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Anatomy of a Pet Friendly Road Trip

Don’t plan too much.

It’s the advice I give anyone setting off on a pet friendly road trip. The problem is the way our brains work. We find the most popular 1,000 things to do at our destination of choice, pack it all into a one-week schedule … complete with reservations, and then freak out when things go sideways.

Flexibility is what’s key when you’re traveling with your pets. The weather may not be ideal on the day you’ve scheduled a hike. Or, you may wake up and want nothing more than to lay on the beach on the day you’ve got reservations for a guided boat tour. What we’ve learned is that you can have your cake and eat it too … at least most of the time.

Windblown Sand - Gold Beach, Oregon

Windblown Sand on Gold Beach, Oregon

Oregon is a state neither of us had ever set foot in and we’ve been looking forward to exploring it with the dogs. About 50 miles after we crossed the border, we found a pet friendly campground in Gold Beach, and decided to call it a day – considerably earlier than usual. Before going any further we needed time to lay out a plan for tackling this state.

An afternoon stroll through town brought us to a forest service office and a great selection of trip planning resources. All the states publish a tourism guide and Oregon’s is especially well done. They also have a special guide for people traveling the coast on Hwy 101. We grabbed both guides, a free Oregon highway map, and a couple of cold beverages to sit down and formulate our course of action.

Area by area we worked our way though the state … beaches we’d likely have to ourselves, picturesque fishing towns, a hike with 11 waterfalls … the options were spectacular. Using a Sharpie to mark the map with everything we might like to check out, a tentative plan emerged. We’ll stick close to the coast as we head north, swing over to meet up with friends and family in Portland, and then continue on to Washington and British Columbia. Eventually we’ll make our way back south – that’s when we’ll travel inland to see Mt. Hood, the Willamette Valley wineries, and Crater Lake.

Rock Formations - Bandon, Oregon

Coastal Rock Formations at Bandon, Oregon

Following along on a map is something most of us do as we travel, so using a map to mark the attractions you want to see makes perfect sense. It gives you a great visual of what’s coming up, and allows you to prioritize when several options are located close together. Spontaneity is the best policy when traveling with pets, and seeing your options on a map can make that easier as well. Is a driving tour part of the plan? Leave that for a cloudy day and rent that canoe while the sun is shining.

Unless your trip will be ruined if an event doesn’t work out, think twice before making reservations. From dinner, to kayaking, to hotel rooms, to boat tours – we’ve been able to call at the last minute and find availability. With no deposits to lose, you’re free to spend more time, leave early, or add a new discovery to your itinerary.

Thus far, Oregon is one of our favorite places – at least this time of the year! Using the tips we found in the visitors’ guide, we played by the water in Gold Beach, admired the scenery in Bandon, and were blown away by the dunes near Winchester Bay. We’ve made it as far north as Florence – about 170 miles from California – and we can’t seem to drag ourselves away from this little town (more about that later). In this case, use your map for motivation … seeing the exciting places further up the road is likely what it will take to get our wheels turning again.

Oregon Dunes - Dunes City, Oregon

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area in Dunes City, Oregon

Lastly, the map becomes a keepsake of your trip when you get back home. Coupled with the pictures you take along the way, you’ll be able to live your adventure over and over.

  • Beautiful photos! Haven’t visited Oregon yet, but it’s at the top of our list. We never make reservations either…and stumble on the very best adventures that way. Cheers and safe travels to you!

    • Thank you! You guys will LOVE Oregon. They’ve got the mountains AND the ocean. There isn’t a lot of sun here, but you could probably use a vacation from all the sun you get in Colorado anyway. :-D

  • Pamela says:

    What lovely pictures. And I believe in only having the slightest of agenda when I travel. It leaves you open to serendipity.

    One of the ideas I’m enchanted with the idea of sailing is that your dependence on the wind and weather prevents you from getting too stuck on plans. You can’t arrange to show up in a particular spot if the wind doesn’t cooperate. And that sounds great to me.

    It might be that having the dogs to shape your travels is one of the best ways to prevent over planning.

  • Kristine says:

    Just gorgeous! I’ve always wanted to travel through Oregon. My parents have gone several times and they are often bragging about how lovely it is. The people sound just as awesome as the scenery.

    Thanks for the great advice. I am a hardcore planner and it is very difficult for me to let go.

    • Thank you, Kristine. I hope it works out for you to see Oregon – the pictures don’t do it justice. It’s the best combination of uncrowded, super scenery, and laid back attitudes. And, especially for us hardcore planners, being spontaneous is very freeing.

    • Thank you, Kristine. I hope it works out for you to see Oregon – the pictures don’t do it justice. It’s the best combination of uncrowded, super scenery, and laid back attitudes. And, especially for us hardcore planners, being spontaneous is very freeing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful.
    It would be great to travel with a loose agenda and laid back attitude for sure. We’re going to wdw soon and that vacation will be anything BUT laid back!

  • Amy, Remember those books, “Europe in 10 Days!” How ridiculous. I’ve traveled with pets and with small children, and tell all newbies that if it takes 3 hours to get there, plan on 4 1/2 because you will have to stop. And know that it is impossible to see everything in a few days. Pick 2-3 highlights (depending on the time you will be there), and make sure you spend time relaxing. After all, it’s a vacation. I remember being in Italy for the first time. I was the typical American who wanted to see everything that Florence had to offer. I was fortunate that I was traveling with a European who taught me how to take naps at siesta time (some places still close up during mid day), and how to go slow and enjoy!
     And I also use the map as a keepsake!

    • Exactly, Michele! We’d still be running ourselves ragged if we hadn’t shed our over-achieving travel style long ago. Traveling in Europe is great for opening your eyes to plan-less travel. Rod and I have been to Paris a couple of times and our favorite thing to do is walk, and walk, and then sit at an outdoor cafe watching people go by, and then walk some more. We never made reservation – other than our hotel. Seeing a place and experiencing it are two very different things.

  • If there’s anything I learned from our six weeks on the road (and our current cross-country drive) it’s echoing your sentiment, but taking it one step further–don’t plan a THING. Well, maybe hotels if you’re not RVing it, but beyond that, our plans changed multiple times A DAY thanks to weather, logistical difficulties, road closures, etc. I’ve always been such a planner, so this was a good learning trip for me!

    • Being an accountant in my previous life, learning how to travel without planning was quite an adjustment – but we’d be crazy by now if we hadn’t! Now I think of planning as adding pressure to myself, because it seems like no matter when you schedule something, when the time rolls around to do it, it’s inconvenient. And, I can’t think of a single thing we’ve missed because we didn’t have a reservation. Travel safely!!

  • Melspetpals says:

    Wow. Oregon is beautiful. Your pictures totally makes me want to visit. I agree about the maps. I’ve saved many a map from my road trips. It’s nice to be able to go back and remember a funny incident that happened on the day I visited one place and the thrill of visiting another. 
    Looking forward to reading about Florence!

    • Exactly! Looking back at the map helps you remember the order you saw things in, which makes it easier to piece the whole trip together from memory (which is getting fuzzier and fuzzier the older I get!)

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