When I first thought about living and traveling in a van, I felt discouraged because it seemed that it would not be possible to take my furry best friend with me on my adventures.
I saw many people online traveling with their dogs, but this is a bit different, as dogs go outside and on frequent walks with their owners. A cat on the other hand is usually more of a homebody with little trips outside especially if they are an indoor cat.
After I started seeing other van life travelers with a cat (or two), I decided to upgrade to a larger van with enough space to make it work. After a few adjustments, my cat now lives and travels with me full time in my Ram Promaster Campervan.
Interested in van life with a cat and not entirely sure where to start?
To prepare for your cat’s new life, below are 10 tips and tricks to ease into van life with a cat, and make sure you get started with the right paw forward!
1. Consider Extreme Weather
Extreme temperatures are a big factor to consider in this lifestyle. This was one of my main concerns when I thought about moving into a van with my cat. You could end up in a place that is very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter which could be challenging for your pet.
If you’re thinking about traveling with your cat in a campervan, it’s important to incorporate extreme weather solutions into your van build.
For hot temperatures, I would recommend installing one or two (depending on the size of your van) rooftop fans for ventilation and cooling.
I had Maxx Air fans installed in both of my van builds. There are a few different types – the 10 Speed Maxx Air Fan is what I have in my current build.
To be safe, I also installed a Dometic Air Conditioner in my latest van that is powered by the solar system. I was planning on traveling to hot climate areas and I did not want to take any risks with my cat’s well being. I have the Dometic RTX 2000 12V Air Conditioner but there are other choices as well.
For cold temperatures, installing an actual heating system is the best solution. I have a Webasto Heater that allows you to set the temperature and uses gas from the gas tank to power it. It uses about one gallon every 22 hours depending on the temperature set.
You can use other more basic heating systems, but I would not suggest leaving those running when you’re away from the van.
2. Add a Scratching Post
Cats instinctually scratch things to keep their claws sharp, to stretch, exercise, and mark their territory. Once they find a spot that they like to scratch they are likely to return to it. For that reason, it is best to put a scratching post for your cat in the van before they move in and decide to use something else.
During my build, I installed a cactus-shaped scratching post onto the side of a cabinet. My cat did not want to use it at first but after putting catnip spray and dried catnip on it he started using it for scratching and stretching every day!
3. Consider The Litter Box
All cat owners know that litter boxes tend to get dirty quickly and need to be changed regularly. This is even more true in a van where you share a small space with your pet.
I recommend putting the litter box in an easy-to-access area of the van yet where the cat still has some privacy. Mine is located underneath the bench seating, right when you walk into the van. I put a cloth door on it, so it is easy for my cat to go in and out while having some privacy and being able to do his ‘business’ discretely.
To control the smell, I use four different strategies that have been working pretty great:
- Scoop the litter every day
- Put charcoal odor eliminating bags near the litter box
- Sprinkle Arm and Hammer odor neutralizer over the litter
- Install a cat litter deodorizer with a USB charger near the litter box
Tip: Pine cat litter pellets are easier to clean than clay and make less of a mess overall. Sweeping your van frequently is going to be a must (it will get dirty quickly)!
4. Harness Train Your Cat
Training your cat to walk (or at least comply) with a harness & leash is a key element to having success in traveling with a cat. Cats get scared easily by just about anything but having a harness helps you keep them safe and make sure that you’re still in control if something happens.
Preferably you should start training your cat before you move into the van. You can put the harness on your cat for about 10-15 minutes every day before feeding them slowly working up the time.
They will begin associating the harness with something positive (aka eating) and the more you do it the more used to the harness they will become.
After your cat becomes comfortable wearing the harness, introduce the leash and start taking them on short walks outdoors. This training process may take a few weeks up to several months, depending on your cat.
5. Slowly Introduce Your Cat To The Campervan
Unlike dogs, cats have longer adjustment periods whenever they are introduced to a new space for the first time. This can last anywhere from several days up to a few weeks before they start to feel comfortable and consider the van their ‘new home’.
Begin by putting them in the campervan and showing them their new surroundings, but don’t start driving yet. I would suggest at least three to four days of an adjustment period before you actually start driving. Additionally, try to make the van look (and smell) as much like their old home.
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6. Create A Designated Hang-Out Spot
It’s important to clear out a designated spot in the van for your cat where they can hide, relax, hang out, or sleep while you drive. They should have a location in your van that is just for them, where they feel safe to go and hide if they get scared.
I created a cubby underneath my bed area where I put my cat’s bed and toys. He can feel safe in it since it is low to the ground, and he does not bounce around too much while I drive.
7. Ease Into It
It will take some time for your cat to get used to traveling in the van so ease into it by driving short distances in the beginning. They are going to be wary of their new surroundings at first and this will disrupt their eating and bathroom schedule.
I suggest stopping every few hours to give them food, water and let them use their litter box. Some cats will wait until the nighttime to do this so it’s normal for them to avoid eating until you’re stopped for the day.
I have created a hidden litter box and a pull-out food & water station that I can easily set up when we’re stopped and put away when I start driving again.
8. Get a Tracker For Your Cat
If you plan to let your cat out of the van, it is a good idea to get a tracker for them along with a collar that has your phone number on it. This way if they ever run off or go missing, you would be able to track them down easily.
Here are a few tracker options that are popular for cats:
- Tile Bluetooth Tracker – this is a Bluetooth device that is used to find lost items & is one of the least expensive options. While it was not made for cat tracking specifically, its range is 200 feet for the mate version or 400 feet for the pro version. I have seen a lot of people using these for their cats and they seem to work okay although they seem a bit bulky on a cat’s collar.
- Apple AirTag– this also runs off Bluetooth and is not specifically made for cats. When it is in BT range, the range is about 30 feet, but the tag increases its range using other iPhones to ping off the air tag and notifies you via ‘Find My Network’ in lost mode. Rather than putting it on a keychain on your cat’s collar, I would suggest putting it inside a collar made specifically for it to distribute the weight better and so it doesn’t hang in the way. Many companies make air tag collar holders like these ones.
- Jiobit Tracker – this is a Bluetooth tracker that is known for being very lightweight. They even note on the website that it is lightweight enough for cats. There is a fee for the tracker as well as a monthly subscription, but the tracking seems to be top-notch with its capabilities.
9. Make Sure Your Cat Gets Exercise
In general, a cat should get about thirty minutes of physical activity every day. Exercise stimulates cats mentally, keeps them at a healthy weight, and improves their mood.
In a small space, like a campervan, it may be difficult for a cat to get enough exercise. Training them to use the harness and taking them on walks is always an option.
If they are strictly indoor cat, make sure the van has enough space for them to play and chase toys.
10. Accept That You Will Lose Some Space In The Van
Losing out on a lot of space in the van due to my cat’s needs is something I had not originally considered.
I have lost about three cabinets worth of space due to the litter box, storing extra litter, food, treats, toys, and my cat’s cubby hole where he can go to hang out. If you are okay with having a little less space for necessities, you will be just fine!
If you’re considering van life with a cat, most cats can adjust to it with some time and patience.
I could not imagine my life without my cat and having him along for the adventure gives us more quality time together and a chance for him to explore new places that he absolutely loves!
Still have questions about traveling with a cat? One of my favorite resources is the RV Traveling With Cats.Tips, Hints & More! group on Facebook. This group shares lots of great tips and advice for how to manage van life with a cat.
This post is contributed by Shelby Dominski. Shelby is a freelance travel writer who loves the outdoors. She currently lives out of her van with her cat JP, and is primarily based on the west coast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @herdestinyunbound or her blog Herdestinyunbound.com where she shares advice on van life, traveling, nature, music, movement, food, art, and authentic connection.
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few other helpful resources and blog posts that you may like:
- 15 Best Campervan Conversions For Van Life Inspiration
- 14 Things To Know About Getting A Ram Promaster
- 10 Easy Campervan Hacks To Add Functionality
- 10 Best Promaster Van Conversions To Inspire You
- How To Make Money While Living In A Van
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