Living The Van Life With Dogs

Living The Van Life With Dogs

Posted by Jayme Serbell on 9th Jul 2018

Hi there! We’re Jayme and John from Gnomad Home, and for the past year we’ve been living the #vanlife in a self-converted camper van with our two dogs (we just recently lost our amazing dog, Crow, who lived to be 17, so for a long time we lived with three dogs!).

What’s that you say? You live in a van? With two dogs?!

This is a common reaction we get when we tell people about our lives. While there are plenty of challenges to life on the road with dogs, we think the joy of seeing our best friends explore the world and be themselves is more than worth any difficulties.

If the idea of living and traveling in a van full-time sounds great but you’re not sure if you can bring your dog - or if you’re already living van life and are thinking about inviting a furry friend into your home - then we’re here to tell you that van life with dogs is not only totally possible - it’s a lot of fun!

Our Canine Van Life Adventure

As we said, we now have two dogs - Nymeria (3), Delilah (7). Before we sold all our belongings and moved into a van, we were engulfed in our 9-5 lives in the suburbs when we finally got fed up with watching our dogs stare longingly out the front window all day.

We just knew they were meant for more adventures than neighborhood walks and frisbee in the backyard. We had seen them off leash before in wild areas, and we had watched them turn from caterpillar to butterfly with big smiles on their faces. We knew we couldn’t keep them from that any longer. “Let’s sell everything and travel the continent in a van,” we said. “Then they can always run in the wild!”

But how do we make life work in a van with two dogs? Doesn’t that get a little wild and crowded?

The brief answer is yes, at times - but not at all as much as you would think. We try to live outside of the van as much as possible. The van just holds all our belongings and our big comfy queen-sized bed that we cuddle up on at night. Most of the time, you’ll find us running between trees or splashing in a nearby river.

Here are some tips and tricks of ours to make life on the road with dogs much easier.

Reinforce Basic Training

This is probably the most important tip. Basics like sit, stay, and come are vital for life on the road. But it’s also a good idea to heavily reinforce certain commands.

For example, we’ve taught our dogs to never exit the van until we give them permission. This is helpful when we find ourselves in parking lots, gas stations, or anywhere near busy roads. This means we can have the doors to the van wide open and know that our dogs will not try to make a grand escape and run around like wild animals.

We’ve also heavily reinforced coming when called. We enjoy letting our dogs adventure off leash, and we need to know that they’ll come back to us when we need them to. Making sure to give them treats and plenty of praise whenever they come back is a terrific way to reinforce this behavior.

Choose Your Travel Route Based on Your Dogs’ Comfort

You won’t find us in Alaska in January, nor will you find us in South Florida in July. We tend to stay in the areas with cooler temps, because two dogs, two humans, and one van can lose a lot of its joy and magic when we’re all dripping in the discomforts of extreme heat.

We also have some methods for making the van bearable in extreme heat. We have a ventilation fan for airflow, reflective window coverings to keep the sun’s heat out of the van, an ample supply of water, and cooling towels for our dogs. We also try to camp in shady areas near rivers and lakes.

But ultimately, we try to restrict our travel to areas where the temperature tends to be lower. Before heading to a new location, we scout out all our temperature possibilities and see what seems most appetizing for us all to be comfortable instead of miserable.

Seek Out Epic Dog Parks Wherever You Are

There are some truly awesome dog parks out there and scoping them out is a wonderful gift to give your dog. Not only will they get a ton of exercise, they’ll also be able to socialize with other canines. All this stimulation will get them nice a tired, and, as we like to say, a tired dog is a happy dog.

We’ve been to some epic dog parks, from a 135-acre wilderness dog park nestled in the mountains outside of Santa Fe, NM, to Portland, OR’s famed 1000-acre dog park.

Create a Storage Area Just for Your Pups

When you live in a small space, it’s easy for things to get messy and disorganized. That’s why we have designated storage spaces for everything, including our dogs’ stuff.

Building dedicated dog storage was one of those random ideas we had when building our van, but it’s really become a handy feature. We built a storage box that we mounted on one of our side doors, and it holds everything from leashes, toys, food, medications, and more. It’s a fantastic way to keep their items organized, and also keep the rest of the van much cleaner.

Make Sure You Have Vaccination and Vet Records Organized and Accessible

You never know when you’ll need to run to a vet and having your dogs’ records on hand really smooths the process of visiting a new location. As well, if you need to board your dog with a sitter for a day or two, you may need to provide vaccination records.

Go Out and Give Your Dog a Life of Adventure!

Day-to-day, van life with dogs isn’t all that different than living in a house with dogs. Our daily routine is very similar. We still go on a walk or hike in the morning and evening. We squeeze in rounds of fetch or tug-of-war in between our work schedule. And we cuddle hard in our bed every evening.

But taking them on the road gives them so many more places and opportunities to adventure and explore. We’ve never seen them with bigger smiles than when they’re running and sniffing around a new wild place.

The minor headaches we are faced with when it comes to traveling with our dogs pales in comparison to the amount of joy and happiness that shines across their faces every single day that we’re on the road. Our pups are finally living up to their true wild nature, and they thank us every day with the most elaborate kisses and cuddles!

John and Jayme of Gnomad Home love traveling, adventures, new experiences, and finding the joy in life. They don’t love being tied down or squeezed into "little boxes," which is why they decided to sell everything and travel the country with their dogs and their van. Follow their adventures at