Tuxedo cat resting on a picnic table.

PetPlace Reader Story: Tips for RV Travel with Your Cat

Hello PetPlace Readers,

I wanted to share my experience traveling full time in an RV with an amazing cat named Belle.

Belle is truly a special cat. She’s a beautiful tuxedo, stunningly smart, and very inquisitive. She was permitted to go outside at home and enjoyed the outdoors very much, getting bored if she couldn’t get some fresh air on a daily basis.

Belle was also relatively well-trained, knew simple commands, and was capable of using the toilet. She would always come when she was called, even if she was taking her daily walk down the hallway.

Prepping for Travel with a Cat

Belle tries out her cat door.

We chose an RV because we’d be living and working in it full-time while traveling. Not taking the cat with us was never a thought or an option. We spent a year getting the T@B camper set up in Seattle before we began traveling, then spent about 6 months in Southern Oregon getting the RV ready for long-term travel.

Moving into a tiny space was quite an adjustment for her, but she always seemed curious and adjusted very quickly. There were a few scares here and there when she got startled, but for the most part, we had an incredible opportunity to trail-train the cat before we even got started.

We installed a cat door first and foremost, however, Belle outwitted the door, making the curfew feature almost impossible to enforce. We had to build a flap that screwed in place to cover the door for when she needed to stay inside.

Having scratch surfaces and a toy were also essential. There were many long stretches on the road and nights where we stopped to rest in parking lots and couldn’t let her out. Having something to scratch stopped her from ripping the inside of the RV to shreds. The toy – a string on a stick – helped get her energy out. We also had a carrying case, which was her “hidey-hole,” where she could have her own space. She slept most nights in a window bed right next to our bed.

Most of the time, she’d go outside for nature calls, but we kept a small cat box in the shower of the RV for those times when she was stuck inside. We ordered her food online, so she always had a consistent diet, and found vet clinics by referral, as needed. The poor girl did briefly get fleas in Florida, but otherwise, she was always happy and healthy.

Exercise and Play on the Road

Belle, tolerating her leash during a walk.

Once we embarked on our trip, Belle constantly surprised us with how intuitive and obedient she was. She was still demanding when it came to her afternoon walk, but she stuck close by the RV when she was allowed outside on her own. There was an incident in California – she wandered too far in an RV park after dark, and either a dog or a wild animal got a hold of her. She made a horrible noise that I will never forget, and in the distance, I saw her running, full-speed, at the RV. I opened the door to let her in and checked her out; no bites, scrapes, or sore spots. We were extremely lucky and, thankfully, Belle seemed to learn from the experience, too.

We would park in different places for about 2 weeks at a time. When we’d get to a new site, one of us would walk around with her and explore the immediate area. Each afternoon, we’d take a walk on whatever path, sidewalk, or trail was nearby. Usually, Belle would let us know when it was time for a walk by meowing. Then, she’d lead us in the direction she wanted to go and watch to make sure we followed. She stayed with us every time, to the extent that she would let us know (by meowing) when she had to do her business, hop off-trail to go, then hop back on the trail and start walking again. I have never seen anything like it.

There were a few areas where we needed to use a leash – either because of leash rules on trails or because we were in a busier urban area and needed more control over her movements. It’s not so much that Belle tolerated the leash, but would eventually realize we weren’t going to change our mind, and that was the only way she could go outside.

It wasn’t perfect. We definitely had our standoffs. Belle is, after all, a cat and willful by nature. I can’t describe the sheer feeling of panic whenever I would hear her get into something and yelp in the distance at a campsite. There was another incident when a dog broke off-leash and came running at her while its owner laughed. Thankfully, we always made it through and in one piece, but it can get nerve-wracking.

The Peaks and Valleys of RV Travel with a Pet

Moving day was always difficult, and we had to be very stealth about packing up. We learned to trap her inside early whenever possible on moving days. She would either climb under the RV, or hide somewhere else so that we couldn’t leave. In North Carolina, she tucked herself under a porch for 3 hours before we found a fishing net to pull her out. She loved every part of traveling, except the part when the house moved. She has never been fond of car rides, and I’m almost positive she gets carsick. We did our best to limit travel times between destinations so that none of us had to be uncomfortable for very long.

Having a cat with us while exploring natural areas around the country was more incredible than it was terrifying, even when looking up how to ward off panther or alligator attacks in southern Florida, or hearing the sound of a bear in the bushes in the Allegheny National Forest, or when Belle brought a live bird into the RV while I was teaching ESL classes at 5 a.m.

Watching her on the trail and having her lead us to different areas she wanted to explore gave me a unique perspective on all the wonderful places I visited. Sitting outside by a campfire with a cat curled up in your lap, under more stars than you’ve ever seen, is an amazing feeling. Anyone who has ever had a cat knows what an incredible bond exists between human and feline – to be able to share my most incredible adventure with the creature I loved most was an absolute gift that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

For more tips on traveling with a cat, click here.