When Yana and her boyfriend Calum decided to travel around Europe, they knew their two dogs would definitely come along for the ride. Luna, their 6-year-old Black Lab, and Alfie, their rescued Great Dane mix, had already been on car trips and loved life on the road. The couple saved up and purchased a 4×4 adventure vehicle – a converted Mercedes Sprinter 312D – and headed out. So far, they’ve been through France, Belgium and Germany, and are currently headed towards Finland for the winter. They’re living in a van full time, indefinitely in fact (and no, not down by the river). Yana and Calum hope to visit Tibet, Nepal and Siberia next. Here’s a bit about how they make traveling in a van with dogs look easy.
What inspired you to travel with your dog?
Everything began in the summer of 2016. We took a trip to the Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris. We packed our gear and a tent in a tiny 2-door car. We put down the seats and laid blankets for the dogs in the back. We made a camp fire and slept in the tent every night, walked for hours each day and reached places so remote that we rarely saw another person or car the whole day. We had been on hiking day trips, sometimes two-day trips, but something inside of us changed. We didn’t know where we would sleep or where we would go. The dogs would fall sleep as soon as the tent was up and we began cooking at the camp fire. It was so magical; we had never felt happier. We wanted to change our way of life. We wanted to be closer to nature. And the dogs absolutely LOVED IT! They, too, had never been happier. We knew this is what we needed and decided that traveling by van would be the best way to achieve that.
How did you prepare your dogs for the journey?
We prepared the dogs by first getting their passports, which involved a rabies vaccine and tapeworm treatment. I made sure that their microchip details were up to date. I also bought them collapsible bowls and a no-spill water bowl. Now that we are heading to Finland for the winter, I will be buying them winter jackets, since they won’t be used to such cold weather.
What is the hardest part about traveling with your dogs?
The hardest part is ensuring they are as cool as possible during the hot weather. I found that wet towels on the ground, parking in shade, fans, putting up blinds on the windows of the cab but leaving the windows open helped to keep them really cool and comfortable. We still don’t leave them alone for any period of time during peak temperatures. Another hard part for us is that our dogs are not accustomed to walking in big cities, which makes it more difficult at times. A lot of people also seem to be afraid of Alfie, since he is so big. Alfie also isn’t a huge fan of male dogs. I have noticed that if people have dogs on leads it creates a tension and they are more likely to bark. When the dogs are off-lead, even if it’s a male, they just work it out between themselves in a matter of seconds. All of that said, the dogs make everything better. It would not be the same without them and I wouldn’t change a thing. The small inconveniences are nothing compared to the happiness they bring us.
What’s the best part about traveling with dogs?
The best part is that regardless of what happens or what goes wrong, at the end of the day we have two pups to share love and cuddles with. Seeing them curled up and snoring gives us so much peace. Watching them run through forests and swim in lakes fills our hearts with so much happiness and love. Animals show us how to properly appreciate the small things in life. We love the dogs more than words can describe and sharing this adventure with them is all we could ask for. The best part is them simply being there.
How did your style of travel change, now that your dogs are with you?
Our style of travel hasn’t changed, since our travels have been with the dogs the whole time.
What are the pros and cons of traveling with large dogs? How do people react to them?
A lot of people react in a negative way unfortunately, as they tend to be afraid of the dogs, especially Alfie. At the same time, we have met so many wonderful people that were impressed by the dogs! Pros would be everything, really, as I have always had big dogs. It also gives us extra security. They are so much fun to play with and because they are big you can snuggle with them and lay your head on them like a pillow! The cons are that because of their size, people are sometimes afraid. You can’t exactly pick them up!
What were some essential items that you packed for your dogs?
Essential items, other than collars, harnesses, leads, collapsible bowls and a no-spill water bowl, would be a completely natural, herbal calming spray that we use in stressful situations, a water purification bottle, towels, tick removers, and of course blankets, since our dogs love to snuggle!
What surprised you the most about traveling with your dogs?
What surprised me the most is how easy it is (most of the time!). They are a part of us. They don’t really care where they are as long as they are with us. They treat the van as a house, only it moves from place to place. Every time we open the doors to a new location, a new adventure, they get super excited. But they also feel that comfort of coming back to the same, familiar place. Another thing that surprised us is that some days they aren’t in the mood for adventures and would rather relax in the van, sleeping and cuddling. We use those days to catch up with blogging and editing.
What has been your favorite country so far, and why?
I guess we haven’t found a favorite country yet. I think it’s partly why we are doing this. When it comes to cities, Berlin is our favorite so far. When it comes to countries as a whole, we have a good feeling about Finland. Something is drawing us there. Partly, it could be our huge love for forests, but there is something about it. I distinctly remember wanting to live in Finland as a small child, and Calum has had many friends from there throughout his life, including two of his best friends.
What advice do you have for people who want to travel with their dog, but are nervous to do so?
Our advice for people who want to travel with their dog – DO IT! It is so rewarding and heart warming. Yes, there will be difficulties, but there is always a way. The good times always outweigh the bad. One thing though that I think is important to mention, is that people must do a test trip to make sure the dog doesn’t hate traveling and doesn’t get too stressed. Also, pick the mode of transport that suites their dog best. As a whole, traveling with the dogs is the best thing we have ever done!
Thank you so much Yana and Calum!
You can follow along on their adventures on Instagram or read their blog. Visit our Pet Travel Tips to get more information on traveling with your dog.
Read more interviews with people traveling with their pups here.