As dog owners, we never want to leave our four-legged friends at home when we’re headed off on an adventure. It can also be really expensive to board your furry companion, depending on how long you are away. Choosing to vanlife with your dog is one of the most fun and rewarding travel experiences.

Whether you are traveling in a campervan full-time or just for a holiday, sharing your experiences with your canine friend can strengthen your bond and be a lot of fun! Bringing your dog along for the ride is often so much more appealing, rewarding, and definitely, a cheaper option compared to boarding. 

However, traveling in a campervan or RV with a dog comes with its own challenges. In this article, we’ll dive into our top tips and recommendations when it comes to vanlife with a dog (aka: traveling with a dog in a campervan). 

Vanlife With A Dog

So, what should you consider when taking your canine with you? Well, a lot actually.

But honestly, the positives outway the negatives. At least they do in our eyes. And we’re pretty sure they will in yours too once you see how easy it can be to bring along your dog on your vanlife adventure.

These tips will help you prepare and make traveling in your campervan with a dog easier and a lot less stressful. Because traveling should be just that; enjoyable, fun, and stress-free!

TIps for Traveling with your Dog In A Campervan

Dog-Friendly Campervan Design

Nowadays, more and more people are looking at converting their own campervans. This means you have the freedom to design the van exactly the way you want. And can build a campervan to fit both your and your dog’s needs.

When building or buying a campervan, we recommend focusing on the key design elements when bringing your dog along:

Size

Interior space is a luxury in most campervans. Try to find a campervan that has enough space for you AND your dog. The specific size of the van will depend on the size of your dog, but we recommend sizing up if you can afford it!

Layout

Whether you’re in a small or large campervan, be sure to choose a layout that accommodates you and your pup. Just like you, your dog needs a place to sleep, eat, and relax. It doesn’t have to be a ton of space, but having a designated area for your dog will make things easier when you hit the road.

Materials

A lot of campervans these days come with light-colored interiors, which as a pet owner you’ll know isn’t ideal. It will show every speck of dirt and can often be hard to clean. So, look for a van that has surfaces that are easy to clean, like wipe-clean vinyl flooring instead of carpet.

Colors

If you have the option to choose the interior color of your van, consider light charcoal, or even something a little darker that won’t show the paw prints as much. This also applies to any other accessories you buy. Try to stick to dark colors when purchasing rugs, blankets, curtains, etc.

Safety First

It might look super cute to have your pup’s head out of the window enjoying the brisk air, but it isn’t exactly the safest. So it’s important to make sure you’re following legal requirements when driving with your dog in your campervan.

Your dog should be secured and restrained (if appropriate) when the vehicle is in motion. Although rules vary from state to state, it’s best to keep to the same rules no matter where you are. It’s also safest for you too, as your pup won’t be able to climb all over you or potentially jump out a window while you’re moving! 

Using a Crate

There are many ways you can keep your dog secure and safe. Many campervan and RV owners opt for a crate or cage for their dogs. Crating your dog is a great option if your pup has a positive association with their crate. A comfortable crate will also help ease any anxiety from the trip and reduce motion sickness while you’re driving. We also recommend a crate if your campervan only has 2 seats in the cab and no other way for their dog to be secure in the back.

Tethering Your Dog

However, if you have additional seating or prefer not to crate your dog, you can opt for a dog seat belt or tethering point in the van where you can securely fasten their leash. We’ve found that this a good option for well-behaved dogs that are comfortable in the car. Crating, using a seatbelt, or tether will depend heavily on your dog, personal preference, and space you have available in your van. 

Pack for Your Dog

This might seem pretty obvious but we’ve all been there. If you haven’t taken your dog traveling with you before it’s great to have a checklist of all the essentials. This list is a great starting point for what to bring for vanlife with a dog:

  • Collapsible water and food bowls
  • Wet and/or dry food (preferably a brand that can be easily found along your route)
  • Their usual treats
  • Dog poo bags (and extras just in case)
  • A plastic mat to go under their food and water bowl
  • Any medications your dogs may be on
  • A portable dog paw washer (We swear by these! Great for your home too!)
  • Old towels so you can dry your dog off. Microfiber towels are great for this as they dry quickly.
  • Their bed so they have a comfy place to sleep
  • Toys to keep them entertained
  • Their leash and collar
  • Doggy first aid kit

There are also other things you might need to consider when traveling with your dog especially if you are planning to go anywhere across a border. You might need to have a pet passport and vaccination records to hand. Make sure when packing for your dog that you are just as meticulous as you would be when packing for yourself. 

Keeping your Dog Cool in Your Van

One of the biggest concerns people have about traveling with their dogs is what to do in extreme temperatures. Especially in summer when temperatures can reach as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You should always limit (or eliminate) the amount of time that your dog is left alone in a campervan, or any vehicle for that matter. But there are a few things you can do to help keep your canine cool during hot weather. 

Window Coverings

A super-efficient way to keep your van cool is to use thermal blinds or window coverings. You might think that this is insane and would do the opposite, but actually, they work in two ways. They help to keep the heat inside the van in the winter months but can also be used to keep the heat out during summer. Consider putting thermal screens over the windscreens in the cab and any other windows you may have in your van.

Roof Fans

Another good thing to have is a roof fan. Roof fans help keep the air in your van circulating, drawing cooler air in and expelling warmer air. Depending on your battery set up you should be able to keep these running while you’re out and about. 

Portable AC

If you live in warmer climate, your campervan might have an RV-style air conditioning unit. If it does, good for you! Leave the AC on for your dog if you need to leave the vehicle.

Alternatively, you can buy a portable AC unit for your van. This portable air conditioner is small in size, so it won’t take up a lot of space and can easily be carried anywhere. The best part is that it can run on a rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to worry about electricity or cords. It’s the perfect small air conditioner for vanlife with a dog, especially if you’re in hot and humid climates.

Note, campervan or RV air conditioning units tend to draw a lot of power. Be sure you calculate how long it can run with your battery set up.

Access To Water

Last, but not least, be sure your dog always has access to water! We like throwing a few ice cubes in our dog’s water bowl on really hot days. Ice cubes will keep the water cool, and we usually find it keeps our dog entertained too.

Keeping the Van Clean with a Dog

When living in a small space it doesn’t take long for dust and dirt to build up. With a dog, you can add mud and hair to the equation. A dirty campervan can make your living space feel a little cramped and less comfortable. So, it’s a good idea to have a cleaning routine and make sure you are on top of it when traveling with your dog. 

Some simple ways to keep your campervan clean are to sweep it every day and make sure you take off your muddy boots before setting foot in your van.

Having an outdoor shower can also be useful as it means you can rinse your muddy dog off before letting them back into the van. Do what you can to prevent dirt and mud from entering the van, instead of assuming you’ll clean it up later. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Keep Up With Your Regular Routine

Some dogs will settle into van life pretty quickly, so don’t be surprised if your dog loves the campervan as much as you do. Other dogs, however, might need to be acclimatized before heading out on a long trip. You might even find that you need to acclimatize too, so you can figure out exactly what your dog might need. 

A great way to help your pup adjust quickly to their new environment is to keep the same routine as you have at home. This will bring some familiarity to both you and your dog. 

Feeding & Walking Times

If possible try to keep their feeding and walking times the same so that they realize the only thing that’s really changed is the view. Plus, the reward of a new place to explore and go for walks will soon win them over and tire them out. 

Set Up A Play Pen Around Your Van

A useful tip to remember if your dog is a little territorial is to set up a pen around your van. (Check out how @allyinthebus does this for her 2 pups around her bus conversion!) This will give them their own space. It can be a little tricker if you’re boondocking, but you’re less likely to encounter other people and dogs with this type of camping. 

Vanlife With Your Dog Is The Best!

It’s easy to get stressed out when experiencing vanlife with your dog in a campervan however there are simple things you can do to ease this stress. 

Traveling in a campervan with a dog can be the most rewarding experience as you get to spend as much time as possible with your friend and they get to spend time with their favorite human, so it’s a win-win all around. Following the above tips and guidance will help you plan and enjoy a stress-free, fun expedition to new places.

Dog-Friendly Campervan Rentals

It’s totally worth renting a campervan first to get a feel for it and to see whether it’s the right thing for you but you’ll also work out how well your four-legged friend is going to cope and what exactly you will need to take for them. (Believe us, they’ll probably do a lot better than you think!)

Renting a dog-friendly campervan will also allow you to figure out exactly what will or won’t work if you’re looking to build or buy your own. Find a pet-friendly campervan rental for your next roadtrip >

Once you have your campervan ready, it’s time to start packing for your trip with your dog. Find the best camping gear for your dog and experience vanlife with your furry friend!