Vanlife With a Dog

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Traveling in a van with a dog can present some unique challenges. We think having your furry companion with you every step of the way is so worth it though. Our dog, Joni, lives in our van with us. She has been our adventure buddy for the last six years. When we decided to make the leap into vanlife, Joni’s comfort was a huge concern for us. Luckily, she absolutely loves the van. Having a new backyard to explore every night is so exciting for her, and seeing her bright eyes and wagging tail is worth it all. Throughout our time in the van, we’ve learned a few lessons that make life with Joni easier. Below, we’ll list all of our tips and tricks for life in a van with a dog.

Beagle living in a van
Hi, my name is Joni, welcome to my van!

Make Adventures for Your Dog a Priority

We absolutely love showing Joni the world. Seeing the level of stoke she has for new campsites and new hikes brings us so much joy. Making dog friendly adventures a priority is so important. When traveling in a van with your dog, look for areas near National Forests or National Recreation areas. These areas typically have hikes that your dog can join you on. We try to find hikes that suit Joni’s capabilities in distance and elevation gain. National Forest Ranger Stations are a great resource to find information on hikes and regulations about where your dog can go. Additionally AllTrails has a filter for dog friendly hikes that is very useful.

Beagle and owner hiking
Going on an adventure with Joni

Temperature Regulation in Your Van

Regulating the temperature in your van is so important for both your comfort and your dogs comfort. We insulated our van with 1.5 inch rigid foam insulation on the walls and 1 inch rigid foam on the ceiling. We also used spray foam insulation in every nook and cranny. Since we spent so much time and effort insulating, the van stays far cooler in the heat and far warmer in the cold. In addition to insulation, we have Reflectix window covers that we made custom to fit our front windows and windshield, this goes a long way for keeping the van cool when the sun is shining in. Installed in our van are two MaxxAir fans so we can push and pull air to create air circulation. We have an indoor/outdoor temperature probe so we can track temperature trends in the van.

Beagle living in a van
Joni loves how comfortable our van stays

Travel to Mild Temperatures

Choosing a travel path with comfortable temperatures goes a long way for your dogs comfort and safety. We look for places with average high temperatures in the low to mid 70s or below. One thing we love about living in a van is that we are very mobile and can change course if an area is forecasted to be too warm. If we do get stuck in an area that is warmer, we have a Coleman Cooling Mat that she loves to lay on to cool off. Another great trick is placing a wet towel over your dog to cool them down. Additionally, finding spots near water so your dog can jump in and cool off is crucial. Luckily with the travel course we have chosen, we have not had to utilize these tricks too much.

Beagle and owner in Wind River Range
Hiking in The Wind River Range, a great place to beat the heat

Give Your Dog Time to Rest

If you have a younger dog, this point is not as important, you likely need to do far more to tucker out your dog! For our senior dog however, giving her time to sleep is crucial. She has serious FOMO, so it is hard for her to rest in the van if we are there and moving around. Since our van is well insulated and we choose cooler areas to travel in, we have felt comfortable leaving Joni in the van for moderate amounts of time. If we plan to leave her, we will do it in the mornings and be back before noon. We look up the forecast to ensure that it will stay cool, and park in the shade. We also have two fans that circulate air to keep the van comfortable. We never recommend leaving your dog in your van if it is forecasted to be hot! Your dogs safety is the number one priority. Giving Joni time alone allows her to get her beauty sleep and allows us to go on adventures that are not dog friendly, or that are too strenuous for her stamina level.

Beagle sleeping in dog bed
Joni values her beauty rest

Make a Space for Your Dog

Eric built what we call “Joni’s Throne” in the van. It is a sliding storage box that tucks in between the driver and passenger seat. That way Joni is able to ride up front with us and see what is going on. It houses her food, toys, treats, and our trash can. It also doubles as an extra seat when we slide it into the living area of the van. It is important to have multipurpose items like this in your van to save space. In addition to her throne, Joni has her own bed which she absolutely loves. It was important to us that she had a comfortable bed as she does not sleep in bed with us (she gets filthy on the road and we can’t imagine how often we would have to change our sheets if she did sleep with us). That being said, we are on the hunt for a similar bed with a cover that we are able to wash. Her current bed is a disaster because of how dirty she is!

Beagle sleeping in dog bed
Joni snoozing in her bed

Keeping Your Dog Clean on the Road

This is a joke, your dog will never be clean on the road. Most National Forest campsites are incredibly dusty and your dog will likely be caked in a layer of dirt most days. If we are near water, Joni will usually get in and wade which washes her off temporarily. If we are not near water and she is particularly dirty, we use unscented baby wipes to give her what we call a “bed bath.” If she is SUPER dirty, we have a biodegradable doggie soap bar from Ethique, we will use this with our 1 gallon keg shower to wash her up. On the same note, keeping your van clean with a dog will also be impossible. To keep our van “cleaner” we have a few tricks. We have a towel dedicated to wiping off Joni’s paws when she gets in the van. We also have a Black and Decker handheld vacuum with a pet attachment, this is great for picking up dog hairs. This splashless dog bowl by Kurgo has been a lifesaver for being able to leave Joni’s bowl out while driving. No more water all over the floor! Lastly we love Mr. Clean Magic Erasers for getting dirt marks off our cabinetry left by Joni.

Beagle in Green River Lake
Taking a dip in Green River Lake

Have Reliable Commands for Your Dog

Joni loves to be off leash and we like to give her as much freedom as possible. Having reliable commands that she will listen to is important. We keep small treats nearby at camp and she responds very well to Eric’s whistle. If she wanders too far, Eric will whistle and she comes running for a treat. If it is dark at camp, we have a light up collar so we can easily see where she is. When we are in bear territory, she also wears a bear bell to keep her safe. Having these systems in place means we are able to allow her to explore each new backyard within reason. We hope we never lose Joni but we did make her a new dog tag with the description of our van (rather than a traditional physical address) as well as our phone numbers.

Beagle at campsite
Joni loves being queen of camp

Only you know if living in a van with your dog is feasible. If you decide living in a van is right for you and your pup, we hope these simple tips and tricks help make vanlife comfortable for your van family! If you’ve enjoyed this post, leave us a comment below and don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!

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  1. Thank you so much for the alltrails app/website tip! I’m new to hiking and this has helped me discover some new trails nearby within my comfort level.

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