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I’ve Taken My Dogs on Dozens of Road Trips—Here’s What I Wouldn’t Travel Without

Road-tripping with people is fun but traveling with my dogs is the best—though it does require a bit of extra gear.

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road trip with dogs Jesse StebbinsCourtesy Jesse Stebbins

Have dog will travel

I have three dogs: Chester, 6, a 36-lb field-bred English cocker spaniel; Winston, 3, a 60-lb “bernadoodle” (a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle), and little Rex, 5, a 9-lb Yorkie. One of my favorite things to do is to go on road trips with my dogs, particularly camping and backpacking trips. And I think they love these trips just as much as I do. (In fact, they each have their own travel Instagram pages: Chester, Winston, and Rex.) As soon as they see me start packing up the car, they get super excited and the second we reach our destination, they are bounding around, exploring, and enjoying the outdoors. Taking your dog outside is one of the 15 habits of great dog owners.

Jesse Stebbins dog road tripCourtesy Jesse Stebbins

Traveling with dogs is like traveling with toddlers

They’re full of fun and excitement but it takes some extra preparation to make sure they stay safe and healthy on the road. It’s not as simple as a last-minute decision to have your dog jump in the car with you. They have important needs that can ruin your trip if you don’t plan for them—one of the 53 mistakes all dog owners make sometimes.

Jesse Stebbins dog road tripCourtesy Jesse Stebbins

Before you go

When I’m planning the trip, the first thing I do is check my vet records to ensure they’re current on all their vaccines (including a rattlesnake vaccine if you go backcountry like we do), heartworm pills, and that I’ve packed any necessary medications. And while I’ve never had a dog get lost, I still take a minute to make sure their microchip information is up-to-date and I have current pictures of them on my phone. Well-trained dogs are safe dogs and they also travel better. I’ve done extensive behavior training with my dogs so they are under total voice control and I have a special whistle that will immediately call them to my side. Leaving any of these out risks having a dog get sick or lost on vacation.

Before I leave, I make sure they’re comfortable. Dogs are masters at falling asleep anywhere but, like kids, I’ve found the trips go much smoother if they have their own dedicated space in the car. I drive a Subaru Forester so I pack as much as possible on top of the car then put all the seats down in the back and cover it with our sleeping pads, blankets, and pillows to make a nest for the pups.

Then once I’m on the road I remember that, like toddlers out of their normal routine, they need lots of extra love and attention—including potty breaks every couple of hours. Make sure you know these 19 things your dog actually wants from you.

Editor’s note: Experts also recommend that dogs be restrained with a safety belt or crate during car trips, both for their protection and yours in case of an accident. Here’s everything you need to know about dogs and seat belts, including why your dog needs a seat belt, how to find an approved safety restraint, and the laws regarding dogs riding in cars.

Note: Prices listed were accurate as of press time; pricing fluctuations may occur.

Jesse Stebbins dog road tripCourtesy Jesse Stebbins

The BringFido app

Road-tripping with dogs takes extra planning as not all places are dog-friendly. I often camp on BLM-managed sites where off-leash dogs are allowed but for trips where I want to stay in a hotel or a campground, the BringFido app is essential. It helps dog owners find pet-friendly lodging and also restaurants and stores that accommodate animals.

Portable dog bedvia amazon.com

Portable dog bed

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I always bring a couple of old blankets or a portable dog pad for the dogs to relax on at the campsite. At night, they sleep in the tent with me. (And Rex is in my sleeping bag with me!) Here’s how getting a dog saved this couple’s relationship.

Travel food and water bowlsvia chewy.com

Travel food and water bowls

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These collapsible silicone bowls by Prima Pets can be flattened to pack and then expanded for mealtimes. A special dog water bottle can also be helpful to avoid spills. Do you know the signs your dog is secretly mad at you?

A secure food bagvia amazon.com

A secure food bag

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A plastic Ziploc bag isn’t going to cut it on a road trip. I prefer to use a Marchway waterproof, floating “dry bag” designed for kayaking and camping to pack my dogs’ food. This keeps it safe from bad weather and marauding animals. In the wilderness, I also bring a rope to hang the food from a tree to deter bears.

Saddlebagsvia amazon.com

Saddlebags

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Doggie backpacks are the cutest thing you’ve ever seen but they’re also very practical. Chester and Winston are both big enough to carry some of their own things when we backpack and a dog saddlebag makes it easy and comfortable for them. I love these Ruffewar bags.

Dog shoesvia amazon.com

Dog shoes

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Dogs’ paws can become raw, impacted with snow or gravel, burned by hot pavement, or otherwise injured so velcro dog booties are a must on trips. I have these extra-tough Ruffwera booties.

A front carriervia chewy.com

A front carrier

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Rex thinks he’s one of the big boys but in reality, he’s pretty tiny and gets tired a lot faster than the other dogs so I have an Outward Hound PoochPouch (similar to what you see babies carried in) so I can give him a rest while we hike. Rex absolutely hates it but he needs it, unlike these 23 things people think dogs love but they actually hate.

 

Dog hoodiesvia amazon.com

Dog hoodies

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Dog sweaters are often seen as the domain of overprotective old ladies with lapdogs but there are times where my dogs do need some extra warmth and protection from the elements. We skip the crocheted variety and swear by Equafleece’s line. Be sure to avoid the 16 pet products vets never buy.

 

Glow-in-the-dark or reflective collarsvia amazon.com

Glow-in-the-dark or reflective collars

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Keeping track of my dogs in the dark is much easier with glow-in-the-dark sticks tied to their collars. Reflective or light-up collars can make them more visible to cars, helping keep them safe on the streets. This Nite Ize Nite Dawg collar uses LED lights to stay extra bright.

Collar bellsvia chewy.com

Collar bells

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Sometimes my dogs’ fur covers their collars so it helps to be able to hear them as well. I tie a simple bell to their collar. These Coastal Pet Products large, gold bells are designed specifically for dog collars.

Nose and paw creamvia amazon.com

Nose and paw cream

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My dogs love exploring and sticking their noses into any hole they can find but sometimes this means extra wear and tear on sensitive areas. I always keep a jar of dog balm in the car to help soothe chapped noses and paws. My go-to is Musher’s Secret Paw Wax.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) pillsvia amazon.com

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) pills

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I have a list from my vet of human medications that can be used for dogs too and antihistamines are at the top of the list. I always pack Benadryl pills when we travel. They’re small enough that the dogs will swallow them and they help reduce allergic reactions and swelling, like when Chester tried to “make friends” with a bee and ended up getting stung on his eye. (Speak to your vet before giving your dog any OTC medications.)

Locking coolervia amazon.com

Locking cooler

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Camping coolers are great for keeping my food safe but I always use one with a lock like this Coleman Steel-Belted Portable Cooler to keep nosy dogs (or raccoons!) from snacking on my stuff. Is your dog crazy smart? Here’s how to tell how smart your dog is.

Fine tooth metal combvia amazon.com

Fine tooth metal comb

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Long-haired breeds pick up burrs, sticks, and even insects like ticks, easily on trips. If you don’t catch them quickly they can lead to pain, injury, illness, and matted fur. So every evening I go over each of them with this Conair fine-tooth comb, untangling their fur and removing any unwanted hitchhikers.

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