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Updated: June 16, 2022
I adopted cats so I could leave them home while I traveled. A year after I welcomed them home, my boyfriend and I began discussing how we could possibly travel with cats and bring them on our indefinite quest as digital nomads.
You’ve probably heard this before — cats are much easier to take care of than dogs. My two domestic tabby cats, Coco and Chanel, knew how to use the litter box the moment they walked into my apartment, at eight weeks old.
When they were four months, they learned how to pick treats out of an empty beer mug. At five months, they learned to ‘sit’ and give me their paw on command. We got cats so I could continue to live my life of wanderlust on the weekends, undeterred.
Then the pandemic hit. Since we couldn’t travel like before, my boyfriend and I decided to use this opportunity to live in different places, one month at a time. Of course neither of us saw this coming, so when the opportunity presented itself, we had to figure out how to actually travel with our kitties!
For whatever reason you’re thinking about traveling with your cats, do not fear. It is possible. It just requires patience and some prep work. Here are my top 10 tips for traveling with cats so you can be as prepared as possible!
1. Keep Things Consistent
My #1 tip is to keep the brand of food and litter the same throughout your trip. Make sure you know where you can buy the same brand of food and litter wherever you are going. The internet usually solves for this problem, but you’ll have to take into account shipping time and costs.
We were able to feed them Rachael Ray Nutrish for most of our trip because it was carried in most pet stores and always available on Amazon. We noticed that the wet food they like is really hard to get at Petco, and Amazon sometimes took days to ship, so we ended up buying a few backup options that luckily the cats were into.
But we weren’t so lucky with their litter, and we may have found poop where we shouldn’t have when we temporarily switched to use a different brand (eek!)
2. Research Government Regulations for Traveling with Cats
Know the rules for brining your cat to a different U.S. state or country. You should research 1) rules for your specific destination and 2) if you’re flying, the airline’s rules.
More often than not, states will require a health certificate (proof of a recent health check-up from your vet), and a rabies vaccination certificate. For example, California doesn’t require either of these things but Maryland does. Time to plan a trip to Cali?
Wanderer Tip: Use this tool to check your state’s requirements.
3. Buy Flea Medication
If you’ve never paid attention to flea medication before, pay attention when you travel with your cat.
Flea season for cats usually starts in late August and lasts through the end of October. Have flea medication handy either as a preventive measure or as a way to rid of fleas if and when your cat gets them!
Flea medication is expensive, so we use them only when we think the cats are at risk, or have just returned from a quick trip to the backyard.
Our vet recommended Cheristin’s flea medication. My cats haven’t gotten fleas yet so I think they’re effective. The only thing is the cats don’t love about this medicine is the smell. So don’t buy too much to start in case you have to switch brands later.
4. Create a Calming Playlist to Play During Your Trip
This is mostly for people traveling with cats in their car, but it can be helpful for once you reach your destination too.
Plan ahead and play cat calming music at home to figure out which ones put them at ease. Then whip out your playlist if they start freaking out when you’re traveling with your cats. I’ve found this to be pretty helpful, and it’s kept them quiet and calm during desperate times.
5. Take Your Cat for a Spin (Beforehand)
Another tip if you are driving your cat: drive them around your block a few times before the trip to see how they might act on the real drive. They may be fine, or they may not.
You can use this information to decide if a cat calming playlist is enough, or if you need to a backup plan like getting calming medication from your vet.
6. Book Your Stay Early
When looking at places to stay, we not only filtered for cat friendly places, but we also tried our best to find a place that our cats could thrive in. This is especially important for longer stays!
We stayed with our cats at Airbnbs for a month at a time, and it took some experimentation, but we eventually decided these 2 criteria were important to us:
- Can’t have super nice furniture. Even though we booked pet friendly stays, we still avoided places with extra nice furniture. Who knows how much we’ll have to pay in case the cats damage it? Even at places that had less nice furniture, we still put masking tape wherever we thought the cats might scratch. And it worked like magic.
- Must have windows. Our cats loooove looking outside. If they were offered the choice, I know they would choose to be indoor-outdoor cats. We’ve noticed that the more exciting the view, the more distracted they’ll be from us hopping from one place to the next. They can bird watch all day.
Regardless of what your criteria are, book earlier than you would when not traveling with cats, so you can have the best environment for them possible.
7. Use Positive Reinforcement
My cats LOVE treats and they love cuddles. Whenever we do something that upsets them — e.g. putting them in their crates or bringing them to a new Airbnb — I give them lots of treats and hugs. This positive reinforcement will go a long way in my opinion 🙂
8. Scent is Important
In the same vein as keeping things consistent, if you’re able, also keep the laundry detergent you use the same throughout your journey.
Our cats usually sleep with us in bed, but once we started traveling with them, they would always hide under it. It wasn’t until we started using our old laundry detergent again that they returned to the comforts of the sheets.
Wanderer Tip: If you have more than one cat like me, and they seem to be not having it with each other, try the Feliway MultiCat Diffuser. It’s sort of magical how quickly it can calm them down.
9. Get a Microchip
If you’re cat doesn’t have a microchip already and you’ll be on the road with them a lot, consider getting them microchipped.
It’s the best way to make sure a shelter could identify them if they ever got lost. You might think you’re good with just a cat collar, but what if it falls off??
Read all about microchipping here so you can decide if this is the best option for your kittie.
10. Stay Calm and Travel On
I saved the best for last!
When traveling with your cat for the first time, or even the first few times, you might have to experiment with a few things before you know how to keep your cat happy. Plus it will take them a bit of time to adjust.
In the beginning of our digital nomad-ing days, it took our cat at least a week to adjust to a place. So be as prepared as you can, but also give yourself a break if it’s just not working out. I put on my noise cancelling headphones when I just need a break from one of their meowing episodes!
By our fifth month away from “home”, they would adjust to a new place after a few hours or a day at most. I was so proud of how much progress they’ve made.
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