The Pros & Cons of Van Life With A Dog

For us and many other van lifers, this alternative way of living just wouldn’t be complete without our dog. After all, life in general is just better with a dog! From endless adventures to countless laughs, we just couldn’t imagine van life without Henna.

Annie inside of a converted van with a green blanket smiling next to her emotional support dog Henna.
Henna & Annie relaxing for some morning coffee in our van

Why Is Van Life So Different With A Dog?

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We are really lucky in many ways, especially because Henna has adapted to van life very well. Henna has been a homebody ever since we adopted her and brought her into our first apartment in New York. When we moved to Colorado, she adapted to our new apartment fast and easy. 

We weren’t really worried about Henna feeling comfortable in her new home on wheels, particularly since she did so well on our 29 hour journey from New York to Colorado. 

Henna spent a lot of time in the van before we officially made it our home, so it was a very familiar place for her from the start (she even helped us build it). This definitely helped make her transition from a house dog to a van dog very smooth. 

If you’re thinking about adding four paws to your van life travels, or you’re dreaming and planning to hit the road with your furry best friend, there are definitely a few things to take into consideration. As with anything in life, there are some pros and cons to living in a van with a dog.

Throughout the first five months of our van life adventures, we’ve had countless positive experiences, along with the inevitable unfortunate negatives that the universe threw our way. We’re here to share a few of the pros and cons we’ve experienced so far while living in our van for the past 5 months.

Pros to Living Van Life With A Dog

We’re loving this adventure with Henna, and wouldn’t want it any other way. Thankfully, in our experience the pros of living in a van with a dog outweigh the cons. Here are some of our highlights:

You Never Have to Leave your Dog Home Alone

Gone are the days that we have to rush home to feed Henna dinner, or make sure one of us will be home to take her out on a walk. Since we always have the van with us, we’re already “home” to feed and walk her.

We always make sure that Henna is comfortable when we leave her in the van. Our van is fully insulated and equipped with lots of blankets, plus Henna loves wearing a stylish jacket so she’s never too cold.

We crack the windows and have our MaxxAir fan circulate fresh air throughout the van to ensure she never gets too hot. With fresh water available to her and our bed to lounge in, we always make sure she is very comfortable in her van home (also known as “Vanny”).

In addition, we never leave her in the van alone for a very long time. She spends most of her time with us, but sometimes we run into situations that are not dog friendly. If we are going to a coffee shop to get work done or to another public place that doesn’t allow dogs, we make sure to check on her very frequently, providing walks and belly rubs in between.

You Get To Enjoy The Outdoors Much More

In general, van life gets you outside more often than when living in a permanent residence. Having a dog in your van with you makes you get outside even more, and we’re not just talking about walking them to use the bathroom. 

We’ve visited so many different BLMs also known as Bureau of Land Management lands, state and national parks, national forests, and more because we live in a van with our dog. If you want to learn more about blm lands check out their website here or if you’re more interested in learning about all of the national parks check this link out here. However keep in mind, most national parks are dog limiting so make sure to check with each park before planning any trips.

Henna is an adventure dog who loves exploring BLM land while we’re camping and finding new mountains to climb. We are so happy that she gets to spend her life on the road with us for so many reasons. 

Exploring new places means new scenes, smells, and stimulation which is great for you and your dog. We make it a priority to get Henna enough exercise throughout the day, which in turn makes us become more active.

We love going on hikes together and exploring new terrain, Henna can literally go for hours. She can hike any mountain without a problem, half the time she’s pulling us up to the top. She keeps us motivated to stay active and push ourselves to new limits. 

Our favorite thing to do is find a nice spot on BLM lands or free campsites where we can let her explore off leash while we keep a good eye on her.

Matt and Annie sitting on a large petrified tree with their dog Henna.
All of us (Matt, Annie, & Henna) hanging out on an old petrified tree in Colorado

Emotional Support On The Road

Henna is my Emotional Support Animal (ESA) which you can learn about here.

Having a furry companion to love all the time is super important when it comes to van life for several reasons. It’s not always easy to do things right the first time and typically life can throw you a curveball, or two, or more. Your reality versus your expectations can greatly vary, and at times being a nomad living in a van can be overwhelming.

When things get tough and we feel like life is getting the best of us, we just hug our pup and are reminded not to take life too seriously. 

Connect With Other Dog Lovers

One of the best parts about van life with dogs is exploring each new location’s dog parks & dog friendly breweries / eateries. It can be hard meeting people in a new area, but having a dog with you makes it a whole lot easier.

We’ve found that dog owners absolutely LOVE to talk about their dogs, especially in Colorado. You can easily strike up a conversation with just about anyone by asking them questions about their pup.

We’ve met a few of our great friends through Henna, whether that be at a dog park or just riding our bikes down the street with her. She just knows how to strike up a conversation and get the ball rolling with new dog friends.

Cons To Living Van Life With A Dog

Full time van travel is tough, especially when you add any animal into the equation. It’s not always sloppy kisses and belly rubs, but like I said earlier, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. 

We haven’t experienced that many negative aspects of living in a van with a dog, but we’d be lying if we said there were none. Here are a few cons we’ve experienced:

It Can Get Real Dirty (Literally)

It’s safe to say that Henna is living her best life on the road. We love watching her transform into the van dog she was born to be.

But it’s no surprise that living in a tiny space with a dog can get rather dirty. Even though we try our best to wipe her paws every time she gets in the van, dirt finds its way into every crevice. Not that we’re blaming all of the dirt on her, but she is most definitely responsible for making a mess sometimes (especially when she eats her dinner). 

If it’s a muddy day at the park, pet wipes and towels don’t always cover it and she will most likely need a bath. Since we don’t have the option of giving her a bath in our own tub like we used to, we need to find a public dog washing station to bathe her. 

Depending on where you are, you may or may not have an easy time finding a dog wash station near you. If you do find one near your location, it may cost about $10-$15 for a single wash. Although this is convenient, it can definitely add up financially. Especially if your dog loves dirt and needs to be bathed more frequently.

We are fully prepared for dirty paws, in fact, we encourage it! After all, Henna is a dog and needs to do dog things.

Stealth Camping Can Be Hard

Since moving into the van, Henna has been channeling her inner guard dog. This is both a good and a bad thing. We never have to worry about intruders, because we know that Henna will let us know the second someone approaches the van, even in the middle of her sleep, in the middle of the night [insert waking up in a frantic panic here]. 

Nothing startles me more than her barking out of absolute nowhere. Not an uncontrollable bark, but a “someone’s near my home and i’m not sure if they have treats” bark.

With that being said, this can pose as a negative when it comes to stealth camping. Since our windows are always open when we’re hanging out and especially sleeping in the van, anyone who walks by can hear her barking.

Nothing like blowing up your stealthy campsite for the night with a sporadic midnight bark.

Rainy Days Can Be Difficult In A Van With A Bored Dog

No one wants their van smelling like a wet dog, so we try to avoid having a wet dog in the van. Although we haven’t experienced too many rainy days since we’ve been living in the van, they do still happen. 

We try to avoid muddy paws, so if we know that rain is in the forecast the following day, we make sure to get Henna to the park or go on a nice long hike the day before. Thankfully, it doesn’t take much to tire her out, and we usually have a tired dog to cuddle with on rainy days.

But rain or shine, a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do. Muddy paws are inevitable so we always have extra towels and pet wipes to save the day. Also, if you want an alternative to this, having a “paw plunger” is a pretty sweet invention to save your van from a muddy mess.

You Don’t Have A Single Primary Veterinarian

This is something that we have been experiencing quite a lot lately. A few months into our van adventures, we received bad news that Henna had some mast cell tumors that needed to be removed. We later found out that they were stage one cancer and that this is something that she is always going to be dispositioned to. 

That being said, Henna needs to go to the vet quite often having this medical condition. Since we are constantly on the go and change our location frequently, having a primary local vet is not an option.

Thankfully, we have a Banfield Dog Wellness Plan, allowing us to go to any Banfield Pet Hospital nationwide. This makes it easy because she is in the Banfield system, so each different Banfield Pet Hospital has access to her records and we can visit any location throughout the United States that we wish. If you want to learn more about the Banfield Pet plans click here.

Final Thoughts On Van Life With A Dog

Having a dog is life changing and living in a van is also life changing. While it isn’t always easy or convenient, having our dog with us through our adventures is the best.

Henna is an essential part of our lives, and we couldn’t imagine being on this journey without her. The positive vibes that Henna brings to our home on wheels and in our lives makes all of those negatives seem so small. 

We can’t wait to see where the next van life adventure takes us with our furry best friend!

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