I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky dog. The only things that really stress me out are (1) loud noises and (2) not having a chance to poop when nature calls… and strangers entering my van… and anyone coming too close to my mom. (I guess I can be a little overprotective.) But really, those first two are my main stress triggers.
Since loud noises are pretty uncommon, number 2 is really the only stressor we need to worry about, and we easily avoid it by sticking to a routine.
Routine is such a boring word, but it’s essential for all of our sanity when we’re on the road and constantly changing our surroundings. The van is my familiar place to reset and relax, and my routine provides a mindset where I can do the same.
Daily vanlife, for me (Tiger), looks something like this:
A Day in the VanLife of Tiggy
7am: I wake up and quietly get out of bed. I listen for any signs of intruders outside, and when I don’t hear anything interesting I stretch out on the floor under the loft and fall asleep for another hour or so.
8:30am: One of my parents climbs down from the loft and takes a Tiggy outside to pee. When the sliding door opens, I take everything in quietly. Overwhelmed by my surroundings, sometimes I’ll stare at the outdoors for a full twenty seconds before taking a single step down my special ramp.
Once outside, I rarely do my business right away, as I prefer to use this opportunity to investigate my surroundings. I have a good look at any neighbors and passersby, ensuring the absence of any canine trespassers, and then my research begins. I press my nose as deeply as possible into all unidentified plant life before deciding where to pee first. If squirrel holes are present, I’ll pretend I don’t notice them as I nonchalantly approach, so my human has exactly .3 seconds to stop me when I make my move to stick my whole face inside. (I’ve been successful in obtaining several treasures with this strategy in the past, including a banana peel, horse poop, and an abandoned sock.)
After I’ve (finally) peed in two or three places, I decide that it’s time for breakfast and I march back up my ramp and into my van.
9am: Breakfast! My parents make their human breakfast and I get my Tiggy breakfast, including my smelly salmon oil treats.
Depending on what the humans had for breakfast, I get to prewash the dishes, but only if I was a good Tiggy and didn’t disturb them while they were eating. (I’m usually very good about this, and I give my mom a subtle reminder when the scraping sounds of a near-empty dish tell me they’re almost done and I start wagging my tail, unable to contain my excitement.)
9:30am: Poop! My mom would call this ‘family walk time,’ but the main purpose of this walk is for me to poop. Both my mom and dad come because it’s a longer walk, and there’s always a chance of an incident if there are other large dogs camping around us, and it’s a little less stressful with both of my humans there. I’m afraid of other big dogs because they always bark at me, and then I have to bark back and sound more aggressive than I am, and it’s a whole ugly thing that no one likes to experience. I prefer making friends with small dogs like my 4-pound uncle Eddie (my best friend in the whole world) and my 15-pound cousin Webster.
10am: Brushing! After my morning business, my harness and collar come off, and I enjoy my naked brushing time inside the van. I’ve even learned a new trick (flip-flop), where I flop my body to lay on the other side so my mom can brush me thoroughly on both sides.
I love my brushing time because I love getting attention in almost every form. I especially love the feeling of the bristles on my neck area that’s normally under my collar, and brushing me there can usually get my foot going involuntarily, which my humans seem to find pretty amusing.
10:30am – 3pm: Activities! We try to enjoy the outdoors as best as an older dog and two humans adventuring together can.
Since it’s summer and it’s hot, my parents decided to buy an inflatable double kayak that fits our whole family inside. (It’s rated for 2 people and up to 500 pounds.) This has become a new favorite family activity on a hot summer day. I gear up in my dog boots (so I don’t pop the boat) and float coat (also available at REI), and I lay down in the back of our double kayak with my mom or dad and quietly enjoy being on the water… unless there’s ducks. If there’s ducks, then I want to eat the ducks, and if a duck comes within ten feet of my boat I will fight like crazy to chase the ducks!
After kayaking or hiking or some other fun outdoor activity, my parents might have lunch while I watch the birds and squirrels outside, and it’s not long before I’m pretty tuckered out.
3pm: Snooze! I’m a huge fan of afternoon napping, and I get a lot of this done while my humans do their boring computer work. I might wake up for a few minutes here or there and lay down and look out the back of the van, keeping an eye out for squirrels or birds or anything else I can dream about while I nap.
Whenever I need to potty or just want to go for a walk, I grumble at my humans and poke them with my nose and get them to take me out exploring. I then continue the research that I began in the morning, gathering all the new smells as deep in my nostrils as physically possible.
Sometimes we hit the road at this time, if we’re ready to move on and explore a new place. I don’t mind since I love being in the van, and whether or not we’re moving makes little to no difference to me.
6pm: Dinner! This is probably my favorite time of day. I get another Tiggy meal, and my parents cook and eat dinner for themselves. Again, I get to do the dishes if I’m good.
6:30pm: Poop! Well, I at least get the opportunity to go. We go for another family walk with the goal of getting me to poop. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. If I don’t, my parents take me for an extra-lengthy walk before bedtime, during which I’m usually too distracted by other things to do any business.
8:30pm: Nighty-Nights! That’s what my mom and dad call the treats I get at nighttime before bed. I gobble up a few treats for my joints to keep a Tiggy feeling as young as possible. I get a little snack of food and take a big drink of water, too.
9pm: Goodnight Walk. Before we all go to sleep for the night, I go outside one last time. Sometimes my parents have to wake me up for this and I grumble about it. I’m a little afraid of the dark, too, so it takes some encouraging to get me down the ramp in my groggy state, but my parents seem to think it’s important that I pee before bedtime, so I put up with it.
I’ll usually do my business pretty quickly. Then it’s back up the ramp and into bed for the night!
9:15pm: Sleepy Time! I’m a dreamer, so I woof and run in my bed, sometimes shaking the whole van, at various intervals throughout the night. I’m also quite the snorer, which I’m entirely oblivious to and luckily my parents think is pretty cute.
I go to bed knowing that I can expect a similar structure to my day tomorrow.
The next morning I wake up rested and ready to start my routine all over again.
My routine keeps me calm and happy.
There are so many constantly changing factors in vanlife, and that’s pretty fun and exciting, but it’s our routine that keeps us all going every day.
Here are some reasons why my routine is so important to me:
- Our routine makes it easier for us to predict each other’s actions and moods and our ability to communicate our needs to each other.
- If I didn’t have a routine, I would never know what to expect. I would constantly be checking in with my humans to try to communicate what I need. I’d be physically less comfortable if my eating and potty schedule was irregular, and we’d all be more frustrated if we weren’t able to predict when I need to go outside or when I get hungry or thirsty.
- The new and unfamiliar things I encounter on a daily basis are immensely less stressful when I have familiar daily experiences that I can rely on to balance them out.
- When something stressful or out of the ordinary happens outside the van, I have the comfort of returning to everything that’s familiar inside. If there’s a noisy truck at a potty stop and I feel a little bit unsettled, I can walk back up my ramp and into my cozy bed and forget about it as soon as the door is closed — the same way I might hide from fireworks in the bathroom at home.
My van has all the comforts of home that I rely on: my humans, my bed, my food, my brush and even my squeak toy that I never play with — and equally (if not more) important, I have my vanlife routine.
Do you travel with your dog? Do you have any strategies for maintaining a routine when you travel? Tell us about it in the comments!
Stay tuned for more #vanlife updates and photos from the road in our VanLife Chronicles blog post series.
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