Your pet is your best friend and an integral part of the family, but most vacations aren’t exactly furry-friendly when it comes to pet inclusion. When the whole family can’t make it, the vacation feels incomplete.
It's time to start a new vacation tradition where you can include your four-legged friend — camping. You can camp as back to basics or as upscale as you like. You don't have to sleep on the dirt or coat yourself in bug spray to get shut-eye — you can ride to your site in style in an RV or glamp out in a yurt or cabin.
The best part of camping is that your pet gets to come with you and explore the wildlife alongside the rest of the family. Your pup will love taking in the many sights, sounds and smells — and chomping down campfire hot dogs.
Here are nine tips to help you make your next camping vacation fun for the entire family — including your pets.
1. Locate the Right Campsite
Visiting the Great Smokey Mountains? Touring national parks? Will you go kayaking, fishing, hiking or skiing? Do you want to take a soak in natural hot springs? Want to teach your kids about nature by taking advantage of educational ranger programs?
Decide upon what sites you wish to visit in advance, then look for campgrounds nearby. Many national parks offer basic camping areas, RV sites and limited cabins. The cabins fill up quickly, so you should book in advance.
Visiting a big lake to go fishing? Look for privately-owned campgrounds nearby, but again, book your cabin a few months in advance.
Most campsites allow families to bring their pets and some offer more inclusion than others. Some campgrounds specialize in Kamp K9 pet parks that allow pets to roam more freely and enjoy camp activities of their own.
Meanwhile, you can rough it in a tent or upgrade to a glamping tent, yurt, cabin or airstream. Transform your camping adventure into a mini road trip and drive in style in an RV. Many campsites also boast laundry, shower facilities and electricity with a campsite store. Be sure to read up on the campground’s pet policies to make sure you have everything in order.
2. Transport Your Pet Safely
The harness you may use for walks should be different than the one you transport your pet, as using the wrong one can cause unnecessary injuries. If using a crate, choose one with sturdy plastic walls. Attach the crate securely to the car, so it is prepared for sudden stops. Aside from updating all your tags, you can also get your vet to implant a microchip, which will enable you to find your pet if they get lost in the wild.
3. Visit the Vet Beforehand
Once booked, take your pet to visit the vet before you head off on your trip. At the appointment, the veterinarian can examine your pet and let you know if they're healthy enough to go. Get all flea and tick medication updated, since tick bites can cause long-term health issues for pets and humans alike.
Ask if there’s anything else you should do or be aware of — especially if your pet has special needs.
4. Get Pet Documents in Order
Once your pet is cleared to go camping, make sure you get their documents in order. Does your pet have legible and updated ID tags and licensing? Remember to bring papers that verify their vaccinations just in case you need them.
5. Pack a Pet First Aid Kit
When you camp, you bring along a first kit for your human family, but you need one for your pet, too. All you need to do is stop by a pet supply store, but you can easily make one, too.
Your vet can advise you on specific supplies to pick up, and many of those will overlap with the human one, such as gauze, antiseptic wipes and an emergency foil blanket — hydrogen peroxide can induce vomiting in case your pet ingested something they shouldn’t have.
It couldn’t hurt to pick up a first-aid book specific to pets, either.
6. Include a Stake, Tether and Leash
The campground may require your pet to be secured in specific situations, even on your site. Pack a stake, tether and leash just in case. You should always carry a leash with you when exploring in case you come across a situation in which you need to secure your pet, such as encountering a wild animal.
7. Pack Portable Food and Water Bowls
Invest in a set of collapsible, portable food and water bowls to lighten your load and save space. You can break the set out on the site or while taking a hike.
8. Bring Extra Poop Bags
If you eat more after a long day, so will your pet — pack extra food and poop bags just in case. Keep the trail clean, safe and sanitary for everyone. The scent of manure attracts wild animals, so always clean up after your pet right away.
9. Make Your Pet Comfy While Sleeping
Decide on your pet’s sleeping arrangements in advance. Will they sleep loose inside or outside? Do they sleep on the bed, on the floor, in a crate or on a special bed you bring along?
If you’re in a cabin, does the policy allow your pet to sleep in the bed with you? If not, bring along a blanket or shirt with your scent on it and place the pet bed near your bed.
Camping is exciting for pets, but it can also be alarming because they’re in an entirely unfamiliar environment. Because of this, your pet may be more clingy than usual. Create safe spaces for them to relax, hide, play and sleep. Bring along a favorite toy or two, as well as a few balls and frisbees.
When you go camping, you can include your pet in your family adventure. Prepare in advance to avoid crises while hiking or camping with your four-legged friend in the woods. If all goes well, you can turn camping with your pet into an annual family tradition everyone can look forward to.