Can you travel with a cat in a van?
I do, here‘s how.
A personal account of the beauty and challenges of traveling with an adventure cat.
By Anna Heimkreiter
If there‘s one thing I learned about traveling in the past years of doing so, it is to expect the unexpected. So I shouldn‘t be surprised that, despite no intention of doing so, I ended up traveling with a cat in my campervan.
As you can imagine, it‘s been quite an adventure. So, I thought it was finally time to share the story, of what it is like to roam the world with a fluffy companion and what to watch out for.
How did I end up traveling with a cat in my camper?
Meet Georgia. She is – as her name gives away – from the beautiful lands of Georgia. The country, not the state. After a stormy night by the Black Sea, I found her hidden in my parent‘s truck (we were traveling together at that point).
A little baby cat meowing miserably, with no mother cat in sight – so of course, we fed her and checked if she was okay. Timid at first, she got attached to us quickly and somehow decided to move into my van.
I wasn‘t sure what to do with her. I had absolutely not intended to adopt any animals at this point in my life, yet I felt like I couldn‘t just leave her there.
So I thought, let‘s see how she reacts to traveling in a car, maybe I can take her with me for a while and then find a nice family in Georgia for her.
But of course, I was soon way too much in love with her to let her go and decided to officially become her cat mom.
Many visits to the (fantastic) vet center in Tbilisi later, she was fully vaccinated, microchipped and equipped with a pet passport, ready to embark on adventures abroad.
Since then, we have slowly traveled from Georgia back to Germany and will continue to go on more long-term travels together.
She is, undoubtedly, the best thing to have happened to me during this adventure.
The big question: Is it ok to travel with a cat?
Generally, cats are territorial beings and do not react well to changes in their environment. If your cat is not used to it, she will likely be very stressed.
I don‘t know if I would recommend anyone to travel with a cat if it doesn‘t just happen „accidentally“, like when I adopted Georgia on the road. Trying to force a territorial animal into this lifestyle may not be in your cat‘s best interest.
In our case, Georgia was still a kitten when I took her in, so she got used to riding in a car and being in a new place every other day very quickly.
Training older cats to transition to traveling might be possible but it is certainly no easy feat and might not be in the best interest of your cat.
If you plan on doing so, make sure you listen to your cat‘s needs – not every cat is suited to be an adventure cat.
Georgia, for example, travels without problems in a camper but she does not react well to going for walks on a leash because meeting other people scares the hell out of her. So it‘s a matter of finding out what your cat is comfortable with and, ideally, starting young.
Who else travels with their cat?
Georgia is actually not the only free-roaming adventure cat out there! I have met a few other RV lifers also traveling with a cat.
Prominently, there are also:
- Martin and his cat Mogli, traveling on a motorbike (@motomogli)
- Dean and his cat Nala, traveling on a bicycle (@1bike1world)
Note that they, too, found their cats as kittens and they simply adapted to the traveling lifestyle of their humans.
What it‘s like to travel with a cat in a camper
Solo travel, especially in a camper, can be quite isolated at times. So having a furry companion with you is wonderful (however, most people, reasonably so, opt for dogs).
Georgia came to me right at a time when I was really questioning if van life might be a bit too lonely after all. Sure, she is no replacement for human interaction but she does make traveling solo much more enjoyable.
Watching Georgia grow up while traveling has taught me so much – her playfulness and curiosity reminded me to stay present in the moment, prioritize connection and embrace playfulness more myself, too.
And oh my, I didn‘t know I could ever love an animal that much. My heart‘s capacity for love seems to have increased tenfold.
Georgia defines our rhythm in traveling. Her needs go first and I need to make sure she‘s okay wherever we go. We travel slowly and mostly stay in remote(ish) nature places, where she feels happiest (and I do, too).
And, when strangers spot Georgia, she is a great conversation starter. Because after all, who travels with their cat in a van?! We‘re definitely an unusual sight to see.
Challenges of traveling with a cat in a camper
I wouldn‘t necessarily say there are downsides to traveling with a cat in a van – because having her with me adds so much more to my life than she complicates it. But there are challenges, for sure.
Beware of the heat
This is the first lesson I learned – cats are, despite being from the desert, very heat sensitive. And cars heat up A LOT in the sun
I‘m sure most pet owners know this but never, ever leave your cat alone in the car when it‘s hot outside.
I don‘t have AC, so going for long drives with Georgia on hot summer days is actually not an option. If I have to go somewhere when it‘s 30°C +, I need to leave super early in the morning or at night when the world outside has cooled down.
In the early days of traveling with her, Georgia almost got (or did get?) a heat stroke – she started panting a lot (not a good sign in a cat!) and was soon very lethargic. I had to cool her down with a wet towel and luckily, she recovered quickly.
So yes, in summer it‘s even a challenge to find a way to go to the supermarket because I can‘t just leave her in the car. I haven‘t tried taking her in a cat backpack inside, but technically, that also isn‘t allowed in many countries.
So usually, I need to park somewhere in nature where she can be outside and hide in the shade while I walk to the closest supermarket.
You are on cat duty 24/7
Your cat makes the rules. And of course, if a camper is your home, you can‘t just leave your cat there unattended. The space is too small for a cat to be contained in permanently.
Before having Georgia, I actually went on multi-day backpacking trips in the mountains a lot. Now, that has become much more of a challenge.
Likely, I‘ll only be able to do that while leaving Georgia with my family in Germany. She now knows the area and the people there well enough to not disappear.
City trips are difficult because again, you can‘t leave a cat in the car forever, you can‘t just take them to a hostel, and letting her walk around a parking lot near busy streets might be super dangerous.
Luckily, I prefer to be out in nature anyways, so this has not been an issue often.
Besides that, I also can‘t just take a plane to go on a two-week holiday trip somewhere. I‘d only take Georgia on a plane ride if we will travel in that region for a long time.
So, there will definitely be limitations to what you can and cannot do when you live with a cat on the road.
Sometimes even literally, haha. But luckily, Georgia has only pooped in my van about twice when she was still a baby (once I misread her signals and didn‘t let her out in time, and the other time she was drowsy from the anesthesia after being castrated).
But my actual point is: Traveling with a cat can always be a little nerve-wracking. Your cat might get lost, chased by dogs (I had to rescue Georgia a few times out of trees) or attacked by other animals (we had to race to the vet once after another cat bit her).
When traveling with a cat, you need to be prepared for things to not always go smoothly. But then again, traveling is always an adventure, so you better be prepared anyways.
Frequently asked questions about traveling with my cat in a van
How does your cat find her way back to the car?
Actually, I have no clue how Georgia does it – but she does come back each and every time.
It‘s quite fascinating, really, how she seems to be able to navigate new environments without problems and has the car memorized as her base.
She is allowed to roam freely wherever we go (unless we‘re in a city, then I prefer to keep her in the car for a few hours until we leave again).
Aren‘t you worried about losing Georgia?
Yes, yes, I am. Although she has, fortunately, always proven me wrong and sooner or later always comes back to the car, I do get worried when she‘s out for too long.
She listens to her name and comes when called* but as she has gotten older, she has become more adventurous. Sometimes, she now goes for longer strolls where she won‘t be able to hear me call anymore.
*mostly, after all, cats do as they please haha
After a few scares of thinking I have lost her, I eventually decided to get a GPS cat tracker. I don‘t think I really need it (because she does always show up) but it does put my mind at ease a lot.
And it also gives me the ability to find her when I need to get going, without having to wait for hours for her to show up.
Where does a camping cat go to the toilet?
Georgia is an outdoor cat, wholeheartedly. She absolutely refuses to go to a toilet containing store-bought cat litter and would rather contain herself for hours.
So usually, she simply goes to the toilet outside. As a kitten, she wasn‘t able to hold it for so long yet, so I filled a little box with natural materials for her, usually sand or earth.
Today, we don‘t really need a cat toilet anymore (and I‘m more than happy about that because the smell of cat poop has the insane power to contaminate a tiny space like a camper instantly and it is absolutely revolting).
So now, I only prepare her toilet box when I have to leave her in the car for more than half a day, which doesn‘t happen often.
Where does Georgia sleep?
She usually sleeps a good portion of the night with me in my van. However, cats are active around dawn, so she will usually start playing (way too) early in the morning or demand to be let out.
So, I‘ve gotten quite used to being woken up around 4 or 5 am. I open the door, let Georgia outside and (try to) go back to sleep.
Did you leash-train or backpack-train your adventure cat?
Well… Sorta. I did try to get Georgia used to walking on a leash and being in a carrier or cat backpack from early on but it only worked to an extent.
She will walk with me on the leash just fine but, as mentioned before, she really freaks out when encountering strangers. She wants to run away and hide, but on the leash, she can‘t and then panics. So I could only ever walk with her when there is absolutely no one around.
As for carriers, it‘s kind of the same. I‘ve tried for veeery long to slowly ease her into being a carrier but she absolutely hates being in enclosed spaces.
So you could say Georgia is an adventure cat to an extent. I can travel with her in a van and let her roam freely, but she is not the kind of cat you can take on hikes.
Does Georgia get along with other animals (or people)?
Unfortunately, not really. Naturally, she is scared of dogs but she also doesn‘t like other cats very much.
She will hiss at other cats when they get too close, telling them to stay away. But she‘s never the one to attack. When there are very dominant cats around, she usually ends up being the victim and gets chased up a tree.
As for people, she is unfortunately also extremely shy. I tried socializing her more but she still prefers to hide when strangers are around.
With me and my family, she is very affectionate but she needs a long time to warm up to strangers and usually, we just aren‘t around for long enough for her to get used to someone new.
How do you cross borders?
You will need to check the individual requirements for each country you enter. Within the EU, traveling with a pet is pretty hassle-free. For international traveling, however, a rabies blood test (3 months in advance!) might be required or your pet may even have to go into quarantine upon arrival.
Georgia has a little pet passport with all her information but so far, the border officers mostly did not care about her and did not even ask to see her passport. But still, better to have it just in case.
Final words on traveling with a cat
If you are lucky enough to end up traveling with a cat, that is meowtastic. I am grateful every day to have come across Georgia and for her wanting to stay with me.
However, don‘t force it. Seeing a traveler with a cat is a rare combination for a reason – most cats just are not made for this lifestyle.
If you have any questions that I have not answered in this post, feel free to leave a comment. I‘m looking forward to hearing from you, whether you are also traveling with a cat or just like to follow our adventures.