Don’t forget your furry friend when you hit the road! We’re bringing you everything you need to know about road tripping with your pet.

Dog in car
Courtesy of Ruffwear

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As you cruise down the picturesque highways of the West, there may be no greater feeling than watching your dog stick its head out of the window, wind at full force, showing its wide-open smile. More people are hitting the road amid the pandemic, and they’re choosing to get outside with their four-legged friends. But the reality of road tripping with a pet is not all barks and smiles. It also includes potty breaks, awareness, planning, and preparation. 

If you want your pet as a co-pilot, prepare with the right tools. We’ve gathered some pet-loving experts to share the tips and tricks they’ve learned on the road. A common misconception is “that it’s as easy as popping them in the car and going,” says Johanna Albertsson who recently completed a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to Brooklyn with her Cavapoo, Skjei. “There’s a lot to think about on the road with a pet: Where will they go to the bathroom? Where will they sleep? When will they eat?”

Even before you depart on your adventure, you’ll want to strategize some pre-trip playtime. Albertsson suggests a “constructive activity before the trip to tire them out or stimulate them with something they already love whether that’s a hike or a trip to your local dog park.”

Some pets may require more time and patience on the road. Quin Gable, who left corporate life behind and is currently traveling the country in her van with her two cats Atlas and Otto, likes to bring along comforting accessories. “I put their favorite toys or sweatshirts in the car,” Gable says. Otto, for one, sleeps on his favorite sweatshirt every night.

But comfort goes beyond toys. “It’s really about getting them comfortable with the space,” Gable says. “Bring them along for a ride to the grocery store or around the block and they’ll slowly understand.” Overall, Gable emphasizes that “it’s all about patience and making your pet as comfortable as possible with things your pet might like.”

Courtesy of Johanna Albertsson

Once your pet is all settled in, the next step is keeping your journey as clean as possible. Accidents are bound to happen but there are precautions you can take to protect your seats. For a quick fix, Gable lies down a water-resistant sheet. For a tool designed for this specific purpose, Ruffwear’s Dirtbag Seat Cover is waterproof and made from non-slip fabric that keeps dogs stable during the ride. 

You’ll also want to carry some simple tools such as paper towels. “You may encounter some wet grass, puddles, or your pet may have an accident or get car sick and want to make sure you can clean up quickly and your car won’t smell funky the rest of the ride,” Albertsson says.

When you arrive at your destination, you’ll want to scope out the area before letting your pets run free. Quin Gable does this with two simple steps: a perimeter check, and locating the vehicle. “Whenever we stop and arrive at a new location, I go outside and we walk around the perimeter to make sure there are no animals and that the cats understand where we are in this new setting,” she says. After, Gable walks back to her van and makes sure that the cats see her. “They know where the van is at all times and when it’s 5 [p.m.], they’ll come running back to the van for food,” she says. Gable attributes this in part to a regimented feeding schedule. This routine teaches her pets when to come back and settle in for the night.  

Dog Days: Tips for Canines

When choosing places to stay or camp, you’ll want to confirm that it is a dog-friendly hotel before booking. 

Once you have scouted the location, look for stops along the road including dog parks and other trails that you can use as a rest stop. Gable uses the app ioverlander, which highlights camping, hotels, restaurants, mechanics, water, propane filling, and stops you may need.

If you’re far from a solid stopping place, Albertsson suggests “running up and down an empty parking lot for play and fetch. If all else fails, a long walk in a neighborhood is a great solution, too.”

After a bathroom break, be sure to play “Life is a Highway,” to get everyone back in the road trip spirit. However, don’t let Rascal Flatts drown out the sound in your car. “Dogs have sensitive ears, much more so than humans, so loud tunes will add in some discomfort,” Albertsson explains. “By keeping your music and podcasts at a lower volume, you’ll have a calmer, happier pet.”

Ruffwear’s Haul Dog Travel Bag

Courtesy of Ruffwear

Best Road Trips for Dogs

While your ideal road trip may include one or two national parks, you need to check beforehand which trails and areas are dog-friendly. Luckily the National Parks Service has this map to shows which parks allow pets.

There are myriad other dog-friendly destinations. Albertsson loves the road trip from Los Angeles to San Diego for Skjei. “He is obsessed with the beach and the Coronado dog beach is one of the cleanest and friendliest around. With a view of the Hotel Del in the back, it’s hard to find a better place,” she says. After a day of fun in the sun, you can both head to a local brewery. “San Diego is also such a dog-friendly city, there were bars that welcomed him with open arms and made us feel so welcome,” says Albertsson.

For the backpackers and trail runners, the Ruffwear team recommends a road trip to Colorado. “Dogs are allowed to hike all but the first 6 miles of the Colorado Trail, a continuous, narrow path from Denver to Durango,” they say. “That’s 479 miles of dog-friendly trails.”

Just north of Colorado, tucked in the greenery of the Pacific Northwest, is the town of Bend, Oregon. This city has dog-friendly mountain biking trails, breweries, and so much more. Plus, Bend is one of the few places you can catch people river-surfing in the U.S. so you can take your dog for a walk while watching people shred the river. 

The Cat’s Meow: Tips for Felines

Cat’s require a little more TLC than dogs. After almost two years of caravanning, Gable has got road tripping with feline down and now Atlas and Otto even accompany her on hikes. 

One of the key components of getting the pair acclimated was getting them comfortable in their carriers. “When I bought their carriers, I left them outside in my common space so they would get used to them and wouldn’t be afraid,” she says. Since Atlas and Otto have been trained to use their carrier in daily life, it is one of their favorite places to take cat naps. 

Now, many of you may be wondering about a litter box: How do you transport it in a vehicle? “A top-entry litter box is key because it will prevent any messiness,” says Gable. Pine pellets and clumping litter are best on the road because you want something that will not track. 

@quingable Reply to @ladyrenn26 Van Life LITTER BOX for 2 Cats! Any questions? #solovanlife #vanlifewithcats #adventurecat #vanlifecat #cattips #vanlifetips ♬ Skate – Trees and Lucy

When Gable first hit the road, the cats made a noise that would signify that they needed to use the restroom. She would then pull over to grab gas or take her own rest stop, and the cats would use the litter box. Today, they are so comfortable in the van that they actually use it while driving, Gable says. 

In fact, Gable constructed her van with the cats in mind. She has a pocket door that separates the driving area from the bedroom space, which allows her to keep them contained so they do not jump out. She also uses Tile trackers and an app to track the cats when they are outside the van. 

Some of these adventures include hiking. With practice and patience, Gable’s cats went from completing only small sections of a trail to officially hiking off-leash. “You have to take it one step at a time,” she says. The hardest part for was harness training. Her hack? She first put the harness on before mealtime so the cats got used to walking in it from the other side of the room to their food. “It takes a couple of times for the cats to get used to [adventure] but it also takes a couple of times for you to get used to having them out and about,” she says.

@quingable How To Train Your Cats To Hike! Any questions? #vanlifecat #cattips #adventurecat #adventurecats #hikingcat #cattricks ♬ _Cute – Gabe Lost

With determination and time, you can have your pets riding shotgun for all of your adventures. “If you keep working at it, eventually it will happen,” Gable says. 

To take your road trip to the next pet-friendly level, here are some of our experts’ favorite products: