The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Living in a Van with Cats

Yes, yes, everyone wonders- how the hell do you do it?  Are you crazy?  I’ve got plenty of friends who love it and there are others who think it’s ludicrous.  And yeah well life is ludicrous, eh?  Traveling with cats is pretty uncommon so I wanted to write down a few things to help other people who may be inspired to do the same.  I get it- it’s not for everyone.  But I love rock climbing and traveling, and after going through a divorce, I kept the cats!  Plus- this is my home.  I’ve lived in the van for a year and a half, and so having my cats with me…well.. wherever I go, I AM home.

***NOTE- Living on the road with cats adds additional stress and responsibilities.  It’s NOT for everyone.

I lucked out because my cats travel really well.  I’ve heard of cats (and dogs!) going nuts in the car.  But back in 2015 me and my ex traveled in the van for two months and the cats did really well.  So I knew last year that at least they would travel ok.   So really- if you want to do this- take some test drives with your cat(s) first.  Get them used to the vehicle.

Essentials:

  1. Insulation- make sure you properly insulate your van.  I renovated the van in April and it has been such an improvement in the overall insulation.   Don’t skimp on this part of the process!
  2. Fan and cracked windows- set the fan to ‘air out’ so that air flows in through the windows and out through the fan.  This is helpful when you are away all day or when you are cooking, etc.  You can adjust the level the fan is at- I normally have it at about 30% when it’s warm out (70-80 degrees, parked in the sun). Otherwise if it is below 75 and SHADY, then 20% is normally good.
  3. Sisal rug on the dashboard (I think you can order remnants of rug online and it’s not expensive)
  4. Some kind of carpet on the back of your seats (so they can scratch, because they LOVE the back of the seats!)
  5. Scratch post (after renovating, we put in one of the normal round scratchers near the sliding door, but there is also a floor scratcher in between the front seats.
  6. Vent next to the box (best renovation ever??? We also cut holes in the lid of the box. These holes are positioned next to the vent
  7. Covered litter box under the bed
  8. Baking soda (this is not cat specific because I like to have a few cartons throughout the van to absorb odor)
  9. Arm and hammer litter, clump and seal.  (the black box).  I know people hate clay litter and prefer the pellets, but when you live in a van, you want the BEST odor absorbing litter.  I’ve found this is the best.
  10. Water bowl with lid for driving.  I always have water available except when in motion.  This is super important if you are going to be in warmer climates.
  11. My vice is plastic bags, but they are essential for poop- and you will use a lot of them because you will probably scoop twice a day.
  12. Broom/Vacuum-I mean, you should have this even if you don’t have pets.  But cat fur is a real thing. And so is cat litter.  I vacuum daily, twice sometimes.
  13. Reusable Lint roller.  You know those old school red velvet lint rollers
  14. Get your cat outside!  When I first started the trip I was definitely a ‘helicopter mom’ but it’s pretty fucked up to keep two cats in a van without getting outside.  We’d do the leash thing, and it was ok, but a pain in the ass, because I’d have to be there holding the leash (and we all know how walking a cat on a leash goes…) but over time I started letting them out off leash.  This is where it gets stressful. I only let them out off leash in campsites where we will be spending a lot of time and where I think it’s safe enough (i.e. no big roads nearby, not a ton of birds of prey circling above :P, etc).  You slowly test it out over time letting them out for 20 minutes, an hour, a few hours, half the day, all day.  And I only let them out when I know I’m not moving the vehicle all day.  I leave a door open so they can run back inside if needed but for the most part- they do their own thing.  They definitely know that the large white van is home.  (and will definitely confuse other white vans with home)
  15. Make sure you have their paperwork, vaccination info, etc.  And make sure they are microchipped or wear collars!
  16. Vet? If you are passing through Riverton/Lander, Wyoming, there’s an amazing vet called G Bar G.  Maybe the best in the country IMHO.

About the cats (in case this helps you decide based on your cats personality):

Leonard is maybe 7 years old, loves adventure, is pretty friendly unless you try to pick him up for long periods of time, AND HIS SHIT DON’T STINK! Seriously, hallelujah he covers his shit.  Favorite place in the van- the windshield.  Now that he’s been going outside on a daily basis he gets ancy being in the van for too long. This makes the transition periods, moving from one long-term spot to another, a little challenging.  In Kentucky he was used to me opening the driver’s door every morning, jumping out, escorting me to the bathroom, and spending the mornings outside.  But when we are in transit to other places, you can’t exactly let them off leash at a rest stop or walmart or friend’s neighborhood.

Gus is a million years old (or 16?), has diabetes, is skinny and his SHIT STINKS.  It’s definitely the worst part of having an old cat who DOESN’T cover his shit.  You have to scoop it immediately or you might die.   I changed his food in August to Royal Canin (amazing, highly recommended) but with that change the smell got worse. I mean…I think it was bad before, but wow wow wow, it got SO BAD! So it is kind of like having a baby- if he poops at night, I have to get up and cover/scoop it. Or you will die in your sleep.  He’s a pretty chill cat, could care less to go outside, will let you pick him up.  His favorite spot is in my lap or on the bed.   Traveling with an older cat can be nice because they aren’t always trying to jump out of the van, but it’s also stressful because the older they get, the more needy they seem.

So overall, I think the most important thing is to get your cat OUTSIDE.  Listen to your gut. When in doubt, put them on a leash.

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Feel free to contact me if you have questions! Want to travel? Make it happen.

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