I have been living in my shuttle-bus-turned-camper for close to two years now, which means my cat—Kitty—has also been living that #vanlife for nearly two years. In this blog I share some lessons my partner Luke and I have learned about van life with a cat. And, of course, along the way I also share all the cute cat photos of our barn-cat-turned-van-cat, Kitty, living her best life in our shuttle bus we call Shellby.
Build in Space for Your Cat if Possible
My first tip about van life with a cat is to build in space specifically for your pet. They need their own space to do all their business and they need their own space to feel a sense of security when traveling or visiting unknown places.
We did our entire shuttle bus conversion ourselves, so we specifically added in an area for Kitty’s litter box under the bed. It is private for her and it rarely smells for us. We also have a space under the bed for her food and water. Her food area is separate from her litter box and she feels super comfortable under the bed—it is kind of her area.
Her cat carrier also lives under the bed close by her food and water. While she was getting used to traveling in the van, we typically kept her in the carrier with the door closed, despite how much she loathed it. We did that for both our safety and Kitty’s. Now, almost two years later, she prefers to ride in her carrier while we drive, so much so that we don’t even have to close the door.
Make Preparations for Outside Time
I am not sure if this second tip is applicable to all cats, but it is important for Kitty that she goes outside about once a day. While there are days Kitty stays inside, whether due to weather or other circumstances, she loves to stretch her legs outside, eat some grass, roll in the dirt, and occasionally get some short sprints in to burn energy and close her rings. (Where my Apple Watch people at?!)
One important part of preparing for letting her out is having a plan to get her back inside when we are ready, otherwise we are on Kitty time. Treats usually entice her back inside, but sometimes Kitty just likes to stubbornly hang out under the van. We make sure to never chase her out too aggressively because we want her to feel safe in and around the van, especially since we expose her to so many new and changing environments.
Leash Training is Possible
Over my years with Kitty, I have learned that leash training a cat is kind of possible—emphasis on kind of. We trained Kitty to wear a harness and she will walk on a leash while one of us walks behind her, but we certainly are not leading the way. I guess that is kind of leash trained—again, emphasis on kind of.
When it comes to the leash, however, we have two problems.
First, while she may walk on a leash, she will rarely walk where we want her to. Forget staying on the trail—Kitty will head off into the woods, under a log, and get tangled in her surrounds very quickly. Again, technically she is leash trained?
Our second problem with the leash is she just absolutely loathes the harness. She may be able to walk with her harness, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t miserable doing it. Mostly for the latter reason, we do not really use her harness much anymore and instead opt for what we call “supervised outdoor time.”
Final Thoughts on Van Life with a Cat
A lot of people thought we were crazy to think Kitty could adjust to happily living in a van full-time. Somewhat to my own surprise, Kitty proved all the haters wrong. It didn’t take long for her to get used to exploring new places on the regular. In fact, she learned to love all the new smells and scenery quite quickly! The most difficult adjustment for her was driving, but even that only took a couple months before she had the routine down.
As intimidating as van life with a cat may seem, cats are more resilient and adaptable than most give them credit for. So, don’t let the haters discourage you if you are thinking about taking the leap into vanlife and bringing your four-legged, claw-pawed best friend with you!