Updated: Dec 8, 2022
If, like me, you're planning extended travels in a van/motorhome with a pet, then here are some things I've learned so far in my vanlife journey with my ageing (11.5yo) Staffordshire terrier that may help you prepare for travelling with your pet.
It can be overwhelming for your pet at first
My dog hasn't travelled much prior to this. He'd go out on day trips with me from time to time but hasn't spent a night away from 'home' besides occasions where I had no other option but to put him into a kennel.
Because of this, he did initially struggle with doing his number 1's and 2's in strange environments. Also, he never did his 'business' when out for a walk with me and would always hold it in until we got back home at which point he'd go and relieve himself.
On my first test outing in the van, he did not have any bodily movements for well over 48 hours (2 days) but eventually on the morning of the 3rd day, he simply was not able to hold it in anymore and finally went.
This happened again when we 'moved into' the van a few weeks ago. For the first 2.5 days, he would eat and drink very little, possibly because he knew if he did eat or drink, he'd need to wee and poo. But again, on day 3, he did start eating and drinking like normal and his bodily movements returned to normal also.
So be prepared for this. If your pet has primarily lived at home and very rarely gone camping or been in 'strange' places, they may have the same reaction where they do not have any bodily movements for a few days and eat and drink very little.
This can be a little stressful on us owners but from my experience, please try not to get too emotional. As I'm sure you know, our pets are very good at picking up on our emotional state and by getting upset or stressed will not help the situation. Instead, continue to take your pet out for a walk and try to remain calm and collected.
A tip that may encourage your pet to realise that doing their business whilst on a lead in a strange environment is to make a HUGE fuss when they do go! I carry small little biscuit treats with me when I take my pooch out for a walk and each time he does a wee or poo, he gets a treat and an enthusiastic, 'Good boy!'.
If your pet refuses to go, or eat or drink for longer than 3 days then you may want to seek advice from a vet who may be able to prescribe some medication to take the edge off or encourage your pet to have a bodily movement.
Dogs drink a lot of water!
My dog isn't exactly large. He's a medium-sized dog however, he does consume a lot of water. Probably as much as me on a daily basis.
So factor this in when you are stocking up on drinking water.
If you're planning long term travels, including permanent vanlife, then water is VERY important. Very much so when you plan to go 'off-grid for any period of time. If you're pitching on campsites then getting drinking water is a simple affair. However, if you're going to pitch off-grid, in lay-bys, parking bays etc then finding water can be a little more tricky and requires planning.
Garages and service stations are typically a good place to replenish your water supply.
Stealth parking can be problematic
Stealth parking, for those who don't know is the art of parking stealthily on residential roads, lay-bys and the like. You really don't want residents or passersby to know that you are living/sleeping in your van. So typically the advice for stealth parking is to not enter and exit your vehicle unnecessarily as this immediately alerts people to your presence and that you are staying in your van.
Having a pet, especially a dog makes this far more difficult because you have to take them out to do their business. My dog for instance needs taking out first thing in the morning. A couple of times during the day and again later evening around 9 pm-10 pm. Therefore, I have to exit and enter my vehicle at least 4 times a day just to take my dog out. Thereby making 'stealth' problematic.
So if you are planning on doing a lot of stealth parking please bear this in mind!
Restriction on freedom
Obviously travelling with a pet means there will be some restrictions to your 'freedom' to travel in some instances. For example, you couldn't leave your pet overnight on its own or for prolonged periods of time to go on a long hike or climb a mountain.
It's not so simple to get a flight to some remote destination. Of course, you can pay the additional cost to take your pet with you however being stowed in a planes storage area can be very stressful on a pet so it's not something I'd personally put my pooch through.
If like my dog, you have an elder dog, you may be limited in how far it is able to walk. My dog has arthritis throughout his skeleton and if I walk him longer than a mile, he suffers for a couple of days afterwards. Therefore the option to take him with me on long hikes simply is not an option. He, therefore, has to spend prolonged periods of time on his own locked in the van.
Leaving your dog in your van
I have seen reports from other campers and vanlifers of members of the public calling the police due to an animal being locked in their van/motorhome!
My dog doesn't tend to make a noise when he's left on his own. If I lock him in the van and sit outside, for example, knowing that I'm nearby he will whine a little wanting to join me outside. However, if I'm not near the van then he accepts that and is pretty quiet unless of course, someone were to approach or worse, enter the van!
My suggestion, if you have to leave your pet in your vehicle for prolonged periods of time is to leave a note on the vehicle explaining why you have left the pet in the vehicle and a contact number so that anyone concerned can get in touch with you! And of course, ensure that the van is well ventilated and not too hot! If your van has skylights open them! And keep your blinds closed so people cannot see into your vehicle (I always have my blinds shut when wild parking so that people cannot see what is in the van anyway).
Please do not take this lightly as I have seen reports from fellow vanlifers of the police literally breaking into their vehicles to 'rescue the animal'! You don't want to be left with a bill for replacing a window or door on your vehicle.
Got any other issues people travelling with pets may need to consider?
Please do comment below and help not only me, but others to prepare for any issues that may arise when travelling with a pet that I've not already addressed above 🙏