Planning a trip with your dog?

Are vacations with your dog really a vacation?

I didn’t know until a fall getaway. I had never traveled with a pet. When it came time for my boyfriend and I to plan our annual road trip – two years ago we went to Yosemite and last year we did Arizona, New Mexico and Utah – With a pandemic pup now living with us, we quickly realized we wanted Millie, our 11 month old goldendoodle, to come.

In the weeks leading up to our trip that took us to five national parks—Capitol Reef, Arches, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Grand Canyon—in a rental motorhome, I did tons of research on where to stay, what to do and what to see, including finding dog parks and other dog-friendly spaces.

Two days before leaving for our six-day, five-night trek, I expressed my concerns to John. Were we doing the right thing by taking Millie with us? Would she like to be in the van most of the time? Would she behave? Would there be enough for her to see and do?

In the end, we decided it was too late to change our plans. We just had to deal with it. We ended up having a great time and creating the most beautiful memories. If you’re planning on hitting the road in 2022, especially for the first time with a pet, here are some things we learned along the way about traveling with a dog.

Do your research to find the RV company that works for you

We used Cabana, which I first heard about in a Los Angeles Times article earlier this year. It accepts pets (paying). And the big sale? It had unlimited mileage. This was important to us because we knew we would go far (we logged almost 2,500 miles), and found that most other companies only allowed a set number of miles per day and then charged per mile thereafter.

Find dog parks or other places where your dog can stretch their legs along your route

Depending on your dog’s energy level and needs, you’ll want to stop the car every two hours or so. I noted a dog park or two every day of the trip, so we never had to worry. Yet despite my extensive research, we were pleasantly surprised by a small fenced-in area at a rest stop in southwestern Utah where we let Millie run. We stopped at several rest stops along the way when we were ready for a break, but we really loved a Moab dog park where Millie covered her legs in red dirt and a great park in Montrose, Colorado with lots of trees and little trails where Millie could explore.

Look for dog-friendly places near your destination or destinations

Our plan was to make this a national park tour, but national parks aren’t too dog friendly. (They are allowed but access varies. We found Black Canyon National Park to be very welcoming.) That meant looking for dog parks or state parks, which usually allow dogs, nearby. (I found that Rocky Mountain does a great job of advertising on their website, nps.gov.)

Before leaving, practice leading your dog, especially if he is not used to it.

Millie is in a car most of the time, although I was always concerned that she would get car sickness during the trip. Fortunately, she never made it despite the winding and mountainous roads. We think being used to being in a car has helped her a lot.

Buy a few items for your dog that will make life easier for him on the road

One of the first things we bought as we approached the start of the trip was a cheap dog bed. We knew it would probably be dirty (it was), and we agreed to throw it away when we got home. We also bought a pad for her to lay on outside the van once we were at a campsite, a 20 foot leash so she could have some freedom to explore and thick bone marrow to chew on for long periods of time in the van.

Bring the comforts of home with you

I packed up Millie’s stuff so much you would think we were moving. We brought the dog’s bed, blankets, a stuffed animal and some chew sticks and balls. Because I was so worried about what she would do, I may have overdone it, but she seemed to like having options. Millie particularly liked a rope toy, which kept her busy in the van and we used to play together in the campgrounds before we settled down.

Overpack if you can

If you have extra room in your vehicle, overpacking can make all the difference. We knew we were going to be camping in semi-remote areas and we had days with long drives, so we made sure to bring a few extra things. That’s what helped us: towels for when we got covered in dirt, more than enough allergy pills, an extra blanket for the bed, and tons of snacks. We also packed more water jugs than we needed. For Millie we also had towels, lots of treats and plenty of food. We always had a small amount of water and food available for her in the van as we drove, and whenever we stopped somewhere we grabbed a collapsible water bowl for her.

Look for apps to download in advance as you may lose service

In Moab, Utah, John and I met Morgan Phillips and Amber Calvo, who do photography work for Cabana, and they told us about iOverlander, an app they use to find places to park their van away from people so their two dogs can run around (we don’t trust Millie enough for that yet). We downloaded the app and towards the end of our trip, when we were in a hurry, we used it for the first time. iOverlander had many recommendations – submitted by app users – about remote places to park and overnight parking on city streets.

Make a backup plan for everything, especially if you’re going somewhere with bad weather

I had long notes before the trip, but there were a few cases where I didn’t have a backup plan. We were left with a small setback our first night in Colorado when snow caused a highway to close, preventing us from accessing our campsite. We eventually managed to find a place to spend the night. After initially failing to find a place to park the van overnight, we tried a nearby campground, hotel, and street parking. We ended up settling in for the night in a large parking lot in Golden, Colorado, which serviced a mall, a Holiday Inn Express, and a Home Depot.

Finally, have realistic expectations

It could be your vehicle, your plans, your travel companion or your pet. Millie never hiked more than two miles at a time, so we knew tough hikes weren’t going to be an option. Because we had an ambitious itinerary, we also knew that we never had too much time in one place. Still, we made time to grab a local coffee in Torrey, dine at a food truck under fairy lights in Moab, stop to marvel at the yellow trees of Telluride, and play in the snow at the Grand Canyon.

So, will we travel with Millie again? Two days into this trip, we have already started planning the next one.


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