7 Tips for a Successful First-Time Camper Van Road Trip With Your Dog

Summer is well underway and adventure is calling your name! With the warm weather and long, sunny days, there’s no doubt your canine companion is hearing that call too.

Dogs make excellent camping companions. They’re fun, loyal, and always ready for new sights and smells.

But planning a van camping trip with your pup requires preparation. Camping in a van is different than camping in a tent. And there are things you can do before hitting the road to ensure you have one of the best road trips with your dog. 

First and foremost, you need to find a camper van rental that’s pet-friendly. Luckily, GoCamp offers numerous pet-friendly options so you can take your four-legged friend on your next road trip.

Here are some tips for keeping your dog cozy, safe, and happy on your next camper van camping trip. With our guide, you’ll feel ready to embark with your furry friend — and they’ll be hanging their tongue out the window while you lead the way!

1. Make Sure You Book a Pet-Friendly Camper Van

The first step is the most obvious: make sure your ride is pet-approved! 

Once cleared by the camper van owner, double-check that the van will be a good fit for your dog. You’ll need room for dog camping gear, their bed or crate, and easy access in and out of the vehicle. Take into consideration your dog’s age and height when determining if the rig is a good fit.

Again, make sure that the owners of your van are cool with having a pup on board. Pet hair adds to the cleaning time in between renters. Plus, some van owners may be concerned about general wear and tear while a dog is in tow. There may also be allergy concerns where a zero-pet policy is in place.

Luckily, GoCamp has dozens of pet-friendly camper vans to choose from! As you look through our curated fleet, every option has clear descriptions, so there’s never any mix-ups.

 2. Plan for Dog-Friendly Stops Ahead of Time 

Taking a dog camping for the first time in a camper van is exciting. It’s an excellent way to bond with your pooch and explore new sites together. 

But nothing’s worse than pulling up to a camping spot and realizing your road trip companion isn’t allowed there.

Take some time before your trip to research your route and all dog-friendly stops along the way. Whether you’re seeking a warm coastal retreat or a cool mountain expedition, there are destinations all over the country that welcome dogs. 

Resources like Pet Friendly Travel’s website are great for looking up campgrounds that are dog-friendly. You’ll know all the campsite’s rules before showing up and have details on surrounding trails and open areas.

3. Prepare Your Pup for Your Van Camping Trip 

Camping with a dog for the first time can have its stressors, especially for your furry friend. It’s important to work with them before your big trip. That way, they can enjoy their time on the road as much as you do.

Even if your dog is well-trained and calm at home, you want to be sure they’re acclimated to longer car rides. Additionally, they will need to acclimate to sleeping somewhere new. Practice with them by driving around your neighborhood, increasing your drive time every trip. The goal is that by the time your camper van trip rolls around, your dog will be comfortable and anxiety-free!

Give your dog their own safe space to retreat to in the camper van when they need rest. Provide extra comfort by bringing along their favorite blanket or toy. Traveling with the familiar scent of home may help calm nerves.

4. Get Your Dog Updated on Their Shots

This one’s a must on your camping checklist!

Make sure your pup is up-to-date on their vaccines and are protected against fleas and ticks. The last thing you want is your canine companion getting sick or infected while on the road.

Beware of standing water as well — there can be dangerous bacteria floating around. If your dog loves nosing around, talk to your vet before your camper van trip. Learn about protecting them against leptospirosis, a disease that can be caused by those bacteria.

Do some research ahead of your trip on emergency vets in the areas you’ll be driving through. If something does happen, you’ll be happy you already know where to go to keep your pup safe!

5. Be Ready With Your Dog Camping Essentials 

Just like you, your dog needs some gear to keep them safe, comfortable, and happy while they’re living the van life. Here’s an essentials doggy camping checklist:

Extra food and water 

On one hand, you always want to be prepared. On the other, your pup is going to likely burn more calories than they usually do while taking a dip in a lake or hitting the trails.

Portable dog food and water bowls

When you need to pack light — say for a hike — you’ll be happy you brought along a collapsible bowl. 

Poop bags

No matter where you travel with your dog, you want to always pick up after them and Leave No Trace.

A comfy dog bed

Place one near your bed or next to your campfire chair for kicking back. They’ll also appreciate it when they need a break from the drive. 

Towels

Towels are great for lining seating areas in the camper van. Or they can be used for drying off the dog after a romp in a creek.

A tether and stake

When it’s time to pull off the road and make camp, you’ll want to give them room to safely roam and stretch their legs.

Gear for specific climates or rough terrain

Depending on where you’re headed, be sure you pack gear that will either help cool them down or keep them warm.

If you plan for hikes in areas with lots of rocks and sticks, don’t forget to pack booties or paw balm to protect their paws.

Doggie first aid kit

Items like liquid bandages, tick remover, Benadryl, and iodine are all important to have stowed in your camper van. 

Put together your own kit or purchase pre-made medical kits that are stocked with everything you need. Check-in with your vet if you’re unsure of what to bring for your pet!

Optional: Anxiety-reducing items

If your dog responds poorly to thunderstorms or inclement weather (you may run into some!) pack a thunder jacket, weighted blanket, or anxiety medicine. 

6. Take Breaks Along the Way

Camping in a van doesn’t necessarily always mean long stretches on the road in between stops. But no matter the distance you’re going, make sure you work in time for breaks along the way. If your knees are starting to buckle from drive mode, you can bet your pup needs a stretch break, too!

Once you find a safe spot to pull off, bust out the water so your dog can quench their thirst and give them a few of their favorite treats. Allow time for a potty break, then safely place them back in the camper van while you run to the bathroom yourself.

If you’re in an area with a walking trail or places to explore, take a stroll with your pup before you hop back in the camper van. Exercise helps keep their anxiety low — just like you!

7. Don’t Forget Their Leash

Many campgrounds require dogs to be kept on a leash or lead while you camp. Even if you’re at a campsite that doesn’t require leashes and your dog’s been trained to listen off-leash, it’s still best practice to keep them tethered. This keeps your pup from wandering into other campsites, getting lost, or encountering wild animals that aren’t as friendly as them. 

Have your dog wear a reflective collar, harness, or vest so you can easily spot them if they do get off their leash at night. Add a sticker to their tag that has your exact location in case they wander up to another camper.

Ready to Hit the Road? We Got You Covered

Camping with dogs can be an unforgettable adventure for both of you. There’s nothing better than tapping into your sense of adventure and having your favorite furry partner in crime with you.

Ready to Pack Your Bags?

Now that you’re ready to hit the road with your pup, you may be thinking about what else you need to pack for your trip. The good news is that GoCamp takes care of all the heavy lifting for you.

Check out our guide to packing when you book a camper van rental with us. You’ll appreciate the luxury and comfort before you even turn the engine on!