If you’re considering heading on a road trip with your dog, travelling in a van with dogs, or enjoying van life with a dog, this is the post for you! When I first told people that I was quitting my job as a nurse and going travelling for six months in a van so many people had so much admiration. I got the “I wish I could do that” “you’re so brave” kind of comments. Then, I told them I was travelling in my van with my three dogs and it was a unanimous response of “you’re crazy”. So call me crazy but we’re doing it!
If you’re hoping for happy pooches on your travels, hopefully my experience on the road can provide you with some top tips, even if I feel like there’s something to learn every day! It takes some getting used to, but living in a van with your dog is completely feasible if you’re preapred. And van life dogs really do have a great life; they get to spend so much time outside, so much time exploring, and so much time seeing the world.
Whether you’re hoping to go away for a few days and take your dog on holiday, you’re hoping to go travelling in your van with your dog for a little while, you’re you’re thinking of committing to long term van life with a dog, in this blog post I’m going to share my experiences and advice with you so that you have the confidence to see the world with man’s best friend! It takes a bit of work, but van life with a dog can be so rewarding, so here are all the things you need to consider.
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Van life with a dog: 10 top tips and things you need to know...
1. Let your dog get used to your van.
If you’re considering van life with a dog, the first thing you need to do is let your dog get used to the van. Allow your dog to smell it, walk in and out of it, sit in it, have its food in it and just get used to its new surroundings. You don’t want a nervous dog whilst travelling.
You should also get them used to the noises that the van makes! Vans can be quite noisy and a lot of these noises can trigger a dog. Let them hear the engine turn on so that they aren’t startled, and take the van on a few unnecessary journeys so that the dog doesn’t automatically think it’s going on a fun hike every time the engine stops! The sliding doors are another noise for the dogs to get used to.
2. Research dog-friendly campsites in advance.
This is another important top tip if you’re travelling in a van with dogs or considering van life with a dog. Some campsites won’t allow dogs at all. However, most campsites will sllow dogs, but this is often at an extra charge (per dog – and yes, that racks up when you have three!)
3. Buy some horse lunge or dog lunge leads!
To keep the dogs under control at the campsite I use horse lunge leads (padded for your comfort) and hook them on to the van. This way, they have enough room to feel like they are roaming free, yet there is a boundary and it stops them from running away. These are a must buy if you’re travelling in a van with dogs!
Make sure you resist the temptation to hold on to the leads if your dog feels the urge to run towards something; the horse lunge leads things burn through your hand like a hot knife in butter and rope burns are really painful (coming from a dog-mum who knows).
4. Your dogs will love all the new walks... but don't over do it!
If you’re embarking on van life with a dog, chances are that you’re really excited to get out on a new hike every day, and your pup will be too. It’s an absolute joy walking your dog in a new location every day, and the dogs can really have a good sniff and get working their snouts, which definitely tires them out! This is perfect just before a long drive. Just make sure that you don’t overexercise your dog, as this can cause them health problems.
Again, you might need to do a bit of research to see what type of walk you are going on and if it is dog-friendly. Some walking trails require a bit of lead walking on roads, coastal paths or near livestock so make sure that you and your dog get used to different types of walk. I’d also recommend investing in a National Trust membership, which is great for the car parks as you get in free, and their app will tell you where is dog friendly. Most good walking apps can give you a heads up on whether there is restricted access to walks and beaches (this often happens in the summer, during peak holiday season).
In terms of dog walk essentials: these wouldn’t be that different to if you were living in a house! I always take a roll up dog water bowl, poo bags, treats, a ball, and a bum bag to put it all in! It’d also be a great idea to put a night light on their collar if you’re going to take them out at night.
5. Research dog-friendly pubs and cafes.
Travelling to pubs and cafes can be trial and error, so carry snacks for all! Most places allow dogs in or outside the venue, but, if you’re travelling with three large dogs like me, even if it’s allowed space can be tight! Make sure you read reviews, look at the pictures of the venue and suss it out. You’ll probably find this a bit easier if you’re travelling in a van with just one dog!
Cornwall is home to many dog friendly places, so I’d definitely recommend it as a destination to go on a road trip with a dog. See all the best things to do in Cornwall here.
Something to note is how emotionally draining all the attention from strangers can be on your dog! We seem to draw a lot of attention with our crew which can be quite daunting for the dogs. People do generally ask before approaching but be warned if you are heading to a busy town, pub, or cafe, as there might be a lot of people who want to give your dog a cuddle. We try to limit these situations as much as we can for our pups!
6. Keep your van organised and comfortable whatever the weather, and set boundaries for the dogs.
A van is a small space, even when it’s just humans in there. If you’re adding a dog (or three) in there, you’ve got to get it together! Things have to be slick, and you have to work as a team, but it’s manageable with some organisation and team work.
In general, make sure that the van is comfortable for you and the dogs, and that everyone has somewhere to sleep. It’s up to you whether you choose to get your dog a dog bed, or to let them sleep with you (but if they slee with you, avoid light coloured bedding as it will show up all the dirt and hair very easily!). Whatever boundaries you set, stick to them.
Managing the space is much easier when the weather is good. With the van door open, awning out for shade, and a bit of sun cream (even for the dogs) everyone is happy! We also have a waterproof mat to put the dog beds on so that they don’t get damp from the morning dew. Another top tip for travelling in a van with dogs in summer is to have a fan put in to allow the van to have cool air flowing through it, which is great for those hot days.
When it’s raining, the space becomes harder to manage! And when it rains in England, it pours, so sitting under the awning is not an option. Rainy days are definitely times for snuggling up on the bed as one big pack! One top tip for an life with a dog in the rain is to invest in towel coats. Put one of these on your pup and it absorbs the water from the rain really quickly, and you don’t get the wet dog smell in the van! (Nothing that a Joss stick wouldn’t fix though… I am a yoga teacher, after all!). You can even put the towel coats on wet in hot weather for a cool down.
7. You might be escaping the 9-5 life, but your dog still needs routine.
Granted, it’s not the same as having work deadlines and obligations, and travelling with a dog in a van does give you a sense of freedom, but it does still come with responsibilities. It’s much better for your dog to get into some kind of routine when it comes to feeding times, walking times and bed times. It sounds boring, but it’s going to make your life a lot easier!
8. Travel places where you can buy their dog food.
The easiest option would be to make sure that your dog eats food that is easily available everywhere. However when you’re travelling in a van with dogs, this isn’t always that easy! We have containers in the van that we fill from a big bag of dog food, and this bag is kept in the back of the vans storage. We also try to order food in from the pet shop wherever we are well in advance (rather than leaving it to the last minute to find out they’ve run out), because changing a dog’s food can upset their stomach which is not ideal.
9. Carry a mini dog first-aid-kit, and medical records, just in case.
A mini dog first aid kit is also a great top tip for van life with a dog. Anything from a tic remover, anti histamines (please always seek a vet’s advice before giving anything new to your dogs), to the no chew bandages. This first aid kit is to tide you over until you can get to a vet, if that’s where you need to go.
It’s always a great idea to keep a record of the dog’s vaccinations and medical information, just in case you need to go to a vet for any reason! Some campsites may also request to see that your dog is up to date with its vaccinations.
10. Make sure everyone gets the space and the attention they need!
I love my dogs, and I love my husband, and we all love spending time together. But sometimes we all need a bit of time out, and that is totally understandable. Honour that, allow some space if you can. Our three dogs are all very different from each other and not all of them need that alone time, but you know what you and your dogs need in terms of space. Some dogs are going to want to do a massive hike, and some aren’t. Some are going to hate being left alone even for 5 minutes! You’ve got to find the right balance between everyone’s needs.
If you need some space from your dog (no judgement – it’s very intense living in such a small space together!), consider sending them to doggy day care if you can. Leaving your dog in the van in cool temperatures (so never summer – even in England) for short amounts of time, with ventilation (see point 6 about the fan!) and more than enough water, is ok, but we tend to avoid it.
What are your top tips for travelling in van with dogs?
Have you ever tried van life with a dog? Anything you’d add?
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