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Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs


Traveling with your dog can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to be prepared for the challenges you will face.

While locating dog friendly hotels was the first thing I focused on when I planned my 4,000 mile road trip across 9 states earlier this year, I discovered that finding places to eat was the hardest part of traveling with 2 dogs.

Lessons from a 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatMealtime was our biggest challenge on this trip.

In my hometown of St. Louis, restaurants all over town welcome dogs on their patios. I assumed that would be true everywhere.

I was wrong.

In many of the towns we visited, it was nearly impossible to find a restaurant that had a patio, or a restaurant that would allow dogs on their patio.

Lessons from a 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatIn other places, we could find patios, but the weather wasn’t warm enough to sit outside.

Lessons from a 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatWe were totally unprepared for snow in May!

Finding Dog Friendly Restaurants While Traveling:

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatMom and Lexi at a pet friendly restaurant in Sante Fe, NM

 If we were in a city, I researched restaurants online. Small town restaurants rarely are on the review sites…so follow the same instructions for rural areas that I give below for dining on the road.

I mostly searched for restaurants on Yelp but found I couldn’t count on the restaurants to be tagged as having patio dining available.

I would end up looking through all of the pictures at each restaurant in hopes of finding some outside shots that showed a patio. Reminder…dog friendly patios must have access that doesn’t require you to walk your dog through the restaurant.

I found asking people on the street is NOT a good option. We were told by several people we could take our dogs to restaurants and when we arrived, the dogs were turned away.

We even had one hotel clerk who told us dogs were allowed INSIDE all restaurants in Sante Fe. He was SO wrong.

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatAt this restaurant in Golden, CO, we were told that the dogs weren’t allowed on the patio, but could be tied up so they could sit on the sidewalk on the other side of the railing.

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatMilo didn’t understand the rules…and crawled right up anyway. Apparently most of the dogs did that and they didn’t kick you out if they did…but…I wouldn’t count on it for every restaurant.

Call the restaurant before you head out to eat with a dog. It will save you a lot of headaches.

Breakfast While Traveling:

I tried my best to pick out hotels that not only allowed dogs, but also provided a free breakfast.

I already shared my thoughts on breakfast, and how to deal with the fact that the dogs weren’t allowed in the dining rooms, in Road Trip with Dogs – Choosing Pet Friendly Hotels. While getting breakfast without leaving the dogs unattended in the hotel room (which is against the rules in some hotels) can be a challenge, the hotel breakfast is still your best option if you want a sit down breakfast.

You could also just plan ahead and bring with you muffins, fruit and granola bars for breakfast.

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatOr stop at a coffee shop or bakery like we did in Grand Junction, CO to grab something to eat in the car.

Meals on the Road:

Lessons from a 9 State Road Trip ~ Tips for Traveling with DogsThe hardest meals were lunch on the road.

Normally when I’m on a road trip, I drive until I’m hungry and then start using Yelp on my phone to look for food options in the next couple of towns.

When you are traveling with dogs, you MUST plan ahead.

While we could have left the dogs in the car while we ate at some stops (in some places it was too hot or too cold to do this), we felt that the dogs needed to get out of the car for a few minutes as much as we did.

The night before each big driving day, I spent time before going to bed researching our options online. I used Google’s driving directions to guess where we would be when I thought we night be hungry. To do this, simply enter your starting location and pick a city along the way and see what the estimated driving time is. Then repeat this until you find the city that you should reach at lunchtime.

Knowing we would eat breakfast before leaving and had snacks in the car, I usually aimed for 1-1:30 PM for lunch.

The next step is to research food options. This is actually harder than it sounds since all you typically find on highway towns are fast food restaurants or small homestyle restaurants.

It’s rare to find a patio.

After some trial and error, I found the only effective way to see your food options along these highway towns was to use Google Maps.

After you zoom in on the area, click on a restaurant to pull up the satellite view. Then switch to the street view so you can see the outside of the restaurant. If they don’t have a patio, try again until you find someplace that does have one.

Lessons from a 9 State Road Trip ~ Tips for Traveling with DogsWe had our best luck finding locations with patios at Subway and Dairy Queen. While most of them do not have patio, some of their locations have a couple of tables outside. Definitely check Subway and Dairy Queen first when checking for outside seating on the road.

I love going local, so was thrilled to discover a nice patio at a Mexican restaurant in rural Oklahoma.

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatAliberto’s Mexican Food in Holbrook, Oklahoma

When we couldn’t find anything that would work, we picked up food and took it to a nearby park.

This might seem like a great option, but it does add more time to an already long driving day. Plus, you don’t know the parks so you are taking your chances. We ate at a park once and had a jolt of a surprise when we got out of the car. It was covered in trash and even the tables under the pavilion where filthy.

We ate quickly and left. No playtime for the dogs on that grass.

We also ate one meal in the car in Colorado. There was snow covering all of the patios and it was too cold to leave the dogs in the car without the heat on, so we did the only thing we could and ate in the car.

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatOne thing we didn’t do is eat at rest stops. After discovering how hard it is to find restaurants with patios, I will definitely look for rest stops along the way next time I travel with Milo. I’ll either pack a cooler with lunch or grab some drive-thru food at the town just before the rest stop.

When All Else Fails:

Sometimes you just run out of options. You can’t find a restaurant with a patio or the weather is too cold.

When all else fails, you can always eat in your hotel room.

Lessons from a 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs | Future ExpatSome of our most relaxed meals were the nights we got carry out pizza and used the hotel bed as our table.

We actually did this 3 times during our 2 week trip.

How do you handle meals while traveling with your dogs?

Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip ~ Hotel Tips for Traveling with Dogs via Future Expat #petfriendlytravel #dogs

Be sure to also check out Part 1 of this series: Lessons from My 4,000 Mile Road Trip: Hotel Tips for Traveling with Dogs.  


13 Responses

  1. Gail Akeman says:

    We have only traveled with our dog a few times and is only about an hour or so to go camping.

  2. Krista B says:

    These are really great tips that I will put to good use this summer as we take our pup on a long trip with us. Usually the furthest we have taken him is about 8 hours, but we drive it through the night so both he and our kiddos can sleep and no need for restaurant stops. But this is good to keep in mind!

  3. I haven’t went through any major travelling with my huskies, i’m not sure i could with all 3 of them! BOL!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  4. Leah Erb says:

    Eating is always an issue when road tripping with dogs, especially if you’re the only human in the car. Eating healthy is even harder! Looking for patios on Google’s satellite photos is a good clue.

  5. I don’t have a dog, but I could see where this could be a big problem. Thanks for linking up to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest Party! I’ve pinned your post to the Bloggers Brags Pinterest Board.

  6. Great post. #allaboutyou

  7. Gilligan says:

    Good advice! Mama and Papa haven’t taken me on any trips like this yet, but makes sense that people on the street won’t be good to ask over the internet because a) if they don’t have a dog, they don’t know; b) if they do, chances are they are local and don’t go out to restaurants with their pup too often, and c) restaurants that are serious about being dog-friendly will post that info online. I will have to encourage the family to take me on the road! *wags*

    • Karen Goodman says:

      I’ve actually never seen a restaurant post that they are dog friendly on the internet. In a city, I bet one option would be to go to a park and ask people with dogs if they know where you can go…or just call places with patios.

  8. Cathy Armato says:

    Oh boy, does this post hit home! We travel X-country w/ 2 dogs a couple times a year. We’ve learned that Comfort Inn’s are usually dog friendly & have free breakfast. Most will allow you to leave a quiet dog in the room while you eat downstairs. Holiday Inn Express hotels often allow pets & have free breakfast. Winter trips are hardest because you can’t eat outside & shouldn’t leave a dog in a car unattended. Starbucks and Chick Filet’s usually have outdoor seating that allows dogs. Planning ahead is key. The AAA Pet Book, BringFido.com, Petfriendly.com and DogsWelcome.com are our best resources for pet travel.

    • Karen Goodman says:

      I hadn’t thought about Starbucks or Chick Fil A but will keep them in mind next time we travel together. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll find a Starbucks on the road tripping days in small towns, and if you do, they have very limited food options. And Chick Fil A…well…as much as I LOVE their chicken sandwich, I’ve decided my convictions are more important and stopped eating there a while ago since the owner puts the profits into causes that I’m opposed to. In my part of the country almost all of the Chick Fil A’s are in malls anyway, and I’ve never seen one in a rural area. In cities, my goal is to go for local restaurants, not fast food.

  9. Interesting! I haven’t traveled much with dogs on long trips and I never stopped to think how hard meal planning might be.

  10. Debbwl says:

    We don’t travel with our current dog as she gets car sick. But our former dog took several trips with us to NV and we never had any issues finding a place to eat but mostly we stopped and eat in little grab and go places or bought food and took back to our room (the rooms were all booked in advance at dog friendly motels and hotels).

    But I do agree the more research you do before your trip the better, I also found it helped to Google dog Friendly Restaurants in (name of city) and then confirming with the restaurant to make sure things had not changed.

  11. Adam Sommer says:

    4,000 miles! Thats a dream trip for me…hoping one day I have the time to really drive the country like that (I;d like to go slow, take 6 months to do it though)….

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