I’ve been taking road trips since I was old enough to drive. I started small, spending summer afternoons driving up to a friend’s cabin in Maine or exploring the back roads and speckled foliage of New Hampshire and Vermont in autumn, but as I grew older and more confident behind the wheel, I graduated to more ambitious journeys. There were my 15-hour marathon rides out to school in Ohio every fall and spring and my post-finals trip home at the end of each semester. There was spring break of my sophomore year when a buddy and I stocked a cooler with cold cuts and white bread and booked it down to New Mexico to camp under the stars at White Sands. Then, there was the following year, when our school’s outdoor club flew into Denver, rented a couple of vans, and rolled around the Southwest for a week.

I’ve always felt most free behind the wheel. There are no tickets to book, no layovers or flight delays. You decide what your schedule will be, and with an interstate system as intricate and far-reaching as America’s, the only thing standing in the way of your adventure is a gas pedal — and it doesn’t take too much effort to push that to the floor.

Recently, however, I took my first road trip with my dog, Lilly, and discovered fairly quickly that many of the freedoms you enjoy when driving solo are hampered when your canine companion is riding shotgun. Dogs thrive on routine, and because road trips are, at their core, a break from the rhythm of everyday life, it’s important that you take steps to ensure your furry pal is as comfortable as possible. If you’re planning on hitting the road with man’s best friend, here are a few suggestions for making sure you both have a great time on your ruff-riding adventure.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Callie (@thegoodmutt) on

Pimp Your Pup’s Ride

Eight hours in the car can make anybody feel cramped — just imagine how uncomfortable it is for an animal that’s meant to be running around. Even if your dog is good in the car, it’s likely that after a lot of time on the road, they’re not going to be crazy about staying cooped up in there. That’s why it’s important to make sure they have a comfortable spot that’s theirs to snuggle up in whenever you get back on the road. And feel free to flex your interior design muscle a bit! I like to start by laying down Lilly’s bed on the passenger seat and then bulking it up on the sides with some towels and a couple of her stuffed animals. I also keep a jar of small treats in the console between us so I can periodically let her know what a good girl she’s being. However you decide to construct your dog’s car nook, make sure to supplement it with a lot of extra head pats so they know that even though your eyes are on the road, you’re still there watching over them.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Nashville & Remington (@fetchinfocus) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Nashville & Remington (@fetchinfocus) on

Make Plenty of Pit-Stops

When I’m by myself on road trips, I like to minimize my drive time by making as few stops as possible. Usually, this means only pulling over when I need to fill up on gas, though occasionally I’ll overdo it on the coffee and need to add a couple extra stops to the itinerary. When your pooch is a passenger, however, it’s best to prioritize their comfortability over your desired ETA. Even if your dog is trained to hold their bladder, they’ll still need to get out, breathe some fresh air, and stretch their legs. I recommend stopping at least every three hours, and at each stop, giving your dog some water and taking them on a leisurely walk. Most rest stops have grassy areas specifically allocated for pets, and some even offer fenced-in parks where they can run off-leash. Just be sure to be a responsible owner and pick up after your pup!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Nashville & Remington (@fetchinfocus) on

Keep it Cool

Two factors that are absolutely paramount when your dog is in the car are temperature and hydration. You might not feel too hot, but with their fur coat, your dog is bound to get pretty warm, especially when there’s sunlight coming in through the windows. Therefore, it’s imperative that you take measures to ensure that they don’t overheat. If you’re driving along back roads, you can always roll the windows down so that they can stick their head out and let their ears and tongue flap in the breeze. On high-speed interstates, however, this isn’t a great idea, so you should keep the AC on instead, and make sure that there’s a good air flow throughout the vehicle. And, wherever you are, always be sure to have lots of water on hand. Personally, I like to use the H2O4K9 bottle, which I can use to easily pour some water out for Lilly whenever I pull over.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ramona Schürken (@ramona_schuerken) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Max The Island Heeler 🐕 🇦🇺🇳🇷 (@maxtheislandheeler) on

Don’t Push It

Another tactic I use to maximize my efficiency behind the wheel is to limit my overnight stops. Rather than spend money on a motel room, I prefer to drive through the night, pulling over when I feel drowsy to take quick pick-me-up naps before getting back on the road. With a dog, however, this isn’t a great idea. They’re already cooped up in the car for the entire day — keeping them in there through the night is a recipe for disaster. Instead, you should limit yourself to about eight hours of driving per day and stay with friends or at dog-friendly hotels along the way (the BringFido app is a great way to find accommodations that will welcome you and your pooch). These stops are perfect opportunities to make sure your dog is exercised and refreshed as well. Once you’re settled in, take them out for a nice long walk to explore the nearby area, and while you’re at it, see if there are any nearby dog parks where they can really get their energy out. There’s nothing like an evening of frolicking fun to make your dog nice and pooped for the following day’s drive.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by EDITION Woof (@edition_woof) on

Design a Safe Space

Even though hitting the road each morning and staying in a motel every night is a lifestyle you might be able to get used to, for a dog, it’s a never-ending cycle of abnormality. With every motel room comes a new barrage of overwhelming sights and smells, an unfamiliar place they have to learn and adapt to. That can be a lot to handle. Therefore, you should try to inject as much routine into the chaos as you can. The best way to do this is by transporting something they know and are familiar with to set up in each place you stay. For Lilly, this is her crate. Yes, even though her crate is where she’s sent when she growls at the neighbors or piddles on the carpet, it’s also her safe space — a spot that is solely hers, a place where she can retreat to when she’s anxious. By setting this up in each motel room we stay in, I can provide her with an area where she can catch her breath while she takes in her new surroundings.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kim Jobson (@thesullyseries) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Rosie (@rosietherescuelab) on

Enjoy the Ride

This might seem like a lot to keep track of, but it’s important to remember why you took your dog on this trip in the first place. They’re your best pal, your furry friend, your partner in adventure, and you want to share your love of exploration with them. So don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy the ride. Pull over at that scenic lookout and ask a stranger to snap a pic of the two of you. Take the exit to that trailhead and go on a spontaneous hike through the woods. Once you master the art of road-tripping with your dog, there’s nowhere the two of you can’t explore, so get out there and bark it up!

Have any more tips for hitting the road with your pooch? Let us know in the comments below!

Header image by Patrick Hendry

Share this:
Devon Shuman
Devon Shuman is a creator, a storyteller, and a traveler from Boston, Massachusetts. He caught the travel bug at a young age when his family would take camping trips in southern Maine and New York’s Adirondack region. Since then, his adventures have taken him all across the globe. His favorite journeys include island hopping in the Galápagos, thru-hiking Vermont’s Long Trail, and summiting Mount Kilimanjaro. He currently works as an editorial consultant for Passion Passport, helping explorers from around the world tell their stories.