Updated: May 18, 2021
There may be few things better than driving down the highway and seeing a dog's head sticking out the window ahead of you, ears flapping and a big slobbery grin. A huge benefit of road trip travel is the ability to bring your pet pal along for the adventure, but animals have a whole different set of needs. Read below for the top tips from experience road tripping pet parents.
1. Take your pet for test drives around town to see how they react in the car
I know you're probably thinking, how do I know if my pet has a good temperament for a road trip? If you aren't sure, a great way to find out is to start taking your pet along with you on errands around town. Do they get sick in the car? Do they bark or cry or wander around the car consistently? These are possible signs your pet will not be very happy being in the car with you for longer hauls. If they plop down in the back seat and sleep or are content to look out the window, you're onto something fun.
However, for cats especially, new spaces are very stressful, so getting them used to be in the moving car is an important step. They will likely get much more comfortable and less freaked out the more they are in the car, so don't get too discouraged if the first few times they cry in their carrier a lot.
Also keep in mind their eating and peeing schedules. If they generally eat and pee twice a day at home anyway, that will help with planning stops, or not having to stop too much.
2. Choose your destination with your pet's needs in mind
If you're bringing along your dog, maybe choose a destination other than New York City. If you're bringing a cat, think about their personality. Are they adventure cats that like to go hiking on a leash (yes this is real)? Or do they need quiet space to settle down in a sleepy cabin AirBnB? Don't set yourself up for failure by not taking into account what your pet will find fun, or at a minimum what will keep them occupied and out of trouble.
This post about good pet road trip destinations has a great list by state of mostly dog friendly activities if you need some starter ideas. If you'd like to leash train your cat, check out the resources on AdventureCats.org!
3. Pack an accessible bag with all of the things your pet needs for the road
You might need to purchase a few things to set up your car to best accommodate your pet for longer hauls, but the most important thing is to pack them so they're accessible. You don't want to be rifling around in the back seat looking for a leash and deal with a doggy escapee. A good spot is the floorboard in the back seat. Here's an example list of things to include in your pet go-bag:
Water bowl- (or check out this Malsipree Dog Water Bottle)
Case of water or gallon jug
Food bowl & bag of food
Harness and leash
Favorite toy to chew/sit with
Towels & waterproof mat
Water bowl (mostly for at your destination)
Food bowl & bag of food
If wet food, cooler and ice packs to keep open cans
Harness and leash
4. Set up your car to keep your pet safe and comfortable
A dog bed may fit on the back seat just fine, but the legroom area is an uncomfortable place to fall if you have to stop suddenly. There are lots of inexpensive dog hammocks that attach to the head rests of your car and keep your pet safe and sound, like this dog hammock for the entire back seat or this hammock for just one side of the seat if you have more passengers. Just throw your dog bed from home on top and you should be good to go.
For cats, the safest place for them to be is in their carrier. They could get more stressed looking out the window and can run into unpredictable spots like the gas and brake pedal area. That's dangerous for you and them and could lead to a crash, so it's best to just get them a spacious carrier and leave them in the passenger seat. That way you can occasionally stick your hand in and give them a head scratch to keep them calm.
5. Give your pet a little less food and water the night before and morning of your road trip
If it's healthy for your pet, think about restricting their normal food and water intake the night and morning before getting on the road. Just like how you wouldn't drink a huge glass of water before hopping in the road for three hours, set your pet up to be comfortable by helping them regulate their intake. If you road trip often, they very well may start to do this on their own.
6. Have a general plan for where to stop to let your pet stretch their legs
Many rest stops and truck stops have dog runs to give your pet some off-leash zoomies time.
Travel Centers of America has a list of all rest stops with pet areas and Loves Travel Stops recently expanded their pet areas too! If you can't find off-leash spots, the grass at gas stations works fine too, just look out for gas or other chemicals on the ground getting on your pet's paws and irritating their skin.
Cats need more calm and quiet spaces, so the best place to take them is to a quiet corner of a local park. Just put on their harness and leash and let them wander around and stretch their legs. They may use the bathroom so you might want to bring some doggy poop bags with you.
7. Know the pet friendly accommodation situation before you head out
Going with the flow is a great aspect of road tripping, but if you're bringing your pet along with you, it's best to keep in mind not every hotel or AirBnB allows pets. Plan ahead for where you'll stop so you don't get stuck driving much later than you wanted or expected.
BringFido.com is a great resource for pet friendly hotels. Many hotel chains made for extended stays are also pet friendly, like Extended Stay America. Check out this list for pet friendly hotel chains to get a general idea of which chains will be your best bet in a pinch. Lastly, AirBnB has a pet-friendly filter that's handy for home stays, which may be easier if they have a backyard. Just make sure you call ahead or message your host, especially if you're bringing a cat as that's a little more rare.
If you are crossing borders, make sure you have an up to date vaccination record on hand, and you may need to get a check up verification of health a few weeks before so make sure you look up the rules before heading out.
8. The first time is the hardest- it will likely get easier!
For your first road trip with your pet, plan to stop a lot. Your pet is getting used to this new experience with you, so give them some grace and let them burn off some steam as much as you can. Every time you stop, take them out of the car and let them walk around a bit and give them lots of treats and pets. As you road trip more often with your pet, most likely they will learn to regulate their food intake, get more relaxed in the car, and will hopefully be able to have lots more fun adventures with you!
Thanks for all of the great advice from road tripping pet parents Jack and Holli Pandol, Jane Xie and Billy Ruddy! What tips do you have on road tripping with your pet? Comment below and share!