How to Plan a Pet-Friendly Road Trip

Road trips are a tried and true method of adventuring and traveling the nearby world. There is something so invigorating about hitting the open road and cruising to places previously unknown. As an added benefit, driving is one of the most pet-friendly modes of transportation. However, traveling with pets does take a little added planning. Follow the steps below to make sure your pet-friendly road trip is a success.

1. Make Sure Your Pet Is Comfortable In The Car

The first, and most crucial, step is to make sure that your pet will actually enjoy the road trip. And that starts with making sure that your pet is comfortable in the vehicle.

If your dog or cat is already used to driving, great. If not, start slowly. Use positive training methods (read treats or another equally great reward) to associate getting in the car with good experiences. Some pets will easily adapt to the engine noise and movement, but if your dog or cat is showing signs of stress – shaking, vocalizing, stiff body posture, yawning, or hyper-salivating – then you will need to break this training up into small steps.

Start by just running the car in the driveway and rewarding your pet for calm behaviors anytime the car is running. Once you have accomplished that step, start with short drives around the block. Work your way up to short road trips before attempting a long trip. And remember, be patient. This may take a day for one pet, but may take a month or more before another pet is comfortable enough for a big road trip.

Also, don’t forget that for some pets, anxiety in the car is linked with motion sickness. If your pet vomits during or after car rides, or simply just drools excessively, talk to your veterinarian about starting a medication for motion sickness.

2. Safety

For most of us, it is almost automatic to get in a car and buckle-up. However, many of us overlook securing our pets. It is recommended to develop some type of safe riding system for your pets. The two most common methods are utilizing secured crates or harness-to-seat belt attachments. These systems accomplish two main tasks: First, it restricts how far your pet will fly in a car crash, thus keeping them safer. Two, it limits distractions while driving. A secure pet cannot crawl on your lap or under your feet or get into things while you are driving.

If you are interested in purchasing a dog harness that has been tested for safety during car crashes, check out Sleepypod products.

4. Proper Identification

Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with an updated phone number while traveling. If your pet was to get loose, the first thing people check for is a phone number on a collar id tag. This will be the fastest way to reunite with your pet.

I also recommend having your pet microchipped. Collars can be removed, but a microchip is much more permanent. Every stray pet that comes into a shelter/rescue/veterinary clinic should be scanned. Once scanned, the information will be entered and if your information is update online, the organization will find your phone number. They can then call and let you know where your pet is. There are a lot of positive stories about pet-owner reunions thanks to microchip identification.

3. Plan in Frequent Potty Breaks

Know your pets and make sure you provide adequate opportunities for them to stretch their legs and relieve themselves. I like to think of it like traveling with toddlers. Plan for your road trip to take a little longer than when you travel alone. I like to give my dog a 10 minute break every 3 hours or so (normally when I stop for gas, bathroom breaks, or food), but each pet is different. And I make sure she still gets a longer walk before, after, or during our travel days.

4. Pet-friendly Accommodations

When you aren’t used to traveling with pets, it can be easy to assume that all campgrounds accept pets. Or that it won’t be much of a hassle to find a pet-friendly hotel while on the road. However, the last thing you want while on the road, is to be unable to find a place to sleep at night. Even if you are not keeping to a strict itinerary, I recommend finding a few pet-friendly accommodations in the area you are traveling to ahead of time. That way you have back-up options already figured out.

USA today wrote an article that nicely summarizes some pet-friendly hotel chains. And make sure to check how many pets they allow and if there are any breed restrictions. The same applies to campgrounds. I have seen many campgrounds restrict the number of pets allowed at each campsite.

5. Pet-friendly activities

Another big question to answer before taking an epic road trip with your pup or kitty, is whether or not the planned activities are pet-friendly. Do you want to go hiking or visit museums? Are you happy eating on a patio or at a picnic table or do you want to sample the local 5-star restaurants? If you want a combination of these activities, do you have a plan for where your pet will stay while you enjoy activities that they are not welcome at?

As we announced in our latest blog post, Glia and I are heading out on a 3-month long road trip next month. Frisko is being watched by a dear friend of mine, as he has not passed the criteria outlined in step one. Essentially, he hates cars and driving! However, even just having Glia with will limit our options and activities on this road trip. For me, having her along is worth missing out on a few sites and experiences.

We do not have a strict itinerary for our 3-month adventure. However, I found it important to research the dog-friendliness of locations ahead of time. Especially because we want to do lots of hiking and many national parks have heavy restrictions on dogs. As a result, I have spent a lot of time finding nearby trails that are dog-friendly.

So whatever the activities you want to engage in, I highly recommend researching ahead of time. There is nothing worse than planning an epic adventure, arriving at your destination, and finding out that your travel companion is not allowed to participate.

6. Plans for Pet Care

As mentioned above, many people may want to participate in a combination of pet-friendly and non-pet-friendly activities while on the road. If this is you, the good news is that there are many options for pet care in today’s world. Places like Disney World even have pet boarding right outside their front gates. Some of the national parks have kennels that can be used for a small charge (but read up on these, as they are not all directly supervised and you will need to provide your own water bowl, blanket, etc).

If the location you are visiting does not have it’s own boarding option, check out local doggy daycares and boarding facilities. Again, I recommend planning ahead so you have time to read reviews and make sure you are comfortable leaving your pet at a specific kennel.

If you plan on using a daycare or boarding facility, make sure you are traveling with a record of vaccination (including a copy of the rabies certificate) for your pet.

7. Traveling with Medical Records

Speaking of vaccination records, I highly recommend traveling with a copy of your pet’s recent medical records. If your pet is injured or falls ill while on the road, having a copy of recent veterinary visits can help expedite care at an emergency veterinary clinic.

If your medical records do not include a quick list of current medications, make one yourself. Some medications can interact with each other, and any veterinarian you see will want to know what current medications your pet receives.

8. Packing List

Speaking of medications, make sure you pack them and have enough to last the entire trip. The list below is my own list of items to bring when traveling with Glia. Many of these items stay packed in her travel backpack year round to help prevent me from forgetting something.

  • Food and water to last the trip
  • Food and water bowls
  • Current medications
  • Collar (with current id tag), harness, leash
  • +/- Tie Out (for camping)
  • Toys
  • Bed
  • +/- Sweater/boots (only needed in the winter or when hiking on rough terrain)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Recent medical records, copy of rabies certificate, vaccine records
  • +/- Health Certificate

Now it’s Time to Get on the Road with your Pet:

Writing this list has made me even more excited to get on the road with Glia soon. Do you road trip with your pet often? Comment with any items you think should be added to this list. Or just let us know where your next road trip is taking you and your pet. It is always fun to hear about the adventures of other humans and their furry companions.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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