A family road trip with dogs doesn’t always conjure up feelings of joy. Dogs can be difficult travelers. Good preparation prior to departure can make all the difference! As the mother to an avid road tripping family with two dogs, I’m certain my road trip prep tips will help you for your next car trip adventure!
Family Road Trip with Dogs
Since we travel so often with our dynamic furry duo, also known as Lilo & Stitch, I’m excited to share some of my tried and true road trip tips! It all starts with the planning process, then the packing checklists, followed by the execution! When planning I like to focus on:
- making sure everyone feels comfortable with each aspect of the trip
- finding fun stuff to do and see
- making sure we’re all safe
- my budget
IMPORTANT FAMILY ROAD TRIP TIP: Travel Tourism Boards
Before planning any vacation, whether it’s a road trip or not, I like to contact the local tourism board and ask for lists of dog friendly activities and accommodations, along with vet clinics, emergency vets, local pet stores, and finally, pet sitters/pet boarding locations. Once you have the lists, start calling to confirm the information is accurate and up-to-date!
Planning for Your Road Trip
Going on a family vacation with dogs takes a lot of planning:
- booking dog-friendly accommodations
- mapping out a travel route (and some alternate routes) with plenty of pit stops
- booking activities (with and without the dogs)
- what and where to eat (with and without the dogs)
- packing all the right things for the car ride and the vacation
As you plan, just remember, dogs need a lot of down time so it isn’t necessary to include them in EVERYTHING you want to do as a family!
Once you’ve chosen your destination, the first task: finding pet friendly accommodations. It’s important to find a great place to stay in your destination city, but also the various overnight accommodations along the travel route. You want everyone to enjoy the vacation, right? I like to ask everyone the top two things they want at each place we’ll be staying in.
The key tip here: ask, never promise! Life’s rough, and you can’t always get what you want! So, I never promise to meet all the “wants”, as budgets and availability factor into everything!
Pet friendly hotels often require pet deposits, along with pet cleaning fees, and there are many hotels that only allow for one pet under a certain weight. Make sure you call and talk to someone at each hotel you’re considering and ask lots of questions. Not looking at hotels, but plan on booking AirBNBs or VRBOs? Contact the hosts and ask all your pet-related questions, and get policies in writing.
If you’re doing longer trips, like traveling down to Sarasota, Florida from New York, most families like to break up the trip with an overnight stay along the travel route. If you have kids, a hotel with a pool is probably a priority, along with something budget-friendly. When traveling with dogs, there are a few extra “must-haves” that make sense:
- low, or no pet fees
- rooms with direct access to the outdoors
Since I’m the main care taker for not just the kids, but also the dogs, my top priority: staying in hotels with rooms opening to the outside and not into a hallway. When we’re not with the dogs, I don’t care either way! But, when the dogs are with us, rooms with direct access to the outdoors makes potty breaks easier.
IMPORTANT ACCOMMODATIONS TIP: What to Do After Checking In and Checking Out
When you travel with dogs, you face a few issues you might not think about. Hotels and rentals allowing pets sometimes try to blame pet owners for damage that is NOT your dog’s fault. With this in mind, regardless of the length of your stay, after checking in at your hotel, or rental, here’s what you do before unloading your car and allowing everyone into the room: use your smartphone to record yourself doing a walkthrough of the room! As you record, make sure to start at the door with you on camera stating the date and time.
As you do your walkthrough, make sure to note anything “off” or “out of place” or “damaged”. After the video, take photos. You want to document the state of the room prior to your dogs entering the room. You can also take serious concerns to the front desk to make sure it is on record from the start!
After your stay, make sure to do another video and take photos of the state of the room once you’re ready to check out. It’s important to make sure you have all of this so if the hotel attempts to hit you with extra fees for “damage” you have everything documented!
Mapping Out a Travel Route
Road trips are equal part fun and equal part painful! Don’t get me wrong, I love road trips when there’s open roads, plenty of beautiful scenery, and lots of chances to enjoy pit stops. But you have to take the good along with the not-so-good, right? Traffic, getting off course because Google Maps isn’t as accurate as it tries to be, and nowhere to stop to pee when your bladder is ready to burst. PAINFUL.
If you plan well ahead of time, you can minimize the painful aspects and maximize the fun. It all starts with mapping out your travel route, keeping in mind the most direct route is often the most used route, so it will be the one with the most traffic. On the flip side, it will also have the most rest stop options directly on the route, which helps avoid getting lost.
What road trippers have to figure out, before mapping out the travel route, is what’s most important: saving time, having plenty of pit stop options, enjoying scenery, etc. If you’re traveling with dogs, you want to make sure you’ll have plenty of places that provide spaces to walk your dog as well as handle your human needs! All living creatures need to pee, poop, eat, drink, and stretch.
You know your needs, your dog’s needs, and your family’s needs the best. Plan your travel route with all of these needs in mind, then throw in a couple of extra pit stops for good measure. Worst that happens – you skip ones you don’t need whilst in the thick of the trip.
IMPORTANT TRAVEL ROUTE TIP: Be Flexible
Staying flexible will help alleviate stress. Bake in extra time for all those unexpected issues that arise. It’s always when you don’t prepare for extra time along the route that someone who has never been car sick suddenly gets car sick. Could be a dog, or a kid, or even a fellow adult. Sh*t happens. As a matter of fact, dogs sometimes get anxious and poop without meaning to do it. Be kind. Car rides can be stressful. Dogs are no different. They just can’t express themselves in the best ways.
Activities and Meal Time
Families with dogs know life’s more fun when they’re in the middle of all the activities. When you plan well, it definitely helps keep things fun. As more and more people include their furry family members in everything they do, more and more businesses are willing to open their doors to well-mannered fur balls. And that’s the key word right there: well-mannered.
Once you’ve gotten a list of businesses, parks, restaurants and accommodations that are pet friendly, take the time to review just “who your pet is”. Clearly, well-behaved and trained dogs can go and do almost anything, but some of our dear pets have quirks that may just be part of their personality. No training in the world has helped, and that’s okay. However, when traveling with your pets, you have to be honest with yourself about what your dog’s quirks are.
Think about these things and plan accordingly:
- If your dog jumps up to steal food off of tables, leave them back at your hotel when you head out to restaurants even if the restaurants are dog-friendly. You’ll enjoy your meal a lot more if you aren’t spending the entire time battling with your dog.
- Does your dog bark incessantly? Maybe consider an alternative to a busy hotel, because let’s face it, no hotel has good soundproofing between rooms. Those walls are paper thin, and you can usually hear EVERYTHING. Not one person, including you, wants to listen to your dog barking at all hours. A whole house rental might work better or your family.
- Are you always being pulled when your dog is on a leash? Bringing them on a hike is probably not a great idea for your safety, the dog’s safety, and other hikers’ safety. Maybe the days you go on long hikes, use a local dog sitter to drop your pup off so everyone enjoys the day. OR, invest in a dog backpack to carry your dog along the hiking trails!
Just because a park, business, or restaurant allows dogs it doesn’t mean they want untrained monsters causing chaos. Know your dog, and make plans to accommodate them and help save yourself from unnecessary stress on what should be a relaxing and fun vacation.
IMPORTANT PLANNING TIP: Have Plenty of Supplies
When I bring my dogs anywhere during our vacation, I have plenty of supplies. Each time we venture out, we’re loaded up with:
- training treats in a wearable pouch (when you own a dog, training sized treats often help your dogs focus on you with new stimuli around)
- clean, fresh water
- serving of whatever food you feed your dog (we feed raw, but have air dried raw food that doesn’t require refrigeration when we travel)
- collapsable bowls for water & food
- plenty of pet waste bags
- travel-sized cleaning supplies (travel sized bottles of spray cleaner, packet of wet wipes, cleaning cloth in a Ziploc baggie so if I use it, I can put the wet cloth in the bag after rinsing it in water)
- phone numbers to local emergency vets
- a small first aid kit – with gauze, antibiotic spray, and self-adhering bandages
What to Pack for Your Dogs
As if having to pack for yourself, and maybe your kids depending on what age they are, isn’t stressful enough – now you have to worry about what to pack for your dog. In order to enjoy your vacation, you need to spend some time packing the right things for your dog, or in my case, dogs. It’s always a good idea to be prepared. You’ll thank me when you arrive at your destination and you have everything you need for your ENTIRE family.
You’ll need to break the dog packing into two categories: car necessities for the actual time spent in the car, and then the overall vacation essentials for the actual vacation. Generally, I pack the road trip stuff in one bag for BOTH the initial trip and the return trip.
IMPORTANT PACKING TIP: For the Car
I promise you, as much as time as this takes, it is worth it to pack two separate bags. One for the trip to your destination, one for your return trip. It means you won’t have to worry about “packing” the dog essentials for the return ride home! It’s all done back at the house, labeled properly, and there’s no worrying about not having enough of everything for the drive home (you never want to run out of pet waste bags, you know what I mean?).
As you drive with your dog, or dogs, you’ll need easily accessible gear to make things easier for quick stops, and clean-ups. No one wants to dig around in the trunk for important supplies. It wastes time, makes everyone anxious and grouchy. Purchase a bag that has plenty of zippered pockets, and keep it well-organized! Some of the items to include in your “go” bag:
- a first aid kit specifically for your dogs
- cleaning supplies
- easily accessible clean water
- ample supply of pet waste bags
- treats (if your dogs don’t get car sick)
- extra leashes, collars, harnesses
For the car ride, make sure your dog is secured into their seat with a seat belt made for dogs. We have two dogs, and use a seat belt that snaps into the car’s lap belt buckle. It secures both dogs so they can still move around and snuggle with my kids in the back seat, but keeps them from flying through the car if we have to hit the breaks without enough warning. If you have enough space, there are even little beds that provide both a secure seat belt and a comfy way to travel.
Clearly, you need to pack food and water, along with treats and medications. However, there are key items many people know they need to pack for their dogs for a road trip, but can sometimes forget the items for once they’re at their destination. I once forgot to pack up the dog crates, and had to purchase new ones at a local pet store upon arrival. YIKES!
- copies of immunizations, and bring all tags showing immunizations (especially for rabies)
- proper collars/harness and leashes
- plenty of treats (and a variety to keep their attention when out-and-about)
- enough food and water for each day of the trip, plus two or three extra days
- crate with crate pad/bedding
- dog stroller (if the area gets too hot, the pavement can become way too hot for dogs to walk, a stroller helps)
- dog backpack (if you’re not into a stroller, get a backpack to put your dog in – these are also great if you plan on hiking with your dog)
- pee pads (just in case)
- a mat to place food and water bowls on in the room, or bathroom
- waterproof pet blankets to protect furniture at the hotel, or rental
IMPORTANT PACKING TIP: Packing Checklists
I create packing checklists. When we’re leaving our beautiful vacation spot to return home, I have a fresh copy of my helpful checklists to make sure we pack everything up and leave nothing behind at the hotel, or rental property. Organization is they key to your sanity and to maintain the relaxing feeling until at least hour two of the return road trip,
My Final Thoughts and Tips about Traveling with Dogs
When planning a family trip, everyone’s needs should be considered. Sometimes it makes sense to have your fur babies join you, other times it makes more sense to leave them with a pet sitter or at a boarding facility. However, if you want to take a long haul road trip with your whole family, including your dog, or dogs, it’s important to be prepared and remain flexible. Your best defense against road trip stress: organization!
On that note, here are my final tips:
- Always double check the fit of your dog’s collar or harness, along with checking the clasps on the leashes.
- ALWAYS check to make sure your dog’s breed is welcome at your travel destinations – hotels, rentals, activities, restaurants, etc. MANY towns, cities, counties, and states have dog breed restrictions barring Pit Bulls, Dobermans, German Shepherds, and many others. So make sure before you start planning that your dog will be welcomed with open arms! IF they do not allow your dog’s breed, don’t bring them and try to sneak them in. It’s not cool and ruins it for other families with dogs who want to travel to the area.
- Once at your final destination, before checking in, find a nice spot for your dogs to go potty or have someone handle that while you check in. It gives them time to wind down before walking through heavy traffic areas filled with stimulating sounds, smells, and noise.
- Set up crates immediately, so your dog has their “safe space” as everyone settles in and checks out all the room amenities.
- Create a food and water area in the bathroom and show them where to go for water and meals.
Download this helpful MINI TRAVEL PLANNER for FREE that I have created for everyone! And if you’re interested, I have a more in-depth and extremely helpful travel planner available, too.
Love all things TRAVEL? Sign up for our newsletter dedicated only travel!