How not to Take a Solo Road Trip with a Dog
When I scroll through my Instagram feed , I see all of these great pictures of people taking road trips with their dog. Some of them are cross-country and some are just weekend trips. They all look so romantic and wonderful.
At the end of July 2013, when I started what would become a 9,000 mile trip around the U.S
with Gambler, I had no idea what I was doing. I did a lot of things wrong and though it eventually worked out, I know I would have enjoyed this trip a hell of a lot more had I had taken the time to just do a few more little things.
When I think back on my own road adventure with my dog, I’m reminded how even though pictures may make something seem amazing, in real life they’re a huge headache. So many things can make or break your trip, especially if you’re a bit of a control freak like me. I left Phoenix very quickly. I didn’t give myself a lot of time or money to figure out how to make everything more ergonomic.
Here’s a few of the challenges I experienced on my journey and what I would have done differently:
I didn’t have a cool Westy van, Jeep, or other vehicle that people tend to take on these kinds of trips. I had a plain ‘ole four door Honda Civic. I folded down the back seats and created a little cubby in the back that not only served as Gambler’s bed while I was driving, but was also a bed for both of us at night. Space was very
I had a large suitcase and a backpack for my things, a large feed bin for his food, and a few pillows. I had to rotate these things from trunk to passenger seat depending on whether I was driving or sleep. This was a ginormous pain in the ass. Those things were big and heavy.
I should have downsized my clothes a lot more, and found a more suitable suitcase. I also would have definitely found an alternative feed bin. I used the large one I had from home, which holds about 20 pounds of food. I really could have gotten by with just stopping more frequently at pet stores and purchasing smaller bags of food. it may have cost a little more money and time, but I feel the space saving would have been worth it.
It also would have been enormously helpful to have a waterproof cover for the “bed” in the backseat. I had the bed set up all the time, so I didn’t have to set it up every night. Visiting the beach often, and being in the misty Pacific Northwest created a bit of a problem. Some sort of waterproof barrier that wrapped around my bedding that the dog couldn’t move would have been great.
I also would have found better food and water bowls, some inexpensive microfiber towels, a real first aid kit, and some better camping dinnerware
There’s only so much drive through fast food I can eat before I want to vomit, and that equates to about one meal. I didn’t have a cooler or any kind of food storage so I had to stick to non perishable foods. Which honestly was fine. I ate a lot of boxed soup, jerky, trail mix, and protein bars.
Attaining food however, becomes an ordeal sometimes. Why? The dog can’t stay in the car when it’s hot. I traveled in summer. Solo.
Dogs aren’t allowed in grocery stores. Nasty, urine slathered homeless people and unvaccinated screaming children can go in, but the dog? Nope. No justice.
And there’s no way I’m leaving him in the car when it’s over 80 degrees. Even with the windows open. Not going to happen.
I didn’t have an extra key to leave the car running while I was away without locking myself out either. How do people manage this problem? They get coolers and stock up before they go. And most of them have vehicles that have capacity for food storage. Or most of them don’t travel alone.
So how did I do it? I waited until night. Or luckily, in the PNW, it’s nice and cool during the day so I can leave him in the car for 10 minutes. I went into stores I knew (mostly Trader Joe’s) with a precise list, and shopped fast.
I should have stocked up before I went. It would have been smart to have a network of Greyhound owners across the country that would have been willing to look after Gambler for a few hours while I took care of a few things. Or possibly found a Greyhound boarding facility.
Playing on beaches, getting soaked by rain, getting mud on my shoes and pants and getting all sorts of dirt on the dog was a small disaster. Everything I had was dirty and wet and I had nowhere to wash them. Let alone dry them. Staying at a friends house for this proved unreliable and I was left with clothes that smelled of mildew for thousands of miles
RV parks often have laundry facilities. Since I had no technology on the road, I should have mapped out this beforehand so I would know where to go.
Taken by Sharon Joubert
The first couple nights of this trip I slept in hotel parking lots. This isn’t exactly the best plan. I got kicked out of one in the middle of the night in Washington.
Then I started to just sleep at rest stops. Most of them were patrolled by security guards, well lit, and busy into the night. I felt fairly safe at most of them. With the possible exception of one in Portland where I swear I saw a ghost. Even though I don’t believe in that sort of thing.
I went to a hotel a couple times, but that used up a lot of my money. Sure, it was nice to sleep in a real bed and get a real shower, but it wasn’t worth the money in the end.
Once again technology would have been GREAT here. I would have designed a route with inexpensive campgrounds, or at least scoped out the best rest stops. Wal-Mart parking lots sometimes allow car camping, but I found this to be too noisy and always felt like someone was peeking in on me even though I was on the far end.
I left with $900 to my name. Another paycheck would come a week later that would be about $500. Altogether $1400 seems
like a decent amount for what I was doing. But keep in mind I still had to pay my car note, which is about $300. And most of that money goes straight into my gas tank. 9000 miles takes a lot of gas, even in a small car. There’s not a lot left for groceries or camping/park fees.
At that point, there wasn’t really a lot I could have done different. If I stayed in Phoenix, that money would have gone straight to rent and I’d never had been able to save a dime.
It would have been much smarter to just take the money I used as a deposit for my new apartment, put it in savings and move in with my Mom for a month, then save my paychecks for that month. That would have given me a couple thousands bucks.
Dog friendly doesn’t always mean “large” dog friendly
If you take a look at most of these pictures of people adventuring with their dogs, most of them have small dogs. Or at least medium dogs. They can be picked up, put in a backpack or easily hidden when you need to take them into a store.
Lots of places say they’re dog friendly, but only if you can pick the dog up (so irritating). I don’t know about you, but my 67 pound Greyhound isn’t going to fit in my purse.
He also doesn’t fit in many “dog friendly” restaurants without getting stepped on and fitting him and myself into the backseat to sleep wasn’t always fun.
Still, having a large dog is not without benefits. Like safety for example. Gambler looks huge when you first see him. I noticed that a lot of people looked scared of him. And to be honest I was completely fine with that.
Greyhounds aren’t known to be guard dogs by any means. They’re usually extremely sweet and docile. Gambler however, is a pretty good guardian. He’s barked at several creepers and has been known to growl at people that make me uncomfortable. I felt much more safe with him around.
Technology is a MUST
This was a HUGE disability for me. Before I left, I cancelled my smartphone plan and bought a simple $15 “Dumb phone” that had no internet access. Such a stupid thing for me to have done.
I thought I was being smart by saving money on a phone plan. In reality this crippled me. I couldn’t look up detailed maps, and therefore got lost on a lot of side streets not on paper maps. I’m sure it would have saved me from almost ending up in Mexico when I got lost in south Texas. At night.
It would have also been incredibly helpful for finding campsites, laundry, grocery stores, dog friendly restaurants, vets just in case, and other attractions. I still had my old iPhone for taking pictures, but it was really only useful when I was near WiFi.
There’s no WiFi in the wilderness, or out in the middle of a potato field in Idaho.
A lot of my troubles would have been solved had I just kept my data plan. It’s amazing how much technology has become a part of our lives. It makes a little sad to admit that not having it caused so many problems. But honestly, before smartphones existed, I hated not knowing where I was or what was around me. It’s just who I am.
Would I do it all again? In complete honesty, no. At least not like that. I would save up more and rent a larger, more equipped vehicle. Now that I’m in my 30’s, winging it with nothing and no plan just isn’t fun anymore. When I adopted Gambler I gave up a certain amount of frivolity, and I’m okay with that. When I go on a road trip with him it’s important that we both be happy and comfortable.