A LOT has happened to me over the past few months, not the least of which has been moving to New York City. It’s been a hectic ride, which has caused absence from the blog, but I’m back!
The move to New York was also a literal hectic ride, as in the process of moving I did a road trip with a dog. My canine companion, Stella, and I hit the road to make our way to the Big Apple.
As much as I enjoy air travel and the ease of going long distances, I love road trips. I cherish the ability to take my time and stop to enjoy new places along the way. There’s an exciting element of spontaneity that you can’t get on a plane.
Taking a road trip with a dog, however, requires an extra layer of planning. While you can still stop to see things on your route your options are shaped by the places that allow dogs. Figuring out where to eat, where to sleep, and what to do can become a little more challenging. Here’s how I planned a four-day road trip with a dog from Florida to New York.
Where to Stay
One of the biggest items to figure out on a road trip with a dog is where you’re going to sleep every night. My answer for this came from advice from my friend, Deb. She moved from California to North Carolina on a cross-country road trip with two dogs.
The trip sounded like a lot of fun, but my mind was boggled as to how she was able to find accommodations the whole way. She simply said, “La Quinta.”
Deb informed me that all La Quinta Inns & Suites allow dogs with no additional fees, so she just stayed at La Quintas the whole way. When it came time for my own road trip with a dog I did the same thing.
There are other hotels that allow dogs, but it is often on a property by property basis and includes a pet fee. La Quinta isn’t always the cheapest option, but it’s worth it for me to have the ease of knowing I’ll be set with no issues when I book there rather than poring over the fine print of dozens of hotel listings, regulations, fees, and weight restrictions.
The other option is staying with friends or family along the way who have dog-friendly homes. I was lucky enough to stay with Deb and her dog Roxy for one night, which was a bonus for Stella.
Where to Eat
The next thing to figure out on a road trip with a dog is where to eat. The easy answer, of course, is to go to drive-throughs. My trip included stops at Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and Bojangles’, when I was lucky enough to be in the area. Sometimes, though, you want some variety and the ability to actually get out of the car.
A great resource for finding dog-friendly places, including restaurants, is BringFido. The website and app helps you find places in whichever city you’re visiting based on dog bone ratings. It helped me find some great places to eat on the Georgia coast.
I decided to spend my first night on the road in Brunswick, Georgia so I could explore the Golden Isles. I felt that the best way to end a long day of driving would be with a seafood dinner. BringFido led me to Marshside Grill, which had a 5-bone rating of dog friendliness.
The dog-friendly area is out back by the marsh, and the way it usually works is that someone in your party goes in and gets the table and then someone else from the party comes back out and walks the person with the dog around the back.
When I arrived I couldn’t see how this would be feasible as a party of one, so I called and told them I was by myself. They prepared a table and sent a hostess out to get me and Stella. I was so impressed with the service, and that continued for the rest of the night.
The food was also delicious. I ordered steamed shrimp and fries that were so flavorful. Sitting out by the water with my dog, good food, and a summer evening breeze was the perfect way to unwind after a long day.
The next day I stopped to eat before getting back on the road. Stella and I had been walking around St. Simons Island, so I decided to try to get something to eat in town instead of doing fast food on the highway. Thanks to BringFido I discovered Iguanas Seafood Restaurant.
Iguanas is located in the heart of the walkable area of shops in St. Simons Island. The staff was so welcoming to Stella and me and treated my pup like a little princess.
The food was spectacular! I had fried shrimp and pasta salad and couldn’t get enough of either. You know how some places make fried shrimp and use seemingly no seasoning? Not at Iguanas! It was so, so good. Even on a road trip with a dog you can still eat well.
What to Do
It can be hard to plan out activities when you’re on a road trip with a dog. I love visiting kitschy roadside attractions, but not all of them are dog friendly. With a little research and the use of resources like BringFido you can still do some sightseeing.
Driftwood Beach on its own is an incredible place to visit. The beach is strewn with toppled trees, which have been bleached by the sea. Mother Nature has arranged them in literally gnarly formations, which creates a stretch of beach unlike anything I’d previously seen in real life. The fact that I could bring my dog made it even better.
When looking for places to take my dog I like to find cute little downtown areas. They are usually great places to walk around with a dog, and shops will often have bowls of water out on the sidewalks. Some places will even let you go inside.
After Driftwood Beach Stella and I went walking around the shops of St. Simons Island. We walked around the town down to the waterfront. The pier doesn’t allow dogs, so that wasn’t an option; but we were able to walk around the grounds of the lighthouse.
When we were in Washington, D.C. I took Stella walking around the National Mall. I stopped to talk to a National Park Service ranger to get clarification on where I could take her. He said dogs are allowed everywhere except enclosed memorials, i.e. Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, in which case a dog would have to be carried.
I parked at West Potomac Park and walked around the outside of the Lincoln Memorial. It was fun, but after a little while all of the crowds and activity got to be too much for Stella, so we left.
Aside from sightseeing it’s also a good idea for you and your dog to stop and stretch your legs when you can. Highway rest areas and state welcome centers are great opportunities to do this. They often even have dedicated pet relief areas.
It’s important to be well-supplied when on a road trip with a dog, so here are some items that were key for Stella and me.
- Seatbelt: You can get a harness for your dog that basically acts like a seatbelt. I’d never used one before, but the thought of Stella potentially being ejected from the car if we got in an accident really scared me. I used the Top Paw Travel Dog Harness from PetSmart, and I was pleased with it.
- Water: It’s important to make sure your dog is properly hydrated. This is especially true in the summer. I always made sure I had a bottle of water with me and a collapsible bowl so Stella could drink at any time.
- Ziploc Bags: I kept Stella’s food in Ziploc bags, which made feeding time really easy.
- Doggie Bag: I’m not talking about a takeout container from a restaurant. I kept all of Stella’s things in a reusable shopping bag, which made accessing her stuff in the car easier, as well as creating an easier process when we checked in and out of various La Quintas.
- Seat Cover: I don’t know about your dog, but Stella is a shedder. There’s no way to stop the shedding, but you can try to contain it. I used a pet seat cover for the area of the car where Stella would be sitting. This at least made for a better cleanup situation when she was out of the car.
- Poop Bags: Make sure you’re stocked with enough bags to clean up after your dog as she relieves herself across America. Your country thanks you.
- Collar, Leash, Tags: This isn’t the time to let your dog run wild and free, unless you’ve used BringFido to find a dog park. Make sure you have a sturdy leash to hold onto your dog, especially since it’s easier for them to get scared and run off in new places. To that end, make sure they’re wearing a collar with updated tags, which is so important if you all are separated. Microchips are also helpful if the collar comes off.
One of the most critical things to figure out on a road trip with a dog is how YOU are going to attend to your vital bodily functions. It’s easy to find a patch of grass for a dog, but it’s a little more complicated for humans.
If there’s more than one person on the trip you all can take turns going to the bathroom and staying in the car with the dog. I was really worried about how I would manage since I was doing this road trip with a dog on my own.
I’d read online that you can take dogs into the bathrooms at pet stores. I confirmed this with a PetSmart employee while buying supplies before I left. I used Google Maps to plot out every PetSmart, Pet Supermarket, and Petco on my route.
When it was time for me to use the bathroom I’d navigate to one of the pet stores and take Stella in the bathroom with me. Although I didn’t always want to detour off the highway it was the easiest way for me to use the bathroom.
I’d also heard the recommendation of making sure you have both sets of car keys with you so that if you’re not at a pet store you can leave the car running for the dog with one key and take the other key with you so you can lock the car. I didn’t know where my second key was, so this wasn’t an option.
There was one stretch in Virginia where I needed to use the bathroom and knew I wouldn’t be near any pet stores for a long while, so I stopped at a rest area and parked by the women’s restroom. With the car running, unlocked, key inside and air condition going full blast I sprinted in and peed as fast as I could. I wouldn’t recommend it, but desperate times, ya know?
Go For It
Although there are some extra logistics to figure out on a road trip with a dog it’s totally doable! It has become one of my favorite ways to travel, and I’m excited to hit the open road with Stella again.
Have you done a road trip with a dog? Please share any helpful tips you might have.