Precious Cargo

Vanlife with my Bernedoodle

Anjali Justice
8 min readJun 4, 2021

One problem with solo travel is that it gets lonely sometimes. Sure you have freedom and independence and nobody to answer to, but eventually the conversations you have with yourself start happening out loud and you call your mom about 5 times a day just to chat. Its at that point you start thinking “maybe I should get a dog”.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ ~ Hurricane, UT ~ Kanarraville, UT

From Dream to Reality

I have always known that I would have a dog of my own, that was never a question. The question was when. Would it be right after college when I finally had money and my own space and time? Would it be after establishing myself at work and finding a place to settle down? If I wanted to have several dogs I would have to start soon so that I could have a good age gap between them, but that means I would need to start thinking about getting a bigger van now so they could fit. Imagine a crisis similar to the one Rachel had when she turned 30 on Friends.

In my case all the planning got thrown aside when I decided to casually search for available puppies one day. I hopped on the google, found a cute pup, put down a deposit, and had my parents go pick him up the next week. Then I flew home to get him and bring him back to Seattle and our exciting new journey began. I moved out of my apartment and into the van full time and we headed off with his toys filling up my bed and dog dishes sliding across the floor with every turn.

Living with Theo has been an amazing experience, and I’ve learned a ton about responsibility and ownership…. and dogs. While most of our times are full of fun and adventures, we do face many challenges that I didn’t foresee. But with that being said, the pros of having Theo far outweigh the cons and I will without a doubt be getting a second pup… and a third… and a…… you get the picture.

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

About Theo

When I was considering what breed to get I had 2 requirements: small enough for a plane carrier and non shedding (because I’m kind of allergic). I ended up getting a standard Bernedoodle thereby obliterating my chances of ever flying on a commercial flight again… but that’s ok. Theo is still less than a year old but he is anything but a little boy, luckily my 80lb puppy got out of his lapdog phase very early (is that lucky? I kinda miss it). When we’re not playing fetch or running around I spend a lot of time practicing off leash walking and recall with him as well as other basic skills (sit, stay, leave it, etc.). When the world is your backyard it’s very important to be respectful of anyone or anything you may encounter, and Theo is nothing if not a gentleman. Theo also loves people, he is very social and likes to go up to every person he sees so its helpful that he looks like a giant teddy bear and isn’t very intimidating.

Baby Theo ~ Grand Canyon National Park, AZ ~ Sleepy Theo

Below I made two small lists of the biggest pros and cons of having Theo. Hopefully it can help give you an understanding of things you need to consider before getting a dog on the road, because this lifestyle is definitely not for everyone.

Challenges we face

  1. Staying Tidy: Keeping the van clean got about 1000x harder when I brought Theo along. Though he doesn’t shed, his hair is very good at picking up everything it touches and bringing it back into the van. Any time we go to the beach he brings half of it back into the van and I’m left sweeping it off my floor and shaking it out of my sheets for several days. The same goes for leaves, pine needles, twigs, basically anything that isn’t stuck onto the ground finds its way into my van via Theo’s hair.
  2. National Parks: One of the biggest advantages to living in a van is all the traveling you get to do. I have been visiting several national parks since hitting the road and going with a dog has been a lot more difficult than anticipated. National parks are not really dog friendly so taking Theo with me on hikes is usually a no go. That means I either need to find a sitter for him or stick to the main roads and picnic stops in the parks where dogs are allowed. I’ve used sitters on Rover and many parks have doggy daycare facilities just outside the boundaries for people with pets which is convenient. While there are ways to get around not having your dog in a national park it sure is a pain to have to deal with, and its always more fun to hike with your furry friend than leave him behind.
  3. Cramped Spaces: The van was pretty packed when it was just me living in it, but now I need to fit all of Theo’s stuff too. I didn’t realize how many things a dog can have until I needed to find nooks and crannys all over to shove them into. Between food, toys, dishes, his bed, leashes, and cleaning supplies there wasn’t much I could do but get rid of my stuff to make room for his. So I did, and it was fine because I love him more than the junk I gave away. I still sleep with his toy basket on the bed and my storage ottoman is now a dog food holder, but in time I’m sure I will get rid of enough of my stuff to accommodate him fully.
  4. Frequent Food Stops: Theo eats about as much as you would expect a small bear to eat, so my options are to either buy a big food bag and store it in my van (not easy) or make very frequent stops at pet stores to get food bags that fits in my ottoman. I had a big bag a couple times and it was just in the way all the time and so hard to deal with, so now I go between small and medium sized dog food bags depending on if we will be near a pet store again soon. Having to get small bags is not very cost effective and it means that I have to stop at stores more often (a couple times a week) which can get annoying, especially if I’m in an area that doesn’t have a pet store nearby. I’m always trying to come up with better ways to store bigger dog food bags, and hopefully soon I wont need to get the small ones anymore. But every time I go to the store I get Theo a treat, so I think he’s probably happy with the current situation.

Things I love

  1. Keeping Busy: Having a dog means there is always something to do. He needs get his exercise and I need to keep up on training. This is super nice for me because it keeps me busy all the time so I’m not usually bored when we go places.
  2. Cuddles: If I’m being honest Theo isn’t the biggest cuddler, but as he gets older he gets more tolerant of me laying next to/on top of him for short periods of time. And I cherish those times more than anything. My happiest moments are when he wakes up in the morning and voluntarily crawls into bed with me (instead of me bribing him). I very much look forward to all the cuddles we have in the future. Also he falls asleep in my hand sometimes and it fully stops my heart.
  3. Staying Active: I’m one of those people who always says shes going to start working out or doing yoga and never actually does it. Having Theo has forced me to start being way more active. If he isn’t properly exercised he gets cranky and takes it out on me and my things, so we try not to let that happen. We tend to travel to places where we can go hiking or explore towns, both things that Theo and I love to do. Having Theo around also forces me to find dog friendly hikes which can end up being really cool and less trafficked than the popular ones.
  4. Human Interaction: When you walk around with a big, happy, friendly fluffball people are going to want to talk to you. I tend to be more introverted (I think I developed RBF specifically so that people wouldn’t come up and talk to me) so this has pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot. But I’m glad people come say hi now, its fun to meet people on the road and exchange stories and experiences. I’ve made new friends just because someone wanted to pet Theo and we struck up a conversation. Theo also LOVES it, I think people are probably his most favorite thing in the world so he gets extra wiggly when he sees someone looking at him with “I’m coming to pet you” eyes.

What the Future Holds

As I spend more time in the van and more time getting to know and understand Theo each of the challenges get easier, and with each challenge that I overcome I add about 10 things to the list of things I love about him. In the future I would love to get him a sibling or two and a bigger van to fit them all. One of my favorite pastimes is to plan new van builds that are dog friendly and take into account all the challenges we have faced so far.

After only 7 months with Theo I already can’t imagine my life without him in it, I think about all the adventures I want to have and I picture them with a big fluffy dog right by my side.

Yellowstone National Park, WY