Lessons from My 4000 Mile Road Trip: Meal Tips for Traveling with Dogs
Traveling with your dog can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to be prepared for the challenges you will face.
While locating dog friendly hotels was the first thing I focused on when I planned my 4,000 mile road trip across 9 states earlier this year, I discovered that finding places to eat was the hardest part of traveling with 2 dogs.
Mealtime was our biggest challenge on this trip.
In my hometown of St. Louis, restaurants all over town welcome dogs on their patios. I assumed that would be true everywhere.
I was wrong.
In many of the towns we visited, it was nearly impossible to find a restaurant that had a patio, or a restaurant that would allow dogs on their patio.
In other places, we could find patios, but the weather wasn’t warm enough to sit outside.
We were totally unprepared for snow in May!
Finding Dog Friendly Restaurants While Traveling:
Mom and Lexi at a pet friendly restaurant in Sante Fe, NM
If we were in a city, I researched restaurants online. Small town restaurants rarely are on the review sites…so follow the same instructions for rural areas that I give below for dining on the road.
I mostly searched for restaurants on Yelp but found I couldn’t count on the restaurants to be tagged as having patio dining available.
I would end up looking through all of the pictures at each restaurant in hopes of finding some outside shots that showed a patio. Reminder…dog friendly patios must have access that doesn’t require you to walk your dog through the restaurant.
I found asking people on the street is NOT a good option. We were told by several people we could take our dogs to restaurants and when we arrived, the dogs were turned away.
We even had one hotel clerk who told us dogs were allowed INSIDE all restaurants in Sante Fe. He was SO wrong.
At this restaurant in Golden, CO, we were told that the dogs weren’t allowed on the patio, but could be tied up so they could sit on the sidewalk on the other side of the railing.
Milo didn’t understand the rules…and crawled right up anyway. Apparently most of the dogs did that and they didn’t kick you out if they did…but…I wouldn’t count on it for every restaurant.
Call the restaurant before you head out to eat with a dog. It will save you a lot of headaches.
Breakfast While Traveling:
I tried my best to pick out hotels that not only allowed dogs, but also provided a free breakfast.
I already shared my thoughts on breakfast, and how to deal with the fact that the dogs weren’t allowed in the dining rooms, in Road Trip with Dogs – Choosing Pet Friendly Hotels. While getting breakfast without leaving the dogs unattended in the hotel room (which is against the rules in some hotels) can be a challenge, the hotel breakfast is still your best option if you want a sit down breakfast.
You could also just plan ahead and bring with you muffins, fruit and granola bars for breakfast.
Or stop at a coffee shop or bakery like we did in Grand Junction, CO to grab something to eat in the car.
Meals on the Road:
The hardest meals were lunch on the road.
Normally when I’m on a road trip, I drive until I’m hungry and then start using Yelp on my phone to look for food options in the next couple of towns.
When you are traveling with dogs, you MUST plan ahead.
While we could have left the dogs in the car while we ate at some stops (in some places it was too hot or too cold to do this), we felt that the dogs needed to get out of the car for a few minutes as much as we did.
The night before each big driving day, I spent time before going to bed researching our options online. I used Google’s driving directions to guess where we would be when I thought we night be hungry. To do this, simply enter your starting location and pick a city along the way and see what the estimated driving time is. Then repeat this until you find the city that you should reach at lunchtime.
Knowing we would eat breakfast before leaving and had snacks in the car, I usually aimed for 1-1:30 PM for lunch.
The next step is to research food options. This is actually harder than it sounds since all you typically find on highway towns are fast food restaurants or small homestyle restaurants.
It’s rare to find a patio.
After some trial and error, I found the only effective way to see your food options along these highway towns was to use Google Maps.
After you zoom in on the area, click on a restaurant to pull up the satellite view. Then switch to the street view so you can see the outside of the restaurant. If they don’t have a patio, try again until you find someplace that does have one.
We had our best luck finding locations with patios at Subway and Dairy Queen. While most of them do not have patio, some of their locations have a couple of tables outside. Definitely check Subway and Dairy Queen first when checking for outside seating on the road.
I love going local, so was thrilled to discover a nice patio at a Mexican restaurant in rural Oklahoma.
Aliberto’s Mexican Food in Holbrook, Oklahoma
When we couldn’t find anything that would work, we picked up food and took it to a nearby park.
This might seem like a great option, but it does add more time to an already long driving day. Plus, you don’t know the parks so you are taking your chances. We ate at a park once and had a jolt of a surprise when we got out of the car. It was covered in trash and even the tables under the pavilion where filthy.
We ate quickly and left. No playtime for the dogs on that grass.
We also ate one meal in the car in Colorado. There was snow covering all of the patios and it was too cold to leave the dogs in the car without the heat on, so we did the only thing we could and ate in the car.
One thing we didn’t do is eat at rest stops. After discovering how hard it is to find restaurants with patios, I will definitely look for rest stops along the way next time I travel with Milo. I’ll either pack a cooler with lunch or grab some drive-thru food at the town just before the rest stop.
When All Else Fails:
Sometimes you just run out of options. You can’t find a restaurant with a patio or the weather is too cold.
When all else fails, you can always eat in your hotel room.
Some of our most relaxed meals were the nights we got carry out pizza and used the hotel bed as our table.
We actually did this 3 times during our 2 week trip.
How do you handle meals while traveling with your dogs?
Be sure to also check out Part 1 of this series: Lessons from My 4,000 Mile Road Trip: Hotel Tips for Traveling with Dogs.