Our cat Minka is a big part of our family. She’s been with us for over 10 years through countless moves, road trips and even came along on a 15-month long journey through Central and South America in our van.
She’s always with us, no matter where we go.
Traveling with our cat was actually a lot easier than we expected, but there are a few things to consider before setting out on the road.
Over the years we have picked up a couple of tricks that have helped us travel with our cat especially for long distances in a car.
Here are 12 useful tips to know for traveling with a cat:
- Keep the litter box easily accessible
- Get a cat carrier
- Set up a cozy sleeping area
- Create a hiding spot
- Be patient
- Park at quiet places
- Get a car fan
- Stock up on cat food
- Use calming wipes
- Create a scratching post
- Keep up to date vet paperwork on you
- Join a pet travel Facebook group
Note: we are not a veterinarian or a pet expert. These are just personal tips that we learned from traveling with our cat.
Keep The Litter Box Easily Accessible
If you are planning to take your cat on a long-distance trip in a car, there are a couple of things that you will need to set up before you leave.
One of the most important aspects, especially before our 15-month long road trip, was figuring out where to put her litter box.
We always leave our cat’s litter box in a place that’s easily accessible even when we are driving. Truth be told, she has never used it while the car is in motion, but I think it makes her feel better to know that it’s always accessible.
Before our long journey through Central & South America, we built a little area for our cat’s litter box in the back of our campervan.
She could easily get to her litter box through a tunnel that we created so the litter box was always accessible but also a bit more hidden for smell and looks.
We made sure to start off the trip with her old litter box since it already had her scent and made her feel more comfortable. If you need to transition your cat to a smaller litter box that will fit in your car better, try to do it before your trip so it smells familiar.
Get A Cat Carrier
Usually, when we travel with our cat in a car, we don’t keep her in a carrier because she will find comfortable sleeping spots on her own.
We do have a cat carrier for when we need to move her out of the car into a hotel, on a ferry, for vet visits and if we need to take her on a plane.
For our cat, we personally like the soft mesh carrier. A soft-sided carrier is a lot smaller, cozier and easier to handle than the traditional plastic kennels.
If we plan to keep her in the carrier for long periods of time, like on a plane, we usually line the bottom of her carrier with training pee pads so if she does have an accident, her pee will get absorbed by the pad instead of leaking out.
It worked really great for the 13-hour long flight from Argentina back to the United States at the end of our South America trip. During the flight, she only had one accident – which we didn’t even realize because the pee pad absorbed the liquid and scent.
Whenever we move her into the carrier, we also try to cover it with a small blanket or a sweatshirt. The less she can see out, the more comfortable she usually is.
Set Up A Cozy Sleeping Area
Unless you plan to keep your cat in a carrier during your road trip, make sure to set up a cozy area for them to sleep on. This could mean setting up their bed, laying out some soft blankets, clothes that smell familiar and their toys.
Our cat is actually very specific for what she likes. At home, she always sleeps in a round cat bed but in the car, she likes to hide under sheets or blankets.
During our 15-month long campervan trip, every day before we started driving we would stack a few pillows on our bed and cover them with a blanket to create a cave-like area where our cat would run into as soon as the car started. She would usually stay under the blankets during the driving portions unless she felt extra brave in which case she would come and sit in my lap in the passenger seat.
Create A Hiding Spot
Along with creating an area for her litter box and sleeping, we also set up a designated “hiding spot” in our van for our cat. If you’re just going on a few day drive, you probably don’t need to do this, but it definitely helps for long term road trips.
During our van built we created a long tunnel underneath our bed that our cat could use for hiding. Our kitty Minka is not the bravest one out there and even unexpected noise, dogs or people can send her bolting.
She quickly learned that this tunnel was her safe spot so whenever she got spooked, she would always run and retrieve there. This tunnel was small yet long enough to fit her easily if she wanted to go hide.
Even if our friend’s dogs jumped in our van unexpectedly, our cat would just go to her tunnel and watch (or slap at them) from her safe spot.
During our van built we did install a handle and hinges on the top of this tunnel. If we needed to get her out, we could just lift the top of her tunnel for easy access.
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If there’s one thing that I have learned about my cat over the last 10 years is that she’ll do as she wants at her own pace.
The biggest mistake of our first road trip that we took her on is expecting her to feel comfortable right away.
We had just set out on a month-long trip through the United States with our cat and we had stopped at a campsite to make food. As soon as I opened the car door our kitty Minka just bolted out and started running. Thankfully we were in a remote location so we quickly caught up to her and brought her back.
We realized that just because our “stuff” was in our car, it didn’t mean that our cat considered it to be her new home yet. As we learned, it can take days to weeks before our cat gets used to new environments so we had to be patient and watch her more closely at first.
During our 15-month long South America journey, we took things a lot more slowly. We got her used to living in our new campervan first before we let her outside. This process took a few weeks but once she was used to being in the campervan, she got really comfortable and wanted to explore outside as well.
Eventually, she started to jump out of the van and explore around. Most of the time she was going outside almost daily but always under our supervision and never super far. Before the trip, she was always super scared of being outside but during this journey, she became like a whole new cat!
If you are scared of your cat taking off or getting lost, you can also get him or her microchipped before your trip or get them used to a collar or a harness. Unfortunately, our cat absolutely hates wearing a collar or a harness so we would just kept an eye on her during her outdoor adventures.
Park At Quiet Places
One of the biggest factors that made our cat feel comfortable during our long road trips was parking and camping specifically in places that were quiet and remote.
For the most part, we tried to avoid parking in major cities and if we had to stop in a city, it was rarely more than a day or two. We never let her out of our campervan in places with lots of traffic in case the noise scared her and she tried to run.
Most of the time we camped in parks or in camping areas that were far away from other people or animals. If a stray dog ever got near the van or if she saw anyone approaching, she always ran back in and went hiding in her tunnel.
Get A Car Fan
If you plan to travel in the summer, I suggest getting a small car fan before your trip.
In the summer, our van would heat up pretty quickly. During our campervan’s built we installed a ceiling fan but it just wasn’t enough. Before leaving our car we always turned on a small clip-on fan for our cat to cool her down while we were gone.
But our van was set up with an extra battery and solar panels so we could run the fan even while the car was off. If this is not realistic for your situation, just make sure to always park in shaded spots and not leave your cat in the car for too long especially on hot days.
Stock Up On Cat Food
When traveling with our cat, we try to bring along as many things that she is familiar with, including food. Before any trip, we stock up on our cat’s favorite food for a couple of reasons.
For one, she has a very sensitive stomach and she’s a very picky eater. We’ve tried a few different brands of cat food and we always keep going back to the same ones. And your cat’s stomach might already get upset from the car ride itself especially in the beginning so you don’t want to switch up their food too.
If you’re worried about car sickness, it’s best to feed your kitty in the evening to avoid car sickness during the day. Our cat got used to the car motion pretty quickly so we started feeding her twice a day – in the morning and in the evening. But if you’re unsure at first, skip the morning meal and feed them only at night.
Another reason why we recommend to stock up on cat food is that you never know if and where you’ll be able to get more, especially on long term trips. We had a few occasions where we ran out of our cat’s food and we couldn’t find any places to get more.
Use Calming Wipes
If you have a sensitive kitty that doesn’t like going outside, the first car ride or a flight on a plane might make him or her feel really anxious.
Before our 13-hour long flight, we wiped our cat’s carrier with Feliway wipes that contain feline facial pheromones to make them feel more comfortable and safe. It seemed to work pretty well and during our flight, she just slept the whole time and barely made any sound at all.
If you decide to use the calming wipes, make sure to wipe the inside of the carrier before the flight – but do not wipe your cat itself, only the carrier.
If you’re driving in a car, you could also wipe the inside of the car around her bed or sleeping area. These wipes do have a little bit of a scent so one wipe should be enough.
Create A Scratching Post
If you plan to travel in a campervan with your cat long term, you might want to set up an area for your cat with a scratching post. Not only a scratching post helps to keep cat’s nails nice and short but it’s also an important part of their daily exercise routine.
We didn’t have space in our van to bring along a standard scratching post so we made our own from a piece of wood and thick sisal rope from Home Depot. We wrapped the rope tightly around the wood and secured it on the back with heavy-duty staples. Then we screwed this scratching post in the front of her tunnel so she could use it before getting into her “hang out” spot.
Keep Up To Date Vet Paperwork On You
For long term travel, make sure to bring all of your cat’s records with you, or at least copies.
We crossed 15 different borders with our cat during our Central & South America road trip and for the most part, we had no issues. If required, we would show our vet records at the border and most of the time that was enough. Some countries required special vet checkups before entering so we would find a local vet to certify that our cat was healthy and up to date with her shots before crossing the border.
The only country that gave us a hard time was Colombia because we were supposed to have special paperwork done before arrival that we were not aware of. We were placed in short house quarantine upon arrival but thankfully it only lasted a week.
Join A Pet Travel Facebook Group
For more tips and advice I recommend joining a pet travel Facebook Group where you’ll get answers straight from the community. A couple of pet travel groups that I recommend are:
If you’re looking for specific answers, you can often find them by searching or posting in these Facebook pet travel groups.
Have any other questions? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Planning a trip in a campervan? Here are a few of our other posts that you may find helpful:
- VAN LIFE – How Much Does It Really Cost?
- 15 Things We Learned From Traveling In A Campervan
- Driving The Pan-American Highway? Here’s All You Need To Know
- 50 Van Life Tips For Living On The Road
- DIY Promaster Camper Conversion Guide Part I
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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