So you've decided to hit the highways for a good old-fashioned family road trip. Why fly when you can pack the wife and kids into the family truckster and visit every oddball roadside attraction along the way? Aside from forcing your family to suffer through off-ramp eccentricities, road tripping can be a great way to see the country. It can bring families closer together and also allows you the opportunity to take the furry members of your clan along with you.
Taking your pets along on a road trip is a great way to avoid the trauma and expense of boarding your dogs or cats. But traveling long distances in a car isn't so easy for all animals. Experts suggest taking your pets on shorter trips first to get them accustomed to traveling in a car. There's also the matter of keeping your pet entertained along the way. The idea of a "Travels with Charley" kind of experience may seem idyllic at first, but you may find that your dog or cat has the patience of your toddler when it comes to being cooped up for eight hours a day.
We've compiled a list of five things you can do to help pass the time and keep your pet from feeling like it's in a rolling kennel. Use these tips, whether you're alone with your pet or with your family, and you'll have an easier time navigating the highways and byways.
It's important to make your pet comfortable for your road trip. Just like you wouldn't want to be stuck somewhere you aren't comfy, neither will your pet. If you have an SUV with a pet barrier, bring along your pet's bed from home for it to lie on. If you don't have a barrier, bring your pet's crate and allow it to spend time in there. Dogs that are crate trained will appreciate the comforts of their own little house on the road. Cats are typically not crate trained, but they'll also prefer the security that a crate provides. Your pets like boundaries and tend to do better when confined. It's also unsafe to have your cat roaming around inside your car.
If your dog or cat doesn't have a pet bed, your favorite sweatshirt that you've recently worn should serve as comfy bedding. This provides them with some security. Any kind of blankets that your pet uses at home should be put in the car or crate as well. The idea is to make the vehicle as much like their real home as possible. While this may not exactly entertain them, it makes them happier. And a happy pet on a long trip makes a happy pet owner.
Chances are, if you're a good pet owner, then your dog or cat has plenty of toys at home to keep it occupied. You need to bring as many of these along as you can without comprising the genius of your packing skills. A good chew toy can keep a dog occupied for hours at a time. Many chew toys come with hollowed out centers. Stuff some treats inside it and watch as your lovable mutt spends the next two hours trying to get to the good stuff.
Besides their favorite toys, buy some new ones to keep them interested. Larger dogs can make good work out of a nylon bone. Cats are little trickier. If you have a riding partner or the whole family on board, encourage them to play with the cat on the road. A cat can also spend some time outside the crate if you have others in the car to keep up with it. Just don't try to do these things if you're the lone human in the car. It's too easy to get distracted by trying to play with your pet while you're driving. And while you want your pet to be entertained, you also want to get to your destination safely.
The general rule of thumb for traveling with animals is to take a break every two hours. Besides the necessity of the bathroom break, it's a great opportunity for you to exercise your pet. A tired and worn out pet makes for a better travel companion, so you'll be doing yourself a favor if you take some extra time with it at rest stops. Make sure you have your leash ready to go at your rest stop -- your pet doesn't want to wait while you rifle through your packed bags.
You may find other dogs at the rest stop, and many have areas specifically designated for dogs. Take advantage of this. A 20- to 30-minute playdate with another dog is far better than a leash walk. But if there aren't any other dogs around, you need to walk or even run a high-energy dog. If you're traveling through wilderness areas, plan a mid-day hike with your pooch. You can also walk your cat -- just start that at home before your trip to get them used to being on a leash.
While the idea of talking to your pet may sound a bit out of left field, both cats and dogs are responsive to their names and the sound of their master's voice. It's a comforting sound. Just think about when you're at home, chatting it up with your pet. The mere mention of your dog's name will most likely get its tail wagging. You can do the same thing on the road. Talking to your pet about where you're going and how much fun you'll have once you get there is a great way to pass time for both of you. When you talk to your dog, make sure to keep repeating its name, and if you have an embarrassing pet voice, then by all means, use it until you're hoarse.
One great way to entertain your pets on a long car drive is to stay someplace they can be themselves once the day is done. Cats and dogs often feel uncomfortable out of their home element, so finding some pet friendly accommodations is a must. Many hotels are pet friendly, but you should check ahead of time to make sure. Finding a pet-friendly hotel is important for two reasons. First, you'll have a stress free night of relaxation after a long day behind the wheel. Since a pet can pick up on its master's stress, this goes a long way toward ensuring that your pet will be relaxed as well. The other benefit is that most traveling pet owners take advantage of pet-friendly hotels, so you'll more than likely have opportunities for playdates. Meet up with some other travelers with dogs and let them play until they drop.
If you have a cat, it's a good chance to set up the kitty bed and litter box. Chances are, your cat will simply appreciate some cage-free down time. If you're a fan of the great outdoors, consider taking a tent along and do some camping. Your pets will love sleeping in the tent with you, and you'll have more of a chance to do some hiking and get them some good exercise.
We live in a sharing economy. And a pet-loving economy. So what happens when the two collide? Learn more about pets and carsharing at HowStuffWorks.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Pet Travel Tips for the Car." Tripswithpets.com. 2008. http://www.tripswithpets.com/pet_travel_tips_car.asp
- "Road Trip Safety for Dogs." MSN. 2008. http://editorial.autos.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=435580
- "Road Trips with Rover & Felix: Tips for Traveling with Pets." Roadtripamerica.com. 2008.http://www.roadtripamerica.com/Pets/Road-Trips-With-Pets.htm
- "Taking Pets on Road Trips." Real Simple. 2008. http://www.realsimple.com/realsimple/package/0,21861,1608605-1737587,00.html
- "Tips for Road Trips with Pets." KSBW. 2008. http://www.ksbw.com/family/17057311/detail.html