The #VanLife movement is growing fast, with waves of individuals turning their backs from what is deemed a ‘normal’ life and seeking an alternative way of living. I mean, who can blame them? Just take one glance at the Instagram hashtag and you’ll be welcomed with endless posts of vans parked up next to idyllic beaches, rolling hills, and on the odd occasion, a Lidl carpark. Needs must! With the cost of living rising at an alarming rate, the idea of saying goodbye to your mortgage/rent, endless insurances, and gas bill seems pretty tempting. Life on the road with a home that boasts four wheels is perfect for the aspiring nomad. Freedom, flexibility, and of course a relatively low cost of living. You just need to buy the van first!
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted by the movement myself, which is perhaps why the summer of 2021 saw me purchase a 1994 Toyota Hiace, complete with bed, extremely basic kitchen and even a portable toilet. What else could you need? Van Life is all about bringing it back to basics, looking beyond material possessions (because let’s face it, you don’t have space for those anymore) and enjoying the natural world with just a few life essentials. One element of van life I wasn’t totally sure on how to tackle was introducing my dog, Martha, to this new lifestyle. Sure, I could cope without the comfort of my kingsize bed, get accustom to sporadic showers, and cut down on my skincare routine, but will I be able to tempt my rather spoilt whippet into enjoying this journey with me?
For our maiden voyage, I chose Norfolk. I felt playing it safe was the best option here, and couldn’t face a whining whippet halfway around the Scottish highlands. Just two hours from home, Norfolk felt like the perfect place to introduce Martha to van living. Spoiler: I didn’t need to worry. Turns out dogs are simply MADE for life on the road. All of the walkies and smells they could have ever dreamed of.
If you’re considering adopting the van lifestyle with your pup, or perhaps you want to dip your toe in part-time, here are a few top tips to help settle them into their new home on wheels.
Bring Plenty of Snacks & Chews
If your dog is food orientated, bring snacks, lots of snacks. On days where we were chilling around the van and enjoying the sunshine, having a few healthy chews to hand was great to keep Martha occupied whilst we relaxed and got the BBQ fired up. Kong toys (filled with peanut butter) are also great and provide plenty of stimulation.
Consider a Natural Calming Supplement
When it comes to supplements, I always ensure I select products that are totally natural and don’t feature any nasty chemicals. If your dog struggles with car journey’s then a Natural Calming Spray (I use this one from Broadreach Nature) can work wonders for easing their anxiety. Martha found our first couple of trips in the van quite stressful and refused to sit down, so I looked into how I could help her feel more relaxed and the spray worked really well to help settle her. I would recommend a few short test journey’s just to get them used to their new surroundings! I would spray her blanket before we embarked on our journey and I could tell she was a lot more relaxed. Now, as she’s got used to travelling a lot more we rarely need to use it, but a great staple for your kit nonetheless.
Purchase a longline Lead
One question I’m frequently asked when heading off on van adventures with Martha, is how I keep her safe once parked up. I don’t let Martha off of the lead unless we’re in a fenced area such as a dog park, as I just don’t trust her wild chasing whippet instincts. Recall? Pah! To get around this, and to keep her safe, I used a longline lead which I clip onto a handle in our van. It allows her plenty of roaming space around the van but without fear of her running off.
Bring a travel crate
This one largely depends on whether your dog is crate trained or not. We crate trained Martha at a young age so that she would feel safe and secure in a crate, mainly for any potential future vet stays. We don’t lock her in a crate at home, but we always bring a fold-up travel crate to ensure Martha has her own dedicated safe space if she wants to hideaway – read: escape her crazy owners for a minute’s peace.
Always be Prepared
I’ll hold my hands up and say I was an unprepared dog mom on our first Norfolk expedition. This became apparent when I realised I had not brought any water on our walk and had to dash to the nearest store to purchase a bottle of Evian. Always make sure you’ve packed well when you head away with your furry best friend.
Here are my essentials that might help you too…
- Travel bowls (you can get fold-up rubber ones that are ideal)
- Travel mat, for if your dog is like mine and refuses to sit on bare floor
- Doggy first-aid kit
- Bag of the good stuff – treats, chews, Kong toys
- Their daily food – always ensure you have enough portions for however many days you’re spending on the road, I bag mine up for each day
- Fresh drinking water in a reusable flask, always take on walks and try not to forget, like I do.
- Calming spray or chews if needed
- Longline lead for exploring and chilling around the van securely
Once you’re well equipped, all that’s left is to hit the road and create magical memories…