Van Life with a Dog

a cute brown dog with a white muzzle and white eyebrows is sitting in the passenger seat of a van with a black interior. the dog is wearing a red harness and there is a teal leash attached to her. the outside shows a bit of road and brown grass.

I’ll never forget the day we got Maggie. We’d gone to Blue Ridge Pride Festival on a Saturday and I spotted her from afar. I didn’t want to get attached because I didn’t think, realistically, we’d adopt her. I thought she was really cute and chill in the crowd but it seemed unlikely we’d get her. But the next morning Caroline woke up wanting to go get her. And lucky for us, she hadn’t found a home yet. One of the main reasons we didn’t get a dog was the responsibility that comes with having one. And we knew we wanted to continue to travel. Still, we’ve had her for several months now and we’ve adjusted. And we’re finally ready to share some of our travel tips regarding van life with a dog.

Our Van Life Dog

Maggie is a rescue dog. Prior to living with us, she spent most of her life in a cage. Her teeth are really worn down and several had to be removed. The rescue place thinks she tried to escape by chewing out. We’re actually unsure how old she is. The vet thinks somewhere in between 6 and 8 years. If I had to guess I’d say she’s closer to 8. My brother and sister and their partners gave us a dog DNA test and it came back that she is 50% Cattle Dog and 50% Miniature Schnauzer! As for weight, she’s about 32 pounds.

Tips for Van Life With a Dog

Sure, some of the basics to van life apply but there are additional things that you need to consider when traveling with a dog. Here’s ours below:

Choose Your Dog and Your Van Wisely

So, first off, we have a dog! And she is perfect for us. She likes hiking, is a great car rider, and is low-key during the day. When we got Maggie we knew we wanted to continue to travel but our Ram Promaster City camper van conversion is small. And though she’s a medium-sized dog, when we travel, the van is loaded. There also isn’t much room on the bed to squeeze a dog. And forget about having room for a dog bed. Or on the front seat at night (that’s where we keep all the displaced gear). So we started looking around for used vans. It was something we’d been talking about for a while anyway. Maggie was just an inspiration to do it a little faster than we’d planned.

So I started looking around for vans. And the one we purchased, though used, is low-mileage and one you can stand up in. You can read more about the specifics of our Ram Promaster 1500 Camper Van Conversion here if you like. And we’ve expanded the footprint of our space so that we can now comfortably accommodate two humans and one dog on our van travels.

Be Aware of the Temperatures

Our camper van has a Maxx Air Fan which helps to keep air flow moving. It also has an Espar D2L gas heater that keeps things cozy. We’ve tested it on several occasions in temperatures that were in the teens and it kept the inside of the van nice and warm. This is great because we want to keep not only ourselves, but our dog, safe during winter travels. On the opposite side of the spectrum, when it gets hot out we’ll have to rely on shade, our fan, blackout shades for the windows, and cross ventilation. At least until we can get an air conditioner in our van. We’ll also plan to travel to spots where the temperatures are naturally cooler. So you won’t find us in Moab for the summer ever again haha.

One thing pet owners should not do is leave their dog in a hot or cold environment, even with the windows cracked. It’s not safe as things can heat up or get cold very quickly. Over half of the states in the US have laws saying it’s illegal to leave your pet in a car unattended.

Create Signs to Let Passerby Know Your Dog is Safe

The guy we bought our Ram Promaster camper van from recommended we make some signs to stick in the windows to let people know that if they hear a dog in the van, it’s ok. So we did. They’re simple but we hope that it alleviates some stranger from worrying and then breaking into our van to “rescue” our dog. If you ever see this sign in our van please know Maggie has access to plenty of water and that temps inside are safe for her.

Bring Your Dog’s Favorite Food, Treats, and Toys on the Road

This might sound really obvious but we’ve met a few pet owners who have shared that they had to get food for their dog on the road because they ran out. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but for dogs with sensitive stomachs, it may take them a bit to transition to a different kind of food if you can’t find your old kind. Read: you may be letting them out of the van at three in the morning to vomit or have diarrhea. Or, they may just not have an appetite. We keep our food in a big container and bring enough with us so that we can keep Maggie on her regular diet. And we bring a few of her favorite toys because we assume, like her, that she likes something that reminds her of home. Oh, and one other thing: pack lots of dog poop bags!

See The Vet, Pack Their Meds

If you’re just going for a weekend trip, a trip to the vet might not be warranted. But if you’re going off on a several month road trip or even planning on moving into your van full time you may want to make a stop at the vet before all of your life changes. Why? Well, it helps to know that your dog is in great condition. Not only for peace of mind, but also because their regular vet will be familiar with them in a way that a vet on the road won’t be. And be sure to stock up on their flea and tick, heartworm pills, and any other must-haves.

Stow Your Dog’s Paperwork With Your Passport

If you’re planning on driving into a different country in your van, you may have to show your dog’s paperwork before you can enter. We recommend keeping it with your passport so that both can be found at the same time. It doesn’t hurt to make a copy of both, too, just in case.

Plan To Stop Often

Maggie’s first real road trip was from Asheville to Atlanta which typically is a three-and-a-half-hour drive. We ended up stopping once to let Maggie take a bathroom break so it wasn’t too bad. Her second road trip was from Asheville to Delaware which is about 9 hours. With Maggie, it took closer to 10 hours. We stopped roughly every 2.5 hours so she could walk, pee, and get a drink.

Get a White Noise Machine

The first night we went camping in our van we were in a state park not far from home. Maggie did great on the ride out there as well as the hike around the campground. We’d arrived in the dark so it wasn’t too long before we were climbing into bed. Well turns out Maggie was feeling hyper-alert. She barked at every single random noise she heard outside as well as people that passed by. We ended up putting our shades in the windows so she couldn’t see people and turning our fans on so that she had a little background noise. And it worked. Now, when we get ready for bed, we do both of those things even when we’re in a private area and it seems to help.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Before we ever took a several hours long road trip we did short trips around town. Maggie showed a lot of interest in car rides and didn’t seem to get car sick so we started taking her almost everywhere with us. So in many ways she was ready for van life. If you’re able, start out slow with your dog and treat it like a fun time. Then, gradually increase the amount of time that your dog can do in the van. Maggie loves this part of her life so much that all you have to do is say “car ride” and she’s ready to roll.

Van Life with a Dog Recap

If you’ve made it this far you’re probably ready to travel with your dog in your van. We get it! It’s one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve had as travelers. The dog life is for me. Though it’s a bit more work than traveling without a pet, there’s no way we’d ever go back. Thanks for reading and if you have any tips on how to do van life with a dog, we’d love to hear about ’em in the comments below!

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

3 thoughts on “Van Life with a Dog

  1. Great article! It’s heartwarming to read about how the author and their partner rescued Maggie and adjusted their lifestyle to accommodate her. The tips provided for van life with a dog are also very helpful and informative.

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