12 Helpful Tips For Stress-Free Traveling With a Cat

traveling with a cat guide

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 Pan American Highway trip in our campervan.

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:

Note: we are not a veterinarian or pet experts. These are just personal tips that we learned from traveling with our cat.

Getting ready for our Pan-American road trip with our kitty Minka.

Tips For Traveling With a Cat:

1. 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.

Our cat’s litter box area in the van

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.

2. 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 traditional plastic kennels.

Soft-Sided Cat Carrier

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 that 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.

3. 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.

Relaxing on a beach in Baja California, Mexico

Our cat is actually very specific about 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 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.

4. 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.

Custom-built cat tunnel & scratching post in our Promaster campervan

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 build, 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.

5. Be Patient

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 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.

Roaming around outside at Patagonia Park in Chile

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 keep an eye on her during her outdoor adventures.

6. 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.

Quiet camping spot in Peru

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.

7. 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 build, 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.

Cooling off outside

8. 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 stocking 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 couldn’t find any places to get more.

9. 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.

Minka getting comfortable in her new home

10. 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 cats’ 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. 

11. 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 house quarantine upon arrival but thankfully it only lasted a week.

Always ready for the next adventure!

12. 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:

Interested in stepping up your photography game? Here is the camera gear that I carry everywhere I go to create amazing travel photos:

  • Main camera: Sony a7c Camera. The Sony a7c is tiny, light, full-frame, and durable – in other words, amazing!
  • Polarizer Filter: Hoya 40.5 mm Filter. Polarizing filters reduce glare in water, protect the lens from getting scratched and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside. Having a polarizing filter is a must-have if you plan to photograph lakes, oceans, rivers, and waterfalls.
  • Wide Lens: Sony 16-35 mm F4. Great for capturing wide panoramas, nature landscapes, and cramped city streets. Mounts to any Sony mirrorless camera and features autofocus, image stabilization, and incredibly sharp images.
  • Lightweight Travel Tripod: Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod. A good tripod is essential for capturing images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects when shooting waterfalls. The Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is very sturdy, light, and folds small so you can take it on all of your adventures!
  • Memory Cards: SanDisk Extreme 256 GB. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme is ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.
  • Camera Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery Set. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize my camera is out of battery. Always keep your batteries charged with this camera charger set.
  • Camera Bag: Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something you should definitely invest in! Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it.

Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links, which means that if you place an order through one of those links, we may get a small percentage of the order amount at no extra cost to you that goes towards the upkeep of our blog. Thank you!

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