Van Life With A Cat – Guide To Camper Van Travel With A Feline

Is van life with a cat possible?

Maya, our now van life cat, was just a 2-month-old street kitten when we found her wandering a shipyard in Guatemala. We considered adopting and bringing her into our camper van but were unsure about traveling with a cat. We assumed cats were household creatures, not adventurous and curious about the outside world like dogs.

After days of discussion, we decided to adopt Maya, and she has been happily traveling with us throughout our Latin American journey. Though we were initially concerned about what her life on the road would be like, Maya has turned into the perfect van-life cat companion.

In our 3+ years with our cat, we’ve learned that although some adjustments and considerations are required, your cat will eventually learn to adapt to your on-the-go lifestyle.

This post shares practical tips and hacks for living in a van with a cat. The information we share here is what we’ve learned over the last four years of camper van living, and we hope it convinces you to bring your furry companion with you.

1. Slowly Introduce Your Cat To The Camper Van

Cats are territorial creatures and feel comfortable in places where they can smell familiar scents. So, if your cat has been a house cat for most of its life, it may be overwhelming for your pet to be in your camper for the first time.

Here are some tips to help introduce your camper van to your feline friend so they can become acquainted with van life.

Cat roaming the aisle in a camper van
Maya exploring our camper on the first day

Allow Your Cat To Roam Freely Inside The Camper Without Driving

Make your cat comfortable during van trips by gradually introducing them to the new environment.

First, park the van outside your home and let your cat explore inside. If your cat is initially nervous, you should start with shorter trial periods and gradually increase their freedom.

When we first adopted Maya in Guatemala, we parked our camper van for two weeks without moving. During this time, she could leave and enter our van freely, which helped Maya feel safe and at home in our camper.

Make Your Cat Feel Comfortable While Driving

To reduce stress in your cat while traveling, getting them accustomed to being in a moving vehicle is essential.

Cat sitting in a camper van at a gas station
Observing life at a gas station

Start by taking short van trips and then gradually make them longer. This could initially be going to the grocery store or a nearby gas station. Doing this not only helps your cat get accustomed to traveling in a van but also helps the cat NOT to associate moving vehicles with necessarily going to the vet, which can be stressful for them!

Also, give your cat treats and extra love while driving to make them feel more comfortable. You can also help your cat feel safe by putting familiar things in a carrier or seat, like a plush towel or stuffed toy. When driving, Maya tends to sleep between the front seats, so we put her favorite blanket there to make her feel more cozy.

2. Create Hang Out Spaces Inside The Van

Monitor your cat and see where they feel safe inside your camper van. Cats are intelligent creatures and know the best spots to sleep and chill. Once you know where your cat likes to be, you can establish the place by bringing their favorite bed and blanket and placing their favorite toys around it. 

Cat sleeping in the front of a camper van
Maya sleeping on top of the dash

When parked, Maya loves to relax and nap on the front dashboard. She loves the big window where she can look outside and knows nobody can reach her.

Also Read: 10 Tips To Keep Your Cat Happy In Van Life

3. Where To Put The Cat Litter Box

We understand that interior space in a camper van is limited. But as much as possible, try to choose a private, convenient, and hygienic location.

Ideally, place the litter box away from food and water bowls. And if you can fit it, consider using a covered litter box to contain any odors.

Cat litter box in a drawer of a camper van
Maya’s litter box in a kitchen counter drawer

We didn’t have space for a large covered box in our van, so we removed the front of our bottom drawer and placed an open litter box inside. Since the box is in a semi-hidden and enclosed space, Maya can do her business comfortably with (some) privacy.

Also Read: RV Cat Litter Box – Storage Ideas & Tips

4. Buy A Variety of Toys & Scratchpads

To keep cats happy and healthy during your camper van travels, it is essential to provide diverse toys that stimulate their bodies and minds during the many hours they will spend confined inside a vehicle.

Toys can encourage a cat’s natural instincts, promote exercise, and provide mental stimulation. Having a variety of toys also prevents boredom, as cats can quickly lose interest in a toy they’ve played with for too long. Different types of toys, such as interactive ones, puzzle toys, and toys that mimic prey, spark different responses and behaviors from cats, keeping them engaged and interested in playtime.

Keeping scratch pads or mats in your van is also a good idea to prevent your cat from scratching your furniture. Scratchpads also help keep their claws healthy by removing old layers. This can stop them from getting painful nails.

Cat Scratching Mat

Perfect cat scratching mat that doubles as an entrance or kitchen mat. Our cat, Maya, loves laying on rough scratch mats like this, especially when the sun is shining on it 🙂

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5. Temperature Control For Van Interior

Keeping a cat cool in a camper van during the hot summer months is one of the biggest challenges for pet owners. Though cats are generally better than dogs at dealing with more significant temperature swings, if your van is parked in severe temperatures, there’s always a limit to what your cat can handle. That’s why we always put up window shades, turn on our vent fan, and place lots of water in Maya’s bowl.

Cat sleeping alone in an RV
Maya sleeping comfortably in our camper

During the cold winter months, we set a minimum temperature on our diesel heater’s thermostat to turn on if the internal van temperature falls below the set limit.

Learn More: 10 Tips To Keep Your Pets Cool In A Camper Van In The Summer

6. Harness & Leash Training

It would be a shame to do van life, but never let your cat see the outside world! Training your cat to walk on a leash allows them to safely explore the outside world and experience new sights, sounds, and smells beyond their familiar environment.

Cat walking with harness and leash
Harness & leash training Maya

Leash training also allows cats to exercise, which is essential for their physical and mental health. Leash walking can reduce boredom and stress in indoor cats and increase bonding time between owner and feline. As with any new activity, starting slowly and gradually building up the cat’s comfort level with the leash and outside environment is essential. 

We use a retractable pet leash, which allows Maya a fair amount of freedom to explore independently without feeling constantly restrained.

Perfect For Cats
Fida Retractable Pet Leash

Cat's don't walk like dogs and a retractible leash is what you need to give your cat the freedom it demands when walking outside. In case things get out of control, there is a useful 'brake' button to ensure the leash doesn't extend.

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Also Read: How To Train Your Cat To Be Adventurous Outdoor

7. Name Tag & Trackers

Name tags and trackers allow for quick and easy identification of cats that may become lost, which is critical in returning the cats to their proper homes. Trackers can provide the animal’s real-time location, significantly increasing the chances of finding the lost pet. If cats are allowed to roam freely outside, then there is always a chance that they get lost. And using name tags and trackers can help ensure their safety. 

Cat with collar and tag
Maya with her cat collar and tag

Below are just a few popular trackers available for cats.

8. Manage a Routine for Your Cat

Even though van life requires constant traveling and moving, taking control of your cat’s routine is essential, just like at home. You decide your cat’s meal time, outdoor time, and sleep time.

If you don’t, they’ll decide for you!

Keep Your Cat Active During The Day

Cats are night creatures, and that’s when they’re usually the most active.

I often see house cats taking long naps during the day only to get ready for their midnight adventure once the sun sets. And in a limited space, like a camper van, this could be a nightmare while trying to sleep.

Keeping your cat active during the daytime is crucial to have a good night’s rest. This involves playtime with various toys, setting up scratching posts, or going on leashed walks outside. By keeping your cat engaged during the day, you’ll have a more peaceful night’s sleep for you and your furry friend.

Cat walking on a tree
Maya playing on the trees at our campground

Do Not Free Feed Your Cat

Although leaving food out all day may seem convenient, free feeding your cat can cause obesity and numerous health issues. This is especially true if your cat spends lots of time cooped up inside a van.

Instead, monitor their food intake by setting specific meal times and portion sizes. Not only will this ensure that they receive the appropriate nutrients, but it will also prevent picky eating habits. Additionally, cats have an excellent internal clock, so setting a regular meal time helps your cat come home from the outside when they’re hungry.

9. Proper Vaccinations & Medications

Make sure your cat is up-to-date on its vaccines. This helps keep your cat safe from diseases they may pick up from other cats and animals they meet during your travels.

Additionally, flea & tick medication is a must-have item for adventure cats! Consult with your vet and set a reminder on your calendar for putting your cat on flea medication. Not only do you not want fleas on your precious feline, but you also don’t want them bringing these little critters back into your bed.

We recommend getting Revolution Plus. It’s a liquid that you can apply to your cat’s skin and protects against fleas and internal parasites. You will need a vet’s prescription to buy them, however.

10. Microchip Your Cat

Micro-chipping is essential because it can help reunite lost or stolen cats with their owners. If a cat is found and brought to a shelter or veterinarian, the staff can scan the microchip to identify the owner and quickly return it to its rightful home. 

Also, make sure to complete a microchip registration. It ensures that the owner’s contact information is linked to the chip number, allowing for instant access to identification when the pet is found.

11. Spay / Neuter Your Cat

Caring for our pet cats is not just about providing them with food and shelter. It is a responsibility that goes beyond that. By deciding to spay or neuter your cat, you are reducing the number of homeless cats and actively contributing to their health and happiness. It can prevent certain cancers and behavior problems like spraying or being aggressive. Cats who are spayed/neutered tend to live longer and better lives.

Besides eliminating the possibility of unwanted pregnancies, spaying (female) and neutering (male) your cat helps to keep your cat safe by preventing them from straying too far away from your camper at night looking for ‘action.’

Spaying Maya has been one of our best decisions with her because she now has ZERO interest when a male cat approaches her. And she never goes off looking for males, either.

Pros & Cons of Van Life With a Cat

Maya the cat with her camper van and two owners
Failed photo shoot with Maya and our camper

Pros

  • Helps Us To Meet New People: Maya is usually why we start conversing with people we meet during our travels. Everyone loves cats, and even with “no pet allowed” signs, she often gets exceptions.
  • Stress Reliever During Hard Times: She has been a great van life companion, and even during tough times, she always makes us smile and appreciate her presence.
  • Encourages Us To Clean Our Van More Often: Cat litter and hair can get all over the place if we procrastinate about cleaning. Van life with Maya encourages us to clean our van daily.

Cons

  • Requires Extra Space In The Van: We had to give up some of our space and storage for cat litter, food, and toys. Maya has A LOT of toys, and sometimes we have difficulty finding extra storage for them.
  • Extra Cost: Costs quickly add up when you factor in food, litter, and visits to the vet.
  • Need To Plan Ahead: Sadly, you must be ready to skip many national parks, hotels, and Airbnbs where pets are prohibited. You will often need to plan ahead when traveling with a cat; consequently, it is hard to be spontaneous.

Maya’s Adoption Story

Maya, a tiny little kitten, was a fighter. She was alone and hungry, yet she persisted and never gave up. When we met her at a marina in Guatemala, we couldn’t help but feel a connection to her. Even though we had said goodbye to many pups and kittens before, Maya had a different kind of spirit; she wouldn’t leave us alone. So, after careful consideration, we decided to adopt her and named her ‘Maya.’ (Named after the Mayan civilization of Guatemala and Mexico)

Van life with our cat
Say hello to our cat, Maya!

It’s been almost five years, and Maya has traveled to 17 countries with her humans. She has grown up as a healthy, sassy queen who brings joy and love wherever she goes. Maya’s story proves that we can all persist and overcome difficult situations in life. She was alone, hungry, and facing an uncertain future but she didn’t give up. Instead, she fought and found a family that loves and cherishes her. So, remember Maya’s story whenever life gets tough and keep pushing forward. Who knows what joys and adventures are awaiting us!

Maya the cat looking out the windows of our camper van
Maya guarding our van from passerbys

Please comment below if you have any questions about Maya or our experience traveling with a cat in our camper van.

Happy traveling!

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