As you already know, my SO and I left to live on the road of Europe in December last year. Parents of little Nel, a (almost) 6-year old female European cat, it sounded impossible for us not to take her along to share in our adventures. Because, you know, I love that little fur ball so much! But, when it comes to a trip like this one, you can’t just wing it, and having a cat with you means adjustments in the design of your rolling home, and making concessions along the way.
A few weeks ago, I asked you to send me your questions regarding this matter, so that I could treat this subject in the form of a Q&A. And, what made this interesting (thanks @nouveauxnomades for the emulation), is that I have also asked three other crews for their input: The Travelling Shed with SACHA, Casquette et Baskets on the Road with ROUFLAQUETTE and Clo et Clem with KIWI. We will therefore have more complete/nuanced answers. So, you won’t get just one, but four points of view on every topic for a better, fuller coverage!
C’est parti !
– Nobody thought to ask this one, so I’ll do it myself! What are the essential preparations you need before you start traveling with your cat?
NEL : Get her used to her harness and leash. And this might be different from one cat to the next. For example, Nel is still not quite comfortable with her harness. She tends to remain motionless for a while when we put it on her. She takes it as some kind of punishment, although we have been trying to get her used to it for some time now. However, she did showcase some brilliant leash walking skills in Austria. She walked with it for a few hundred meters, I was so proud! But besides this time, it is still not her cup of tea. When for other cats, I know it came quite easily.
So, we devided to buy a backpack designed for cats, which we call the bubblepack. At first, she meowed quite a lot, so we would only go for short walks, but now, as soon as we take it out, she rushes to get inside… This catstronaut backpack is fairly well designed, with plenty of air vents, netting and a big bubble so that your cat can see and smell everything in his or her surroundings!
For everything regarding the administrative and medical aspects, you may want to have your pet microchipped (if it’s not already done), vaccinated depending on your destinations, and get his or her European passport. It is pretty simple for Europe, although vaccines do not come cheap, but know that if you’re planning on visiting more exotic places, things can get much more complicated! My vet gave me a URL for a very exhaustive website that will help you with your preparations: Anivet.
Finally, I strongly recommend taking a small med kit for your pet! We were a bit light in this area, with only anti-flea and anti-tick medicine and worming tablets for 12 months… Since, we have bought a tick removal device/clippers, anti-lick antiseptic, round-ended cissors, paste to help deal with furballs, and a cone of shame. There is a french website that lists the thing you need in your kit… this way!
SACHA : The first thing we thought of when we decided to go on a long-term trip with Sacha, was that we really had to get him used to his harness and leash. We didn’t want to leave him in the van 24/7, but it was unthinkable at first to let him walk around freely. So we had no other choice but to get him used to this! It was quite funny in the beginning, he had little tolerance for the harness and started rolling on the floor a soon as it was on. We smoothed the transition by giving him treats, and he soon relaxed into it! In the end, he got used to it quite fast, and we figured that with it, he could wander around anywhere. So, for us, that would be the first step: get your cat used to the harness and the leash so you know he or she goes through the departure phase more relaxed! And, of course, a trip to the vet!
ROUFLAQUETTE : Just like Nel, we had to go through the whole vet, vaccines and microchipping process! Moreover, our little Caribbean girl had to take a plane to reach the continent. She had to hop in a traveling bag, which was a special size for her. As she weighs under 6kg, she was allowed on board with us! Had she been bigger, we would have had to put her on a diet!
KIWI : We had no idea we were going to buy a van when we adopted Kiwi. She came into our lives three years ago, right after we got back to France after two years spent backpacking across the world. We didn’t really have a “fixed home”, so we got her used to moving around a lot. People keep saying a cat needs stability. In our case, we were hers. So she got used to living in a van without particular preparation. Once we were actually living in the van, we started walking her with a harness and leash. She quickly understood that they meant going out for a walk, and starts purring and rubbing against us. She is curious but never wanders too far away. Like any other traveling cat, she had to be vaccinated to get her European passport.
– Did you design the interior of your van with your cat’s needs in mind? Her or his eating area? Did you incorporate scratching posts or surfaces? A place for the litter (if so, what kind do you use?)? Additional vents?
NEL : To be honest, we rather had Thomas in mind when we designed our interior!! But yes, we used a few tricks, for example we incorporated a special spot to store her litter and food, between the foot of the bed and our kitchen unit. Her bowl is right in front of it. We also bought a hammock with suction pads where she can just rest or keep watch on the surroundings when we’re parked. She pretty much has her own bedroom! At the beginning, she was always there when we were driving, but lately, as the days are getting warmer, she prefers staying between us or even in the back, to stay in the shade.
As for her box, since she got used to doing her business outside while we were converting the van, we thought she would keep that tren going and only left with the strict minimum… Mistake! Nel always does her business inside, to avoid predators, I guess… smells and long sessions of stirring the litter therefore quickly became a problem! Especially at night! So, we had to find a solution: a closed box with a swing door, which we put in front of the passenger seat as soon as we park for the night. It works for everyone. As for the litter, we tried plant-based types, but it was decomposing too quick, so we’re back with the regular Catsan mineral litter.
Scratching surfaces? Our floor (sea rush) and the front seats do the trick!
SACHA : As far as we’re concerned, we designed our interior for Sacha and Lewis (our dog), so they could stay as comfortable as possible during the trip (and so we could too)! The whole area beneath the backseat/bed is theirs. Sacha’s litter box is right next to the side door of the van, under the seat, so he can easily get to it (we hid it with a curtain). He got the hang of it very quickly! We placed his food bowl high enough, on the kitchen unit, so Lewis couldn’t get to it and so Sacha could eat in peace. We didn’t incorporate any scratching surfaces though, he would do it on the rug or outside!
ROUFLAQUETTE : Quite honestly, nothing was made for our little Rouflaquette! We put her box where we could find room for it, and where it was the least in the way, under our table! Her preferred scratching surface is the doormat, and her favorite place is the bed… as well as the sink, from where she can keep an eye on things!
KIWI : Not in our current van, but in the previous one we had designed a sort of crate for our dry toilets and the cat’s toilets. We also had a small cardboard scratching surface.
– Does your cat wander around, making you have wait for her or him to return before you can drive off?
NEL : First, you need to know that we only let Nel out when we are far from the roads, and when there are no dogs roaming free in the area. She was never used to sharing her territory, and it never goes too well with dogs or even other cats. Ask Sacha… And when she does get out, we stay out with her for a while, then leave the door open in case she needs a quick retreat. She has actually freaked out once in a campground near Amsterdam, after seeing a rabbit… Besides that, no, we’ve never had to wait for her, because she never goes too far. And in case we need too, shaking her food always gets her running back home pretty fast!
SACHA : Sacha is pretty curious by nature, and there isn’t much he’s afraid of! He likes exploring his surroundings, and is known to wander off. During the most part of the trip, we would keep him on a leash. But when we decided to let him walk free (super scary moment the first time), he quickly showed us that he knew the van was his home, and that he would come back whatever happened! He’s never gone for too long, and has never been too far… for now!
ROUFLAQUETTE : Rouflaquette is the queen of escapes! Name the way, she’s done it already: through the window, hanging from her leash… she’s a smart little one, who seizes any opportunity she gets to break out! The thing is that we can’t always let her have her way… When she manages to escape, she will do anything not to get caught, and makes us wait and scares us for ages! When we’re the ones who let her out, she comes back on her own, more often than not for her meal!
KIWI : Never without us :) She ran away once, but since she’s not the bravest, she didn’t get too far.
– How do you handle things when you leave your cat in the van? How long do you leave her/him there?
NEL : First, it depends on the season. In the winter, we just need to leave a few blankets here and there so she can cosy up a keep warm, although we still try to not stay away for too long.
When the weather is milder, even if it’s slightly cold out but you can’t really feel it in the van, then there’s no time limit. She has everything she needs in the van, and it’s a good time for her to get some rest. Let’s not forget that cats tend to sleep 18 to 20 hours a day!
It gets more complicated in the summer though. There is absolutely NO WAY we can leave her in a locked up van in the sun (it gets really warm, even with good insulation!), so we either find a spot in the shade and open the skylight for air, or we know we’re not going to be away too long and we take her along with us. Last resort, we don’t go at all. It’s pretty simple in the end, because there aren’t that many options when you keep the wellbeing of your cat in mind.
Oh, and as a principle, we always consider that she will be better off in the van where it’s quiet. So when we can, we leave her there.
We plan differently depending on how long we’ll be gone, and on the temperature outside. Our first criterion is the heat. We know only too well how much an animal left in a vehicle can suffer in the heat, in a matter of minutes. We are very careful with this, and we did many tests before we were sure we could leave Sacha without being worried. We make sure we close the curtains, we leave plenty of water for him, and every single time, we put our outside insulation on, which works great. It’s impressively efficient, and even when it gets super hot, it’s often cooler inside than outside with it! That being said, when it gets really hot, we don’t leave Sacha and Lewis inside more than a few minutes, sometimes we even take turns when we’re food shopping, so that they’re not alone.
On the other hand, we it’s cooler (fall/winter/spring), we can easily leave Sacha in the van for a whole day. He’s always sleeping anyway! Then in the evening, we let him roam free so that he can really stretch his legs and burn some calories! Our only fear when it comes to leaving him alone in the van, is about what would happen in case someone breaks into the van…
ROUFLAQUETTE : I actually think she can’t wait for those moments, when she has the whole bed for herself!! We can leave her the whole afternoon, even for the most part of the day, and we picture her relaxing on the bed! Since the temperature has gone up, we leave her with lots of water and we try not to park in the heat, we don’t want to come back to a Rouflaquette roast!
KIWI : We leave her in the van when we can’t take her with us. We park in the shade, we leave her with food and water but she barely touches them: she’s constantly sleeping! :D
– When cats get scared, their first reflex is to run away and/or run home. How do you handle this when you’re having a stroll? Do you keep them on a leash? What kind of harness would you recommend?
NEL : When we take her with us, she is either in the backpack or on a leash, but that doesn’t really last. And whenever there’s “danger”, I take her in my arms or put her back in the backpack, where she feels safe.
There was this one time when a dog (on a leash) got a bit too close while I had Nel in my arms (with harness and leash), she found shelter in a tree, and it wasn’t easy to get her to calm down and get down. When we’re out, we adapt to her, not the other way around. We really want her to be able to enjoy herself, even if that means standing in the same spot for 30 minutes while she’s chewing on grass!
Nel’s harness was made by Puppia, size XS. I found the reference in a great article on how to train your cat to walk with a leash LINK. By the way, that website (Adventure Cats) is perfect all the way!
SACHA : We never take Sacha along with us! He either stays in if the weather allows it, or we all stay in. Regarding the harness, it’s a pretty basic one we found on Zooplus, far from great in terms of comfort but he got used to it! For our next trip, we will probably invest in something more comfortable for him!
ROUFLAQUETTE : When we’re out, we alwaystake Rouflaquette in her bubble backpack! An idea we got from Nel, actually! She quickly understood that it was her refuge, so she lies in it whenever we leave it open! She really struggles with the leash. She used to be a wild cat, it’s hard for her to feel tied up! When it comes to danger, we’re really careful, especially because she’s an alpha and never backs down from a fight!
KIWI : When we’re out, Kiwi is on a leash. If not, when she gets scared she just runs back to the van.
– Did your cat get used to this way of life as a kitten ?
NEL : Not at all! Before we left to live in the Pyrenees for a few months while we were converting the Lieutenant, Nel was living with me, then us, in an apartment, with Montpellier rooftops as her playground! She got startled at every noise and ran away scared every time she stumbled into another animal!
I think the loud noises of the conversion work got her used to living in a less quiet atmosphere, and being able to come in and out as she wanted got her used to coming back to base camp whenever she got scared or wanted to rest.
SACHA : Not either for Sacha! He is a true indoor cat, we got him when he was two-month old, and he had only lived with us in our apartment for two years! It is fair to say that we had nooooo idea how he was going to make the transition, although given his personality, we weren’t that worried! He loves the van, sleeps through whole trips, even when we’re driving all day, he’s the best!
ROUFLAQUETTE : Not at all. Rouflaquette is a little wild cat from Guadeloupe. We could say that we adopted each other! That being said, her behavior has changed radically. She used to be very independent, never asking for attention. Nowadays, she sticks to us like glue!
When it comes to driving, she used to hate the feeling, freak out and meow all the way. Now, even on bumpy roads, she is unshakeabke!
KIWI : Yes and no… To nomadic life, yes. To living in a van, no.
– Isn’t having a hammock at the front dangerous in case of hard braking or a crash?
NEL : That is an excellent question. Quite frankly, we have never thought of travelling without Nel going back and forth freely in the van. However, she spends less and less time in the hammock lately, as it gets too warm right behind the windshield. She is either between us, or in the back on a blanket. I can’t see myself putting her in a bag every time we have to drive. But now I am actually questioning whether I’m right or not…
SACHA : Same here, we never really thought about it… We have locked in his cage for whole trips on the past, for medical reason, and he doesn’t like it at all. He often sleeps on the seat between us, or on the couch in the back. But, to be honest, when it comes to security, we don’t do everything we should.
ROUFLAQUETTE : Same here, we never really thought about it… We have locked in his cage for whole trips on the past, for medical reason, and he doesn’t like it at all. He often sleeps on the seat between us, or on the couch in the back. But, to be honest, when it comes to security, we don’t do everything we should. We’ve never really thought about accidents, but we will now…
KIWI : Kiwi has her travel box open whenever we’re driving. When the trip is noisy, she gets in there and sleeps. She feels safe there.
That’s it for our cats’ lives on board! I hope this was useful!
What about you, how do you do it? Do you have tips/advice you want to share that we haven’t talked about?