Traveling with Dogs

What To Pack When Road-Tripping With Dogs

Keep your dog happy and safe on road trips using professional trainer Melissa Benbow’s downloadable packing list of dog travel essentials.
A smiling Melinda Benbow holding her white, black, and brown dog near her face.
Melinda Benbow
A black & white dog sitting in the trunk of a car next to Melinda Benbow.

Melinda Benbow, Orvis Ambassador, is the owner and operator of Urban Uplander Pet Care, LLC in Indianapolis, Indiana.

One of my favorite leisure activities is road-tripping with my dogs. As a pet-care professional, my life revolves around dogs, but I still prefer to spend my downtime with my canine companions as a dog enthusiast. A great way to make the most out of our time away from the usual grind is to embark on an adventure on the open road. We love picking places on the map to explore, and I wouldn’t have seen as much of this beautiful country as I have without them by my side. Our road trips have taken us to national parks, state parks, cabins in the woods, swimming in lakes, dog events, hunting, urban exploring, visiting relatives, and so much more. Getting to travel with them has been so rewarding, but traveling all over the US with dogs can be difficult. It’s very important to plan these trips ahead of time to make sure they go as smoothly as possible, and the best way to combat issues on the road is by packing the essentials!

What a dog needs on the road will ultimately depend on that specific dog’s needs, but here are the packing essentials for the average dog to hit the open road!

A terrier in the green grass looking happy

✓ Vaccination Records

Always make sure you are traveling with updated vaccination records for your dog. These are important for situations in which you potentially need medical care for your dog or if you need to board/hold your dog at a facility for any emergency reason. 

Two brown short-haired dogs running on a beach

✓ Collar with Tags

When traveling, your dog should always have a collar with updated tags, especially in new environments. The tags should have a primary contact number and an emergency number. Many people don’t stop for dogs that do not have a collar and tags on. I prefer the personalized Orvis collars as the name and number are embroidered right onto the collar. Tags can get snagged and fall off, so the advantage of the Orvis collar is that there will always be a number available to whoever finds the dog.

A brown and white beagle

✓ Picture/Microchip Info

Keeping an updated picture of your dog is very important. Clear photos with front and side profiles are useful if your dog goes missing. Your microchip information may already be on your vaccination records, but double-check and write it down somewhere safe. If you do have a microchip, make sure you check your online profile to see that your contact information is current and up to date.

Dog food being poured out of an orange container

✓ Food

Pack enough food for the entirety of the trip but ensure that you also pack extra in case of emergency. Sometimes dogs get into their food, other critters might get into the food, or your trip could get extended. Depending on the nature of your travel, dogs may also run through more food due to being a bit more hungry from extra physical exertion.

A Golden Retriever drinking out of a water bowl in the back of a car

✓ Water

Carry extra water on the road for your dogs. Of course, it is relatively easy to get drinking water at gas stations and other stops, but keeping extra water in the car is necessary. You may need the water on stretches of road where there aren't too many stops. Dogs can be messy, and having extra water for cleanup is very useful. Dogs can overheat or get messy themselves, so this is a nice way to cool them down or clean them off.

A black dog with a treat in it's mouth

✓ Treats

No matter where you are going with your pal, you should always bring dog treats! Having food reinforcers is a wonderful way to continue your training in new environments. Having treats will also help create positive associations with new situations when they arise. Remember to bring high-value rewards to help motivate your dog in distracting environments.

A dog in the back seat of a car with lots of dog toys

✓ Enrichment Toys

Chew toys and feeder puzzles are a great way to keep your dog busy on the go. A peanut-butter-filled chew toy will help keep your dog occupied while in the car. Try not to use too many chews, like rawhides, bully sticks, or bleached bones, while on the road as these can create stomach issues which can lead to diarrhea and vomiting. Feeder puzzles, like feeding balls and snuffle mats, are great substitutes for normal feeding bowls while on the road. They allow your dog to use their nose and mind to get their food, which can help keep your dog calm during travel.

Two dogs eat out of travel bowls on a path

✓ Feeding and Water Bowls

Packing something to feed and water your dog from is critical but also having travel water bowls for your excursions is very important. Being able to present your dog with water throughout your adventures will keep them hydrated and help prevent overheating and dehydration.

A golden retriever running on a beach under a pier

✓ Medications and Supplements

It’s important to keep your dog’s daily routine as consistent as possible, even when traveling. If their consistency includes medications or supplements, these items should be packed and brought along. Make sure you bring enough for the entire trip plus a few days.

A Golden Retriever with a green and white toy duck in its mouth

✓ Toys

Aside from enrichment toys, I like to bring a few of my dog's favorite play toys. I also like to purchase a few new ones for the trip. We engage with these toys together at our stops or in hotels/campsites. These extra toys can be tug ropes, tennis balls, bumpers, and plush toys. To prevent any emergencies, I make sure my dogs are supervised while engaging with these new toys.

A dog in a crate in the back of a car

✓ Crates

Containing your dog in a moving vehicle is safe for you, your dog, and all drivers on the road. Dogs can be very distracting in cars, especially when they are not restrained. Having your dog safely contained within a crate can bring peace of mind to you while driving and give your dog a sense of security while in the moving vehicle. Learn more about how to restrain a dog safely in the car.

A dog first aid kit

✓ First Aid Kit

Keeping a dog’s first aid kit in your vehicle is beneficial for even the shortest trip to the park. These kits are stocked with items to help you act fast in an emergency situation before getting your dog to a medical professional.

A man putting on a flea collar on his dog

✓ Tick Prevention and Removal

Your first aid kit should contain a pair of tweezers, but if it does not, ensure that you bring a pair or a tick-removal kit. You can also buy dog-marketed tick spray as additive protection in addition to their regular monthly preventative.

A green shower attachment that goes onto a water bottle

✓ Cleaning Supplies

Accidents happen, so have the proper supplies to clean them up. Keeping items like paper towels, car cleaner, and urine spray is very helpful when cleaning up the crate or car accidents.

Dogs can get pretty messy, so you should also keep around some dog wipes, extra towels, an attachable water jug shower nozzle, and dog shampoo, brush, or comb.

A black and white dog being shown green poop bags

✓ Waste Bags

These are technically a cleaning supply, but they deserve a checkpoint of their own. It's very important to clean up after your dogs no matter where they deposit their waste. Cleaning up after your pet prevents other people and animals from tracking through their waste. It also helps limit the spread of parasites and bacteria to humans, other dogs, and local wildlife.

A beefy brown dog wearing a red collar and leash

✓ Walking Devices

You should bring your dog's leash, any harnesses they use, and a long line/check cord. It's important to remember that the cities and states you are in may have leash laws and ordinances that must be followed. It does not matter how well-trained your dog is. You must follow the law and be respectful of these regulations. Check cords are a great way to let your dog explore and range from you while tethered to you. Additionally, when exploring new environments, leashes are a good idea. A dog running free in a new environment can easily lead to injury or them getting lost.

A golden retriever laying on a black couch bed in the back seat of a car

✓ Bedding

This depends on each dog and where you will be lodging. When camping at a campsite or sleeping in a vehicle, you should have an extra bed for the dogs to get nice and cozy. If you still prefer not to confine your dog, a comfortable bed within your vehicle may be necessary. When staying at hotels and rental properties, you may love for your dogs to cuddle up in bed with you, but it's important to be mindful of others who may use the bed. Bring beds for your dogs to prevent allergens, dirt, and debris from getting into the human beds.

A yellow lab in the back seat of a car sitting on a seat protector

✓ Vehicle Supplies

Seat covers and storage that fit your vehicle are also helpful supplies to bring along. You can clean up car messes easily on the road using seat covers that you can pull out and hose off. Having storage bins that fit perfectly on the floor of your seat is a great way to save space and stay organized on the road.

These essentials aren’t only just to keep your dog happy on the road, but they also help put your mind at ease. Traveling with your dog should be a joy, and we can limit some of the stress on the road by ensuring you are packed and prepared. Now that you know everything that needs to be loaded up for your road trip, you and your furry friend can hit the open road worry-free!

Let’s Recap the List

  • Vaccination Records
  • Collar with Tags
  • Picture/Microchip Info
  • Food
  • Water
  • Treats
  • Enrichment Toys
  • Feeding and Water Bowls
  • Medications and Supplements
  • Toys
  • Crates
  • First Aid Kit
  • Tick Prevention and Removal
  • Cleaning Supplies
  • Waste Bags
  • Walking Devices
  • Bedding
  • Vehicle Supplies

Essentials for Travel