How to Prep and Pack for Spontaneous Adventures With Your Dog

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How to Prep and Pack for Spontaneous Adventures With Your Dog

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!

1. Figure out where you’re staying

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 “presents” 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. If you plan to camp, check the weather — no one likes camping in negative 5 degrees, even if you have a fur coat. Also, be sure that the campsite is dog-friendly. A good place to start is National Park Paws, which provides pet policies for the American National and Federal Parks System.

There also are a number of affordable hotel/lodge options that allow dogs 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 misconception that pet hotels equate to urine-stained carpet and fur-covered blankets; that’s not the case. Many are 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 usually nominal. It’s really just an extra token to say, “Thanks for vacuuming up that extra fur and sorry for the dog fart smell.” To find pet-friendly hotels, check out BringFido.com and GoPetFriendly.com. I also like to use TripAdvisor.com with the “pet friendly” option selected.

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! It’s always good to keep in mind that last-minute travel can be unpredictable, so be prepared to roll with the punches. Plus, taking your dog with you on any trip usually results in a more enhanced and amusing adventure. 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!

2. Pack your gear

This is the fun part! How in the world are you supposed to pack for an adventure with six 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 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:

  • Plastic bins: 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, as well as costumes and accessories (an obvious must-have).
  • 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.
  • Dog bin: This should include:
    • An extra leash
    • Poop bags (I recycle old grocery bags)
    • Dog bed or blanket
    • Doggy first aid kit:
      • Hydrogen peroxide in case you need to make them barf something up they shouldn’t have eaten (consult with a veterinarian before administering)
      • Bandage materials in your human first aid kit will do, but if you want ones designed specifically for dogs, I like PawFlex 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 in some Mushers Secret paw wax to protect those pads
  • Food for your pup: I like to count how many dog meals we’ll be gone for and literally put that many scoops into a travel container. If you travel more often, then consider a portable food dispenser like the clever Ruffwear Kibble Kaddie. If you’re testing the waters and don’t need another gear investment, then a container that seals well and won’t spill kibble 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, two sponges (one for cleaning and one for drying)
    • Necessary extras: lighter, matches (when the lighter runs out), headlamp and/or lantern, paper towels, foil, and garbage bags
    • Random 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 it’s all in one place. It also prevents the loss of gear at camp.
Dog travel gear Ready to roll
Loading gear

3. Pack your car

The subtle art of car packing is like real-life Tetris! The fundamentals to keep in mind are: Put the less urgent items in the more unreachable places, and keep 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.

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.”

Sarah and Norman biking



About the Author

Sarah Sturm

Sarah Sturm and her sidekick 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. While she loves exploring overseas, nothing beats going on micro-adventures with her best friend, Norman. Together they embody the Durango lifestyle. Follow Sarah's adventures on Instagram at @sariebear_ie.
Sarah Sturm