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Road trips are my favorite kind of vacation. The excitement of choosing a destination, packing the car, and hitting the open road makes me absolutely giddy. These days most of my traveling is done with Rod and the boys, but once in a while a situation pops up that requires me to spend a day or two traveling on my own. On those occasions taking Ty or Buster with me makes the trip more fun, and gives us some special one-on-one time to connect.
While solo outings are delightful, traveling alone with a pet requires some additional preparation. Whether your favorite road trip buddy is a dog, cat, hamster, or bunny, these tips will help keep you both safe and happy on your next excursion.
Plan Your Route – Once you’ve decided where to go, it’s important to plan your route and identify any accommodations you’ll need along the way. The GoPetFriendly.com road trip planner is a great place to start, allowing you to map the course and locate pet friendly hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and attractions along the way. Determining the number of miles you can cover per day depends on your preferences. If you like to mosey and take in the sights, 100 miles may be far enough in a day. If you’re more intent on getting to your destination, you might drive 300 miles or more, just stopping for fuel and comfort breaks. Use your smartphone app to check driving times and alert you to any road construction or detours you might encounter to plan pit stops for your pet.
Make Reservations – If your trip involves overnight stays, don’t leave your accommodations to chance. There’s nothing worse than pulling into a hotel at the end of a long day of driving to find they don’t accept pets or are completely booked. Before you leave, call the hotel, campground, or rental property where you’ll be staying to confirm their pet policy and make your reservation.
Share Your Itinerary and Check In – Once your plans are squared away, be sure to share them with a friend or family member. Give them the route you plan to take and the telephone numbers of the places you’ll be staying. During your trip, be sure to keep in touch with that person to let them know where you are on your journey and if you’ve made any adjustments to your route or schedule.
Invest in Road Side Assistance – Before any road trip, make an appointment to have all routine maintenance completed on your vehicle; also consider signing up for a roadside assistance plan. There are several options available, and if you get a flat tire or accidentally lock your keys in the car, it’s better to have reliable help than counting on a stranger to assist you.
Prepare Your Travel Buddy – Anytime your pets are in the car, you’ll want to pack some basics, including their current vaccination records and recent medical history. In addition, to keep you both safe, your pet should be buckled up in a safety harness or secured carrier while you’re driving. Trying to wrangle Fido when he hops into the front seat, or catch Fluffy as she saunters across the dash, is too dangerous when you’re driving.
Post Your Emergency Instructions – If something should happen to you while you’re traveling, having your emergency instructions visible in your car will allow first responders to quickly contact anyone you’d want notified of your condition, and get your pet cared for until you can recover. Writing “In Case of Emergency” on an envelope and taping it to your glove box with the instructions inside is a good way to make sure it can’t be overlooked.
Be Smart and Trust Your Instincts – Making sure you all get home safe is the most important part of any road trip, and when you’re traveling alone, you need to stay vigilant. Keep your doors locked while you’re driving, be aware of your surroundings at all times, choose stops that are populated and well-lit, and trust your gut – if something feels sketchy, get back in your car and leave. To help ensure you don’t become a target, dress casually, leave expensive jewelry at home, and consider trading your purse for a fanny pack or money belt. It’s also a good idea to divide up any cash you’re taking and keep it in multiple locations.
Where to Eat – Depending on how long you’ll be gone, packing food from home is the best way to ensure you’ll have something delicious to eat along the way – but keep it in a sealed container so your pet can’t help himself! If you’ll be away more than a day and fast food drive-thrus don’t appeal to you, find restaurants with pet friendly outdoor seating areas using GoPetFriendly.com, or call in a take-out order and keep one eye on your car while you’re inside picking up your food.
Restroom Breaks – The biggest question most solo travelers grapple with is what to do about restroom breaks. Leaving a pet alone in the car while you use the bathroom isn’t ideal, but most rest stops, stores, and restaurants don’t allow furry travel companions to accompany you to the facilities. You could travel with a portable toilet, but then you’d have to create a privacy screen to use it and deal with cleaning it. Instead, these are the steps I take to ensure Ty or Buster is comfortable for the few minutes I need to be away:
Park in the shade.
Place a sunscreen across the windshield to reflect sunlight and to make it more difficult for passersby to see inside the car.
If the weather is warm, you can use a cooling mat to give your pet a comfortable place to lay, and keeping it inside a cooler with some ice until you need it will make it even chillier for dogs and cats with heavy coats. You can also also get a portable travel fan to increase the circulation inside the car.
If it’s hot or cold enough to put your pet’s health at risk, a remote-start system will allow you to leave the air conditioning or heat running to keep your pet comfortable. Or you can carry an extra key – one to leave in the ignition with the car running, and a second to unlock the door when you return. Always set your parking brake and engage the child locks on the windows when leaving your pet in a running vehicle. (Note that leaving an unattended vehicle running may violate the law in some jurisdictions, as it could encourage auto theft. For the 3-5 minutes it takes me to use a restroom and return to the car, I’m willing to prioritize my dog’s safety over getting a ticket.)
Anytime you leave your pet alone in the car, set the alarm on your phone for 10 minutes and be sure you’re back to the vehicle before the alarm goes off.
Stick to the Schedule – When traveling with a dog, maintaining his feeding, bathroom, and exercise schedule as much as possible will help reduce any anxiety he may be feeling. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you when these important times are approaching, and be prepared to pull over to stop and sniff the roses.
Carry Safety Devices – Using a safety whistle, pepper spray, or taser can deter unwanted advances from strangers, dangerous dogs, or predatory wildlife. It’s a good idea to keep one or more of these devices handy when you’re traveling on your own.
The first time you do anything it can seem daunting, and traveling alone with a pet is no exception. Share your best solo travel tips in the comments below, and you just might encourage someone else to give it a try!