Tips on Taking a Road trip With a Small Dog!
We have been doing a lot of driving lately. We have travelled more kilometers (miles) in the last four months than we normally do in a year. It started with a short trip to Toronto and Kleinburgh in May, then a long road-trip that took us through two provinces and three states visiting wonderful places such as Binghamton NY, Brigantine and Atlantic City on the Jersey Shore, splendid Philadelphia, and more. Then, we were off to Quebec City…TWICE!
We normally fly when we travel so this road tripping has been a game change for us.
Although I have written about taking a road trip before, I figured I would share with you some of what we discovered and learned along the way this time … what worked and what didn’t.
The best thing to do when a new situation arises is to turn to those who have done what you are planning to do, and learn from them. This is when I am grateful for the other “with dog” travel bloggers out there. I prefer firsthand accounts to general guides any day.
It was browsing other bloggers that resulted in me sitting on Mom’s lap reading about Chester and Gretel from YouDidWhatWithYourWeiner. I read their post on crossing the Canadian/USA border in detail because the rules for crossing by plane and in a car are not exactly the same. I made double sure that we had the correct papers for crossing in a car! In fact, we went overboard and got both proof of vaccination documents (rabies in particular) and an International Health Certificate from our vet.
We also learned that these road-tripping dogs had a first aid kit in their car. Now, I have a first aid kit for when I travel, but there are some things you can take in a car that you cannot take on a plane. We packed a warm blanket for example – something we would normally leave behind because it adds too much weight to our travelling light philosophy. Mom also uploaded onto her iPhone an app called “Pet First Aid.” (It’s also available for Android.) This was super important to us because as Canadians, we pay very high cellphone fees. We would be hit hard with expensive roaming fees if we needed to surf the net for first aid information while we were away. We were limiting data use on our smartphones to when we had access to free Wi-Fi. The app meant we had all the information we might need at our fingertips – literally – without any downloading.
Another suggestion on Chester and Gretel’s blog was to play a fun game called “The 100 Mile Game.” The point of the game is to stop every 100 miles or so for a break and find something fun to do in the area. This made sense to us. Stopping more often would help us avoid becoming stiff and achy all over, and finding something fun to do would make the stopping worth the pause. This seemed like the perfect solution to a long drive.
So we took out a map and found two places we wanted to stop at for sure along the way, with a few other options. One stop was to be Syracuse, and the other, Binghampton. Stopping meant that a 9-hour drive lasted a little over 11 hours, but it also meant we were not sore, miserable, and overly tired when we arrived. And Binghampton turned out to be a really fun stop! I promise there will be a blog post on just that town!
Another preparation involved collecting American money in small bills. With few exceptions, Canada doesn’t have toll highways, so we are not in the habit of keeping change in the car. (Even if we did keep change, it was pretty certain the American machines would spit out our lovely Canadian coins.) We found that the tolls ranged anywhere from $0.75 all the way up to a high of $11.25! Luckily, we had read enough of the Go Pet Friendly team’s posts to clue in to this system. We were prepared! We even mapped out the tolls (thank you, Google Maps) and printed the information with our directions. Again, having the information to hand – in this case, on paper – trumps roaming charges!
Of course, we also needed to prepare food and water. We made sure we had enough of both so that should we not be able to stop and buy any, we would be okay.
Finally, we needed to include the most important thing for any road-trip: my booster car seat!
Better believe it! I used to get carsick, but not so with the booster seat. It has been a true blessing. Over the years, I have developed a tolerance for car travel and no longer get queasy, but I still appreciate the personal space my booster seat provides and the view out the window. When you are only 8 inches off the ground, looking out a car window is a challenge – even if I could stay upright stretched up on my two hind legs in a moving car! (I may be cute and talented and quick on my feet, but I’m not that good.) But seeing out the window is not such a problem with my booster seat.
And, of course, the best thing about the booster seat is the safety it provides. I had my car safety harness on, which gets clipped to the seatbelt. I was not going to distract the bipeds while they drove, nor would I fly into a windshield if they had to stop suddenly, or please not, be in an accident. *shudder* Too many dogs die every year from accidents like this.
So, Dad made sure my booster seat was fresh and clean, and because this was going to be a long car ride, I got to add two extra toys to travel with me. Normally it’s just my amigo Moby and me on the road, but this time, I had my two crazy monkeys as well! So I was happy, snug, and safe in my upholstered throne. [Hey! Stop with the editorial wisecracks! It’s my booster car seat.] And a little confession: Mom did take me on her lap once or twice for a half hour so I wouldn’t get lonely. Between you and me, I think she was missing the snuggles more than me.
On the Road
The great thing about our trip was that it was one single route almost the entire drive. Interstate 81. It is amazing to me that a single stretch of road could cover about 70% of the distance for us. That made it much easy for navigation but it also meant it was easy to get bored.
… And we have an old car … And we didn’t think of setting something up for music. That was a mistake. It left Mom to be the conversation leader. At least she was prepared for that – not that Mom runs short of things to talk about. Er, I mean, she has lots of interesting things to talk about. Like this time! She had printed out a cool series of questions to get things going: 1001 Questions Every Couple Should Discuss. I listened carefully to the bipeds give each other their answers. It was a great way for them to build on their intimacy, and it also really helped pass the time. Sometimes Mom would turn around and ask me the question. I did my best to answer in pantomime, much to their delight.
Rest stops are another important feature on a road trip. The En Route stops along Highway 401 in Canada are great for those traveling with pets. Although canines are not allowed inside the building, the stops always seemed to feature a covered picnic area. I’d get to stretch my legs, waiting with one biped and then the next as they took turns going to the bathroom.
As nice as the En Routes are, I still have some advice for them: create a pet zone! It wouldn’t take much to have a large grass area with some trees and a poop bag dispenser and a garbage for the waste. Maybe a water fountain too. In fact …
… the best pet friendly stop we made was in Allentown in the USA. It had everything:
- A farmers’ market on Saturdays
- A pet area
- Covered and uncovered outdoor seating
- Lots of grass and a big open space for a quick dog run
- Free WI-FI
- Large, clean bathrooms
- A Starbucks (for Dad’s coffee addiction)
- A garden with flowers
You get the idea right? All I can say is, yes, once you are on Interstate 76, you are very limited in the stops you can make. But when a stop does appear, WOW!
Eating along the highway is possible. Doing so healthily is … a challenge. It seems that the only options are fast food. And if you know my bipeds at all, you know that fast food is just not an option. They would honestly rather not eat. And salads that are made in these places are imposters – unhealthy substitutes for the real thing. Just awful. So what to do?
Option #1 is to go off the highways and find a little town. You are more likely to find better options that way, even if still only marginally healthy. We managed to get some ribs and a HUGE salad. It was far, far from healthy with too much sugar in the sauce … seriously, Dear Reader, even I wouldn’t eat it … but at least it wasn’t processed fast food. And, who knows, you might discover a town you would have never known existed!
Option #2 was to stop at a place like Cracker Barrel. Our friend Marlene from Texas had mentioned this to us. And so when we saw one just outside of Binghampton, we thought we would give it a try. The food is “home cooked” style country food. Certainly a better choice than fast food, if still not ideal. But when in Rome … . Here, the bipeds ordered the big special salad, which had ham, bacon, devilled eggs, cherry tomatoes on a big bed of iceberg lettuce, and more. Arguably the healthiest option possible near a highway.
Option #3 is to bring your own food. I think that next time the bipeds and I will use this option. There were many beautiful rest stops with picnic tables and a small wooded area to buffer the noise from the highway. Many of these stops were also lookouts over beautiful national park lands. Next time, I think we will pack our cooler, take our healthy meals and treats with us, and just use the places like the stop in Allentown or the En Routes as bathroom and coffee/tea breaks.
Oh, and – this is brilliant – in the State of New York, there are Text Stops along the highway! These can, in a pinch, act as a picnic stop. These stops are frequent and well marked. They are often preceded by a sign warning, “Three Text Violation and Loose your License!” … or, “It can wait! Text Stop in 5 miles!”
In Review: Road trips are great fun! To enjoy them, plan a little and give yourself some breathing room for time. Stop along the way and discover a new town. Enjoy some of the lookouts and views. Stop for a short hike. Picnic somewhere new and picturesque. Road trips can be examples of how we tend to make everything about the destination and not the journey. Don’t make that mistake: stop and smell the roses.