Two years ago this July, I set off on a cross-country road trip from Virginia to Arizona with my two dogs and car full of stuff. I spent four weeks on the road and logged more than 2,000 miles. As you might imagine, I learned plenty after taking a trip that long with my beloved long-haired Chihuahuas. It was daunting. I’d only taken on them one weekend getaway to prep. But you know what? The trip was, by far, one of the best things I’ve ever done. Sure, I thought about flying my dogs out with me. But there’s something that’s quintessentially American about a road trip and going West. And my dogs are my babies, and it wouldn’t have been the same trip without them. I had to bring them with me.
Looking back on it, if I had to tell myself one thing it would be this: slow down. Driving cross country is (probably) an adventure you’ll only make once in your lifetime. You never know when you’ll be back in Arkansas, Oklahoma or Texas. Give yourself permission to drive 300 miles out of your way to a tiny town in the Arkansas mountains that will end up being one of the coolest places you’ve ever been to. Let yourself drift. Believe it or not, once you get used to packing up everything, moving hotels and driving a few hundred miles every few days. Sure, you’ll be lonely and scared and tired, but when you’ve got your dogs with you, you’ll always have a friend.
Given the chance, I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Here’s what else I learned after a month on the road with my two Chis:
Take a Short Trip First
Before I went on a trip with my dogs, I took them around the block in their car seats. Those few short jaunts helped ease them into car travel. Before my 2,000-mile trip, I drove them from Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina. Much to my surprise, my dogs did well. It was their first time in the car and in a hotel room for a long period of time and they rocked it.
Contact the Hotel Before You Arrive
Make sure to research a hotel’s pet policies before you reserve the room. When you book, be sure to list in the comments that you’ll be bringing dogs and ask for a quiet room. Some hotels will put all the dogs in one hallway.
I discovered this at 3 a.m. one night in Winslow, Arizona, when just about every dog staying over started barking at once. It was funny, but draining since I didn’t sleep well at all. I ended up staying another night in my next destination, Flagstaff, so I could catch up on sleep.
If you’re going to leave the room, try turning on the radio or the TV on with the volume up. Put your dogs in the bathroom if you’re worried about them having accidents. One thing’s for sure: it’s always fun returning to them in the room. My boy dog, Rocket, was always happily perched on chairs waiting for me. Rocket is more rambunctious than my girl dog, Autumn, which made getting into the hotel a somewhat complicated process.
Prepare for Easy Packing and Unpacking
When I checked into hotels, I’d hold Autumn in my arms and keep Rocket in a traveling case so he didn’t act up. I eventually consolidated everything I needed so I’d only have to make two trips to retrieve my dogs’ supplies and then my luggage. When you’re making a number of stops along the way, just bring in the essentials that your pet will need: dog treats, dog food and bowls. I’d only drag their beds up the stairs if I’d be leaving them unattended for an extended period of time or if we’d be in the hotel for multiple nights. Otherwise, it wasn’t worth the effort.
Ask Hotel Staff About Where to Take Walks
Some of my favorite memories of the trip? Walking with my dogs in Santa Fe to see the sunset from a local park. The hotel staff recommended the spot and I couldn’t not have loved it more. One perk of traveling with your dogs is that you’re guaranteed to check out new places when you walk them. I loved finding tiny little parks all over Santa Fe and seeing all the adobe buildings surrounding the hotel.
Roll with the Unexpected Surprises
Any wayward traveler will tell you this: your most beloved memories will be the most surprising.
I booked the cheapest pet-friendly hotel in Sedona on a whim, and it ended up providing me with one of the most gorgeous views of that city’s famed red rocks. I loved walking with my two dogs on a nearby trail by one of Sedona’s energy vortexes.
Get Ready to Know Your Dogs Better Than Ever
I was impressed by how well my dogs handled the trip. I was so afraid they would run away and be impossibly stressed out, but they were fine. Before I left, I posted on a Chihuahua Mamas Facebook group I’m part of and asked everyone for advice about moving. Someone commented that Chihuahuas just need to be with their person and they’ll thrive. This proved to be true over and over again.
Before my trip, I never really thought of myself as spontaneous, but after the trip, I realized just how rewarding traveling to a new place on a whim can be—like the time I pulled over so me and my dogs could check out the Natural Bridge of Arkansas. Spending so much time together made me realize how much I could really trust my dogs.
Take Rest Days
Constantly heading from one destination to another was stressful for both myself and the dogs, so having rest days gave us a chance to reconnect and catch up on some much-needed sleep. My dogs loved staying in one place, even if it was just for one night.
During the Day, Truck Stops Are the Best
To prevent yourself from tiring out from driving, force yourself to rest. Take a minimum of 30-minute breaks when you stop for gas. Give yourself time to unwind since driving and traveling is exhausting.
As long as it’s during the day, truck stops are best. There’s usually plenty of green space where your dog can roam. Give them water and a walk. At night, I’d stick to gas stations due to safety concerns.
Drive-Thrus are You New Best Friend
I visited more Sonics on my road trip than I ever have in my entire life. It’s easy to pull in, order food and then enjoy it with your dogs beside you. A clerk at a Wendy’s I visited loved seeing my two dogs in the car with me when I ordered chicken for them and I even got some free dog treats from a drive-thru coffee shop in Amarillo, Texas.
Yes, You Can Even Bring “Difficult” Dogs Places
My biggest takeaway? Even hyper dogs, like my two Chihuahuas (who are very territorial and can be tough to bring to new places), can travel. Before this massive trip, I never really took them anywhere except for the vet and on walks around my neighborhood. But now, I’ve got the confidence to bring them more places. They come with me on most trips. Once you’ve spent an entire month on the road with your two dogs, a single overnight trip seems simple.
Above all, remember to have fun. I couldn’t have imagined completely uprooting myself without my two dogs. They’re my family. And the trip wouldn’t have been the same without both of them by my side. I’d recommend it to anyone brave enough to make the journey.
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.