A few generations ago the Great Depression forced families to pack what little they had and head out onto Route 66 in search of a better life. Those fortunate enough to have a car often put down roots wherever that car happened to break down. And somewhere in the middle of it all, a tradition as American as Baseball or Apple Pie was born; the Road Trip. Since then we have developed all sorts of faster, more convenient, ways to get from one place to the other. But for many families there is nothing like hitting the open road. Whether you plan to trek what’s left of Route 66 from coast to coast or just spend a weekend at Grandma’s house, driving is a great opportunity for friends & family to bond and it is by far the best way to travel with your pet!
Every summer as a child we would leave the California Coast and cruise up to see Grandma in Wyoming, playing car games and stopping along the way to learn about local culture. With something of a restless spirit I have spent more hours than I can count on the open road. When I got older my traveling companion was a fuzzy little red husky. While at the University of AZ, I took the opportunity to study in Europe for a summer. Together, we loaded in the jeep and drove 14 hours back to Texas so she could spend the summer with my Mom. Though, honestly, Shadow wasn’t a very good driver! So this summer when my husband and I decided to head to my parents’ new ranch in AZ, it was a familiar routine. We packed the truck, loaded the dogs and set out for some much needed family time. The Highwaymen anthem played loudly as it has at the beginning of every trip since I was a kid.
But traveling long distances with your furry friends holds some unique challenges, and over the years I have picked up some tricks that will help make your road trip memorable for all the right reasons.
The very first thing to consider when traveling with your pet is whether your pet wants to travel. Does Fido freak out on a short drive across town? Does the very sight of the car conjure images of vet trips and vaccines? Nothing will drag out the miles like a dog neurotically pacing, jumping, crying, or vomiting for hours on end. Not all dogs enjoy being in the car and if you think you might need to medicate your pet just to get through the trip, consider leaving them at home with a sitter. But if your dog has learned to bring you his leash & your car keys, and happily bolts in any open car door, you’re probably good to go! Wherever you are going with your pet it is a good idea to make sure they will be welcome. Whether you’re staying with a family member or at a campground, call ahead just to be sure. And if you’re going a long distance consider what hotels you might stay at as well. If you’re traveling during the warmer months keep in mind you will be tethered to your car. In many places it is dangerous and even illegal to leave your pet unattended in the car. This means no restaurant stops, and pit stops may take a bit of coordination. On our recent trip my husband and I found a nice rotation. We would stop for gas and while I was filling up, Robbie would head for the restroom, then when he came back, he would walk the dogs around, and I would head for the restroom. For travel food I packed deli meats and cheeses and made sandwiches on the tailgate of the truck at a rest-stop in Trinidad. These tasty sandwiches were not only cheaper than truck-stop eats but a whole lot healthier.
While on the open road it can be easy to forget that your furry ones need rest-stops too. I try to let mine out every two hours or so. Always keep them on a leash. Remember you are in unfamiliar territory and it’s going to be much easier for your furry one to get distracted, frightened, or lost. And I can’t imagine anything scarier than chasing down a runaway pet while dodging semi-trucks rolling through a truck stop. In fact I usually leave their leashes on in the car and snap the leashes together; Yukon has a much better recall than Swota so I know he will come back if she bolts out of the truck before I can grab the leash. And if you are planning to camp, consider bringing an extra-long rope. The lake we stayed at had a strict leash law but we were still able to give the dogs a little freedom with long tethers.
Water, water everywhere! I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated for you and your pets. Keeping a full bowl of water in the back seat may leave you with nothing but wet seats. Consider keeping a small amount of ice in the bowl instead. It will melt slowly instead of splashing out. And I offer water at every stop too. Don’t forget to offer small amounts of food and water along the way. Your pets’ usual large meal could cause nausea in even the best road buddy.
No matter where you’re headed, half the fun is what you find along the way. Excuses to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and see something you’ve never seen before are a staple of the great American road trip. Keep in mind that some activities will be off-limits. Most amusement parks will not allow pets, and it is NOT ok to leave them in the car. Though a few of the larger ones may offer on-site kennels. More importantly, there are plenty of activities open to include pets, if you get creative. Our week-long trip to Momma’s Ranch included a night of camping at Lyman Lake, and two days of playing at the lake. The water felt great in the summer heat and the dogs enjoyed splashing around. We took a short hike to check out some awesome petroglyphs. And our final night in Arizona we took a lovely drive through the Petrified Forest, where we were able to hike around with the dogs and explore the giant stones that used to be trees.
A road trip to Arizona in June with two Huskies may not sound like the most solid plan, but we and the dogs lived there for years before moving to Colorado. From ice in the water bowls to dips in the lake, we have learned how to cope with the intense heat. If you’re headed for some place you’ve never been, consider talking to your vet about any precautions you might need. Or if you’re going to visit friends or family with pets, ask them. Other parts of the county may pose different threats to your pet, from heat exhaustion, to wildlife, to parasites. No matter how much fun a trip is, it will be ruined if your pet comes back sick.
Spending some time on my parents’ ranch gave Swota and Yukon some much needed free time. We love living in Denver but never feel comfortable letting the dogs off leash with all the traffic. So my parents 40-acre ranch, 15 miles off the paved road gave us some worry-free play time. Camping at the lake was an awesome reprieve from the heat. And the Arizona landscape offered beautiful photo ops.
Traveling with dogs may take a little extra preparation, but they are a part of our lives and sharing experiences with them makes the memories that much sweeter.