As someone who travels often, the hardest part is always saying goodbye to my critters at home because they can’t usually go with me. That’s particularly true for my pal Puggsley (Puggs), the separation anxiety-riddled Puggle.
Luckily this little pup loves car rides. So, when I get a chance, I take him with me!
There is nothing like a trip with your dog to bond you together. Seeing new things, smelling new smells, and tasting new snacks are always better with your favorite pup.
Road trips allow your dog to experience a part of your life they might not otherwise get. Especially for nervous doggies like Puggs, it helps alleviate the anxiety of seeing my suitcase.
You need a few toys, snacks, and sometimes some clothes to make sure your best buddy has a fun time. Having some car safety gear and a gate or crate would be best.
Not to worry, these adventures don’t need to be intimidating. Puggs and I have created these dog road trip tips from our experiences. They’re tried and tested for better or worse, and we’re here to make your next trip with your dog as joyful as possible.
Also, a quick note; if you plan on renting a car, read the fine print. Even if a car rental website says animals are allowed without fees or fines, the facility might try to stick you with an exorbitant cleaning fee.
Do yourself a favor and read the fine print. And stop by a gas station to vacuum the rental car, even if the contract doesn’t dictate a cleaning fee!
Show Table of Contents
- Tips For Road Trips With Dogs
- 1. Provide Mental Stimulation
- 2. Research Dog-friendly Hotels
- 3. Take Practice Trips Ahead of Time
- 4. Bring the Essentials
- 5. Plan Bathroom Breaks
- 6. Be Prepared for Off-road Health Scares!
- 7. Keep Dogs Safe on the Road
- Best Destinations for Dogs
- National Parks
- Dog-Friendly Towns
- What do I need to pack for a road trip with my dog?
- Are there specific safety measures I should take when traveling with my dog?
- What kind of vehicle is best for road trips with dogs?
- How can I keep my dog comfortable during a long car journey?
Tips For Road Trips With Dogs
1. Provide Mental Stimulation
A road trip can be a lot, even for dogs who love car rides. Puggs is all about cars, but he is done sitting in the car by day two of a long road trip. Providing stimulation safely during travel can be difficult, so be sure there is lots of playtime and activity off the road.
Licking the tasty food off the mat stimulates your pup without much movement. So they’re safe in their seat or section of the car.
There are plenty of activities to do with your dog to keep them stimulated when you’re not on the road. Puggs loves his treat dispenser ball, which we use instead of a meal dish during travel.
It makes him chase the ball around the room to get his food to help make him sleepy for the drive. Just keep it away from areas where it can get stuck. It’s not fun to move furniture when this ball gets stuck under a hotel headboard.
Other stimulating tools and activities:
- Treat puzzles
- Toys to hide treats in or freeze peanut butter/yogurt into
- Snuffle mat for mealtime foraging
- Having a sing-song!
See Related: Best Pet Travel Insurance Options to Buy Today
2. Research Dog-friendly Hotels
Believe it or not, hotels are becoming more and more dog-friendly. Often, dog-friendly rooms are located on the first or a low floor to make bathroom breaks easier.
But don’t think that dog-friendly tag doesn’t come at a price. Some hotels have a flat fee per pet or stay, while others charge daily. Keep that in mind while researching hotels.
If you plan on doing any activities away from the hotel, you must bring a collapsible crate. Hotels will often not allow you to leave your dog unattended in the room unless they are crated.
Puggs hates the box, so to make it less traumatic, we always pack his calm-down treats, keep the tv on, and give him a stuffed animal. If you want to be, you could also leave a worn shirt of yours in the crate too. This helps Puggs keep quiet in the room while he’s alone.
Whether it’s your final destination or a stop along the road, you’ll probably need a hotel at some point – unless you’re camping. Puggs and I prefer a giant, comfy hotel bed to camp. You can’t blame him, and hotel employees often treat my four-legged pal like a king.
As a Midwesterner, I recognize that our section of the country contains a lot of flyover country. That said, here are some of my favorite spots that have provided me and Puggs with room and board:
- Royal Sonesta Chicago River North
- State House Inn
- Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Coralville – Iowa City
- Country Inn & Suites by Radisson, Lincoln Airport
If you’re in the middle of planning your trip, you can search for dog-friendly Marriott hotels and find the best places to stay with dogs across the nation.
3. Take Practice Trips Ahead of Time
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail, which is especially crucial to remember if you’re using new safety gear. Practicing with a new dog sling, seatbelt, or seat is essential to ensure your dog’s comfort. Nobody wants to spend long car rides in an ill-fitting safety device, right?
Help your pup associate the car with positivity with lots of favorite treats. These tests are also an excellent time to see if your furry friend gets car sick.
You’ll also want to use this time to decide if your dog will be in the back or passenger seats. If they are in the passenger seat, ensure you know how to turn their airbag off on their side or if it will turn off automatically due to their weight.
See Related: Things to Know About Cat Sedation for Travel
4. Bring the Essentials
If you’ve ever taken a trip with your dog, you know they’ve got their own luggage. Just like for your packing, creating a list for your furry best friend is also a good idea.
Making a list is essential for all pets, but more so for those who require medications. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere when you realize you forgot your furry friends’ meds.
Creating a packing list will also stop you from overpacking. Road trips are harder to pack for because I’m not as restricted as with air travel. Remember that the heavier your car load, the worse the MPG.
One way to be sure you bring what you need is to take note of what you use for a few days before packing. This helps eliminate the non-essentials and also reminds you what toys or fun things your dog prefers at the time. Not to worry, we’ll help you start a packing list for you, then it’s up to you to fill in the rest for your travel buddy.
Here are some road trip packing list essentials for your dog:
- Enough food for the duration, plus a day just in case
- Crate (folding or stationary)
- Dog treats
- Favorite toys
- Blanket or mat for crate
- Portable pet bowls
- Water bottle for on-the-go hydration
- Pet-friendly first aid kit
See Related: Interesting Dog Laws in Germany to Know
5. Plan Bathroom Breaks
When you’re road-tripping, frequent breaks are crucial. When you’re on a trip with your dog, breaks are vital.
Many dogs need breaks every few hours. Even if your pet can go for extended periods without going outside at home, try to stop every two hours to let them have a bathroom break.
Rest stops are best for a break, though gas stations will do in a pinch. Usually, rest stops have specific areas for pets to go to, while gas stations may be pretty barren. Be aware when you visit anywhere for potentially stressful situations for your pet.
When you stop along the open road, be sure your dog has access to fresh water. These breaks are when Puggs’ foldable water bowl comes in handy. By having an extra bowl with us in the front of the car, I can keep his other travel bowls together in a bag for easy access once we stop for the day.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the U.S.A
6. Be Prepared for Off-road Health Scares!
Something that doesn’t get considered a lot for road trips with dogs is safety off the road. I’ll admit that this was the last thing on my mind when I struggled to remove ticks off Puggs’ ear after driving 7 hours into Nebraska. Take it from me, and you don’t want to be ill-prepared – it’s not only expensive, but it can also be traumatizing for all parties involved!
Before your grand adventure, ensure your dog is up to date with their vaccines, medications, and flea/tick prevention. Even if you don’t plan to be off-leash or visit a local dog park, you never know when the unexpected can happen. Go into the road trip assuming that you’ll need to pull a splinter out of your dog’s paws or make your dog feel better after a tummy upset.
See Related: Top Scenic Drives: The Best Road Trips in the World
7. Keep Dogs Safe on the Road
Before you ride onto the highway, you should prepare your car for the longer rides with your pet. Even if you’re going to take a rental car, plan with safety equipment for your dog can ride securely. Whether your pet will be in the front or back seat, they need some crash-tested safety harness.
Some dogs prefer to be buckled in and snuggled up with their favorite blanket. At the same time, others would instead be strapped into a dog-sized car seat. Either way, the safety device will keep them secure during the road trip.
If a pet is allowed to just free roam a vehicle, they risk significant bodily harm or death in the event of an accident. When secured, they may still be injured in a crash, but they will be kept in place. Pet car safety products do for them what traditional seatbelts or infant car seats do for humans. Gearing up for this epic road trip prepares you for your next adventure.
Here are some more car items to consider:
- Car seat protector
- Protective hammock for backseat
- A barrier to separate front seats from dog
- Hand sanitizer
See Related: Best Minnesota Road Trips to Take
Best Destinations for Dogs
It should go without saying, but some destinations will be better than others for your doggo. Here are a few ideas.
This one comes with a caveat – while national parks allow dogs, many of them only allow dogs in specific areas of the park. Yellowstone, for example, only allows dogs in places where vehicles can go, which makes it less than ideal for a dog-friendly road trip destination.
If you find more dog-friendly parks, though. you and your pup can explore the parks for the day or make one just a stop along the road. There is so much for the dog to smell that they will have a blast sniffing all the new areas.
When you stop at a park, ensure your first aid kid is along for the walk or hike. This may be when you or your dog need the kit.
Best U.S. National Parks for Dogs
- Congaree National Park, South Carolina
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
While many towns will be amenable to dogs, some are more accommodating than others. From finding dog-friendly accommodations or public places, some towns go above and beyond. Double-check their pet policy before bringing your dogs to a bar or sidewalk cafe.
You may also want to invest in a dog backpack or other carrier to improve your dog’s mobility wherever your destination may be. Puggs, for example, gets tired out after walking for a while because he has little legs.
Some of the best dog-friendly towns in the U.S.
- Mackinac Island, Michigan
- Breckenridge, Colorado
- Dog Mountain (Saint Johnsbury), Vermont
- Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
- Bar Harbor, Maine
Some dogs (not mine) love water. They love to gallop across the sand, leap into the salty sea, and lounge with their humans on the beach. That said, sometimes it can be hard to find dog-friendly beaches to hang with your favorite pooch.
You do need to be mindful of water bacteria and the heat in the sand since dogs are susceptible to heatstroke at the beach. Even so, if you have a pupper that loves the salt life, keep some of these beloved doggie-friendly beaches in mind for your next road trip.
Some of the best dog-friendly beaches:
- Carmel Beach: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
- Wildwood Dog Beach: Wildwood, New Jersey
- Jupiter Dog Beach: Jupiter, Florida
- Emerald Isle: Emerald Isle, North Carolina
- Block Island: Block Island, Rhode Island
- Kiptopeke State Park: Cape Charles, Virginia
- Montrose Dog Beach: Chicago, Illinois
See Related: Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State
What do I need to pack for a road trip with my dog?
You’ll want to pack anything your dog needs daily. We created a basic list above.
However, one way to determine your need is to note what you use daily. Generally, you’ll need treats, food, toys, a crate, and car-safety products for road-tripping with dogs.
Are there specific safety measures I should take when traveling with my dog?
Above all, your dog needs harnesses or buckles in your car. These will keep them in place just in case of an accident or hard braking. You also should ensure your dog has all of their vaccines, flea and tick protection, and medication before heading out on a trip together.
What kind of vehicle is best for road trips with dogs?
The kind of vehicle isn’t that important. Unless you travel with many people and the dog, you and your pet can be perfectly comfortable even in a compact car. My car is a Yaris (think Volkswagon Beatle size), and my dog loves it as much as a rental SUV.
How can I keep my dog comfortable during a long car journey?
Calming aids, favorite blankets, toys, and familiarity with their car setup are the keys to your dog’s comfort in the car. If they associate the car with joy, it’ll be easier for them to be in the vehicle for a long road trip. Try practicing longer drives with your dog before a road trip to see if they will be comfortable for long periods.
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Amanda is a Chicago-based queer travel, arts, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about exploring the world. Her work has been featured in Newcity Stage, The Chicago Reader, HuffPo, and Yahoo, as well as the November 2022 book, “Chicago Like a Local.” Amanda’s favorite destinations include Costa Rica, Prague, Dublin, Hong Kong, and every Disney park she’s visited.