What’s vanlife like with a dog?

If you follow us on Instagram, or if you know Dan and I in real life, chances are that you know Nala, the real queen of our van (and hearts). Before we left, we got a lot of questions like, “but what will you do with your dog?”, which reminded me why I like my dog better than a lot of people. In all seriousness though, there was no way we could ever hit the road without her (look at that face!).

Nala is an amazing travel dog; she loves adventure, the outdoors, and car rides, which makes her the perfect companion for our journey.

Having a dog on the road comes with a huge list of both pros and cons, but for us we wouldn’t have it any other way! I’d like to share a few of our favorite things about traveling with a dog, and some of the challenges that comes with it as well.


Companionship! One of my favorite things about traveling with our pup is that she’s a great snuggler. She is always ready to curl up with me for a nap on a rainy day, or to keep us warm at night when it’s cold out. She is also perfectly content to sleep in in the mornings, which is great for me since I’m not usually an early riser.

Safety! Having a dog is like having a built-in security system while we travel. When we’re in the woods, she keeps most wild animals away, and also can alert us if something isn’t quite right (check out this post about us listening to Nala’s intuition). While in towns or stealth camping, most people tend to be cautious around large dogs, and are less likely to attempt a break in if there is a dog barking. I’d also like to file this under challenges too! For some reason, Nala hates bikes. She goes nuts and freaks out like her tail is on fire if someone rides by on a bicycle, or God forbid, a motorcycle 😳. She’s definitely blown our cover a few times when we would rather not be noticed.

Motivation! We love our girl, and want to make sure she gets enough exercise and doesn’t spend too much time cooped up in the van. This means we need to get outside too! When we visit a new place, we typically like to check out new restaurants and bars when we can afford it, but having a dog means that we’ve needed to adjust our priorities – more time outside being active and less money spent is best for all of us.

When we do go out to eat or go somewhere that dogs aren’t allowed, we never leave her for a long period of time and always make sure that she’s safe and comfortable no matter what. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s too hot or cold in your vehicle for you, it’s that way for your pet too. Whenever she stays behind, even if only for 5 minutes, we make sure to put up the window insulation to regulate the temperature inside, and also to keep her calm if people (or bikers!) go by. If you’re going to a longer event like a concert, it’s a good idea to look into dog-sitting services like Wag or Rover so you know your pet is safe.


Space. Sharing a tiny space with another human can be a huge challenge, but add in another 70 pound body, and you’re sometimes super crammed. Combined with the fact that Nala often confuses herself with a lap-dog, we are often literally all on top of each other. Most dogs I know don’t know a thing about personal space, and ours is no exception. Not a day goes by that I don’t get stepped on or get a tail-wag to the face, or have to dodge a slobbery tongue. But, oh so worth it. No sooner do I push her drooly face away from mine than she puts her head on my shoulder giving me an actual hug and I melt.

Stealth. As I mentioned, bikes, motorcycles and sometimes other dogs are a big “no” for Nala. When she loses her cool because of someone on a bike, she draws attention to us, which we try to avoid as much as possible. Most of the time we keep our window insulation up if we’re getting ready to sleep, but we’re definitely cautious and try to distract her if anything on two wheels goes by. Another aspect of staying stealthy is letting her out before bed. It’s kind of obvious that we’re sleeping in the van if we get out to walk the dog and then all or both pile back in. Most of the time we don’t sleep in neighborhoods, but this is something to consider if we do any stealth camping and we’ll often try to walk her before we park for the night.

Safety (for pup)! Most National Parks have restrictions on where you can bring your dog, and pets always need to be on a leash. This is for good reason – as one park ranger told us, “No matter how big she is, she’s prey”(…yikes.). Specifically in western states, bears, coyotes and mountain lions can see your pup as a meal, which definitely kept us on high alert. Nala is almost always on a leash anyways, but especially after hearing that we made sure to be extra careful.

Just like everything else, everyone’s experience is different, and each pet is different! Some things that work for us might not work for other travelers, and vice versa. Either way, we wanted to share our experience so you can decide for yourself! In our humble opinion, traveling with a dog is the best way to do it! Nala makes our days brighter, not to mention much more entertaining.

We would love to hear about your experiences traveling with pets! As always, thanks so much for reading. 😊

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