Road Tripping with Dogs

Posted by Jenny Bruso, founder of Unlikely Hikers on 1st November 2021

In the hiking world, there’s a saying that goes, “hike your own hike.” It means, hike the way you hike, not how anyone else does. It frees you from all of the unnecessary standards we absorb about what a “real” hike should be.

When I adopted Big Judy, my young Border Collie & Pitbull mix, I took a hike your dog’s hike approach. She wasn’t something to just fit into my world. We both have our own needs and desires and in respecting her limits while respecting my own, we’ve created our own hiking style together.

Jenny, founder of Unlikely Hikers, and Big Judy the Border Collie Mix are taking a hike in the woods.

This is how we’ve taken to road trips, too. I’ve had to travel for work and family stuff by car a lot since the pandemic began, which has given me the best excuse to bring Big Judy everywhere with me. She loves being in the car, but again, we road trip her road trip. Instead of gunning it from point A to point B like I used to, we have a routine that requires more time and intention than dragging a carrot through some hummus without taking my eyes off of the road does.

Recently, Judy and I did a month-long cross country road trip, which meant planning for every scenario imaginable and discovering all-new scenarios to plan for. Here are the things that worked… and the things that most definitely did not.

Jenny, the founder of Unlikely Hikers, and Big Judy the Border Collie mix take in the view while hiking on a warm, sunny day.

Keep your routines as close to the ones at home as possible: exercise, potty, meals & water, bedtime.

Maintaining your routine gives normalcy to your pup in an unusual situation.

The Border Collie side of Big Judy will destroy any kind of peace if she doesn’t get all of her exercise––“funny” story about this later on. Because open areas where she can run and play are harder to come by in unknown places, we went to a dog park in nearly every state which turned into its own adventure. She typically gets at least 4 potty breaks a day, so without a backyard to let her wander around in, I gave Judy a short walk every time, which got her stimulated for meals & water. She doesn’t eat as well on the road as she does at home. We stopped driving around 8 at night to stay as close to her normal routine of winding down before bedtime. This was especially important as we were sleeping in a bed in the back of our car as opposed to our big bed at home.

Our favorite dog parks: Tanner Dog Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, Rickmans Run/Holmes Lake Dog Park in Lincoln, Nebraska and Horsham Dog Park in Horsham, Pennsylvania.

Big Judy the Border Collie mix stares up at Jenny (off-screen) while hiking. She is wearing the RSG Collar and Journey Air Harness in blue.


The Kurgo Direct to Seatbelt Tether clipped to the Journey Dog Harness is our everyday go-to. No matter how carefully you drive, there are going to be times when you have to slam on the breaks and a seatbelt gives essential peace of mind. We are also going to add the Backseat Barrier for future trips because Big J got really antsy at time and kept trying to come up front. A sign that she needed some exercise and a nap! 

Jenny (founder of Unlikely Hikers) and Big Judy (Border Collie mix) take a break while hiking in a grassy field with rocks behind.

Make sure your dog is up-to-date for all necessary vaccinations and precautionary vaccinations.

Necessary: canine parvovirus, distemper, canine hepatitis, and rabies.

Precautionary: Bordetella bronchiseptica, Borrelia burgdorferi, Influenza, and Leptospira bacteria.

I also give her the monthly heartworm preventative, Bravecto. Heartworms are more prevalent in certain states, like Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Alabama.

Jenny and Big Judy the Border Collie mix pose for a selfie.

Carry paperwork for all of your dog's vaccines.

All dog parks require up-to-date vaccinations even if it’s uncommon to be asked about them. I can’t rattle all of her vaccinations off of the top of my head, so paper copies feel more secure and they come in handy if you need to board your pup last minute.

Check the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s travel website

This website gives you country-by-country and state-by-state information on what vaccinations your animal needs. It also gives information on illnesses and diseases that are occurring place-by-place.

Big Judy enjoying the river.

Bring back-ups of everything and stuff to wash your dog on the fly. 

Leash, harness, collar, bed, toys, extra food & treats, more water than you think you’ll need and, new to the arsenal, a dog washing set-up.

The easy stuff: extra food, treats and water. If your dog has any special type of diet, you never know if you’ll be able to find the stuff they need state-by-state. Toys give a sense of normalcy and keep them busy while riding for long periods of time.

The new-to-me stuff: an extra leash, harness and collar are probably an obvious mainstay for most people, but it had never occurred to me before this trip until we had that one night in Yellow Springs, OH.

Jenny (founder of Unlikely Hikers) and Big Judy are resting on a camp chair and a dog bed in a parking lot.

We’d had an especially long day in the car and Judy didn’t get the exercise she needed so she was driving my partner, Brie, and I bonkers. It was already very dark, but Brie took Judy out for a long walk while I got our sleep scenario set up. When they came back, Judy, who loves rolling around on her back while out on a walk, was covered in poop Brie hadn’t seen because of the dark. There was nowhere for us to go and deal with it at that hour in the teeniest town ever and if we let her in the car to drive to a hotel or something, there was no way the poop wouldn’t get on all of our things, creating an even bigger disaster.

Of course we had dog shampoo, but we only had 2 gallons of water and, just to stress it again, it was dark. By the light of our phones, the car interior lights and a single dying headlamp, we washed her on the fly the best we could, but a soapy dog in the dark without a tub and no gear to hold her in place? She totally got away from us a few times. She doesn’t run away-away ever, but the whole thing was a total nightmare. The next morning, as soon as a nearish-by dog washing place opened, we gave her a full bath and bought a back-up leash scenario that lives in our glove compartment forever. We also carry more water now.

Jenny Bruso (she/her) is the founder of Unlikely Hikers, an outdoor community that features the underrepresented outdoorsperson. You can also follow Jenny and Big Judy's adventures on Instagram @jennybruso.

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