Have you watched videos on social media of people traveling with a cat and thought – wow, that looks SO cool!?! Yep, us too - and we got the opportunity to sit down and #catchat with Julie and Daniel, a couple in Australia who do just that! Traveling the land down under in a van with their gorgeous rescue kitty, Nala, Julie and Daniel gave us fantastic insight into their awesome, nomadic lifestyle and answered our most burning questions.
Read on to find out about their great adventures as well as their tips and advice for people thinking about traveling with cats!
Welcome to #catchat! So, what was it that made you choose van life?
Daniel: We’ve been in Australia for about ten years, I’m from New Zealand and Julie is French. About a year or so ago, we adopted Nala from a shelter – a definite connection was made between Julie and Nala!
Julie: She definitely chose me that day, she wouldn’t let me go! I had no choice, I had to bring her home.
Daniel: As with so many rescue cats, we don’t know anything about her past, just that she was around 7 years old when we adopted her. She was a bit of a scaredy cat when we picked her up - very skittish, quite shy, but she just showed affection like she wanted to be loved and with a little bit of time, care and nurturing she’s come full circle.
Julie: Yes, she’s completely changed, she bloomed into a different cat with a different personality. She’s so confident now, so loving and affectionate.
Were you already living and traveling in the van when you rescued Nala?
Julie: No, we were living a different kind of dream – living in the city, we had great jobs, everything was perfect! Then Coronavirus happened and we started asking ourselves what we should do. Working in the hospitality industry, it was unclear how it was going to pan out. I just said to Daniel “I have a crazy idea, what about leaving everything and going into a van and travel around Australia?!”
Daniel: I jumped straight to it! A week later we had bought a bus, it happened really quickly.
Julie: It was the perfect time to do it, no one was on the roads and it really helped Nala with her confidence – not too many distractions for her.
How have you and Nala adapted to van life?
Julie: We were very lucky that Nala didn’t have any issues with the motion of the van. The first time she rode in the van, she actually slept! I think she knew from the get-go that the van was safe and we were there. We didn’t have to teach her that it was safe, she just knew it. We were very relaxed and not anxious at all so I think she knew that and just relaxed too.
As Nala is a senior cat, is there anything you’ve had to take into consideration to make her extra comfy?
Julie: We thought we were going to have a problem harness training Nala as a senior cat. All the research we had done and the videos we watched had always shown people traveling with a cat from a kitten so we weren’t sure how she was going to adapt, it was a concern for us.
Daniel: It’s that saying – “you can’t treat an old cat new tricks”, but you can! We feel that because she was older, it was easier because she’s not as keen to get out and explore and not as excitable as a younger cat. She moves at a slower pace so it’s been a nice, easy transition into van life.
Julie: We never had a problem training her to wear a harness or walk on a leash, the biggest training we had to do, and still work on, is building her confidence outside. She loves it but if there is a distraction such as a sudden noise, she’ll get scared just like most cats would.
Was there anything in particular that you did to help build her confidence?
Julie: My advice would be, just listen to your cat. If she showed any sign that she didn’t want to go out or there was something scaring her we never forced her to. Also, if you act confidently, your cat is going to feed off that emotion and be confident as well.
Daniel: We always make sure we have a safe haven nearby. We’re usually near the bus or we have a cat backpack, so if she ever feels unsettled she always has somewhere to retreat to and reset.
What is something that you’ve learned the hard way about traveling long distance with a cat? Is there anything that you weren’t expecting that was difficult to overcome?
Julie: We were very lucky once again with Nala, we don’t feel like we’ve learned anything the hard way. I think that’s because we did a lot of research before we left or that could just be down to Nala’s laid back personality. We’ve learned more things about us adapting to living in a van rather than anything to do with Nala!
In contrast to that, is there anything that has been a lot easier about traveling with a cat than you anticipated?
Daniel: Yes, I think all 'Cat Explorer' parents feel the same worry over losing their cat. Especially because you’re always in a new surrounding; the vehicles, the outdoors so that was really at the forefront of our minds. But that didn’t turn out to be a problem at all.
Julie: No, not for us. She hasn’t tried to escape once, we didn’t train her to wait at the door but she does actually wait for us to put her harness on. She’s never tried to escape out of the front door of the van, she knows that she only goes out of the main door.
Daniel: We can leave the door open during the day and she won’t go outside. If she does, she’ll take a couple of steps, will sit down and wait for her harness to be put on. Again, I think we’ve been very lucky with Nala!
Julie: That’s the issue we hear from other people who are living in a van with their cats that they’ve encountered the most, the cat escaping. But we’ve not experienced that. When she is outside she’ll always be on her harness with her GPS tracker attached. It’s just really for peace of mind for us as she’s always been really safe on her harness, she hasn’t ever wriggled out of it. We feel so lucky that Nala has the perfect personality to do van life!
What adaptations have you made to the van to accommodate Nala?
Daniel: We actually did a lot! We got straight to work on the bus and possibly went a bit overboard when it came to ideas on how to secure and protect her. We started off with sound proofing the bus, it’s 40 years old so it’s quite loud on the road. We put heat shields in too, when you’re traveling in the desert it’s cold at night and hot in the day. We added fly screens so she couldn’t escape while we had the windows open. The seats in the bus are benches so we cut a hole out and made a little cubby underneath for her. So she has a sound proof, heat proof area that also has a cooling mat, so when it’s 40 degrees outside she jumps on her mat to cool off.
We’ve put rope around the legs of the table to make a scratcher for her, that’s probably her favourite modification to the bus, she goes crazy for it! We’ve created a door for the bedroom so we can secure her in the rear of the bus if we need to.
By far the best thing we did was enclose her litter box in the cubby hole. That helps with the odour; we’re in 12 square metres! It also helps with the tracking of the litter so we don’t find any litter in our bed or in the bus because it’s all contained in the hole. That would be my number one tip for everyone travelling in a van with a cat – enclose that litterbox!
It sounds like you’ve really kitted out the van so it’s perfect for Nala. Where did you research your ideas and resources for those modifications?
Julie: Some were our own ideas but we did some research online too. We found the Cat Exploring community to be really helpful; people who’ve experienced traveling with cats and reading their stories. We wanted to make sure Nala was going to be comfortable, that was our biggest concern, we wanted her to be happy and comfortable first so that then we could be happy and comfortable!
What have you found to be the biggest challenge traveling in Australia?
Julie: We found a few things challenging about traveling in Australia with Nala. Firstly, the wildlife - especially snakes. We’ve seen a lot of them going under the bus, so we’re always very cautious and keep Nala close to us. We were also concerned about the heat which is why we tinted the windows, created the cubby hole etc. But maybe because we were so prepared for it, we haven’t actually found the heat to be much of a problem.
Our biggest challenge has been the national parks. In Australia, you can’t take any pets - dog or cat to any national parks and you don’t realise how much of Australia is national parks until you open a map and you’re planning a trip. That’s been a challenge because you want to experience and enjoy them but you don’t want to disobey the law. So we’ve worked around it and found pet friendly accommodation nearby, we’ll visit the parks in the day while leaving Nala in the accommodation. We’ve also met people who’ve been kind enough to open their homes to us and have looked after Nala while we’ve adventured!
Has it been difficult to find cat-friendly accommodation?
Julie: No, we just go ahead and ask the question, even to places that don’t advertise that they’re cat-friendly. We send them a link to our Instagram page or website to show that she’s used to traveling and we’ve only had a couple of refusals so far, but then we’ve always been able to find an alternative quickly.
What comments do you usually receive from strangers when they find out that you’re travelling and living in a van with a cat?
Daniel: Julie summed it up perfectly when she said “if we had a penny for every time someone asks “is that a cat?!’, we would be really rich!” There is definitely a lot of surprise initially.
Julie: We also travel in places that are remote so they're not used to seeing people out with their cats.
Daniel: The more we’ve traveled and gained confidence, we’ve found that the comments have become more positive and more supportive. People now approach us a lot more and are friendly with their questions.
Julie: Nala loves it! She’s so happy when people come over and say hi, she loves the attention!
What would be your top tips for traveling with a cat?
Julie: If someone is thinking about committing to van life full time, it’s a good idea to rent one first to try it out and see if it’s for you. There are some rental companies that do allow you to take cats on board. Preparation and research is really important as well as talking to people who have done it before.
Daniel: It’s better to be prepared for every type of scenario that you might encounter with your cat while on the road than not.
Julie: Don’t worry too much about having all the equipment first of all. Just head out with the things you need at first, then you can always buy other things as you go, rather than spending lots of money on items you might not need.
Buy good quality gear, if you buy cheap and it doesn’t work you’ll just end up having to replace it and spend more money.
Our top pieces of equipment that we can’t live without is a cat backpack, a harness and leash and a tracker is good for peace of mind. We’re lucky that Nala hasn’t tried to escape and has never wriggled out of her harness but a tracker just gives that added security.