Vanlife with a cat: A story of Nicoline, Frederik and Helmut.
The view of a dog traveling in a campervan is not surprising anymore. Big or small, a dog usually feels comfortable in a camper, also because is surrounded by the nature and can spend a lot of time outside. What about other pets? We're not talking about turtles or parakeets here, but what if you have a beloved cat and just want to go on a road trip with it in a house on wheels?
A cat in a van is not a common sight, but it is not impossible. But how do you prepare to live in a van with a cat? How to expand the van and how teach the cat to behave in new environments? Luckily, there are travelers in our StayFree community with that purrfect and fluffy travel buddy on board, and they'll share a bit more about vanlife with a cat.
👉 Find out about what it's like to travel in a camper with a cat. Read on what adventures can await you and what you need to be prepared for if you consider taking your cat on a campervan trip.
🚐 +👩❤️👨 + 🐈⬛ = Adventure!
SF: Hey, tell us a bit about your van squad, where you are now, and what your travel plans are
N&F: Hi, we are a Danish couple, Nicoline and Frederik, accompanied by Helmut 🐈⬛.
During springtime, we decided that we had had enough of conventional city life for a while. Nicoline was finishing her bachelor in Anthropology, and Frederik had been a high-school teacher for about a year. We therefore bought and half-renovated a ‘92 Citroën C25 over the summer and hit the road on September 3rd.
The three of us are making our way through Europe, from Denmark to Greece and back again. At the time of writing, we traveled through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Right now, we sit in our van on a ferry to Patras, Greece. When we arrive, we go to Elaia Beach, which we found on the StayFree app, and camp there for some time. The plan is then to make our way through Greece for a couple of weeks and travel north possibly through Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, and further.
SF: Greece is a great country to travel with a camper. We wish you a great trip and many wonderful spots :)
Traveling with a cat, that's pretty unusual! How often do you meet other vanlifers who travel with a cat?
N&F: During our travels, we haven’t yet met other vanlifers with a cat as a travel partner. But on a daily basis, our cat Helmut generates so much attention from all kinds of people. Some twist their necks and cannot stop staring when they see us pass with a cat laying on the dashboard. Others simply have to say hello and take pictures when we walk with Helmut on a lead.
A lot of cat owners that travel in a van are inquisitive and ask tons of questions about our experience with bringing Helmut with us, if and how we trained him to go on walks, and so on. They typically tell us that they would like to take their own cats on trips in their vans but didn’t think it would be possible.
SF: Thinking about traveling with a cat, I would immediately think about how to prepare a campervan. I live in a campervan full time too and do not know what items I would have to think about when planning an upgrade for a cat buddy to a house on wheels.
N&F: Our guiding principle in traveling with Helmut is that the van should feel like his safe space and be a home on wheels for him. In choosing a van, we wanted one where we could stand upright since he (and most cats) loves to climb and lay in high places to have an overview.
We have also installed a scratchboard which he can use to reach the higher-positioned shelves. Helmut’s litter tray is positioned beneath the sink and is very homemade. We moved the water tank that originally stood there and placed a plastic tray with a good litter mix, fit some wooden panels, and inserted a cat door. We sometimes call it his little throne. It is possible to empty it from the outside, which is pretty convenient and ensures nice ventilation. This also lessens the smell as a happy side-effect. Other features fitted for Helmut’s happiness include a water fountain, loads and loads of storage space for food and litter, a surveillance cam, a bunch of toys, and padded spaces on which he can rest and think back on all of his accomplishments.
SF: Ok but how do you convince a cat to live in a campervan? These are animals that like their space, peace, and tranquillity. How did you need to prepare your cat before such a journey? Does it need to be properly trained?
N&F: In Denmark, we live in a second-floor apartment where, naturally, you do not simply let out a cat to let it roam around. He is a one-year-old fella by now, and already in January, we started taking him outside to green spaces and on walks. Not really with an intention of training him per se, but this tendency just naturally followed. We did, however, spend quite some time familiarizing Helmut with the van by going on weekend trips and just spending time out there with him.
SF: Do you need any special spots to sleep? Do you have special criteria and do you use any special filters in StayFree to find a perfect spot?
N&F: Surprisingly, this is not as big a criteria as we would have thought. Wild or especially territorial animals are a no-go, though. We have already experienced one trip to the vet with a virus-infected Helmut who was bit by another cat. We generally also seek spots away from heavily trafficked areas since Helmut is often kept on a lead attached to the frame of the van.
SF: Does Helmut explore its surroundings on its own or do you go out for regular walks with him?
N&F: Sort of answered already, but yes Helmut LOVES to explore. Most often, we feel the need to accompany him and keep him on the lead, though. We considered buying a collar plus a GPS tracker to let him roam free, but our boy is a born tree climber and we fear that he might get stuck up there (we have experienced this several times on regular walks already!). For now, we stick to guided walks!
SF: Helmut seems to be a perfect travel companion. What were your most memorable adventures while traveling with your cat?
N&F: Before we left home this autumn, we would often wonder if Helmut would actually enjoy going on this kind of trip. By now, that’s a laughable question. We are blown away and thrilled with watching how he takes everything on and develops as a cat from this trip. He begs each morning to get outside and explore, scratches the door, and calls us out of bed. Whenever we return from a two-legged trip, he purrs, makes happy sounds, and shows his affection toward us. There are glorious moments as well as hurdles, as the attached pictures will show, but mostly we are just delighted by this choice to bring our four-legged family on this trip of a lifetime.
As you can see, sometimes the hardest thing is to do the first step. Traveling with a cat is possible, but it requires a few adaptations, to the campervan's décor and your lifestyle.
👉 Remember to all check the health of your pet before departure.
👉 Remember to pack your cat's documents, such as vaccine certificates.
👉 Take his favorite toys, and make sure that he has his favorite food also if you travel abroad.