Spontaneous Adventure with Your Dog is not Only Possible, It’s Fun


Sometimes travel plans aren’t what they call “well planned,” or planned at all. Often I find the best trips are the ones that blossom at 4 o’clock on a Friday. Those last minute adventures are what my dog Norman and I live for! Though spontaneous trips don’t offer a lot of time or options for preparation, the following are tips we’ve learned along the way for making an “on the whim” trip go smoothly. With these tools in our pocket, no weekend needs to be “ho hum,” especially not when there’s a tail-wagging dog to share it with!

Sarah biking with Norman

Where to Stay

The first piece of business is shelter. Don’t stress, there are a number of options. It just depends on what your ‘glamping’ standards are. I find that staying with friends or family is the easiest and least pricey, though it can be stressful, especially if your dog likes sofa snacks or leaves little “Hershey kisses” on the carpet. You don’t want to put your friends in that situation. If staying with friends is out, I like to car camp. Norman loves to roam around while we hang out by the fire, plus who doesn’t love cuddling in a tent next to a stinky little tail wagger? This gives us the flexibility to be the wild animals we are, but it does require a bit of planning and gear packing.

Check the weather. No one likes camping in negative 5 degrees, even if you have a fur coat.

Check local campsites near town. I usually like the convenience of being close to things, unless it’s a trip to be in the thick of nature. If that’s the case, then I look for remote places that won't have pesky neighbors being loud at 2am. It really just depends on what type of trip you’re going for. Also, remember that dogs aren’t allowed in National Parks (sad), so don’t try to pull something crazy and bring your dog to a place like Yosemite. Your dog would be really mad if you both got in trouble.

Consider a pet-friendly hotel. There are a number of affordable hotel/lodge options that don’t mind you bringing your dog along and love them as much as you do. This can be a great choice if you’re arriving somewhere in the middle of winter, say… in a blizzard. There’s a misperception that pet hotels equate to urine stained carpet and fur covered blankets; that’s not the case. Many are quite nice and create a special experience for you and your dog. There is usually some extra charge to bring your little buddy along, but the fees are not crazy. It’s really just an extra token to say, “Thanks for vacuuming up that extra fur and sorry for the dog fart smell.” BringFido.com and GoPetFriendly.com are great options, and I like to use TripAdvisor.com with the “pet friendly” option selected. All are super easy to use.

Don’t think that you’re losing out on an adventure by choosing to stay in a hotel. Any type of travel can result in an adventure at any point! However, it’s always good to keep in mind that last-minute travel can be unpredictable, so be prepared to roll with the punches. That is something I try to keep in mind whenever I leave the comfort of my own home. One of the better memories I have from traveling with my dog, Norman comes from staying in a motel. There was only one room option for me and Norman to choose from. The hotel lost the record of my reservation, put us into a room that they had forgotten to clean, moved us again, and just as we were settling into our new room we heard crunching from under the bed. Norman had found the one 100-year-old French fry under the bed. Just when I thought it was a mistake to bring him, Norman reminded me that taking your dog with you on trips usually results in a more enhanced and overall better adventure.

That’s just one story though. Staying in pet friendly hotels can be really lovely too. It’s always a good time when you can jump on the beds with your dog. Honestly, life may not get any better than that!

What to Do & What Gear Do You Need?

This is the fun part! How in the world are you supposed to pack for an adventure with 6 legs? Usually, when I’m “planning” the activities for the weekend, I can’t decide what our adventure together will entail, so I end up bringing everything I might need for every option. Some say this is poor planning, but I like to think I’m creatively planning and preparing for whatever comes our way. For those of you who just cannot be bothered to choose between skiing, biking, snowshoeing, hiking or underwater basket weaving... I hear you, I feel you, and I know your struggles. Here is a nice little list to get your expert packing started:

Sarah lifting a giant gearbox

  • Plastic Bins. They don’t need to be fancy. I like the ones with clear sides so that I can see all of my stuff, but these are not as durable as other models. So, it comes down to what you prefer: clear sides or durable. These bins are fantastic gear collectors for any adventure, and I use them for the following:
    • Doggy gear
    • Camping kitchen gear
    • Car camping/first aid gear
    • Bike maintenance gear
    • Ski gear
    • Costumes and accessories (an obvious must)
  • Bungee cords to keep everything in place. I bungee things to the sides of my car, seats and anything that can hold stuff in place. You don’t want anything smushing your furry adventure buddy during a sharp turn!
  • First aid kit. Go ahead and keep that sucker in your car. It’s never a bad thing to have.

Gear for adventure travel

  • Dog bin. This should include:
    • An extra leash
    • Poop bags (I recycle old grocery bags for this)
    • Doggy first aid kit:
      • Hydrogen peroxide in case you need to make them barf something up they shouldn’t have eaten
      • Bandage materials in your human first aid kit will do, but if you want ones designed specifically for dogs, I’d go with paw flex wraps since they don’t stick to fur!
      • Tweezers, antihistamine for allergic reactions, and cornstarch to stop bleeding on broken nails
      • If you’re doing a snowy expedition, throw some Mushers Secret paw wax in to be safe!
    • Food for your pup. I like to count how many dog meals we’ll be gone for and literally scoop that many scoops into a travel container. No one wants to lug 30lbs of dog food with them on an adventure. If you travel more often, then you might think about making your life easy with a food dispenser like the cool one Ruffwear makes (click here). If you’re testing the waters and don’t need another gear investment, then a container that seals well and won't spill dog food into every nook and cranny of your car will do.
  • Camp/gear bin. This should include:
    • COFFEE
    • French Press for the coffee
    • Camping stove to boil water to add to the coffee
    • Coffee mugs for the coffee
    • Cookware to make food to balance out the effects of the coffee
    • Cooking tools: spatula, wooden spoon, can opener, knife, cutting board, bottle opener (wine and beer)
    • Seasonings, oil, hot sauce
    • Cleaning: soap, 2 sponges, one for cleaning and one for drying
    • Necessary extras: lighter, matches (when the lighter runs out and you forget), headlamp and/or lantern, paper towels and foil
    • Gear: I recommend putting all of the little pieces in a gear bin. I’m always searching for shoes, gloves, shorts or sunscreen and this way you have it all in one place. It also prevents the loss of gear at camp, which happens when you’re balancing so many activities. It’s no fun to have to re-purchase gear you’ve already bought - just get a bin and save some time and money.

Norman and gear all packed

The Subtle Art of Car Packing It’s like real life Tetris! The fundamentals to keep in mind are: Put the less urgent items in the more unreachable places and the things that you’ll need mid-drive or when you arrive in the wee hours of the night right up in the front. The other key piece is making enough room so that your pup is nice and comfy snuggled in between all of your gear. Norman likes to be up high so he can judge my driving. So, I put him on top of my gear like a prince. If you learn better with visuals, here is a little clip of how I pack. Enjoy!

Parting Words of Wisdom and Encouragement

I applaud you for taking on the task of embracing spontaneous travel with your pet. It might seem like a lot of gear (and it is) and it might seem like a risk (and it is). However, the result of all of your efforts is something really special. I always come back to this quote by Albert Einstein: “A ship is always safe at the shore - but that is NOT what it is built for.”

That quote motivates me when I want to take the easy route and travel alone (or with humans). It helps me remember that every single time I bring Norman on the journey, it is richer and more vibrant than if I had left my best adventure buddy at home. There is something magical that happens when I take those extra steps so Norman can come. He knows how special it is too, and he shows his appreciation in subtle but meaningful ways. I like to think that when he sits on command, comes back to check on me on the trail, and eats a little less poop than he’d prefer, that’s Norman’s way of saying, “Thank you for taking me along.”

Norman close up

Sarah Sturm
Sarah and Norman are Durango locals in every sense of the word. They ride, hike, ski, run, climb and share tents together. Norman is a rescue dog turned mountain mutt who doesn’t let his poultry allergy slow him down. He loves following Sarah on her adventures, especially on the bike (he’s a much faster runner than she is). Sarah raced bikes professionally and is now an avid high country mountain biker and adventurer. Whiles she loves exploring overseas nothing beats going on micro adventures with her best friend, Norman. Together they embody the Durango lifestyle.