How To Road Trip with Your Dog

How to Road Trip with Your dog

Road tripping is one of the best (and cheapest) ways to see the country. Going with your dog makes it even more fun. Road tripping with your dog can feel like a big undertaking, but with a little extra planning, it can be super smooth and ultra rewarding.

My dog Tango has been on multiple road trips with me in our 8+ years together. It’s hard to count how many times we’ve been back and forth across the U.S. and Canada over the years, including a 3 month road trip back in 2015.  I’ve learned a lot over the years and have since honed our routine.

Here’s how to get ready:


1} Preparation: Get them ready for long stretches of being still and in the car.

 > > If your dog is older and more mellow, they’ll be fine and will probably sleep most of the time. If you have a younger, more energetic dog though, you’ll want to make some test runs to see how they do in the car. Taking some 1 -2 hour trips before you head out will make sure they don’t get car sick. Pay attention to how often they need to get out to pee or stretch their legs so you can accurately plan for how far you’ll be able to go at any given stretch.

2} Safety: Get any meds/vaccines/chips prior to leaving & bring the paperwork!

  • Depending on the time of year, you’ll want to get their flea/tick medicine before you leave and make sure you have enough for however long you’ll be gone.
  • If you’re planning on boarding your pet at all (this may happen for a few hours here or there if you’re going into any national parks, museums, or other places dogs aren’t always allowed), you’ll need their rabies, Bordetella, and booster vaccines, as well as the paperwork proof. Cats need rabies and booster as well! Some boarding places can do these at the facility, but not all.
  • If you’re going internationally, make sure to check the customs requirements. I can tell you from crossing the Canadian border that you need their rabies vaccine paperwork and it must have been administered within the past year. I keep Tango’s entire medical file in the back pocket of my driver’s seat when I’m on the road.
  • If your pet isn’t microchipped, make sure to do this before you go! If they get lost and are taken to a shelter or vet, they’ll be able to contact you right away. I saved Tango’s microchip number and the number of the agency in my phone.


3} Space: Make sure your dog has enough space to lay (lie?) down in your vehicle. 

> > I brought Tango’s kennel along in case he ever needed to be kept in it along the way when staying at friends’ places. For the car, I took the lid off it and laid the bottom inside of it so he had his own area and didn’t feel stressed or squished. It was just the two of us, so we had plenty of room in the car. You might not have as much space as we did, but make sure there’s at least enough room for your pet to lie down fully.

4} Timing: Plan for stops to walk/run/stretch every couple hours. 

> > Plan accordingly. For every 3 hours of driving, I added 15 – 30 minutes of break time so we could stop and get out of the car. State parks can have great areas, like the one in the photo above, somewhere in Utah.

> > Rest stops are great for this, as they usually have lots of grass, bathrooms, water fountains, and picnic tables. I’d make some lunch, walk Tango, we’d both pee, and then I’d refill any empty water containers before getting back on the road.

5} Temperature: Take into consideration the season & temperature. 

  • Check the average temperatures for the different areas you’ll be traveling in during the time of year you’re going. I like the Farmer’s Almanac.
  • Plan routes and errands around the most moderate temps and times of day.
  • Make sure you’ve got a thermometer handy (or there’s one in your car) so you can make decisions based on accurate temps.

> > Your dog should never be left in a car when it’s over 60F or 15C. Temperatures can reach 100F / 38C in under 15 minutes so make sure you plan accordingly for grocery trips and kennel your pet for a couple hours if you need to run a bunch of errands at once.

> > I would do my grocery trips first thing in the morning and park in the shade if there was any available. When leaving my car, I’d leave the windows halfway down so the door could be unlocked from the outside (so no stranger busts out my window), put water in Tango’s bowl – where he could get to it and people could see it if they walked by – and I’d set the timer on my watch to keep track of how long I’d been inside the store. When it went off at 5 minutes, I’d make my way to the register no matter what.

6} Their Food & Water: Have extra in case you get stuck. 

  • Have twice as much water as you think you’ll need.
  • Make sure you can get their brand or type food in whatever states/provinces/countries you’re visiting. This way you can pick it up along the way and not waste car space carrying huge quantities of food that will likely go bad or stale quickly.

> > I took 8 refillable water bottles with me so he and I would both always have 2 for ourselves and I put the other filled bottles in the cup holders of each door. The giant water holders for car camping take up too much space and I didn’t want the water to be way in the back if we crashed in the middle of nowhere and got stuck. All water bottles were non-plastic because they’d be in the heat/sun a lot.

7} Recreation: Make sure your dog has the gear necessary for your planned activities. 

  • You’ll want a collapsable water dish for long hikes.
  • Optional dog pack so they can carry their own water & food, and pack out their poo. Leave no trace!
  • If you’re hiking or exploring in rough terrain and your dog isn’t used to that, make sure to grab some sturdy dog booties for them. If they cut their pad on a sharp rock, they’ll have to stay off it for weeks. I like Ruffwear’s options.
  • If you’re cruising in the winter, make sure they’ve got a jacket with reflective markings so they stay warm and visible.

> > I got Tango a little light that clips onto his collar. I could turn it on at night when we were camping so I could keep track of him when was off leash.

8} Pet Friendly: Find all the good pet-friendly spots.

  • Camping is easiest, as most campgrounds allow pets.
  • Most big national parks only allow dogs at parking areas & campgrounds. Check before you go!
  • The national forests next to national parks usually allow them on trails though!
  • Motel 6 is the cheapest place that doesn’t always make you pay extra for pets. Lots of bigger hotels have branches that allow them, like Marriott brands, but it’s usually $100 extra per night. You can filter pet-friendly options in your search though on all major hotel sites.
  • Keep your eyes out for cafes and restaurants with patios. These are your best bet.
  • There are 2 apps BringFido & BarkHappy that allow you to search nearby spots for dog-friendly restaurants & hotels, and help you find nearby dog parks for play time.

9} Feelings: Think about what your dog might be freaked out about. 

  • Take along things that they’re used to smelling and having to keep them feeling secure: blankets, beds, toys, etc.
  • Try to stick to their normal routine as much as possible – morning walks, play time, training time, meal times.

> > Tango’s got some abandonment issues. (He was taken from the streets to a kill shelter where he was rescued the day he was supposed to be put down.) It took me a week of camping to realize he wasn’t going to eat his breakfast at the site because he was afraid of being left behind. So I learned to put him in the car with his bowl of food, then pack up camp. As soon as I got into the car to head out, he’d eat. I followed the same routine every morning and evening when we got settled into a new campsite or hotel and after about a week, he chilled out a little bit and got used to our new routine.

10} Extras

  • Bring a towel (because rain and mud).
  • Follow the dog rules at each destination so you don’t get slapped with a huge ticket/fine.
  • Get a bluetooth camera remote for your phone so you can capture the good stuff. #amazon
  • Have THE BEST time.

And then settle in back home.

Questions? Email me at

Share Button

Speak Your Mind


Warning: Use of undefined constant CHILD_DOMAIN - assumed 'CHILD_DOMAIN' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /home/customer/www/ on line 102