How To Travel With a Dog In a Van

Picture this: you have made it to your road trip destination and are relaxing by the campfire, admiring the beautiful night sky, and making s’mores. But one thing is still missing … your dog! 

After you adopt a furry friend into your life, it can be difficult to do anything without them. It’s hard to go on a hike, explore the outdoors, or go swimming in a freshwater pool without thinking about how much your pet would enjoy it too. 

We get it; it can be tough to travel with your pet, especially if we’re talking about air travel. Barring those with service dogs, pet owners often run into issues when bringing even small dogs like pugs or French bulldogs on their travels. Luckily, there is no reason man’s best friend needs to be excluded from a road trip, no matter how long it is.

If you are nervous about traveling with your dog in your van for long hours on the road, we promise that after a little planning and preparation, you and your dog will feel comfortable driving together. 

Here is a list of everything you need to know before beginning your road trip with your pup. 

Dog and Sprinter Van

Consider Your Dog’s Needs

First, pet travel is always easier when you’re prepared. It’s important to consider how your dog will feel on the road. 

Consistency Helps Dogs on the Road

If your pup is new to road trips, the small interior of the van and the constantly changing scenery might confuse them. When a dog is feeling stressed or confused, they usually immediately turn to their owners for a sign of safety. However, you might be driving and unable to reassure them at all times. 

This is why a consistent daily routine is crucial for the success of your road trip. If you have the same morning, afternoon, and nightly routine, your dog will be less likely to feel stressed. Try eating breakfast at the same time every morning, going on a hike at the same time every afternoon, and going to bed at the same hour every night. This way, your dog will know what to expect next. 

Practice Riding and Sleeping in the Van Before You Travel

In addition to practicing consistency, practicing sleeping and riding in the van before your road trip will help your dog feel comfortable in the confined space and with the changing scenery. Try a one-night road trip that entails a few hours of driving in the afternoon and a night in an RV campground. 

If your dog knows what to expect and has already felt comfortable and safe while in the van, they are much less likely to feel anxious

Determine Whether Your Dog Should Stay Home

We know you want to experience your favorite activity with your pup. However, unfortunately, road trips make them entirely uncomfortable or anxious. You want what’s best for your dog, so maybe leaving them at home while you embark on your road trip is the better idea. 

If your dog is not enjoying the one or two-night road trips, you cannot assume they will do better on longer road trips. Consider reputable dogsitting options like Rover or Trusted Housesitters if this is the case. Although they will miss you, your dog will be grateful to be in a space that makes them feel safe and happy. 

How Do You Keep Your Pet Comfortable on the Road?

So you’ve done a night or two on the road and have decided your dog can handle it: what’s next? 

Be Prepared for Cold Weather

There is nothing like taking a midwinter road trip to hit the slopes or immerse yourself in holiday magic. However, you must consider how to bundle up your dog just as much as yourself. Although their fur coat will keep them warm to a certain extent, extremely low temperatures or nights in the van will test their limits. Check the forecast ahead of time to ensure it’s doable for you and your pup. If there’s a high risk of inclement weather, you might want to leave your pet at home.

It would be best if you packed a jacket and blankets for your dog no matter what, but small breeds, dogs that sit low to the ground, lean-bodied breeds with short hair, and senior dogs have a tough time retaining heat. 

Park in the Shade

During the summertime, the inside of your van can get very hot quickly. Even if you are popping out of your van to shower, it only takes a few minutes for the heat to become severe enough to risk your dog’s health. If you don’t want to leave your engine running at all times, you can keep a fan running for optimal airflow. Additionally, a low-sitting fan can reach areas of the van that the AC system doesn’t directly hit, giving your pup immediate relief. 

If you are traveling in the middle of the summer, you should invest in a cooling mat for your dog. Cooling mats are non-electric options that use water or a non-toxic gel to absorb your dog’s body heat, cooling them off. Also, we highly recommend getting insulated curtains for all your windows and using those to keep your van cooler during those warm summer months. 

Don’t Leave Your Pet in the Van All Day

Even if you want to spend your day exploring sights that don’t allow dogs, leaving them inside the van is not viable. If you are not nearby to monitor the temperature inside of the van and, therefore, your dog’s safety, you can put them in danger. 

However, Rover offers day sitter options, which you should consider if you need to leave your pup for a few hours or more. An experienced dog sitter will either come to your RV camp or request you drop your pup off at their home. Either way, you can go forward with your plans and feel assured your dog is being well taken care of.

Create a Designated Dog Storage Area

You will be shocked at how many extra supplies you will pack when bringing your dog with you on a road trip. Your van can become cluttered pretty quickly, so it’s best to try and keep everything as organized as possible. 

Determine How Much Dog Supplies You Need Before Leaving

We know your dog wants to have all their favorite things on the road trip. However, it’s easy to overpack and only use half of what you packed. Before beginning your journey, you need to consider how long you will be gone and what the weather will be like and narrow down what is most important to your dog. 

First, make sure you have the essentials ready to go. Round up their water bowl, dog food, leash, poop bags, cooling mat, and bed or kennel. Once you have the essentials packed, you can pack their favorite treats, toys, and blankets, providing them with some comfort on the road.

Use a Designated Spot for Your Dog’s Stuff

Keeping your things separate from your dog’s will be a lifesaver when you are rummaging around for your favorite hoodie or your dog’s favorite toy. There are plenty of ways to do this, and it could be as simple as having a bucket in the van where everything dog-related goes. 

However, if you want to invest in an organizational system that will last and is easy to work with, try installing storage cubbies or a storage cabinet. These options are designed to fit easily inside your van and make cleaning and organizing a breeze. 

Pack a Collapsible Food and Water Bowl

One of the best features of a road trip is how spontaneous it can be. You aren’t deterred when Delta delays your flight, and you don’t have to secure hotel reservations (and pay pet fees). That means you can go wherever the wind takes you at any time. However, when you have a dog with you, you should always have all their essentials on you. 

If you are out for a hike and decide to walk to a restaurant instead of returning to the van, you don’t want your dog to go without food and water. Collapsible food and water bowls are excellent since they don’t take up a lot of room in your bag and can pop open in just a second. 

With a water bottle, a small bag of dog food, and these bowls on your at all times, you can keep exploring all day without running back to the van. 

Give Your Dog Access to Water at All Times

The summertime heat, additional hikes, or long walks your dog might experience on your road trip will increase the water they need during the day. Besides keeping a collapsible bowl and a water bottle at all times, they should have access to water at all times in the van. 

Consider laying a towel or bath mat under their water bowl if they are a messy drinker or to provide a safeguard against unexpected sharp turns on the road. 

Sprinter Van with Dog Outside

Create a Designated Sleeping Area for Your Dog

Putting thought and energy into creating a sleeping area for your dog in your van’s cargo hold will pay off in the long run. If they are well rested, they are less likely to be anxious on the road, and they will have enough energy for whatever activities you want to experience with them that day. 

Determine the Sleeping Arrangements for Your Dog

For the comfort of both you and your dog, you might want to invest in a sleeping arrangement that lets your dog sleep solo. 

Plenty of comfy options will easily fit in your space, such as a packable bed. These can be brought out at night and dressed with pillows and blankets to keep your pup warm and then folded and packed away during the day to open up the space. 

Make Sure Their Pet Carrier Fits in the Van

If you have a puppy or your dog prefers to sleep in a carry-on crate, test it out in the van before heading out on your pet-friendly road trip. Although it might technically fit, you may realize that the crate is too big for the space, blocking access to your storage space or limiting how much you can move around. 

However, some dogs have difficulty falling asleep unless they are cuddled inside a crate, so try using a soft crate instead. Like the packable bed, soft crates can be packed away during the day and brought out at night. They come in various sizes, aren’t bulky, and won’t get in your way. 

Use a Small Tent for Sleeping Outside

If nights are warm enough during your road trip, your dog can sleep outside your van if they are up to the task. The fresh air and extra space might make them feel more comfortable and ready to sleep. You can put a soft crate outside or get a dog-friendly sleeping tent, and these are designed to optimize airflow and provide a cozy sleeping experience. 

Be sure to scope out your RV park before letting your dog sleep outside. You should ask a worker about the wildlife risk if you are near forested areas. Additionally, if it’s a crowded park with no space between vans, your dog might have trouble sleeping with the noise and movement happening around their tent.  

How Do You Make Sure Your Dog Is Prepared for the Road?

Now that you know whether your dog can handle the road and you have all the essentials packed, it’s time to take the last steps in preparing your dog.

Get Up To Date on Vaccination Certificates and Other Health Certificates

First, you should alert your vet that you are planning a long road trip and tell them where you are planning to go. This way, your vet can do a proper check-up on your pup to ensure that they are healthy enough, physically and mentally, for you to have planned. 

This is also the perfect opportunity to get your dog up to date on their heartworm and rabies vaccinations, which will protect them from getting sick on the road. Lastly, you should ask your vet for a record of your dog’s vaccinations and keep them with you on your trip. If you need to take your dog on an emergency trip to the vet, you can give them the proper information for check-in and treatment. 

Invest in a Microchip

Investing in a microchip instead of a standard ID tag will be the best way to give you peace of mind while traveling with your dog. This tip applies to travel by van, but it's also helpful for international travel by air.

They will be experiencing a wealth of new stimuli if this is their first road trip, and it's possible for them to run off after getting spooked by an animal, being lured by a new smell, or seeing something they want to chase. 

If you are worried about your dog's comfort, a microchip is roughly the size of a grain of rice and is not noticeable once inserted. If your dog runs off and gets lost, your phone number will come up as soon as the microchip is scanned, leading to a swift reunion. 

Opt for a Light-Up or Reflective Collar

Another way to reduce the risk of your dog getting lost is by using a light-up or reflective collar. You will spend some time in the dark with your dog, going on late-night walks, making middle-of-the-night potty breaks, and playing fetch before bed to get their energy out. Most RV camps are in rural areas, so they aren’t lit up properly at night.

Without any light coming from street lamps, a light-up collar will ensure you maintain visibility on your pup at all times. 

Practice Good Campsite Pet Etiquette

Before you leave on your trip, you should practice campsite etiquette with your dog. This means making sure your dog listens to calls to return and easily stays by your side. It would be best if you also practiced walking on a leash with your pup, ensuring they don’t pull too hard when they see something they are interested in. 

Lastly, be sure your dog can play well with others. When staying at a dog-friendly RV campsite, your dog probably won’t be the only furry friend there. If your dog tends to get into fights or is uncomfortable around other dogs, maybe they should stay at home. 

Make Sure Your Van Is Prepared

Pack a Brush or Small Vacuum

If your dog sheds, you are familiar with how much hair they can lose in a day. You will especially notice the hair when you are staying together in a small space. In order to keep your space as hairless as possible, pack a brush and a small vacuum. 

Giving your pup a quick brush every morning will help reduce the amount of hair they lose in the day. However, it’s impossible to entirely prevent shedding, so be sure to have a handheld vacuum in your van. 

Pet-Proof Your Van’s Interior 

Accidents happen! Even the best-trained dogs might have an accident inside, make a mess while eating, or get into things they shouldn’t have access to. We recommend buying pet covers for the seats in your van to keep your van clean and in good condition. 

You should also be sure to keep your dog’s things organized and in a safe place that they can’t reach. Similarly, store any cleaners, human food, or choking hazards in an unreachable space as well. This way, you can confidently drive down the road without worrying about your pup getting into trouble behind you. 

Man’s Best Friend = Van’s Best Friend

If you have a dog in your life, you understand the comfort, support, and joy they bring to your life. While it definitely takes some extra planning and preparation, having your pup with you on a road trip can truly enhance the experience. 

Once you have everything packed and your dog and van are ready for the trip, you can look into road trip destinations. There are countless dog-friendly spots across the country, including most national parks. Regardless of where you go, you will make memories that will last a lifetime and discover a newfound appreciation for man’s best friend. 



Signs of Anxiety in Dogs and Puppies

Dog Car Anxiety | How to Help My Dog Who's Stressed in the Car

Medical Care: Rabies Vaccine | CDC

The Complete Guide to Traveling With Your Dog | American Kennel Club

Emergency care | American Veterinary Medical Association


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