As you can see from our cat's very concise profiles, they have very different personalities and life experiences. While this no doubt made our own journey a little more difficult to prepare for, it allows this guide to be more useful to a wider range of cat owners.
Prepare as much as you possibly can.
Without a shadow of a doubt the most important way to ensure your care adventure with cats goes smoothly is to prepare as much as possible. Fortunately we knew months in advance that we would have to make the 3 day car journey across Canada with the cats which allowed us to build up to the day slowly and carefully. Even if you don't have quite as much notice, even a few days preparation can make the journey much less stressful, for human and feline.
Definitely the most important step when preparing for your journey is choosing a suitable crate. In exactly the same way the type of car you choose will determine your comfort for your trip, the type of crate you chose for your little companion will determine how comfortable they can be. We chose to purchase crates that allowed each cat to stand up comfortably with at least a few inches above their highest point. For Beansprout, this was easy because shes a very small cat, but we opted for a small dog crate for Broccoli as he is the exact opposite.
Note: we found the ideal crates used online, which saved us a lot of money (especially for Broccoli's dog crate!). When buying crates online, be sure to handle them before giving over your cash to make sure they are sound and once you get them home, give them a good cleaning before letting your cat inside.
Now you have your perfect crates that are more than spacious enough for your cats, have them get familiar with them. We did this by leaving them out in the house for several weeks before our departure date. This worked wonders with Bean Sprout, who can be particularly skittish around new objects, especially those that might carry the scent of another animal.
Check everything is up to date before you leave.
As we mentioned in the previous point, before we embarked on our drive, we checked in with our vet to make sure the cats were healthy, their chips were working, vaccines were up to date and they could receive some worming medication. This was a great opportunity for any questions you might be concerned about regarding the journey. We felt it was vitally important that the microchips were working as the cats being outside of the car, thousands of miles from home was a little worrying, even though it was extremely unlikely they could have gotten lost. Better to be safe than sorry!
In addition, consider purchasing an orange collar and ID tag with your contact info. Orange collars are accepted by many to be for "indoor cats only" and will encourage people to take in your cat if they escape along the way.
Broccoli and Bean's reactions to being told they are about to go on a long trip. Note: Orange collars for indoor cats was started by the Kitty Convict Project as a way for cat lovers to recognize a lost cat. Learn more on their website: explodingkittens.com/kittyconvict
Practice makes perfect!
The best way to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible on your car journey with you furry little friends is to rehearse. In the weeks leading up to the journey we began taking the cats out on short car journeys to get them used to being in a crate in a moving car with strange feelings and noises. The first few times we did this, both cats meowed a lot, letting us know exactly how they felt. Usually these journeys were only between 5 and 15 minutes, taking them with us to get a coffee at the drive through and so on. We found that after each journey they seemed a little more comfortable being in the car, while it wouldn't be right to say they were excited for the car, they certainly seemed to dislike it a little less.
What about the pooping situation?
Everyone knows that the best part about having indoor cats is litter boxes. They can be a nuisance even when tucked away in the corner of your house or apartment, so what about crammed into your car? Fortunately we came up with a solution to smells and space! We have a very handy little contraption called a litter locker, which is a kitty litter bin that has a sliding hatch that traps odours and bags disposed litter at the same time. So as not to waste litter or cause any mess in the car we filled the litter box with litter as usual and then covered the box in a large garbage bag (making sure the litter box is upright the whole time) and placed it in the trunk. When we made stops to feed the cats, we would simply slide the box out of the garbage bag, let the cats use it if they needed, scoop the pee or poop into the litter locker, add a little fresh litter and put it back in the bag and in the trunk.
Pet-friendly of course!
As our trip spanned multiple days and it wouldn't be fair or safe for anyone involved to drive through the night, we had to book places to stay on our drive. This was perhaps one of the larger challenges of traveling with cats that we had to overcome. The majority of hotels and motels, at least in Canada, are not cat friendly and will not allow you to stay with your cats, even at a higher price. In order to overcome this, its vital when booking hotels to check their pet status. Booking.com has a pet friendly search function which we found very useful when planning when and where to stop. Even though the website might tell you a place allows pets, we would thoroughly advise that you call the hotel and check this before booking. Pet friendly, according to some hotels, means dog friendly not cat friendly (I know right?).
Finding a cat friendly place to stay will of course limit your options, which may well mean you will have to do more or less driving each day than you originally planned. When we drove across Canada with our cats, we had to stay in a certain hotel, even though we could have driven further as the next cat friendly hotel was 9 hours deeper into our trip. Again, the further in advance you can plan your trip, the better!
Almost ready to go! Lets pack!
There are two things to keep in mind when packing your car before leaving on your trip.
We found that having a crate on the back middle seat of the car worked really well to make sure they were safe and could see out of the windscreen. As we had more than one cat with us, we alternated by day who was on the back middle seat and who was on one of the back, side passenger side seats. Your car seats will almost certainly slant backwards which will cause your cat to slide to the back of the crate, to counter this, we folded up a little blanket so the crate sat perfectly level.
The vast majority of the time spent driving, the cats actually just slept in their crates, which we had filled with a comfy blanket for each. Occasionally Broccoli would meow for a while, but he was quickly appeased by the chance to play with a finger through the front grating of his crate. We would stop roughly once every three hours to offer the box and a chance to stretch their legs outside of the crate. Initially we would offer them food at each stop, although we noticed that they wouldn't be interested in food every time and as such we offered them food every other stop.
Room for two people and two cats
If your journey, like ours will involve staying overnight in a hotel or a motel, there are a few other little steps to take into consideration. Of course you have already checked before booking that they allow cats, probably for a pet fee, but what about when you arrive? In order to make the situation totally stress free for everyone have one person (if possible) go into the lobby to check in and get the room key. Leaving the cats in the car for this saved so much hassle. It's annoying when you have to wait in the lobby for your turn to check in to your hotel and that's when you can comprehend what's happening and where you are. What you really don't want is for your cat/s to be sat in their crate on the lobby floor, surrounded by people, or even worse over inquisitive children or dogs (pet friendly remember?). This is a good chance to see if there is an alternative, maybe quieter way to your room, perhaps through a side or back entrance, not through the lobby. Next, bring them on up.
Before you open the crates and let your curious moggies explore their new surroundings as only cats could, leave them locked in their crates on the floor for a moment longer. This gives you time to make sure there isn't anywhere in the room they might be able to escape from. If the room is cat friendly, then you probably won't find any problems but I would 100% recommend looking anyway. Things to look for will include air vents or ducts being properly sealed, windows being fully closed etc. Once you are sure the room is secure, let the kitties loose to sniff, hide and loaf to their hearts content.
This was the part of the journey that Nick struggled with the most. At home the cats don't come into the bedroom when we are sleeping as he is a light sleeper and didn't grow up with cats. Being able to shut the door wasn't a luxury that we had in the hotel room however and there were many instances of little cat feet wandering on the bed during the night. Just something to prepare yourself for!
Hotel stops provide a great chance to leave food bowls and the litter box out for the cats to use as they please and not under the stress of being in or around the car. Make use of this time for them to relax, get lots of playtime with you and treats for being so good.
Things we would have done differently:
Lastly, why we didn't fly
You might be reading this asking yourself, why take a three day journey when you could have just flown in less than half a day. For several reasons we decided against taking the cats on the plane. No matter what, we had too much to bring with us, meaning one of us at least would have to have driven. However, even if we didn't have a lot to bring back, flying was out of the question for us. When the cats made the journey out, we flew them as we had driven out some weeks prior. The total time the cats were in their crates was actually 17 hours, including two mandatory lay overs and many hours of airport checks, which are on top of the regular 'arrive two hours before' rule. When we arrived to pick the cats up at the airport almost a day after they were sent to us by family, they were placed beside baggage collection and left on their own. As if this isn't horrifying enough, some drunken idiot thought it would be funny to pick up the crates and introduce himself to the cats. As soon as we arrived and saw this, the situation was quickly and abruptly shut down by Nick, which needs no more said about. Needless to say, after this we wont be having airborne kitties anytime soon.