Full Time Travel Life With Pets

One of the things we are asked about most is “What’s it like travelling and living in a motorhome with your pet?” The short answer is “It’s great & we’re so glad that we brought Theodore with us”. He’s such a chilled cat, he’s just happy to be where we are & he’s part of our family so we had to at least try. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing…

Theodore enjoying his freedom in France 2020

Theodore came to live with us from some friends who had to move out of their flat and couldn’t find a new place that took pets. Initially he came to stay with us for two weeks, but after three months with no sign of him going back home, Callum asked about taking him full time – now he’s been with us for over 6 years!

When Theodore is getting used to a new place he likes to be left alone and usually find a place to hide until he decides that it’s safe to come out. We didn’t see Theodore for about a week when he first came to live with us, he’d chosen to hide under the kitchen cabinets. Callum thought that I’d bought a cat bed, litter tray and toys just to trick him into thinking there was a cat in the flat as he’d seen no actual cat. After about a week, Theodore just strolled out and came and sat with us to watch tele and that was that, he was a part of our family. When we were first organising the trip, we had discussed what to do with our pets (Theodore and a tortoise called Henry). Whilst there was lots of information about travelling with dogs and cats, we quickly found out that travelling with a reptile just wasn’t going to be practical. Henry now happily lives with a friend, in their huge garden and we regularly get updates of his escapades in Jersey!

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When we were talking about going away travelling one of our major concerns was ‘would Theodore would take to driving around in a vehicle?’ As an inside cat he was used to just amusing himself all day whilst we were at work (mostly sleeping) so we weren’t worried about leaving him in the van whilst we went off sightseeing, hiking etc, but the few times he’d been in a vehicle, he’d been stressed (although this was go to the vet, which brings it’s own stresses and bad memories). Over the next couple of months we needed to go back and forth to the vets a few times to prepare Theodore for travelling: for his pet passport, rabies jabs etc. The first few trips were predictable – I’d drive, Callum would sit in the back, Theodore would meow until Callum put his hand in the box, then he’d settle down. On one occasion, I had to work late and Callum had to take Theodore to the vet on his own, and that was when we figured out something important. On the way back, Callum stopped the car, wound the windows up and opened the box. Theodore jumped on top of his box and the meowing stopped – he actually didn’t mind driving around in the car if he wasn’t in his cat box, he was just annoyed that he couldn’t see! Coupled with the fact that he hates being confined (or even held really), it was no wonder that he was stressing out about being in the box. After that day, we started just letting him sit in the car, it didn’t take him long to learn that the driver’s seat and dashboard were off limits, and for future trips to the vet he was much calmer.

Before we left Jersey we built in six weeks of ‘settling in’ time for Theodore in the motorhome. Just like when you move house we wanted him to realise that the motorhome was his new home so if anything should happen he would (hopefully) return back to the van. To do this I moved up to a campsite in the motorhome with Theodore whilst Callum lived part time at the flat and part time with us, at the campsite. We wanted to make the motorhome as comfortable and as much like the flat for Theodore as possible. He likes being up high so we decided that he could have the top cab bed, above the drivers seats as his area (to this day, we still call it “Theodore’s room”). Conveniently we also store all our spare blankets, towels and the bean bags up there so it is really cosy.. Callum took apart his giant cat tree and fashioned a new one from all the pieces that fits nicely between the two front seats, contains his favourite pieces (the scratch posts, hammock and hiding hole) and can be used as a ladder for him to access the cab bed. We also cut out a hole in the side of one of the sofa seats (bench seats that line the sides of the motorhome) and put in a cat flap. This is his ‘bunker’; a dark, enclosed, safe place for him to hide in if he gets scared, usually due to loud noises outside (aeroplanes, rubbish trucks, thunder storms and so on). He has another comfy cat bed and a cooling mat (useful when it gets too hot in the van!) in there, and the rest of the bench contains his food, toys and bags of litter etc. His food & water bowl go on a mat between the front seats so that they aren’t in the way and he can eat in peace whilst we’re walking around the van, and the mat can be easily removed for cleaning before we start driving.

Theodore’s ‘apartment’ and cat tree

When we bought the motorhome, it was quite important to us to have as few “double use” areas as possible. Some vans have beds that double as sofas (which means you can’t sit on the sofa if someone wants to go to bed), some others have tables that block walkways (stopping you from moving if someone else is using the table). Theodore’s litter tray is one of the few “double use” areas in the van, as the shower tray makes a perfect storage area for his ‘toilet’. We had tried to train him to use the actual toilet whilst we were living in the flat, but he hadn’t taken to it. Originally we had stored his litter tray in the passenger footwell, but it was close to his food and needed to be moved every time we started driving. Moving it to the shower meant that it was out of the way, it wasn’t next to his food and the wipe-clean shower makes it easier to clean up any stray litter and/or ‘spillages’. It does also mean though, that it’s right next to our bed and Theodore does love to poo just after we’ve got into bed! We keep nappy sacks or dog poo bags in the bathroom with his scoop and a little bin next to our toilet.
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Theodore did his usual settling in routine of finding a place to hide for a couple of days and then he slowly came and joined me on the bed for cuddles at night time. He was doing really well and we were so pleased with the easy transition but we were a little presumptuous. One weekend when both Callum and I were in the motorhome, feeling smug about how easily we’d moved Theodore in, he followed Callum out of the habitation door. We panicked. Where could he have gone?! The campsite was huge, there were so many places he could hide, there were lots of large vehicles, dogs and children running around making noise. This was not a place that we wanted to lose him! After hours of searching we finally found him under the caravan next to us (which just happened to belong to the guy that we’d bought our motorhome from- small island!). Theodore was so scared and would not come out no matter how we enticed him. He was just far enough in that we couldn’t reach him and kept moving further back towards the decking on the other side of the caravan. By nightfall we decided to just leave him be (whilst keeping an eye out for any movement) to see if he’d relax and come out by himself. That night we barely slept with the habitation door wide open, in case he decided to run back in during the night. He didn’t. The next morning we were back down on our hands and knees under the caravan. He’d wedged himself right in the corner of decking now, we could only see the reflection of his eyes when we shined a torch into the darkness. Eventually we found a long flexible flag pole and moved Theodore out from under the decking to under the caravan. OK, we could finally see him now but we still couldn’t reach him. I grabbed a towel and Callum moved him towards the other edge of the caravan. As he ran out I pounced and enveloped him in the towel. He was not amused. We returned him to the motorhome and wondered if this was going to work and had we made a really bad decision. Would he ever be happy in the motorhome?
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Thankfully by the time we got to September we had been living in the motorhome for over a month together and he was much more relaxed. It was nearly time to leave Jersey and we were all much happier about the prospect of taking Theodore travelling with us. On the boat he was great, we just let him freely roam around in the motorhome (no cat box). Our first stop was with friends near Dinan, in France. It was the perfect place for us to settle into full time motorhome life. Relaxed and calm, in the beautiful Brittany countryside. Our friends could help us if we needed anything, we could pop to the shop or ‘bricolage’; we still had a few things to fix on the van, that we hadn’t had time for in Jersey. We’d tried Theodore with a lead and harness before. He’d seemed to be OK but had wiggled out of the flimsy harness and run to hide if he got scared, which was fine. No pressure. We’d done quite a bit of research online about travelling with pets and we’d found some better cat harness coats. Our plan had been to use his posh new coat harness (from Mynwood Cat Jackets) and an extendable lead so that he could come in and out of the van as he pleased. We just put his coat on him, clipped on the lead and attached the lead to the handle near the habitation door. We got on with fixing things and he came and sat on the step to watch us. Then he jumped down and started sniffing around. “Great” we thought “this is what we wanted to happen”. Unfortunately, he got the lead caught on the retractable step and started to panic. He was stuck under the van and Callum had to reach in to free him. Naturally, the panicking cat didn’t appreciate being pulled out from his hiding place and did what any animal would do – clawed at anything in range. After taking a chunk out of Callum’s hand and then my arm as I put him back in the motorhome, drawing blood from both of us (another scar for Callum), we left him to stew whilst everyone calmed down. This is not what we’d hoped would happen. What do we do now?
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We decided that Theodore would just have to not go out of the motorhome for a while, at least until we were all comfortable and more settled. Our next stop was to my godmother’s in Belgium. We had planned on parking on her driveway and sleeping in the van but when we got there, after a LONG 9hr drive, we found that the motorhome didn’t actually fit through the gates so we had to park it across the road at her neighbours. This meant that we’d all be moving into her spare bedroom, including Theodore. Not what we had planned but at least we’d all be together, we could shut the bedroom door and we’d have our own safe space. There were also other animals living there: 2 cats, a dog, some horses and some goats, but they all lived downstairs or outside so nowhere near our room. Theodore took a day to settle in, finding places to hide and familiarising himself with his new surroundings. He took to burrowing under the bedclothes and staring out of the window onto the back yard but seemed happy enough. We can usually tell when he’s settled in somewhere because he goes for a poo!
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Our next stop was Amsterdam, which meant another long(ish) drive & our first campsite. Theodore had initially taken to coming down from his ‘apartment’ above the drivers seats whilst we were driving and sat in the dip, on the dashboard in front of my seat. He enjoyed watching the world go by but we were keeping an eye on his stress levels. When he gets stressed he starts to pant. We were wary of keeping to road rules and insurance regulations about keeping pets contained, in case of an accident/ so they didn’t cause an accident which is why we had decided to keep his coat on him whenever we were moving in the van, in case he needed to be rescued but after a few months this rule soon fell away. Theodore now stays up on the cab bed when we’re driving and comes down to see us when we park up. He is much happier this way, mainly sleeps whilst we’re driving and it’s much safer for all of us.

As we have become braver about wild camping and have generally been travelling through places at the end of their tourist season, or during their low seasons, we have often been the only people in places most of the time. This has meant that we’ve had a few opportunities to take Theodore out on his lead in quiet, calm places. The success has been varied; sometimes he’s more eager to explore, other times he gets spooked by a noise or a bird or a passing vehicle or even the wind (!) and runs straight back inside. The longest time he was happily exploring out on his lead was at a campsite in Croatia. We really thought he’d got the hang of it… until he found the beach and was scared by the waves! At least now he knows the van is his safe space and is happy to return to it whenever he needs to, but would he be able to do that if he wasn’t on the lead?

Exploring Greece on his harness & lead

Over Christmas and New Year 2019 we stayed in a couple of air bnbs & our friend’s flat in Malta with family and friends who had flown out to join us. Theodore came with us and settled in really well. He did his usual day or so of hiding, sniffing around and settling in but was happy to come and join us for cuddles then go back to his bed. To travel from Greece to Italy then on to Malta we’d taken ferries and had booked pet friendly cabins. We’d read awful reviews about the cleanliness and quality of that particluar ferry company and their pet cabins but we were pleasantly surprised. We brought his food, water, bed and litter tray up with us (putting the litter tray in the shower, as always). Theodore was fab! He hid under the covers for a little while, sniffed the place out then took up his place on the window sill and spent nearly the whole of the 24hr journey there sleeping or looking out of the window. He did the same on our return journey to Italy and our 36hr ferry ride from Italy to Spain. He really is a super travel cat!
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In Spain we continued as usual; driving for a few hours, parking up and exploring for a couple of days then moving on. All of us, including Theodore, had settled back into vanlife after a month in Malta and various ferry journeys. We got to southern Spain when coronavirus hit and quarantine started. We had decided to stay in Spain, rather than try to head back to Jersey, for various reasons. We had no idea that lockdown would last so long. After two weeks of self isolating near a lake, north of the Sierra Nevada, we had reached our wild camping limit and needed to find somewhere else to stay. From our Spanish contacts we found a studio flat that was available for the next few weeks. It was hidden away in the mountains, we hoped it would be a safe place away from the virus and all the madness around us. Jose was a great host, said he was happy for us to bring Theodore in with us, but he already had 3 cats living at his property- 1 female and 2 male (+ 2 newborn kittens born whilst we were there)- none of them neutered- so we’d just have to be aware of them. The studio flat was fine for us but really small for Theodore. We’d brought his cat tree up with us from the van and his bed, he loved looking out the window at the birds, but there just wasn’t enough room for him to run around. We had the roof area/veranda to ourselves so we started letting Theodore outside to explore, fully supervised, in case he went elsewhere or met the other cats. We used the clothes drying rack as a gate so he could see out, we could have the doors open but all the cats knew that was the ‘territory divider’. Mostly Theodore stayed in & they stayed out. He absolutely loved the freedom! He’d sit at the door after breakfast waiting for us to let him out, would take up his safe position hidden under some chairs and then come back in when we called him. We did have a few scary moments when he met the alpha cat, Herman. Theodore was interested in getting to know the other cats; the female cat he sniffed and even let into the flat to eat his food, the black male cat just looked at him and ran away but Herman was a fighter, often turning up in the moring with a new scratch or scar. He was not impressed to have Theodore on his territory! Which was fine, we were just visitors here, this was his space. Theodore learned early on that the flat was now his safe space so when Herman turned up he just ran back inside.

After 7 weeks in the studio flat in Spain, we were quite concerned about how Theodore would be when we had to move back into the motorhome. He was brilliant! We had 3 nights on the driveway in Spain before we headed north to France. He enjoyed watching the other cats play outside but didn’t want to go out, even when we gave him the option. He knew that was their space. Theodore took to life back in the motorhome immediately. Our 3 day drive up through Spain and then France went without incident, as if we’d never stayed anywhere else.

We have been travelling full time now for nearly nine months, we’re waiting in France for coronavirus restrictions to be dropped so we can move around again. Whilst we’ve been staying here at our friend’s house Theodore has been adventuring. He started off sniffing around outside, with us following him and making sure he knew how to get back to the van should he need to. He now roams the farm freely, coming and going from the van as he pleases. He comes for a cuddle on the bed with us when we wake up in the morning, has his breakfast then goes off outside. He pops back in the van during the day for food, water, a cuddle or to use the toilet. We bring him back in at night time as it starts to get dark. He has met the other two cats that live here (both neutered) and they have acknowledged each other but give each other space, so far. We’re hoping he will be happy enough to travel in the van when we can move around again. Maybe he’ll be OK going out on his own if we stop in quiet places? We’ll have to wait and see. Keep an eye on our social media accounts for updates about how he gets on as we start to move around again. Theodore’s Instagram account is more popular than anything we do! Even more than our own travel one. Apparently people love cats 🐈‍

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