For the longest time, I’ve wanted to road trip across the United States to see some of the biggest landmarks and attractions. This country is SO BIG that I’ve hardly seen any of it beyond the east coast. I was finally able to go on my very first cross country road trip last year. Of course, my dogs and boyfriend tagged along. In fact, my boyfriend chauffeured us the entire way on our pet friendly road trip. What a champ!
Read more about our Cross Country Road Trip here >> Road Trippin’ Beagle Goes West
I LOVE planning and preparing. I’m well known for packing anything and everything. Granted, usually I pack too much, but after traveling from Virginia to California and back, I’ve narrowed down my packing list to the most critical items. Plus, a coast to coast road trip was a completely new experience for me, so I definitely learned a lot along the way. Though, my experience was from a long multi-week road trip, I still regularly use this packing and to do list for shorter trips and I hope you can too.
Planning a Successful Pet Friendly Road Trip
Preparations Before You Go on a Pet Friendly Road Trip
Get Your Dog Accustomed to Your Car
Before you leave for your big trip, make sure your dog will be comfortable in the car for a few hours at a time. Try taking short trips to local parks or nearby dog friendly shops and restaurants, then move on to a day trip. Once your pup is comfortable with being in a moving vehicle, you are ready to hit the road!
Plan Your Route & Book Pet Friendly Hotels Ahead of Time
Unless you are traveling in an RV or have other portable sleeping arrangements, it can be very difficult to find a pet friendly place to stay on a whim. That’s why I recommend planning a basic route ahead of time. Figure out where you are going and how long it will take to get there. Make sure to consider how long you want to spend driving each day. A 8-10 hour drive is definitely do-able, but it might be tiresome and not allow you to stop as often as you would like.
Once you know how many nights you’ll need to spend overnight at hotels, you can look for ways to break down your pet friendly road trip. I checked for larger cities along our route knowing that they would be more likely to have attractions for us to visit and pet friendly lodging options. Between Northern Virginia and Los Angeles, we stopped in Knoxville, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, and Phoenix. On the way out west, we booked all our hotels in advance. On the way back, we wanted a little more flexibility, but still booked them the day before to ensure we’d have a place to sleep.
When traveling with pets, some great pet friendly budget options include Red Roof Inn and La Quinta. Neither of these hotel chains charge fees for pets. We often opted for the budget hotels because we were only staying in each one for a single night. If you are looking for something a bit nicer, I’d recommend Home2 Suites by Hilton, Kimpton Hotels (most likely found in cities – but no fees!), Sheraton Hotels, and even vacation rentals through Airbnb or HomeAway. Always remember to ask about pet restrictions (number of pets, weight, breeds, etc.) and any associated fees.
Map Out Pet Friendly Stops
One of my favorite things about going on a road trip is visiting all the road side attractions and important city landmarks. It’s crazy how many “World’s Biggest” things there are in this world. However, not all of these tourist spots allow pets. Make sure to check ahead of time.
We created a Google Map specifically for our road trip and added markers for possible restaurants, attractions, landmarks, shops, and more. We knew we weren’t going to stop at every single one, but we had some options for when someone needed a bathroom break or a bite to eat.
Some great resources for road side attractions and other must see landmarks include GoPetFriendly, BringFido, Roadside America, and RoadTrippers. Also, make sure to check local government or tourism websites for the states and cities you are visiting.
Check Vaccines, Dog Tags, and Microchips
Before you go anywhere, make sure that your dog’s vaccines and other health records are up to date. If your dog needs anything updated or has a vaccine that expires while you are gone, consult your vet before starting your trip. It might make more sense to get it done before you hit the road rather than waiting until afterwards.
You should also absolutely double check that your dog’s tag and microchip are updated with your current contact information. Being away from home, it is actually more likely that you dog may get loose or even lost. Make sure you are covered in case they do find their way away from you at any point.
For the same reason, please keep your dog’s collars on while you are traveling with them. A tag on a collar that your dog isn’t wearing doesn’t do any good.
Look Up Nearby Emergency Vets
One you have mapped out your route, do a quick Google search for highly rated emergency veterinarian offices in or near the cities you will be driving through. Copy the name, website, phone number, and hours onto a Word document for each city. Print it out and take it with you.
Yes, you’ll probably be able to search on your phone if something happens, but you might also be out of cell network, have limited data, or just be flustered by the emergency. This way you at least have one contact if anything does happen.
Avoid Feeding Your Dog Right Before You Leave
Figuring out if your dog has motion sickness is another major reason to practice car trips with your dog before you make a big drive. If your dog has thrown up or acted sick or otherwise uncomfortable, avoid feeding them right before you hit the road.
This doesn’t mean not to feed them, but try smaller portion sizes, something more easily digestible, or even feeding several hours in advance. You don’t want your dog to be hungry, but you also don’t want to have to deal with an unnecessary mess or have them feeling yucky.
When I first adopted Luna, she was often sick during car rides. After moving her meals to earlier, switching to dehydrated food from The Honest Kitchen (free samples with promo code AMBBGJS7123 – affiliate link), and tethering her via a seat belt or car harness, we were finally able to take trips without the barf!
What to Pack for a Pet Friendly Road Trip
Seat Cover & Extra Towels
Dogs can be messy. Whether it’s motion sickness, muddy paws, or an unexpected accident, I would prefer not to have to deep clean my car seats. Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be spending hours vacuuming my car to get rid of thousands of evil Ralph & Luna hairs. That’s why I always pack a few towels and put down a seat cover. The towels don’t have to be beautiful, but they sure to make clean up a lot easier.
Plenty of Fresh Water
Stock up on water and invest in a durable, spill proof water bowl for your dog. This is especially important if you plan to visit or travel through any part of the desert. Even more so if it’s during the summer!
Our go to travel bowl is from Sleepypod. The Yummy Travel Bowls are dish-washable and spill proof, so your dog can enjoy fresh water in the car. They are also super durable and even allow you to freeze the water in advance, so that it stays cool during your entire trip. The bowls are a bit pricey, but I think they are definitely worth it. I have two and I bring them with me on every pet friendly road trip! Make sure to check out our full review of these handy pet bowls.
When we travel, we make sure to fill up our Yummy Travel Bowls for the dogs and a few water bottles for us humans. We also pick up a gallon jug or two of distilled or spring water to keep in the car for emergencies.
Pet Emergency Kit
If you go anywhere far from home, be sure to bring along a copy of your dog’s vet records and a recent photo. A recent photo is helpful in the event they get lost along with an updated dog tag and microchip. Vet records are important to have on hand in case of any medical emergencies that arise during your pet friendly road trip.
It is also good practice to pack a Pet First Aid Kit. You can see what we have in ours here. Many items are also usable for humans in case of an emergency, so no need to pack more than one! Always remember to include any medications your dog regularly takes plus flea & tick and heart worm preventatives.
If your dog becomes anxious during travel or gets motion sickness, you may want to bring along some calming remedies. I have been using Canine Calm Spray and Wipes with success lately. It’s made with all natural essential oils and they even have a spray that is meant to help with motion sickness as well.
Crash Tested Dog Harness
For safety reasons, it is super important to keep your dog restrained while in the car. They won’t be able to cause a distraction while you are driving and it also could help reduce possible motion sickness. Plus, in the event of a sudden stop or accident, your dog won’t be able to run away if they are spooked. Some people utilize crates and seat belts for this purpose, but I don’t think I’ll ever have room for a large enough crate in my car and I love the added safety features that a crash tested harness provides.
We use the Sleepypod Clickit Sport to keep Ralph & Luna safe during car trips. The harness is super easy to put on your dog and it just works with your car’s existing seat belts. They are the only harnesses to earn safety certification and a five star rating from the Center for Pet Safety. That’s right. These stylish harnesses are actually put through a crash test with real crash test dog dummies! Better yet? They can also be used for regular walks, runs, and hikes, so there is no need to buy another harness. See our full review of Sleepypod Clickit Sport.
Familiar Toys, Bedding, and Blankets
Being away from home for an extended period of time can be stressful for anyone. It may help calm your pup to bring some special items from home. We always throw in a dog bed, beloved blanket, and a few toys to have in the car and hotel rooms. Having familiar items will help them feel more comfortable in a new and unknown environment.
Enough Food, Treats, and Chews
Try your best to maintain your dog’s regular routine. Bring along food they would normally eat plus a few bags of treats you know they love. When determining how much food to bring, make sure you count out the number of days you’ll be gone. Double check your dates and your counting. I’ve been off before! And if you feed your dog twice a day, take that into consideration.
Generally, I pack an extra two meals in case our return gets delayed. I also like to throw in a bag of The Honest Kitchen’s Propper Toppers, which can be used as a last resort meal, a tasty treat, or even a way to stretch out a few meals.
If your dog loves to chew or tends to try to eat your dinner, I recommend bringing along some long lasting chews such as bully sticks or Whimzees. These chews certainly help keep my dogs occupied! They are life savers for when I have to leave them in the hotel room for a bit or when I just want a few minutes to eat my dinner without being stared down.
Be a responsible pet parent and pick up after your pet. Accidents happen, but you are still responsible for cleaning them up! Many pet friendly hotels have poop stations, but not all do. Plus, fairly often these stations aren’t actually maintained and are out of bags! That’s why I always bring far more bags than I think I’ll need. No pet friendly road trip is complete without poop bags! In a pinch, you can also use grocery bags, so toss a few of those in your car too.
Toss in a Few Carabiners
For some unknown reason my boyfriend had a ton of random carabiners in his car during our trip and we used them all the time. They were handy for pet friendly hikes to carry water bottles, poop bags, and more. They were also perfect for tethering the dogs to a picnic table during lunch or at a rest stop. Since they are super small and pretty inexpensive, I think they are definitely worth including and could help make your pet friendly road trip extra awesome.
Tips for While You’re On the Road with Your Dog
Travel with a Friend When Possible
I just got back from a week long pet friendly road trip where I drove nearly 24 hours by myself and my two dogs. Though I made it home safely, it wasn’t easy. Traveling with a friend makes it easier because you can split the driving, have conversations, take turns watching the dogs, and even help eating and distributing out the snacks.
Traveling alone is tricky because so many rest stops do not allow pets inside. Many pet stores do have restrooms, so if you arrive during business hours you may be able to take advantage of them and give your dog a few minutes to stretch his or her legs. For food breaks, take full advantage of drive-through restaurants!
Pets should not be left unattended in hot cars EVER. However, I do understand and have had the need to leave dogs in a car with the engine running. This is risky and could be a target for theft, so make sure you park somewhere well lit and lock your car doors. But, before you do that make sure run a trial so you know you’ll be able to get back inside – most likely with an extra car key.
Have a Plan for Bathroom Breaks
If you are traveling alone, map out pet friendly bathroom locations along your route ahead of time. If you are traveling with a friend, alternate going inside and watching the dogs. Keep in mind that this may take longer, but it’s the best and safest option for everyone involved on your pet friendly road trip.
So… Luna stress poops. Within the first hour or so of any drive, she will need to stop to go to the bathroom. It doesn’t matter where we’re going, if she can’t stop in time she starts whining until she can relieve herself. Sure, it’s inconvenient, but it’s a matter of life when traveling with dogs so we always build in a little extra time for these types of stops.
For your dog, it might not be stress poops. It might be something else. Listen to them and keep an eye on how they are doing. Stop frequently and be up for an unexpected detour, so that you have happy campers in your back seat. The more you travel with your dog, the more you will get to know how often they need to stop and if they have any other weird quirks.
Have Treats Easily Accessible
Dogs can also get bored on the road. As a passenger, one way I like to distract them is with small training treats, so I want to make sure they are close by during the drive. According to Luna, it’s not a pet friendly road trip without lots of treats. Just make sure this doesn’t distract the driver!
Skip the Open Window
I have never ever been a fan of allowing dogs to stick their head out the window. I know it’s that iconic summer freedom image, but it’s really not all that safe. By lowering your windows all the way down, you may run the risk of your dog jumping out of your car and that is not a happy ending or part of a successful pet friendly road trip. Plus, most road trips are done on interstates with high speeds and those resulting high winds can be harmful to your dog’s eyes and ears! If your dog is restrained, it should be okay to lower your windows a bit for fresh air or an ideal temperature.
Also, DO. NOT. EVER. let your dog sit in the driver’s lap while the car is in motion. DON’T DO IT. It’s super silly and incredibly dangerous. (See “Crash Tested Dog Harness” for why you should restrain your dog.)
Check Car Temperature and Music Volume
Not all cars distribute heating/cooling and sound equally. You may need to make special adjustments to ensure your dog is comfortable with the car temperature and music volume. If you are like me and enjoy singing along on road trips, try to redirect the sound to the front of the car before you crank it up.
Where would you love to road trip with your dog?
See all our pet friendly road trip adventures here:
Road Trippin’ Beagle Goes West
Road Trippin’ Beagle Goes to PetSmart
Road Trippin’ Beagle Does BlogPaws
Road Trippin’ Beagle Does California
Road Trippin’ Beagle Goes Home
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Disclaimer: I am being compensated to help spread the word about the Sleepypod Clickit Sport and Yummy Travel Bowls. I received no other compensation or additional benefits for mentioning the brands or products in this post. The opinions and ideas in this post are my own and are uninfluenced by any other person or business.
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