deploy, the force can kill your dog. Please be safe.
Keep Fido Comfy
In addition to keeping your dog safe, providing a comfortable space for your dog will help them be calm and quiet travel companions. Laying down a blanket or keeping their bed in the back seat gives them a comfortable place to settle and keeps seat belt buckles from getting hot. If you don’t have tinted windows, consider getting some static cling sunshades for your rear windows to keep the sun out, and be sure to aim the AC vents so that it reaches the back seat. If you like to listen to music, make sure to keep the volume low to avoid bothering your pup’s sensitive ears.
Prepare to Stop More Often
We humans sometimes like to make as few stops as possible when we’re traveling, but doing so can lead to your dog getting restless. Be sure to stop every couple of hours to let them out to stretch, go potty, and drink some water. Many gas stations and rest stops have pet areas (remember to clean up!), and we even encountered a few that had small dog parks. But for some dogs, the extra stimulus of a busy travel stop can make it hard for them to settle down enough to take care of business. You might consider looking for dog-friendly parks along your route so you can let your pooch out for a more relaxing breather.
Look for Dog Parks
If your pup is fully vaccinated, gets along well with other dogs, and has good recall skills, dog parks can be a fun and safe space for your dog to get some exercize and burn off energy. Most cities these days have dog parks, and even some of the small towns we drove through surprised us with really nice off-leash parks. Maisie loved every opportunity to get out of the car and run for a bit.
If you can’t find a dog park—of if they’re not a good fit for your pup–walking trails or short hikes can also provide a nice break for canines and humans alike.
Use a Harness
Nervous dogs are surprisingly good at pulling out of their collars. Even if your dog is normally calm and well behaved, unfamiliar locations and new stimuli can be scary for them. Using a harness instead of relying on just a collar will give you an extra level of security when taking your dog out of the car. But remember, a really determined dog can even pull out of a harness, so keep a good eye on your pup and take them back to the security of the car if they’re starting to show signs that they might try to escape. It’s also a good idea to get your dog used to wearing the harness before heading out on your trip.
Dogs make road trips extra fun, and planning a trip with your pooch doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated. I’d love to hear your favorite tips for traveling with pets! Share your ideas in the comments below!
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