9 Essentials to Keep in Mind While Roadtripping with Your Dog

When we got Oakley, I was convinced wherever we went, he would go. In fact, he spent the first two months of his life in my office at school. The summer camp kids would come and pet him and he loved to wallow around in the dandelion-filled grass of the soccer field. He had a spot under one of my chairs where he would nap and when he had bursts of energy, he had a ball and a stuffed squeaky duck. His big, furry, clumsy butt would race up and down the empty halls when I needed to stretch my legs, and he would sit in the passenger seat with his nose up in the air to feel the air conditioning in his face. So, when it was time for us to take our annual trip to the lake, there was no question that he would go with us.

Most people will say that planning is the most important part of travel. For this cross-country trip, we decided the 4,102 miles were going to be an adventure. We did not make reservations in advance and we really only had vague idea of the route because we knew we wanted to see certain things and we weren’t on much of a time crunch. With Oakley along for the ride, his needs were really the only thing we planned for. After a two-week successful jaunt to the lake and back, these are our tips and tricks:

This site contains affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Before you go: About a month before our scheduled departure, we took Oakley in to see Dr. K for a quick check-up. He was given a clean bill of health and we made sure his tags all had the correct information, his microchip was working and registered, and his rabies shot tag was visible.

Packing your car: Ensure you have everything he needs close to a door. He’s going to be excited at the possibility of smelling all the smells and will not want to wait for you to dig bowls and food out of the mountain of luggage. We packed two collapsible bowls, jug of water, and portioned food baggies on the floor right behind the passenger seat. We also stored the harness and leash there when not in use so we would both know where it find it. I would also recommend using a cleaned out coffee creamer container for treats because it has a good lid and can dispense treats easily and, bonus, it fits in the cup holder. Pack an extra hand towel and some dog-friendly wet wipes. Oakley always found water or mud and the towel and wipes proved incredibly useful.

Food and water: We packed proportioned baggies of food just to ensure we had enough for the trip. Oakley eats a special food and with two weeks away, we knew we couldn’t just stop and grab something if we ran out. The proportioned bags also served a dual purpose for poop bags. We noticed that he didn’t eat as much as when we traveled and most of the time wouldn’t touch his breakfast. He would eat more in the evenings. This may have something to do with the motion of the car while we were driving on his stomach. We also noticed that he drank a lot more while we traveled so we made sure to factor that in for timing breaks.

Choose a familiar spot: We have a Ford Edge and once Oakley’s furry puppy butt didn’t fit in the front passenger seat, he was forced to sit in the rear behind the back row of seats. Because he was accustomed to traveling that way, we didn’t try and change the seating arrangement just so we could fit more stuff in. We knew an anxious dog would be a miserable dog, so we kept the seating arrangement the same and stuffed all of our luggage and camping gear into the back row of seats. We also did not try to put pillows, cushions, or his bed back there. The extra fluff would have given him less space and made him hotter. We knew that stopping every 3 hours or so and giving him a good walk or run would help him work the kinks out. This summer we are going to pack his cooling pad, but it’s thin and can be easily rolled up and stored somewhere else in the car.

Pit stops: You should know in advance that most rest areas have a dog area, but that area may not have grass, or it may be behind the bathrooms, or it could be a separate area altogether, like where the truckers stop. Be prepared for anything. We try to be good dog owners and only allow him in designated areas, but it was often frustrating to see what dog accommodations some states had designated. Oakley is also a ground snob. This dog will not use the bathroom on grass. He has NEVER peed in the yard. This dog always goes off the grass and finds the dried leaves, pine needles, or dirt and relieves himself there. This can be really annoying when you roll up to a really nice rest area and find it’s all beautiful green grass, or stop at a gas station off the highway and it’s surrounded by gently rolling green hills. It’s weird to suggest it, but know your dog’s preferred place to pee/poop. Also, make sure you pack poop bags. There is nothing worse than owners who don’t clean up after their dogs!

Overnight accommodations: We have found at least two hotel chains that are dog friendly and have no pet fee. While we traveled and stayed at a few campgrounds, I was desperate for a real shower now and again. Motel 6 and La Quinta never turned us down. The rooms were always clean and they allowed Oakley to curl up and rest with his humans like he was used to doing at home. They aren’t five star, but we were always rolling in late and getting up early, so they fulfilled a function. Some of the La Quinta’s even had a free continental breakfast. There are other hotel chains that will accept dogs and charge a fee, but these were the two that I found to be the cheapest.

National parks: Oakley has been to a bunch of state and national parks. And we haven’t been to a single one where he was allowed off leash. There are also certain areas in national parks where he wasn’t allowed at all (mainly the high touristy destinations). I would recommend a standard leash always – never a retractable one. The standard leash kept Oakley close by and I didn’t have to worry about him getting to something before I did (like chewed gum on the sidewalk, or an unsuspecting child’s ice cream).

Apps: We are in the age of technology and of course dogs are getting in on the action. BringFido (free) is one of the apps we used to find hotels along the way. This is a great app to find other dog-friendly things like restaurants, activities, and events. All Trails (free) is an app that shows you hiking trails in any location. I love this app because it always has a note about whether or not the trail is dog friendly. We use this app at home and while we’re traveling. Dog Park Finder (free) helps find dog  parks. It gets lonely on the road sometimes, and finding a friendly furball helps. And another app I downloaded, but never used, was VetFinder (free). In an emergency, the last thing your brain will do is think through where to find a vet that’s open during off-hours.

Toys: Of course we packed some toys! Oakley brought one plush toy that he also used as a pillow. We also packed a can of tennis balls and his favorite Nerf gun. He reminded us often that even though we were exhausted in the evenings, he had been sleeping and laying all day and was ready to play.

Water safety: When we finally hit the Pacific Northwest, we stopped at every national park, river, and waterfall along the way. Oakley stayed wet. Keep an eye on dogs who stay in the water all day. Drinking too much water does happen. Also, Oakley is a swimmer and God love his little heart, he has no idea when he’s had enough. When we got to the lake and spent all day on the dock, we had to call him in and let him rest his legs throughout the day.