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Vanlife With Dogs, Cats & Other Pets

written by Sabrina
published on December 11, 2020

Vanlife with pets can be a very rewarding experience. Most (aspiring) vanlifers that are about to embark on their adventurous lifestyle wouldn’t even consider leaving their furry friend at home! Next to good company, dogs (and some other pets) can also help you feel safe when on the road! With a little planning and effort, you can make vanlifing with a pet a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

To help you with your research, I have compiled this extensive guide to help you prepare for vanlife with pets. 

My own experience of vanlife with pets

1st attempt!

I never had a pet of my own before, but when I was about to start vanlife as a solo female traveller I decided I wanted to adopt a dog! Vanlifing with a dog, I would have plenty of time for the dog to go walking, hiking and being outdoors.

When I started to convert my own campervan I took into account there was sufficient floor space for a dogbed and to store food and dog bowls.

Unfortunately, the dog I decided to adopt had a biting incident on our “trial” weekend. I cried my eyes out, but decided it was better not to take this dog on the lifestyle I aspired. I had no professional dog training experience, and if it would bite anyone on a campsite for example I would never forgive myself. This dog obviously needed an experienced owner and a stable environment.

2nd attempt

2 years fast forward, I live in Spain with my boyfriend and 2 adorable but crazy dogs πŸ˜€ They are brother (Zorro) and sister (Evi). We run Bar Mucho in Pinoso, and when we still had the van we did a trial run with the dogs.

We went out for a weekend with the pups and it WAY harder than expected! They were still young and had never slept in another place than our home. So – there was vomit, there was poop and there was whining πŸ˜› Totally great!

The day after was much more fun when we want hiking! We just stepped out of our van and walked into the forest and had a great walk. Coffee and tea back in the van and everyone happy and chilled. I guess this is what vanlife with pets is all about πŸ™‚

Converting your campervan taking into account pets

When you are converting your own campervan it’s important to take into account if you want to bring pets. Large dogs obviously take more space than a cat or fish!

  • Sleeping & living space – especially with larger animals, or pets that need a fixed place with water (fish?) or hay (rabbits?), this is an important consideration. If you check out pinterest and search for “campervan dog transport” or similar, you will see lots of interesting options to create a safe space for your pet!
  • Food – bags of dogfood are massive! In my small campervan I really struggled to find space for it. Also cat litter is not packed in small bags πŸ™‚
  • Bowls, leashes etc – there are some ingenious feeding systems that hold the food and the bowls in on device. Also keep in mind you don’t want the bowls with food flying around the van when driving πŸ˜€ Again, Pinterest is your best friend πŸ˜‰ (search on campervan dog bows)
vanlife with dogs small dog campervans
Small dogs are easier to take on a roadtrip then huge dogs πŸ™‚

Vanlife with Pets: Important Considerations

Living vanlife with a pet is much different than when you travel by yourself or with a human partner. pet. Below, I made a list sharing some tips and suggestions to keep your pet safe and happy while living on the road. 

Know the Laws

While not every country has strict laws for driving with pets or vanlife with pets in general, it’s important to inform yourself. Make sure you check and follow any laws for traveling your pooch, whether it’s a cross-country trip or a local weekend getaway.

Buckle Up!

Laws, especially surrounding how you can transport your animal, can vary from country to country (or state to state). In many countries, it’s not allowed to have your pet on the frontseat for example.

In general, I can advise to buckle up your pet while driving to avoid any distractions and accidents as a result. Or, combine the sleeping space of the dog with transporting it to keep you and the dog safe!

Temperature inside your van

A car in the sun is like a metal box in the sun, no matter how well you insulate your campervan.

It is outright illegal to leave your pets in the car with high temperatures. A car on a hot day can heat-stroke out your pooch quickly. It wouldn’t be first time that people bash in a car’s windows seeing a pet trapped inside.

Basic measures would be to cover windows with reflective sunshades to control the interior temperature. You can also install a vent fan to ensure adequate ventilation and to keep the vehicle from heating up fast. Another option is a remote temperature monitor to keep an eye on the temperature in your vehicle.

Travel plans

Where are you travelling to? In Europe, I have seen few places that would cause a problem for pets. But for example in when we were vanlifing in Morocco, we encountered lots of stray animals.

We were often visited by cats asking for a little snack, and sometimes we’d even shut the door if a group of stray dogs would show up. Some countries / places may or may not be the best to take your pet too – preparation is key here!

dogs in campervan vanlife
Dogs and other pets can be great company when on the road

How Prepare Your Pet for vanlife 

Crate Train Your Dog

Crate training can make vanlife smoother and less stressful for everyone. Your pet will learn how to spend longer hours in a limited space. If your pet is crate trained, and you have a built-in or portable crate, this will come in handy when you have to step out to go shopping for example.

Practice Travel

Get your pet used to traveling! Start with short trips, and once they’re used to traveling, you can follow up with longer drives. If your dog or cat loves going for drives this helps already, but even pets that are not a big fan can get used to it! Take trips, go camping, practice your new lifestyle. Don’t expect your pet to adapt from one moment to the other – especially when you still have to get used to things!

Train Your Dog

A well-trained dog (or cat or rabbit πŸ˜› ) will be a big relief when vanlifing with pets. For example, potty training on command (yes this is possible!). There are many things you will want to train your dog in, like staying by him/herself for a bit when you have to go out without them.

Consult with Your Vet

Depending on your vanlife planning, your pet may need some medications and/or vaccines. Make sure to start this process in time because sometimes multiple vaccinations are required.

Carry multiple digital or hard copies of vet paperwork on your journey. Many places you visit may require proof of the pet’s vaccinations and/or the dog passport. Also make sure to get your dog chipped before you go!

The Best Dogs for Vanlife?

You may wonder, β€œIs my dog suitable for the nomadic lifestyle?” Or maybe, you are yet to adopt a pet and want to know which breed is better suited for vanlife. In this case, I give an example of some considerations for dogs, as i don’t have much experience with cats. Let alone vanlife cats πŸ˜‰

Size

Small size dogs like Jack Russell Terriers, French bulldogs and Shih Tzu easily fit in any van. They require less food and water compared to larger dogs. Great Danes, Husky’s and German Shepherds may pose some challenges if you travel in a small van – so this is definitely a consideration! Dutch vanlifer Bernadet travels with her German Shepherd Nova and she has the perfect large van!

How athletic is the breed?

If you are into outdoor sports and want a dog to take running, hiking etc, make sure to take a dog that is suitable for this. Some breeds have more athletic characteristics than others. Think about Husky’s, Dalmatians, German shepherd, to name a few. Breeds like Jack Russel Terriers that are adventurous in nature are fit for outdoor activities. 

How much exercise do they need?

Golden retrievers are at the top of the list if it comes to being playful and being a family type of dog. They just love being with their owner but are big dogs and do need regular exercise. Husky’s are definitely at the top of the list if it comes to exercise. Does this suit your preferred lifestyle? Are you going to be sitting behind your laptop working a lot? Or will you always be outdoors hiking?

Is the dog easy to train?

Beagles are known to be difficult to train, while German shepherds are known to be great dogs to train. It’s important to train your dog well especially if you want them to be able to roam around the van freely when you are parked up.

Vanlife with pets dogs campervans
It helps a lot if your dog is trained to stay close the van!

How flexible is the breed?

Some dog breeds are more flexible than others. And then again, some dog are more flexible than others and cope with change differently.

Travelling can take its toll on animals. If you’ve watched Expedition Happiness you can see the ups and downs of travelling with a dog.

Pros and cons of having pets in your van

Vanlife with pets has pro’s and con’s. For me, the positives outweigh the negatives. But it’s up to you to see if vanlife with pets is something for you.

The Cons of having a pet in your van

Less flexibility

Since you can’t leave your dog unattended for long, you might miss out on some popular trails, places, and activities unless you find a sitter for the days. 

Another thing to worry about

Especially the first months of vanlife, I already found it hard to get myself together πŸ˜› Finding a place to sleep, water, groceries, good wifi in my campervan to work etc. A pet will add to this list.

A clean van

It’s already difficult to keep a van clean, let alone with a pet! Animals will drag in a lot of sand and dirt, and you will never ever forget what a wet dog smells like again πŸ˜‰

vanlife with cats pets dogs other pets
Having pets in your van is great, but not always clean πŸ˜‰

The Pro’s of vanlife with a pet

Good company

Let’s face it, traveling alone can be boring or lonely at some point in time. With a furry friend, you definitely won’t feel lonely.

In fact, pets are proven to be good for mental wellbeing. They keep you calm and provide great companionship.

Safety 

When vanlifing, you may occassionally find yourself in a situation that doesn’t feel safe. Rabbts or fish may not help, but having a dog with you may be a good vanlife safety precaution!

The best part about taking your pet with you on your travels is that you don’t need to leave them behind with friends or family πŸ™‚

Vanlife with Pets – Wrapping Up

As you can see, there is no right or wrong if it comes to vanlife with pets. Most pets love being outdoors and adventures with their humans. They get to explore new sights, smells, places, and meet new friends. If you do keep in mind that if you decide to take an animal on the road they always come first – and you may have to adapt your plans – then you should be good! 

Safe travels to all humans, vanlife dogs, cats, snakes and rabbits πŸ˜‰

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