As pet parents, we absolutely love having Tucker with us and we want to take him everywhere. Lucky for us, he travels extremely well in the car and we’ve checked off many a road trip together over the years, journeying across western Canada. But when we decided to drive from our home in Brentwood Bay, BC to where we used to live in Saskatoon, SK – a distance of over 1600 kilometres each way – we knew this road trip would be next level!
It was a daunting prospect, especially with a senior dog in tow. A total of six days of driving, four hotel stays and two ferry crossings is a tough undertaking for even the most seasoned four-legged traveller!
But together we conquered this extraordinary journey, not once but twice, crossing three provinces, navigating winding mountain passes and potholed prairie highways, and enduring some frankly scary road stunts by daredevil drivers. And for the most part, Tucker handled it like an absolute boss. Read on to learn more about our exciting excursion and some road trip tips that worked for us.
For everyone’s comfort, we decided to take the trip across three days rather than try to cram it into two ultra-long ones. This looked like:
Outbound journey, Victoria, BC to Saskatoon, SK
Day one: Victoria to Merritt, BC
Day two: Merritt to Airdrie, AB (just north of Calgary)
Day three: Airdrie to Saskatoon
Return journey, Saskatoon to Victoria:
Saskatoon to Airdrie
Airdrie to Kamloops, BC
Kamloops to Victoria
While it wouldn’t be pleasant for Tucker to be stuck in the car for so long, we knew from previous experience how to make it work. Our first priority was setting him up with somewhere safe and comfortable to ride. What’s worked well for us is having him in the bottom half of his crate (we don’t put the top on so he can pop his head over the side to keep an eye on us, and our road snacks) which we place horizontally directly behind our seats. We bought our SUV specifically because the seats in the back lie completely flat, as we found to our surprise that in many vehicles they don’t. That didn’t work for us as Tucker would end up lying on an incline. For this trip, we lined his crate with a soft and cushiony mat so he could curl up, get cozy and sleep, which is what he did for the vast majority of our three-day journeys (except when engaging with the aforementioned snacks).
Second was ensuring he had good access to food and water. In the height of summer with soaring daytime temperatures, it was vital that we keep him hydrated. Wedged between his crate and the car door, we left his water bowl (not too full though as it sloshes everywhere when you turn corners) and every now and then, we’d hear the gentle lapping of a thirsty dog which reassured us he was getting the water he needed. Next to that his food bowl housed some of his regular dog food along with a few treats. Road snacks are a great tradition on our jaunts – think chips, beef jerky, trail mix, and so on – and of course Tucker demands his share, but we’re always careful not to give him too much – the last thing you want on a long car ride is a sick doggy!
Equally important were regular rest stops to break up the long stints of driving. Not only did it give Tucker a much-needed bathroom break and chance to stretch his paws, it meant we could give him food and water while we were stopped to make doubly sure he was eating and drinking. We aimed to stop every couple of hours to get him out of the car, even if just for five minutes. Now that he’s older, he doesn’t want or need to go far, but he’s also at greater risk of stiffness in his joints if he’s cooped up in the same position too long. So we’d scope out a nice grassy patch for him at a gas station or rest area to walk around and do his business before we hit the road again.
Overall our journeys passed relatively stress-free, but on the outbound leg we hit a road closure in the mountains that added an unwelcome two-hour detour. Intense rain caused a mudslide that shut down the number 1 highway east of Golden, BC, which was unfortunately the main and most direct route to our evening stop-off in Airdrie. As we’d elected only to go as far as Merritt in BC on the first day of our trip, the extra two hours increased what was already our longest travelling day. When we finally reached the Calgary city limits after a tedious ten hours negotiating tight and twisting mountain highways, we were greeted by an imposing thunderstorm with yet more driving rain and blinding forks of lightening, which was a pretty rough experience to endure in the car. Needless to say we were relieved to reach our hotel for the night and rest up, before undertaking the straightest, flattest, and easiest part of the journey on to Saskatoon.
For that journey I’d had my spouse Steve to share the driving duties, but on the return leg it was just me and Tucker. Thankfully, we had a very uneventful trip despite warnings of forest fires in Interior BC and the threat of road closures, and we managed a straight run through to the ferry terminal in Vancouver.
As Vancouver Islanders, the first and last stage of our trip was the one-and-a-half hour ferry ride to and from the mainland, and we live a very handy 15 minute drive from the Swartz Bay terminal on Saanich Peninsula. While dogs travel free on the ferry sadly they aren’t allowed on the upper decks – they must either stay in your vehicle if you’re travelling with one, or in the designated (and rather uncomfortable) pet area on the open vehicle deck. We prefer to stay in the car with Tucker so he can just settle in for a snooze in his crate, but we always ensure we make a reservation to secure a spot on the open vehicle deck – if you’re on the closed lower deck you have to leave your vehicle for the duration of the sailing, and we wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving Tucker by himself. I hope that at some point in the future BC Ferries will consider designating an upper deck spot for people and well-behaved pets – one that’s inside and has comfortable seating!
The route through Interior BC and western Alberta is littered with popular tourist spots including the Shuswap Lakes, Mount Revelstoke National Park and Banff National Park, and as such the local accommodation was extremely busy. and as such, extremely busy. We kinda hooped ourselves by travelling in prime tourist season, especially with Covid travel restriction easing, which is a lesson learned for next time! Throw a dog in the mix and hotels were very thin on the ground – when I put ‘pet friendly’ into Booking.com for my selected dates, almost all the pins disappeared!
When vacationing we opt for Air BnBs over hotels – we love the feel of a home away from home, the hosts often live on-site and treat you like family, and they don’t usually charge extra for dogs (though sadly this seems to be on the increase). However, most don’t accept single night stays, and we needed accommodation for our four nights on the road. We do have a preferred hotel chain in Motel 6, as it’s genuinely pet-friendly and dogs stay for free (some even have dog treats at the front desk!). It’s not unusual for some establishments to gouge you up to $25 extra per night to accommodate your furry friend, just because they can – I even saw one place in Calgary that wanted $50! While it’s definitely not luxury accommodation, the Motel 6 is comfortable enough and if you’re travelling on a budget with a dog like us, it’s pretty good value. We stayed at the one in Airdrie, AB on both legs of our journey.
Our two other hotel stays were pretty underwhelming. On day one of our outbound trip, we only drove as far as Merritt in BC, where we stayed at the Comfort Inn. While spacious and accommodating of Tucker, it wasn’t very clean. However, it seemed like a palace compared to the dump of a motel we had to stay at in Kamloops on the way back home. Our original booking had cancelled on us due to a flood and everywhere else was completely booked up.. While Tucker had settled fairly well at the other hotels, he was so restless at this one, pacing around all night and nudging me awake with his nose that eventually I gave up trying to sleep and we left at 6.30am. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was disturbing him but he’s pretty sensitive to noise, so my guess is that it was something that I couldn’t hear. Next time, I’ll definitely book further ahead and invest a little more, as a good night’s rest is essential for a full day of driving.
One thing’s for sure, it was worth every single kilometre to be able to spend quality time with much-loved family and friends in Saskatoon that we hadn’t been able to see for over 18 months. We’re incredibly grateful to have an amazing travel buddy in Tucker, and we’re looking already forward to our next road trip to North Vancouver in September!