How to Make Traveling With A Dog As Rewarding As Possible

The following is adapted from Travels with Hafa.

traveling dog

Last October, I felt the persistent tug I get from time to time—the feeling that it’s time to get out of town for a while. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten the itch, but it was the first time that I had a young pup to care for.

Instead of jetting to another country, I rented an RV for a month-long road trip with my nine-month-old German Shepherd, Hafa. I can’t tell you how many happy hours Hafa spent staring out the window, his Laffy Taffy tongue dangling or how many times Hafa and I panted together after a hot hike. I can only tell you that the trip wouldn’t have been the same if my dog hadn’t been by my side.

Traveling is life-changing, but traveling with a dog can be even better—provided you’ve done your homework and know how to make it a great experience for both you and your canine companion. Here are some potential considerations to take into account before you board a plane, hop in a car, or take off into the sunset with your dog.

Is Your Dog a Good Fit for Your Trip?

Not all dogs are cut out for travel. Likewise, not all travel is cut out for dogs. Your first step before bringing your dog along should always be to ask, “Is this trip a good fit for my dog?”

It’s just a fact: some pets travel well, and some pets don’t. Some dogs get anxious just looking at a car, much less being able to handle carsickness. Before you bring your dog along, ask yourself whether the overall experience will be beneficial or torturous for them.

Hafa was still a puppy, so our road trip was the perfect opportunity for some one-on-one bonding and new training challenges. As I quickly learned, it’s one thing to tell your dog to “sit” in your living room. It’s another to have him listen when you’re in the open outdoors and there are a million new things to sniff and chase.

You should also consider what kind of trip you’re taking. Hiking and outdoor activities are well suited for young, big dogs like Hafa, but smaller, older, or heat-sensitive animals may not be up to the challenge. Our road trip was ideal because I knew that Hafa could go to most of the sites I wanted to visit. There were rare occasions when I’d leave him in the RV, like when I went into restaurants, but most of the time, he was right by my side.

Meanwhile, if you were planning to fly to a big city for a long weekend of museum-going and shopping, a dog like Hafa would be miserable. He’d be cooped up in an unfamiliar hotel room alone for hours on end. No matter how much you would enjoy your pet’s company, at the end of the day, you should take their best interest into account.

Pre-Trip Planning

Once you’ve decided to take your dog along, I recommend setting up a veterinarian appointment. Your vet can provide you with motion sickness pills, anti-anxiety pills, or other precautionary supplements that can make your dog’s experience more pleasant. Hafa’s vet also gave us some tick medicine because I knew we’d be spending a lot of time outdoors, and the last thing I wanted was a problem with Lyme disease.

Before you leave, also make sure that your dog’s tags are up to date and legible. If they aren’t already microchipped, you should consider having one implanted.

Finally, remember to pack everything your dog needs. If you’re planning to take a road trip like Hafa and I did, I also recommend getting a thirty-foot leash. National parks require dogs to stay on a leash, and the extra length proved indispensable, since it gave him some more freedom to roam while the RV was parked. I also recommend bringing along extra food, just in case.

As a word of warning, while it’s good to be prepared, you don’t have to go overboard. Mainly, you should bring supplies you already have at home: toys, food dishes, a crate if your dog uses one, and their favorite bed or blanket. Your dog will appreciate the familiarity, and your wallet will appreciate the restraint.

On the Go

Once you’re on the go, make sure your dog has ample opportunities to stretch its legs and use the bathroom. This is much easier if you’re driving than if you’re flying, although, it can be easy to get in a driving groove and forget to stop. Hafa’s trainer recommended not going any more than five hours without a pitstop.

I also recommend choosing as many dog-suitable activities or sites as possible. For example, I tended to choose camping locations where Hafa could stay off-leash. Of course, that wasn’t always possible, but when you’re traveling with an animal, you have to be vigilant about their needs.

Think of it this way, if you were traveling with another person, you’d probably have to make accommodations; inevitably, they’ll have needs and desires that you don’t. The same goes for traveling with a dog; you must make decisions that are fair and healthy for you both.

Here’s my biggest piece of advice, though. If you’re traveling with a dog, enjoy it! Nothing is better than having the emotional support and joy of a dog. On the few occasions that I got lonely on the road, I would look over and see Hafa’s contented face, and it gave me perspective. If he was that happy, why shouldn’t I be, too? His joy was infectious.

Nothing’s Better than Traveling with Your Best Friend

During our time on the road, Hafa and I camped out in empty parks, huge ranches, and RV camps. Hafa had gotten to roam free and be a dog, all at less than nine months old. I was proud that I’d started Hafa’s life with adventure. I was proud that I had done that for myself too. Traveling with Hafa was worth the additional planning.

By taking a little more time and considering your dog’s needs, you can seize the opportunity to see more of the world—and do it with your best friend by your side. What could be better than that?

For more advice on traveling with a dog, you can find Travels with Hafa on Amazon.