On the Road with a Dog: What Works for Us

Rufio at the summit of a mountain in Arizona.

Greetings, from Rainy Arizona! Today we wanted to talk about our most asked about subject: traveling with a dog, in our case, The World’s Best Boy™; Rufio. Living on the road, or even a roadtrip can be tricky when you have a dog, and by tricky, I mean it takes sacrifice, and a willingness and eagerness to make those sacrifices, because it means having your best friend by your side. We took Rufio on his first long roadtrip when he was just 5 months old, and to date, he probably has been on over 50 long trips. Even cooler than that, he has touched every corner of this country and almost every state in between.

Before we jump into what we found works best for us, let’s go over all the obvious things first. It is imperative that you know your dog. Know how they communicate; when they are exhausted but can keep going, and when they are exhausted and can’t. We don’t recommend just jumping into long trips in the car with your pup, if it has only been for rides to the vet. It takes practice and repetition for them to get used to it and even longer for them to like being in the car. Make sure your pup is up to date on shots and takes heartworm medication, on time every month- even if it’s not a *big* (not the point) problem in your area, it may be where you travel. Lastly, talk with your vet before any major travel to make sure there aren’t any other precautions you can take to protect your 4-legged best friend.

Okay, so now that we got that out of the way, let’s dive right on in. Here’s what we found that works not only best for us, but best for Rufio too.

The first thing we do before starting any long car ride is to make sure Rufio gets a little more exercise and running in then usual. Time has taught us that he is a better co-pilot when he is thoroughly exhausted. For us, that means the day before we leave we run him multiple times throughout the day, and on the morning of, we wake up early and give him one last run before we get in the van to go. On the ride, it always helps us to have a comfortable place for him to lay, we use both a dog bed and a blanket and it keeps him still for longer and out of Sean’s lap. On long trips, making the most of stops can make all the difference. Often times, we will find a park to stop at instead of a rest area; it gives Ruf a chance to run off some of that pent up energy and a little space from the noise and chaos of a gas station.

When we get to our site, whether we are staying for 1 night or over a week, we have a routine (visual clues for Rufio) that we try to do before anything else. First, we lay out a large blue rug right outside of the van, put his bed, blanket, food and water bowls out, and find a stick or two for him to play with. This habit let’s Rufio know that this is home for now and he can relax, play, or wander- whatever he wants. Though, he is usually asleep 5 minutes after we setup.

Rufio is always communicating in one way or another, even more so now that we live on the road. We try our best to always listen, even though sometimes what he is saying, is that he is not up for what want to do. A handful of times, we have been eager to go do a hike and Rufio was just not having it, so we all take a nap, even though he is the only one sleepy. This ties into knowing your dog and being confident in those listening skills, understand when they need a break and facilitate it, it builds trust between you.

Rainy days have proven to be the toughest days yet, but we are starting to figure out how to manage them without Ruf getting too stir crazy. Rufio is not a fan of the rain, so we try to keep him active by walking around local pet stores. Each trip can last an hour easy, and we get to inspect every last living creature in the store while Rufio smells every last treat, win-win. Book stores and coffee shops can be another way to beat the rain, just ask first and you’ll be surprised by the amount of eager “yes please do!”‘s you’ll hear. When Rufio starts to get smelly, we’ll take note and use the next rainy day to hit up a nearby self dog wash station, we (not Rufio) have so much fun and (bonus) are usually the only ones there. Finding a balance on these days is part of the fun, lean into it.

If you’ve read our other blog posts, you know that we travel verrryyy light, and when it comes to Rufio, we don’t stray from that principle. We eliminated all toys aside from 1 small frisbee we keep in case we can’t find his real toy- a stick. We found that it was just too much clutter traveling around with multiple dog toys when they are just as happy with a stick and you throwing said stick. Get at it!

Benadryl is a van staple. Rufio has very reactive skin, and can in an hours time, break out in what looks like chicken pox all over his body. Both plants and insects can cause the reaction, and when it happens, we cram 2 pills down his throat (literally), and when he wakes up from that deep slumber he looks brand new. Our vet recommended 1 MG per pound, but consult YOUR vet before administering any OTC medication to your dog (obviously!!).

Lastly, a common question theme we frequently get always surrounds safety: cactus, coyotes, mountain lions, chasing after animals, and every last thing in between. The long story short, no we aren’t worried about him (not in that sense at least). The first few times Rufio hiked around cactus he stepped on what felt like, every single one in sight. Yanking those fishhook needles out of his paws (over 20 once) was no fun for any of us, but he quickly learned not what they looked like, but what they smelled like. It is so fun to watch him run through the landscape that is a littered with cactus so carefully, and much to our dismay, narrowly, missing each and every one. Our boy is learning how to survive in this harsh environment just like we are. He needs the freedom and our confidence to do that, so we let him learn the lessons. When it comes to large dogs and cats in the wild, we respect them, but aren’t afraid of them. Rufio is almost always off leash and you can still find him right at our side. He does not chase after livestock or large animals (sorry rabbits, beavers, and chipmunks), which is important on the land we are often hiking. When we see a plethora (and it happens) of mountain lion tracks, we take caution for all 3 of us, watching behind us, listening closely, and staying alert. Wild Coyotes are just not something we are worried about, they are well fed in the desert, a 75 pound dog with 2 humans is not something a coyote would typically attack. Know your dog and respond accordingly.

Living or being on the road with your dog has a learning curve for you both. It takes time to establish best practices, routines, and to really feel like you have a rhythm, but you will get there with consistency. Seeing the world through your dogs eyes can completely change your perspective and teach you an entirely different way to explore a new place. Sure, we can’t hike every National Park trail, or check out a museum on a whim, but there is so much that we can do, that we don’t care about missing a few things, that often cost money anyway. As long as Rufio is by our side, we are delighted- everything else is just a bonus.

Rufio in his bed on the blue rug

Today marks day #48 living in the van and while that is just a drop in the bucket, it has certainty been enough time for us to gain our “road legs” and have some helpful tips we can share, whether you’re preparing for vanlife, a roadtrip, or just enjoy reading our blog (thanks!). Sean had the great idea that we should both share our top 5 tips/lessons and I thought that was a fun way to kick off our new blog! We hope you enjoy reading our different styles of writing, and be patient with us as we will probably make some grammatical errors along the way- it’s been a while! So, without further ado, here are our top 10 tips to living in your home on wheels!

Tips 1-5 are written by Ashley, and 6-10 are written by Sean

  1. “BLM Office Closed Due to Lack of Federal Appropriations” Vanlife is made possible largely in part to free land owned by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). You are allowed to stay in any one area for up to 14 days for free. Most places are considered “boondocking” which means no amenities (toilets, water, trash) and you MUST pack in and out everything…and I doo mean everything. To find these lands, you need good topographic land status maps, available for purchase at the BLM office stationed in the area you are visiting (about $5 a map). These maps are essential, to get away from people, to find hidden gems, and because service sucks, they will save you, time and time again, trust. The first few weeks living in the van was so difficult because the government was shutdown and all BLM offices were closed and we couldn’t access any maps that showed us the land we desperately rely on. We were stuck in well known, easy to access places, an RVers wonderland, and our personal nightmare. Find the office in your area and hit it up, you can thank me later :).
  2. “Illegal Dumping $500 Fine” Because we aren’t garbage human beings, we pack out every last bit of trash (+ then some) from where ever we are staying/hiking/exploring. We made the mistake of buying 13 gal trash bags at first and waited for it to be filled before trying to throw it out and that made things a bit tricky, because most places have a lid on their trashcans to avoid this exact thing LOL. We try to repurpose shopping bags, but when they run out, we now use 8 gallon trash bags and don’t pack them in too much. 
  3. “Wake Up and Smell the Routine” Establish a routine for daily tasks early on. It took us about a month to learn daily chores became much easier when there was a process set in place. Dishes are easy for Sean now, our prep for dinner is the same every night, breakfast is made the same way, and coffee too. We make the bed together and organize all of our little belongings every morning, in the same exact way, even down to how we fold the comforter we put on the side of the bed during the day. It may seem like a no-brainer but the first month is about getting your bearings, and things don’t come as quickly as they do when it’s all brand new. 
  4. “Sorry for What I Said When I was Hangry” Have a consistent meal schedule, and stick to it (hello routine), having at least 3 healthy meals a day with snacking in between is crucial. Vanlife is entirely more active and stressful (new, different stresses that take getting use to), adding an empty stomach and grouchiness can zap the fun out of any moment. Especially important if you aren’t solo…it can get ugly. Not that we would know……hahaha totally kidding we don’t eat and fight over stupid things like, all the time, :).
  5. “Drive Less, Explore More” It’s so easy to get caught up in traveling from fun place to even funner place, only spending a day or two in each area before checking out the next ‘gram worthy destination. However, learning to stay in one place for a week and longer, while, is a learning curve, is so worth the brain training. Slowing down, and combing through an area can be incredibly rewarding (when you have maps!!). We find hidden gems, walk paths that have been forgotten about or grown over, and try to really explore an area. Sometimes, we’re surprised and decide to stay longer, while other times we immediately regret the decision and hightail it outta there or to the nearest Walmart. We have spent all of February in and around Phoenix, Arizona and the longer we stay, the more we find to explore- you always find what you’re looking for- so make sure you’re looking for something good :).
  6. “An Organized Van is a Happy Van” With less space and less belongings, organization becomes more important, not less. The first week was tough, and one thing I remember was having to search for every little thing. If I wanted to make coffee, I needed to know where 8 different things were stored in the van. I can remember often looking for one crucial tool to complete a simple task. The answer was to over organize everything. Sort every bin and every shelf. Once I knew where everything was, it became easy to make dinner or clean up a campsite quickly. Now the tough part is keeping the van that way.
  7. “It’s Free for a Reason” Always pay the 20-30 cents a gallon for water. It sounds exciting to find free drinkable water at a rest stop or the 711 in Mexican Hat, UT, but you can always taste the difference. 28 gallons of water that tastes, as Ashley puts it, slimy, can be hard to go drink. Sometimes its better to just dump it out and pay for the good stuff.
  8. “Where Would We Have Pooped in the Morning??” Knowing the weather, and the changes in the weather has never been more important. We learned this on what was supposed to be a rainy day in Flagstaff. We planned to run our errands, to avoid being outside or feeling too cooped up in the van. But, the rain never came. We were able to get everything done without a drop of rain. After deciding to stay in town for the night, we found camp outside of a Cracker Barrel, planning to leave town in the morning. As the rain finally started, I checked the weather for the night before I went to bed. The days rain was late and instead going to be tonight’s 10 inches of snow, with 40 mph winds. Our 2 wheel drive van would have been stuck for at least a day. I woke Ashley up and we drove in the rain to warmer Sedona and slept out the rain storm in a rest stop, instead of being snowed in outside a Cracker Barrel.
  9. “Plus Their French Toast is Delicious” Cracker Barrel is the most Vanlife friendly restaurant there is. Twice now, with nowhere to camp for the night, Cracker Barrel has come to our rescue. Walmart is known for letting campers stay the night in their parking lot, but we have found that sometimes Walmart security has different rules. In towns where Walmart has turned us away, I would have never guessed that it would be Cracker Barrel to the rescue.
  10. “They Only Came in Pink” There is one tool that makes my life easier every day that I did not even have when we started our journey. My favorite new accessory, Dish Gloves. January and February in the desert can be very cold in the mornings and at night. Without running water, I clean our dishes  with the help of our trusty blues(we have four 7 gallon blue water jugs), and that water can get cold. It was a frosty morning in Tuscon, AZ when the dishes, as well as my hands, were all frozen by the time I was done and ready to dry them. That was when Ashley suggested dish gloves, which I had never used. They instantly made it so doing the dishes was no longer a chore. Since then I have even done dishes in the snow, but with my gloves my hands were as warm and happy.

So, there you have it! Our top 10 tips we wish we knew before starting on this wild journey! We hope you found this insightful, or at least fun to read our different takes. Thanks for reading and joining us on this journey, sign up to receieve email notifications for future posts, and if you aren’t already, follow us on Instagram (@thebeirnes) to see our day to day adventures!

‘Till next time,

Ashley + Sean


Thanks For Joining Us!

Sean and I are so excited to be sharing this wild journey with you. We have been on the fence on whether or not we would start a blog, and well, after 40 days living in the van, here we are! The next few days are going to be rainy here in Phoenix, Arizona, so we are going to use this time to work hard on getting this thing up and running, and aesthetically pleasing, so please bare with us!

We appreciate all of the love, support, and encouragement you all have sent us these past 40 days. Can’t wait for you to hear and see what all we have been up to! I am going to post some polls on our Instagram (@thebeirnes) relating to content and topics that will be on here, so if you have something you have been wondering- let us know!

Talk Soon Friends + Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Ashley, Sean, + Rufio

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” 
― Alexander Supertramp