It’s been almost a year since we said good bye to our sweet canine companion, Phineas (aka Phin, Phinny, Mister, Brown Boy, The Boy, or sometimes just Dirty Beast). He was 11 when he set off on his “retirement tour”, and with his snowy white muzzle and slightly arthritic legs we had our doubts about how this aging old man would take to travel. Turns out he loved it.
We should have known that this lifestyle would suit him. After all, his favorite things had always been swimming, riding in the car, and spending time with us – in that order. All of these activities were plentiful during his year and half of travel, and I think he may have even set some sort of record for the variety of water sources swam in by one dog.
After he passed we knew it would be a little while before we got another dog. Not only did we need time to grieve for our long time companion, but we also wanted to experience the freedom of traveling without a dog. Now almost a year later we are still a dog free household. Not because we don’t love dogs and think about inviting one into our lives nearly every day, but because the truth is that there are some definite advantages to traveling without a dog.
A few days ago we met up with some fellow RVers who are currently debating whether to share their home on wheels with a dog. We talked with them about what we considered to be the good and bad of having a dog in a small house on wheels. They suggested we write a post about it. So here it is. The good and bad of traveling with a canine…
» Dogs Are Awesome
Really they are. Dogs are loyal, loving, cuddly, perpetually happy, never hold a grudge, and always excited to see you. I like to use the word companion when I talk about dogs instead of pet, because I think it perfectly describes the relationship between dogs and humans. Dogs might rely on us for their basic care needs, but we rely on them for their unwavering devotion and relentless positive energy. Dogs are a huge source of joy for their owners, and have the amazing ability to turn even the most monotonous walk around the rest stop parking lot into an adventure.
» They Make You Keep an Exercise Routine
Dogs need regular exercise. So do people. Which makes us perfect for each other. Tim & I are generally good about getting out for our daily dose of exercise, but I admit that there are some days when the weather (or laziness) hold us back. Dogs do not allow this. Dogs will insist on several walks a day, even if it is raining, or windy, or cold. We used to take Phin for a nightly walk around the campground. Now we very rarely get out for an after dinner walk. It’s not that we don’t exercise without a dog, it’s the fact that we have the option to skip it.
» Forces a Slower Pace of Travel
We don’t really do long travel days. Our lifestyle is not about rushing from place to place, and we generally stick to 2-4 hour drives. We also try to enjoy our driving time by stopping along the way for lunch or to stretch our legs. But sometimes we just power through the drive without taking the time to enjoy the part of the country we are traveling through. When we had Phineas we stopped a lot more often. And not just for a quick bathroom or snack break. We often found a river or lake and pulled over for an hour or two while he paddled around and chased the ball. Sometimes we stopped for a short hike or walk in the park. Of course we can still do these things without a dog, but they are not nearly as much fun.
Most dogs are great at protecting their territory. They bark when people walk past or knock on your door. Not so great in crowded RV parks when that little Chihuahua yips at you for ten minutes when you walk past, but really great when you’re boondocking in the middle of the forest or desert with no one else around for miles. We’ve never worried too much about security or theft, but we always felt better knowing that our pup’s deep, loud bark would warn us of intruders, or maybe even keep those intruders away.
» Dogs Aren’t Welcome Everywhere
There are lots of places that dogs can’t go. National Parks are the big one. We brought Phin to a few national parks, but he was only allowed in the parking lots and campgrounds, which severely limited his enjoyment of the park – and ours. We love national parks, monuments, preserves, historical sites, and recreation areas. While we understand why dogs are not allowed at these national treasures, it often meant deciding not to go, or leaving our pooch home alone. He was also not allowed on many, many beaches, which made our water loving pooch very sad.
» Leaving Them Home Alone
This was a constant source of worry for me. When we lived in a traditional house Phineas would regularly stay home for 8+ hours a day while we were off at work, but for some reason leaving him in the RV for even a few hours always felt wrong. Every time we left him I worried. He was always fine, but the worry never went away. There was a limit to how long he could stay home alone though, and this in turn limited our activities. Say we wanted to spend the day exploring a city (like we did last weekend in New Orleans), or go on an extra long bike ride, or spend the day at a museum. Either we made those trips in an abbreviated fashion, or we didn’t do them at all.
» Worrying About The Heat
The major difference between leaving your dog alone in a RV versus a house is the heat factor. The smaller size means RVs have a tendency to heat up and become a dangerous place for dogs. The obvious solution is to use the air conditioning. But what if the power at the park suddenly shuts off (which can easily happen on a hot day when everyone has their AC on)? Or what if you’re like us and enjoy public parks with no hook-ups, or boodocking in the wild where our battery power can’t run the AC? Our two ceiling vent/fans do a great job of cooling, but sometimes they weren’t enough, and we simply couldn’t leave him.
» They Take up Space
Dogs come in all sizes, some obviously more suited to RV travel then others. Phineas was a large dog. About 90 lbs at his largest, with extra long legs for a lab. He took up quite a bit of space in our 200 sq. ft. house. He had several dogs beds that hogged up a bunch of floor space, and when he sprawled out on the couch there was hardly room for anyone else. We were constantly tripping over and stepping on him. He also traveled with a lot of stuff. Two large bins of food, a tub of treats, multiple dog beds, balls, frisbees, collars, leashes, and bowls for food and water. When space is at a premium every little bit counts, and making room for a large dog plus all his goodies was sometimes a challenge.
» Dog Hair & Muddy Paws
This is a huge part of living with a dog. No matter how fastidious you are about cleaning there will always be dog hair in the corners and dirt tracked in on those furry paws. The hair is much more noticeable in such a small space, and it was a never ending battle to keep the floors clean and the furniture fur free.
We still miss our Phineas. We miss having a doggy companion, and despite all the downsides, we will most likely travel with a dog again someday. Because even though they take up space, track in dirt, and limit where you can go and what you can do, dogs are simply awesome, and that in itself is enough to make it all worthwhile.
What do you think? Are dogs worthy travel companions, or is it simply too much of a hassle?