14 travel essentials for road trips with your dog, according to experts

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  • If you're gearing up for a road trip with your dog, you'll need some things to keep them safe, comfortable, and loving life on the road and off.
  • The safest way for your dog to travel is in a crash-tested crate or harness that attaches to a seat belt in the back seat.
  • Protect your dog from overheating or suffering heatstroke on the road with regular breaks, plenty of hydration, and additional gear like a crate fan and window shades.

With changes to how we travel, Americans across the country are hitting the road with dogs as their co-pilots. Whether your plan is to hike and camp, to explore back roads and under-the-radar towns, or visit family and friends, the promise of an adventure on the open road is intoxicating not just for you but for your dog, too.

As a professional dog trainer by day and travel writer by night, I have years of experience hitting the road with dogs. I've combed through my own gear to come up with a list of 15 essential items for a canine-friendly road trip. For expertise on traveling safely with a dog in the hot summer months, I've consulted with Dr. Tanya Fraser, VMD, medical director of VCA Allendale Animal Hospital in Allendale, Michigan, and Lindsey Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia.

To assure the success of a road trip with your pup, you'll need a handful of items to keep them safe and comfortable during long drives. Dogs also need regular breaks from the road, just like we do. "Stopping every few hours to get out, move around, and use the bathroom is ideal," said Fraser.

All that driving also increases the possibility that your dog may, at some point, experience some car sickness. Most dogs outgrow motion sickness in puppyhood, according to Fraser, but if your dog is prone to nausea in the car, things like withholding food for a few hours before traveling or letting your dog see out the window can help. Roll down the window for additional airflow but not so low that your dog can thrust their head into the wind. That's very dangerous. "You know the sound your windshield makes when a rock hits it? Imagine your dog being hit by that rock. Ouch!" Wolko said.

Before you embark on your trip, Fraser recommends making sure your pet is up-to-date on their vaccines and parasite control. Consult your vet if you have questions. They can also provide you with anti-nausea medication if your dog frequently experiences motion sickness.

Here are 14 of the best car travel gear and accessories for dogs:

A crash-tested kennel to protect your dog in a collision

Buy the Lucky Duck Lucky Kennel Intermediate at Amazon for $159.99

According to Wolko, you should never travel with your dog in a plastic crate that has been buckled in with a car seat belt because it can easily fracture in a crash. Instead, use a crash-test-certified crate to "give your pet the best possible chance of survival if a crash occurs." The Center for Pet Safety has tested several crates for their Center for Pet Safety certified list, including the Lucky Kennel by Lucky Duck, which received a five-star crash-test rating. Crating may also help to alleviate motion sickness in some dogs, according to Fraser.

A crash-tested harness to travel safely with your dog outside of a crate

Buy the Sleepypod Clickit Sport Dog Safety Harness at Chewy for $89.99

Buy the Sleepypod Clickit Terrain Dog Safety Harness at Amazon, from $91.59*

Testing done by the Center for Pet Safety indicates that a crash-test certified travel harness is an effective way to keep a dog safe on a road trip, especially a dog that has never been crate trained or that suffers from confinement distress. Sleepypod's Clickit Sport Harness and Terrain Harness each earned a five-star rating. They attach to the seat belts in the back seat of a car through built-in loops. 

*currently out of stock

A hammock-style seat cover to keep paw prints and dirt at bay

Buy the Orvis Grip-Tight Windowed Hammock Seat Protector at Orvis for $169

If any portion of your road trip involves hiking, camping, or other explorations of the great outdoors, do yourself a favor and get a water-resistant seat cover to protect your car from moisture and dirt. This version from Orvis blankets the back seat and the backs of the front seats. A see-through mesh panel between the two front seats prevents your dog from feeling too isolated.

A foldable car ramp to help older or disabled pets into the car

Buy the Solvit UltraLite Bi-Fold Pet Ramp at Amazon and Wayfair, from $69.95

Just because a dog's mobility is limited doesn't mean they aren't an ideal road trip companion. Bring along a lightweight car ramp to make your travels with an older or disabled dog go more smoothly and save you from having to lift them in and out of the vehicle 20 times a day. In between stops, just fold up the ramp and slide it behind the seat for easy storage.

A pet first-aid kit just in case

Buy the Rayco International Ltd. Pet First Aid Kit at Amazon for $21.99

From foxtails to ticks, there are dozens of nasty surprises that await your dog on a road trip. Be prepared for the dangers in your path with a high-quality pet first-aid kit. Fraser also recommends downloading the American Red Cross's Pet First-Aid app to help you navigate minor injuries. If you're headed for a specific destination, she also suggests looking up a local emergency clinic before you arrive.

Shades to block your windows from the sun to help keep car temperatures down

Buy the Munchkin Brica Windowshade at Target, $13.79

Even with the air conditioning on full blast, the interior of the car can heat up to uncomfortable levels when temperatures get extreme outside. Sunshades can help to minimize the greenhouse effect inside the car by blocking the heat out. Don't expect them to help when you've parked the car, though. Temperatures can skyrocket inside a parked car in just minutes. "Never leave your dog in the car, even with the windows down, and even for just a few minutes," said Fraser.

A spill-minimizing bowl so your dog can quench their thirst anytime they want

Buy the Heininger Waterboy Portable Pet Bowl at Amazon for $23.83

Heininger's portable water bowl, which has a reservoir that fills with water when laid flat, has lived in my car on and off for years. Leave it out while you drive — the well has been designed to minimize spillage — or stand it up to drain the well water back into the jug. The BPA-free device holds up to 3 quarts of liquid. 

Interlocking treat-dispensing puzzle toys to help alleviate boredom

Buy the West Paw Toppl at Chewy and Walmart, from $15.95

Keep your dog from getting restless on the road by occupying them with treat-dispensing puzzle toys. West Paw's Toppl can be stuffed with treats, spread with peanut butter, or sprayed with cheesy goodness. For smarty pants dogs, try combining a large Toppl with a small one to create a toy that's a bit more challenging.

A soft, washable blanket that doubles as a dog bed and can be folded up for storage

Buy the Carhartt Dog Blanket at Chewy and Amazon from $67.08

If you're exhausted by the end of a day of driving, so is your dog. Whether you're staying in a hotel or camping overnight, pack something soft and cozy for your pup to cuddle up in. I always bring a soft, washable blanket along for the ride. Not only is a blanket easy to fit into an overstuffed trunk, it's ultra-portable and can double as a dog bed whenever needed.

A dog-sized backpack for outdoor adventures

Buy the Ruffwear Approach Dog Pack at Amazon and Ruffwear for $79.95

If you plan on doing a lot of hiking or backpacking on your road trip, it's only fair that your dog should carry their share of the gear. Always limit your dog's load to no more than 25% of their body weight and make sure the pack fits properly before your adventure.

An insulated water bottle with a dog bowl built right in

Buy the Kong H20 Stainless Steel Dog Water Bottle at Chewy for $15.99

Whether you're on a nature walk or in a socially distanced beer garden, keep your dog hydrated with a combination water bottle and dog bowl. This version from Kong is made of insulated stainless steel that will keep liquids cool and refreshing all day long.

A long line to let your dog safely explore new environments

Buy the Signature K9 Biothane Long Line at Amazon for $31.95

Even if your dog has an excellent recall, the allure of the new environments they'll be exploring on your road trip may prove more powerful than your cue. Bring along a 15- to 20-foot long line to give your dog some freedom while ensuring they remain out of trouble.

Grooming wipes or waterless shampoo to quickly remove grime and nasty smells

Buy Earthbath Green Tea & Awapuhi Grooming Wipes at Chewy for $14.49

Buy Bodhi Dog Waterless Lavender Dog Dry Shampoo at Chewy and Amazon for $13.99

On the road, there may be hundreds of miles between you and the closest dog-washing station, but if your dog is living their best road trip life, chances are they'll need at least a little cleanup before your trip is over. Grooming wipes are an easy way to freshen up your dog's coat or remove debris from their paws or muzzle. If you've got a dog that loves to roll in stinky things, I can tell you from experience that you'll need something stronger to remove the stench. A waterless dog shampoo works a bit better and it never hurts to bring a bottle along for the ride.

A folding travel crate for use inside a hotel room

Buy the Orvis Hose-Off Folding Travel Crate at Orvis from $129

To keep everyone safe when you leave your hotel room, you'll need a portable crate to set up inside your room. While most hotels don't require this, I've heard one too many horror stories about a hotel staff member who has been bitten after walking into a room with a canine guest. Choose something that collapses flat and has a handle for easy carrying. I like this Orvis's version, which also has two doors and plenty of ventilation and comes with a padded fleece mat.

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