Long Distance Car Travel with Your Dog
Driving from New York to Florida with dogs is something Clark and I know a lot about. We have homes in New York City and in Miami Beach. Since Bodhi is a big dog, and we don’t want to fly with him in cargo, pretty much our only option is to drive. (Read Urban Dog’s guide to Flying with your Dog.) We’ve done the trip several times, so we have plenty of thoughts and tips to share. First, I’ll present our ideas about driving from New York to Florida with dogs: the ride itself and how to make it as pleasant as possible. Then I’ll list some safety and travel tips that’ll help you make sure you and your dog are prepared for long distance car travel.
NYC to Miami Beach and Back Again
If you are in a hurry, the most direct way to do it is via I-95 in one straight shot: a brutal 18-to-20 hour ride from New York City to Miami Beach! We’ve done it once. Not fun.
Most people break the trip up into a very manageable two days. That’s what we usually do, that’s about ten hours of driving each day. Switching drivers every few hours makes the trip easy.
We’ve found the perfect place to stop midway: the Best Western Hotel in Lumberton, North Carolina. It’s famous for being super-dog friendly, it’s right off I-95, it’s affordable, the rooms are comfy, and the staff there is great. We’ve stayed there several times. Here’s a link to reviews on Trip Advisor. During high season the hotel fills up quickly, so plan ahead. You can reach the hotel here.
Alternative Mid-Point Stops
Another midway stop is Florence, South Carolina. There are a TON of dog-friendly hotels on Route 52 right off Exit 164. We stayed at the La Quinta one time. Word of warning: there are train tracks running parallel to Route 52. I was wakened by two freight trains during the night. Clark slept through them. Use the Bring Fido app to help you find dog-friendly hotels. One thing that has changed dramatically over the years is how many hotels are now pet-friendly. It seems to be the rule rather than the exception now.
Pay close attention to rush hour in various spots on the route. Rush hour near New York, in Virginia just south of Washington DC, and in South Florida can be awful. It’s no fun to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with your dog getting anxious in the car. Load the Waze app on your phone to help you with traffic.
Renting a Car
If you are renting a car, it pays to shop around. I have gotten car rental prices that can vary by as much as 100% from one company to the next. Also, be on the look-out for hidden fees. Once we got socked with a huge drop-off fee that we were unaware of. And shop around frequently. I kept checking sites after I made an initial reservation, and a few days later I found a two-day rental from Miami to LaGuardia for $40. Yes, that’s right, $40. I guess they needed more cars in New York and fewer in South Florida.
The major rental companies are cool if you travel with pets, but they do warn you to keep the car clean. (Read Urban Dog’s post on transportation in New York City for more on renting cars with dogs.) It’s a good idea to cover all the surfaces closest to your dog with towels or sheets. I don’t care if you think your dog doesn’t shed. After two days in the car, you will find hair everywhere! Covering surfaces helps prepare the car for when you return it. You don’t want to get stuck with a hefty cleanup fee from the rental agency.
Take Your Time
If you can, take your time. There are plenty of nice side-roads you can take.
One time, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia and stayed at the super pet-friendly, super-luxe Brice Hotel, a part of the Kimpton chain. Savannah is a really cool town. We definitely thinks it’s one of the better detours you can take. (PS. Georgia is the only pretty part of I-95. The rest of the highway is dreary.)
Another time, we took a short detour from I-95 to visit Charlottesville, Virginia: the home of the University of Virginia (my alma mater) and Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. We stayed at The Graduate hotel.
On our most recent drive north, we did what I call the “Coastal Route.” We left I-95 and drove to Charleston, South Carolina where we stayed at the very friendly Vendue hotel. It is within walking distance of many beautiful Charleston “single houses” and plenty of great dining. We then drove up Route 17, along the coast, to Beaufort, North Carolina where spent the night at the Beaufort Inn, which we really liked a lot. Next, we took the ferry to Ocracoke at the southern end of the Outer Banks. From there we drove to Virginia Beach (where we stayed with relatives.) The last stretch of the trip north took us up through Delmarva Peninsula on to New York.
Another option is to do what I refer to as “The Western Route.” Instead of taking I-95, take I-78 through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It eventually hooks you up to I-81 for the drive south. When you get to southwestern Virginia you have two options to get you to Atlanta, Georgia. We went through North Carolina and South Carolina (there’s a route that takes you even further west via Chattanooga, Tennessee!) It’s a pretty drive that takes you through the Virginia and North Carolina mountains. We stopped in Atlanta, which is a great city to visit. You have a number of options after Atlanta to get you to Florida. This is also good route to take if you are going to the Florida Panhandle.
Here’s a link to an informative article that outlines lots of different options for side-trips and interesting places to stop along the way.
Ten Safety and Travel Tips for Dogs
We are very lucky. Bodhi loves car rides. If he sees a car door open, even a stranger’s car, he wants to jump in! He’s a little fidgety at first, but once we hit the highway, the car’s vibrations lull him to sleep. Getting your dog acclimated to car rides is important. I realize this is pretty difficult for New Yorkers who typically don’t own their own cars. But if you can, take these steps to get your dog used to car rides. First, let them explore the car with the engine off. Let them sniff around. Next step is with the the engine on. Sit with them in the car with the engine running and the AC on. Step three is to take some short rides. Make sure the destination is a happy one like a dog park. You want your dog to associate car rides with fun.
If your dog is anxious, consult your vet for solutions. Don’t play doctor and prescribe medicine to your dog to reduce stress or make her sleep. Leave that to the professionals.
It’s important to keep your dog safe during the ride. A crate is best, but not all cars can accommodate one. Other options include car seats and seat belts. Early on, when we had to drive Bodhi to physical therapy twice a week, I felt sorry for him and let him ride in the front seat without any restraint. He tried to crawl into my lap and I ran up onto the curb and got TWO flat tires. I can’t caution you enough that your dog needs to be under control during car rides!
Protect the Eyes
Don’t let your dog look out the window while you are driving. Debris from the road can hit her in the eyes. (I admit this is a tough one to enforce. Bodhi loves hanging his head out the window. I definitely close the windows on the highway.)
Make sure your dog has proper identification on her. It should include your name and phone number on it. Heaven forbid your dog bolts from your car and gets lost, but it can happen. I write Bodhi’s name and both Clark’s and my phone numbers on the outside of his collar. Feels safer than relying on a dog tag that can easily come off.
Make sure your dog has been fed well in advance of setting out. You don’t want your dog getting car sick.
Walk your dog before the trip starts. You want your dog to go to the bathroom so you don’t have to take a potty break right off the bat. Also, a tired dog will soon be a sleeping dog. Sleeping dogs in cars are the easiest to travel with!
Take frequent breaks. We stop every two to three hours to switch drivers and to let Bodhi out to stretch his legs and go to the bathroom. You shouldn’t feed your dog a full meal during these breaks. Wait to feed her once you reach your destination for the day. Again, you don’t want her getting car sick. Stinky! Also, do not let your dog sit in a car with the windows up if you are taking a break without her. It gets hot faster than you think it will. Because dogs don’t process heat the way we do, by sweating, they can succumb to the heat much more quickly than you can imagine. Even with the windows down, the car can get very hot. Be very mindful of leaving your dog in the car.
Make sure you pack everything you’ll need to access during the trip within easy reach. That means water, toys, treats, poop bags, leashes, food, bowls, etc. One time I unthinkingly packed Bodhi’s food in the back of the car first. I had to completely unpack the care when we reached our stop for the night to get to his food. Total pain in the butt!
Finally, when you arrive, reward your dog with a walk, a treat, some games, or a meal.
If you’re looking for information about transportation and your dog in New York City and in the surrounding region, read Urban Dog’s post, Advice on Pet Transportation NYC.