We are currently living vanlife in the UK with our two rescue dogs Rory and Jeannie. In this post we'll be sharing some of our tips, feedback and considerations for living on the road full time with a furry four legged companion. We've tried to cover (what we think) are the most important topics, whether you are already living on the road with your dogs or considering it in future. After spending 18 months travelling every week in the van we moved in fulltime in January 2022, right in the depths of winter. Hopefully, this content will be useful regardless of if you're living in a van, a motorhome, caravan or on a boat. We've even got some fantastic tips and experiences from other vanlifers to share at the bottom of the article - be sure to check those out!
@theroadtwospoons One of the best parts of travelling and living in the van is the ability for us to include the girls in everything we do and as you can see they absolutely LOVE it. Over the last few months, they've experienced lakes, rivers, beaches and mountains (and plenty of time in bed too). #vanlife #rescuedog #adoptdontshop #fyp ♬ original sound - Theroadtwospoons
Do your lifestyles align?
Before bringing your dogs on a new adventure it's important to consider both their needs and your own. Will you be spending most of your time in dog friendly areas? Will you be leaving them alone for long periods of time? Do they adapt well to new surroundings or require certainty and routine to mitigate any anxiety they might have?
There is a lot to think about, more so than just having dogs at home. The answers to these questions are entirely dependent on each individual, their circumstances and the dog in question. For us we always travelled frequently with the dogs and were away most weekends in the van prior to living fulltime, they adjusted to the space, travel and having a new 'home' every time the sliding door opened. One of our dogs Rory can get quite anxious about certain surroundings and noises so we've learnt areas and things to avoid to help her from getting overly sensitive. Thankfully both of our dogs see the van as a safe space and we think they find comfort knowing that they always have the same places to sit and sleep regardless of what's outside.
They are both very comfortable being left for several hours in the van when we are not with them, although this is fairly uncommon as we both live and work from the van. Normally they would just be left alone during meals out, shopping/chores or if we are doing an activity they can't be involved in. At the time of moving into the van both of our girls were around 5 years old, they are still incredibly active and love the outdoors. We do a lot of hiking together and even on busier workdays, we make sure to go on a couple of walks. During work hours they tend to sit or sleep next to us whilst we work or in Summer they'll hang outside the van. You might want to consider bringing some of their favourite items into the van with you to make them feel at home. These could be dog beds, blankets or their favourite toys.
If they get particularly dirty, or famously if Jeannie has been rolling in things she shouldn't be then we use the outdoor shower at the back of the van to hose them down. We have been using the dog shampoo bars from Zero Waste Path for this, they lather up extremely well and are 100% natural so there is no harm in using them outside.
One thing we appreciate about owning dogs is that they provide some form of routine. They always need to go out and be fed at similar times, regardless of the weather. This is good (and bad) in winter and in bad weather conditions as it stops you from sitting inside all day.
Dirt and damp
This is a big one. Do not do vanlife with a dog if you want a spotless van and to hide away when the weather is bad outside. In winter expect to be walking around new and strange areas with head torches as the nights draw in and to be permanently wiping paws, walls and floors down.
We currently carry 3 towels between the 2 dogs which has worked well for us. When the dogs are muddy or wet we try to dry and dab their paws as they get into the van before they go towards the back or get on any of the furniture. In winter our toilet and shower room feels like a doggy airing cupboard as towels, leads and shoes are always hanging up to dry. We also use blankets on top of our bench seats, and the bed during the day which we can easily shake out or replace as they get dirty. If you let your dogs on the furniture we really recommend covering them like this, we've had a couple of dog sick situations which would have been much worse if they went straight through onto the cushions.
Summer is much easier, although you can expect to swap those damp paw prints for infinite amounts of sand, dust and other debris that they bring in with them. Even on laundry days you'll never be sleeping in a clean bed again - fact.
Food and Treats
When we first started travelling in the van we very quickly came to the conclusion that traditional water bowls were no good when moving around. We would either have to pour water out and refill which uses valuable resources or they would slide and spill inside the van. Via suggestions on Instagram we were recommended to get a 'Road Refresher Prestige Non Spill Pet Water Bowl'. It has been absolutely fantastic and we would suggest them to anyone thinking of travelling with their dogs. We can keep a lot of water in the bowl at all times and we don't get any spills. We introduced this whilst still living in the house over a period of a few weeks before swapping out their traditional water bowl entirely. Being plastic the bowls are also very light and durable which is a big plus for living on the road. For the reasons above we also swapped out their heavy ceramic food bowls for lighter and stronger stainless steel ones.
Some dogs have particular dietary requirements which may, or may not be feasible to continue whilst living on the road. For instance, it might be much harder to store frozen raw foods vs bags of dried kibble. Accessibility of food also needs to be considered ie. Can you walk into a supermarket or pet shop and pick up fresh supplies. Ordering niche supplies online can be hard when you don't have a fixed address. As we have a raised fixed bed in our van we have ample storage for storing large bags and trays of dog food. We normally have enough kibble and wet food on us to go several weeks at a time. We appreciate some vans have much more, or far less in terms of storage so this should be considered when planning how to use your space.
Our dogs eat a mixture of both kibble and wet food. Prior to moving in fulltime we gradually changed the way in which they were fed and reduced their mealtime down to once a day. This made our mornings far more flexible when travelling and moving between locations - we'll always feed them at a similar time in the evenings each day and they have regular snacks and treats (probably too many)
The bulk of our girls diet comes from Forthglade. They've been on this for years but we recently had the opportunity to try some of the new range which they kindly sent out to us. We've found Forthglade is an easy choice, not only because the dogs love it but because it's very accessible when moving around between locations. They have over 1500 independent UK pet shops as stockists and the brand can be found in all major supermarkets or online. If you're interested in the company or its range we'll leave some more information at the bottom of this post.*
Regulating the temperature of the van was a big consideration for us when we were at the build stage, not only for our own comfort but that of the dogs. We made a few decisions on specific products to help with this.
Firstly we decided to install two MaxxAir Fan Deluxe roof vents with integrated fans. These fans are particularly good as they have settings to both push and pull air. Having these installed allows us to circulate a lot of air throughout the van during the warmer days, and helps remove moisture in winter when the dogs and towels are damp after walks. These fans also have rain covers which means you can use them all year round and in poor conditions without affecting their performance. Many heating systems will also have a vent mode which pulls outside air into your van without the element or burner running. This will use power from your batteries but it's also only likely to be used on hot days when you are generating reasonable amounts of electricity from your solar setup.
Another way to help reduce heat from direct sun entering the van was with our choice of windows. Instead of fitting glass windows, we opted for Dometic Seitz S4. Not only are we a big fan of the integrated reflective blinds and flyscreens but we also like the fact they are thermally insulated and don't get as hot as the glass windows we had in previous vans.
For those days when it's really pumping heat we use an external insulated Silver Screen to cover the windscreen. It's important to get this on early in the day before the glass gets hot or just leave it on overnight. These brilliant screens are made in the UK and make a huge difference to the temperature inside the cab which can become a greenhouse on sunny days. They also massively reduce any condensation during winter. We've purchased two of these for our last two vans and rate them really highly. You can find the company here.
Creating your own, or utilising existing shade is also a fantastic way to help keep your dogs comfortable. Most smartphones have a built-in compass so it's easy to quickly check the suns direction throughout the day. Parking under trees or in sheltered areas will make a dramatic difference to the inside temperature of the van. When we are parked up on sites or campsites we have an external Moonshade awning which we attach to the van. We can also use our Vango Airbeam windbreaks to block the sun - regardless of doing this the dogs will quite often crawl underneath the van to lie where the ground is cooler. Our last gadget is for monitoring temperature and humidity both in and outside the van. For this we use a device from a company called SensorPush, we've previously mentioned these in our 'Our van build electrical system post.' These sensors can act independently via Bluetooth or as part of a remote system over WiFi. We've had these installed in the van for nearly two years now on the original batteries and they are great. You can set threshold alerts for temperature for both a high and low point and the sensors will alert our phones if the van goes above or below these. We really like being able to keep an eye on this during hot days when we are away from the van with the dogs inside.
Regardless on what we do to keep the girls cool during hot days, their favourite thing to do is to find water to paddle and swim in.
Healthcare and Grooming
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, non of our dogs require any specific grooming routines. Rory requires fairly regular brushing but we just do this ourselves using a FURminator brush. We also clip their nails when required. Some breeds, however, will require regular clipping or haircuts. It will be important to plan this in advance if relying on groomers as often they have long wait times and don't have capacity for walk ins. Although it's worth noting that some pet stores have in house grooming, where you can often get a quicker appointment.
Another thing to consider is access to vets. We've kept Rory and Jeannie registered with the vets they were with in South Wales prior to us moving into the van. For things like jabs and boosters, we have made appointments and travelled back to the area for these. For those infrequent but inevitable emergency situations, it is good to know where local vets or animal hospitals are located. When staying on sites information like this is normally provided to you but when you're wild camping and moving frequently you will have to do your own research. Since adopting Rory we have had 3 emergency vet visits, one of these she was admitted for several days. For those situations, we also recommend having good insurance to help cover the vet bills (they get really big, really fast). It is also worth noting that some vets will apply an additional charge if you are not registered with them.
Security for your dogs
For when we are stationary and away from the van we have added some additional security measures. For obvious reasons, we won't go into too much detail on this one, but two of our functional deterrents are additional deadlocks on every door of the van and cameras for monitoring the dogs whilst we are away from them. Having a camera permanently attached to a WiFi connection in the van is a great way to make sure the dogs are safe and comfortable. Most of the time checking in on them results in a video or photo of them passed out on the bed, with their paws in the air!
When the van is parked up and we are all together we have two metal D rings mounted into the van for attaching leashes too. One on the main sliding door and one at the back of the van for when we are hosing them down with the outdoor shower. We use a carabiner and a lead splitter from this which we can quickly connect/disconnect their leads. Depending on where we are, we tend to keep the dogs attached to the van, this allows them to go in and out as they wish but also reduces any potential accidents or escapes if they see or smell something interesting. When staying on small sites or CLs we tend to research ones that have access to private land, dog walks or dog walking areas inside of them so the girls can enjoy off lead time.
When travelling with your dogs there are multiple solutions available, largely depending on whether your dogs like to ride upfront with you or in the back of the van. The most popular solutions are to use seatbelt mounts which can connect to your dogs collar or harness whilst driving. Alternatively, if you have a purpose-built space within your van you could use crash tested crates which have been integrated into your build.
Tips and experiences from other vanlifers
We've collated even more tips from vanlifers travelling in, and outside of the UK. If you have your own experiences you'd like to add then please get in touch via our contact form or over on Instagram.
'During our 12 months travelling Europe and beyond there have been a few times where we have needed to find a dog sitter. The first time was when we were at a 3 day wedding in Tuscany. We used Google to find sitters but then vetted them via Facebook and Instagram, looking at reviews and their posts to make sure they treated their pups like we do at home. The second time was in Rome, we went to a 6 nations game, we actually found that sitter via a dog groomer we took peanut to who had a friend who sat. The dog groomer was American and so I trusted her judgement that the sitter would meet our standards. The third time was in the Algarve and the hardest, in Portugal a lot of the sitters have the dogs sleep outside in kennels (which peanut would not be able to cope with!) Or wanting to pet sit in your own home. But we found a great Facebook group (Algarve petsitters) where we posted our requirements and multiple people responded, and again I used social media to check out the potential sitters.
Sometimes you can feel a little trapped with a dog, especially if you needed to fly home because of an emergency, but from our experience, there are pet sitters all over Europe that keep up the same standards we are used to at home. We are happy to pass on the details of the sitters we used if anyone is in need.
Brexit has made it much more expensive to get your pets across the channel, as UK pet passports are no longer valid. To get to France we had to get an Animal Health Certificate (AHC) which was quite pricey. It is possible to get a European pet passport for your dog once on the mainland, but there is conflicting information on whether these will be accepted if your home address isn't in the EU. We managed to get our pet passport in Greece and my parents got theirs in Portugal (I'm told Spain is very easy too!). There is a Facebook group called Animal Health Certificate where people tend to post details of where they managed to get passports. Personally, I would just phone a vet in your destination country and check. Once you've got an EU pet passport you should be able to travel freely between the EU and UK without the need for pricey AHC documents having to be produced every time you travel.'
Vanlife with Kids and a Dog:
Travelling with 2 kids in tow and a dog can be super stressful at times. Here are a few things we do to try and keep things as calm as possible with our yappy but lovely little Chihuahua Rio:
This one is key for us, especially having 2 young kiddies and a dog in tow. We keep travel time usually to no more than a 2.5 to 3 hour driving stint before we have a rest stop. It’s important for us let not only Rio stretch his little legs but also the kids too.
Routines usually go out the window for most people when travelling in a van but for us, it’s quite important to keep everyone happy. We have routine meal times (including the dog), routine sleep times, routine walks for both the kids and the dog. We’re not like super regimental by the minute but a loose routine by the hour certainly helps. It almost means we don’t forget when the last time we fed the dog
Always Carry Fans:
It can get pretty hot in the motorhome, even if we’re not in peak summer. 2 adults, 2 kids and a dog can generate some heat in a van. We always take with us 2 fans incase it’s hot at night. One for the little dog and one for the kids when they’re sleeping. Us adults just sweat in the back 😂 As long as the kids and dog are comfortable we’ll be fine 🙈
Take a Dog Brush
Even though our little Rio is a short haired Chihuahua, he still malts. The last thing you want is lots of dog hairs in the van. They get everywhere, in the shower tray and kitchen cupboards. You’ll be surprised. Brush your dog regularly outdoors to reduce the hair indoors. Sounds obvious but it’s not something people always think of taking when going out for a trip.
For us it was really important that if we wanted to go on an activity which Maple couldn't do, such as a via ferrata, then we wanted to know she would be content in the van, even on hot summer days.
Things that we had in the van included:
- Good insulation keeping the van hot in winter and cold in summer
- Ventilation we leave the Airmaxx up and on and the skylight open to create an airflow
- Designated a safe space for her, she has her cave under the bed. This even included it's own heater outlet from as Maple is generally a cold dog.
- We had a camera hooked up so we could check on her or would be alerted if she made a noise such as a bark or whine. That way we could always head back to the van if we could see something was up.
We may only have a tiny dog, but he has a big personality and we wanted to ensure he enjoyed vanlife to the max! And my god does he! While building our van we made sure Tank was always around getting used to being in the van, we took it away a lot even before we were finished so by the time we moved in full time in Nov 2021 he dealt with it like a duck to water, but we also had a few pre planned things for him.
Tank has his own space that he can go to at any time to get away, feel cosy and just sleep to his hearts content, it’s also where he travels so he is safe, a Tank Cave under our front bench seat, where his super comfy bed is (also a must for him) and his water and food bowls can stay.
He loves his toys, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t have too many that they just got in the way, so we let him pick 2 fluffy toys, 1 ball and 2 small rubbery ones, obviously within those his favourite bone was picked and his pot so he’s super happy.
Another key thing for us was waterproof collars and harnesses, Tank might not be a dog that goes into water much, but he can’t help getting soaked in wet or bad weather as he is so close to the floor. We got his from Hounds and Home who makes them all to your dogs size, also super helpful for us as he’s small and hard to get stuff to fit him. They are completely waterproof and you just wipe off the water, plus we got to choose the same colour as our van!
Lastly was blankets, 1 he loves to sleep under them, they are great to put over things when he is just damp after a towel dry, but still wants to be involved with where we are sitting. We have a few and they work great!
Everyday is a training day for us & Skye, our 5yr old Border Collie. We’ve tried our best to help her to be as adaptable and balanced yet allowing her be as adventurous as possible on our travels in the van. She comes pretty much everywhere with us as we tailor our life around activities that include her.
We once experienced something that scared all 3 of us. During the van build Skye would join us during those cold winter evenings. One time, she got hooked by her collar on the passenger seat slide adjuster handle that sticks out underneath. In her attempt to free herself she turned around but it actually made it twist tightly around her neck. We were, fortunately, working in the van and noticed her struggling! Since then when leaving her in the van alone (although rare), we tend to take her harness and collar off. Putting the collar in a place to remind us to put it back on again when we get back.
Travelling Long Distances:
In the past we thought it was great to do a few days worth of continuous driving towards the destination, fitting in a few pit stops and short walks for Skye at motorway services. But we soon released this wasn’t fair on her bowels. With her laying down for long periods of time and then only being allowed to go for a toilet while on the lead she wasn’t able to fully “stretch her legs”. The lack of general movement during those few days was causing episodes of constipation. We had to adapt the hardcore style of travel we used to do by breaking up the long journeys to allow more time for decent walks so she can keep everything moving. It just means more time driving down the road looking at the scenery, and less time in the scenery looking back at the road!
We feed Skye roughly 3 hours before bed so she has enough time to be stimulated from the meal to go to the toilet. We all dread the night when the dog is clawing at the door at 3am because it’s poop time so we do everything to avoid this!
Dog Poo Bags:
It’s always a pain when you come home to the van with a doggie poo bag because there are no bins provided on the walk. It's a problem because we don’t feel comfortable carrying it around in our warm van bin that only gets emptied every 4-5 days. We think we’ll get a sealed container, especially for these times which would get emptied at the next opportunity! As we have in the past tied up the smelly ones to the back door in the recent summer months until we find a bin.
Using treatments for the local fleas of the area is key. We know that depending on the area certain fleas can have tolerances to certain products used. Try to ask vets local to the region or country that we're visiting to have the best effect on flea treatments as meds from pet shops down always work.
These blood suckers can travel into your home on wheels via your hiking boots or your dogs legs. Skye once caught a few ticks while we were visiting a forest near the surrounding edges of a lake in the French Alps. Soon after that, we found other tick babies within our campervan. We had to do a thorough clear-out and look for any others. Keep a tick remover on board just in case! And brush off your boots and dogs legs after walks.
We designed a ‘cool room’ area at the rear of the van which includes our shower room space too. A feature of our van layout that was a must with an active dog. It’s something that helps us to not worry during those rare times that we should need to leave her unattended. Skye really appreciates the cool area. Contact us for more details on how we achieved this space.
Vanlifeandthedog and Ludelfi1
Vanlife for me and Dylan has created a very simple way of life, adding in peace and freedom. Dylan is a large breed but has adapted to the van very quickly, and with the ease of a young pup. I always make sure he is happy in the van (a few yummy treats, his toy to hand and walked before we venture out). I soon realised the van couldn’t always be clean (hair and muddy paws in winter) So I soon began to shower him down after walks, drying him off and adding a few extra blankets if he wanted to go on the bed. It was hard in winter but just became part of the evening routine for us. From a behavioural side when there are heavy winds and loud rain I play music in the van (our current favourite is Ludovico Einaudi) When we are moving between locations Dylan rides up front with me in the cab, because of this I use a harness which is attached onto the seatbelt.
One of the main reasons I’ve done this (fulltime vanlife) is for Delfi! I wanted her to be more outdoors and for us to have some adventures together. Our trips away so far in our other van have honestly been some of the best times of my life and it was just us. She takes everything in her stride and just loves exploring new places. She already loves the van and the freedom she had from being in it. Or outside of it!
Ok, let’s be real about this. The dogs fart.
They let rip inside our confined, tin pot home on wheels and… I think they enjoy it! They snore and fidget through the night. You don’t want to leave them for longer than 10 minutes in case they get wild and have a ‘who let the hounds out’ party with other nomad dogs. You hope they don’t learn to drive and have the van away while sticking their middle paw up and smoking a beef chew out of the window. But none of those concerns compare to the joy you share as a family living this lifestyle.
Our family at trulylivingtravel live and travel the globe full-time 24/7. Our dogs were a huge consideration before we made our very first muddy paw prints. We love it! But, it’s essential our dogs love it even more.
Building on the fantastic advice from theroadtwospoons above, we believe in living life on your own terms - that includes the terms of the furry ones in your family. So, what are their terms? Dogs want to eat, sleep and have fun runs in safety and comfort (same as my terms too come to that).
So, anything you do should consider whether your dog will be happy or stressed.
For many, leaving your dog in the van (for short periods only) is the biggest issue. How do we manage that? We don’t leave them. Or, at least not beyond 10 minutes and very infrequently. And definitely not in hot temperatures. We seek dog-friendly places to eat and one of us goes food shopping at a time. We make it work. These are tiny compromises in the grand scheme of things.
Temperature control and security are the minimum requirements for leaving your dog for short periods. I am still amazed how many people leave their beloved dogs in hot vehicles. Don’t.
A camera inside and hooked up to your internet is a great idea but don’t rely on these to go away for longer.
So, all things considered, your pets often lead your decision making. Even more than children in our case. That’s cool by us. If you are fine with that, then head for the hills and get Truly Living. We love wildlife and going off grid into the wilderness, so our wishes align with our dogs.
From our experience, the van-lifers that get the most out of this lifestyle, do it for their dogs as much as themselves.
They are family.
They are loved.
Farts and all!
*'Based on the edge of Dartmoor, Forthglade has been making natural meals for dogs since 1971, and the focus on natural, high quality ingredients and gentle cooking methods is greater than ever across its wide range of tasty recipes. The full range includes wet dog food (both complete and complementary options), natural cold pressed dry dog food, a selection of grain free hand-baked treats and a co-branded range of meals and treats in association with the National Trust.
All of Forthglade’s grain free complete meals are made at the Devon factory, using Forthglade’s gentle steaming process, ensuring all the goodness and flavour from the ingredients is retained for a healthy balanced diet. The range of complete meals include recipes with chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, salmon, or sardine – each mixed with fibre-rich vegetables such as butternut squash or sweet potato, and all the vitamins and minerals a dog needs for optimum health. The wider range includes tailored recipes for puppies, adult and senior dogs, as well as Forthglade’s innovative natural dry cold pressed (available in turkey, duck and chicken) and a wide selection of delicious treats to get those tails-wagging.' Words by Forthglade.