If you’ve been following our journey for a while, then you already know we travel with a cat—our precious Yoda—full-time, wherever our slow digital nomad adventures lead us.
We’ve been traveling with Yoda ever since we adopted him at 12 weeks old. Amazingly, he’s lived in going on ten countries on four different continents since 2015. (I know, right?) I think there is only one country I’ve lived in temporarily that he hasn’t—Colombia.
Traveling with a cat is no easy feat, and it isn’t for everyone (or every kitty).
There are many challenges that come with it, not to mention moments of stress and discomfort for both us and Yoda (i.e. more frequent vet visits, moving countries, unfamiliar sounds, etc).
Of course, it isn’t all bad (or stressful)!
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To our surprise and delight, Yoda is a natural-born traveler. He loves his harness and leash. He loves car rides. Planes? It’s not a love relationship, but he doesn’t complain (really, he doesn’t even make a sound the whole way). Backpack hikes? Sure!
In this guide, I’m spilling the (toe) beans into all the hard work to make traveling nomadically with a cat a reality. I’ll be sharing a real and raw behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to travel full-time with your cat, including the wins and battles, benefits, and challenges.
If you are curious to learn more practical tips for traveling with your cat, then head over to our cat blog, The Fluffy Kitty for our best advice and recommendations across the spectrum of cat travel—flying, road trips, backpacking, hiking, and more!
Guide to Full-Time Travel With a Cat
Is Your Cat a Travel Cat?
I receive tons of messages, comments and DMs from admirers and fans of Yoda, and that fills my heart up with warmth and gratitude.
Yoda is a special cat; he’s traveled the world, survived an aggressive FISS cancer and consequent limb amputation, underwent intense radiotherapy treatments, and had dozens of unwanted poking and prodding from humans in scary white lab coats.
He’s a badass cat, okay? And despite all the unfortunate events, he’s still traveling today, living his best little kitty life alongside his meowmy and catdad.
My point is, traveling isn’t for every cat. And even though you may pray to the gods for your cat to like travel and be able to travel well, the reality is that it just may not happen.
Cats are creatures of comfort.
They’re not like humans who push themselves to face pain in order to grow outside their comfort zone. Nah—cats LOVE their cushy, comfort zone. If your cat is one of those, in paw-ticular, then don’t force a travel lifestyle on them.
So, how can you tell if your cat enjoys travel or not…?
Introducing Your Cat to Travel
There is so much that goes into traveling with a cat, but it all can’t happen—the jet setting, the globetrotting, the road tripping—without first spending lots of time harness and leash training your cat.
You can’t travel with a cat without them being comfortable outdoors and “used to” seeing new places. To do that, you need to get your cat used to wearing and walking with a harness and leash so they can explore safely, and can be under your watchful eye.
Without one, your kitty is at risk of getting spooked and lost. So, it’s a must-have for road trips, hiking and backpacking with a cat, and just overall a wise safety measure whenever you’re out adventuring with your frisky feline.
Cat Travel — The Basics
Without going into all the nitty-gritty requirements of cat travel here (see our cat travel guides and training tips on The Fluffy Kitty for all that), I just want to lay out the basics.
✈️ Plane Travel with a Cat
Most of you who reach out to me do so because you’re planning to fly with your cat. We travel with Yoda by plane every time we move countries or about every 3–6 months. Once we move, we typically stay in one or two locations in-country. Any travel that we do with Yoda once in-country is by car, bike, or bus.
Each time we relocate with our cat we do so with the help of our cat backpack. (I’ll talk more about must-have gear in a bit.)
Flying with a cat takes extra preparation and planning. Yoda is our priority when traveling, so we will often rent a car and drive for hours to larger airports, or pay higher ticket prices, just to have direct flights and better routes so that it reduces the overall travel time for him.
Generally speaking, whenever we fly with our cat we typically need:
- A health certificate, stating our cat is fit to fly — signed by your local vet, and, in some cases when flying internationally, by the USDA APHIS Vet officer. This document and vet visit often costs between $25 (in countries like Mexico) up to $90 (in the USA and Canada).
- Proof of rabies certification and up to date vaccines (unfortunately, the injection from a vaccine is how Yoda developed his sarcoma cancer, so please vaccinate your cats wisely and, if possible, ask for alternative solutions to injection.)
- An airline-approved soft-sided carrier lined with an absorbing doggy pee pad.
- Purchase of your pet’s space in the cabin (preferably), reserved in advanced, or in cargo for long distances. Fees vary by airline, but are often between $50–$125 USD per ticket.
- Emergency food, water, and, if needed, access to litter.
🚙 Car Travel & Road Trips
Traveling by car with a cat is, luckily, much easier than flying. We lived and traveled in a van with Yoda for months across Mexico, USA, and Canada. It was so much fun, and we plan to pick up van life again this summer 2022.
Here are a few tips to get started!
Create a “space” for your cat where they can easily access the litter box, food and water, and a comfy bed or blanket. In our van, we even built in a cat tree scratcher. Of course, this isn’t necessary for short road trips.
If your cat moves around and doesn’t settle or sleep while traveling in the car, you can buy a soft-sided pop-up little tent. This is what we used for Yoda when he needed to be contained but have some space for a bed/litter and food/water bowls. It’s also safer in case you were in an accident. An unleashed or unsecured pet in the vehicle can be dangerous and deadly.
Take breaks so your kitty can have some water, use the potty, and stretch their little pawpaws. And of course, always have the harness and leash ready for hikes and strolls around the park!
⛰ Outdoorsy Travel (Hiking, Backpacking, Camping)
For the outdoorsy pet parents, you can also train your cat to hike, backpack, camp, and even bike with you.
Same rules—plan and prepare your travels in advance and bring all your must-have gear.
To have fun and enrich your cat’s life through outdoor exploration is, of course, the goal, but safety is priortity number one!
🌎 overseas Travel With a Cat
When moving countries with a cat, you’ll basically need to follow the steps for flying with your cat, but then also check the local country’s pet importation requirements.
Some countries are not as pet-friendly as others, meaning, they may require quarantine periods or blood titer tests. This is one reason why Paul and I haven’t tried to live for a while in Bali, Indonesia (a popular place for digital nomads).
Similarly, this is why we have really enjoyed living in Mexico as digital nomads—traveling there with a cat is easy and you no longer need a vet health certificate when flying from the US or Canada.
🏙 City Travel
For those of you wishing to travel with your cat in the city you live in, then you should prioritize harness and backpack training and getting your cat used to loud, abrupt noises, and other animals, particularly dogs.
I’m not saying take your cat out in the city just for the hell of it. 👎
If your cat does enjoy walking on a leash, but you’re limited to the city, then you can check for nearby hikes, pet-friendly cafes, and parks.
You can also train your cat to go on road trips so you can spend the weekend traveling without having to leave your cat alone for days (don’t do that, please 🥺) or find a pet sitter.
Our Essential Gear for Traveling with a Cat
Over the years of traveling with Yoda, we’ve learned the difference between essential vs non-essential.
Here’s a list of cat travel gear we use, depending on our mode of travel.
- Backpack that doubles as a soft-sided carrier that can fit under the plane seat (at your feet). We used to travel with two: a backpack and a carrier. But that got complicated, we replaced two with one.
- Harness and retractable leash
- 1x collapsible food/water bowl for backpack adventures. When we move countries, we take Yoda’s stainless steel bowls. Stainless is more hygenic for long-term use and we don’t want to buy new each time we relocate.
- Plastic envelope folder that holds all of Yoda’s important documents, vaccinations, and pet passport.
- Yoda’s favorite toy, hehe.
- Cat litter box (empty, cleaned, and packed with clothes inside Paul’s 60L backpack).
- I now also take Yoda’s bed with my in the plane (and use it like a pillow). This is obviously not an essential. But ever since I bought his bed for his recovery after amputation, I can’t part with it.
And that’s all we take to move countries with our cat!
Once we land in a new country, we will find the nearest pet store and purchase these essentials: a litter box (if we didn’t bring the last one we had), natural cat litter, a cardboard cat scratcher, and the best cat food we can find. If we can’t find anything decent, we might order online.
Logistics of Traveling with a Cat
Here, I will answer some of the FAQs I get about how we actually pull off traveling as digital nomads with a cat.
- Do you need to take a litter box when flying with your cat?
The answer depends on your cat. Yoda will not use the litter box during travel (we’ve tried). He will only go after we land and he can enjoy the release, lol. Depending on flights and driving times, this can mean he goes without peeing for 8–12 hours.
- Is it expensive to travel with a cat?
It can be, depending on how often you relocate. For flights, the price is like paying for extra luggage; it typically costs anywhere from $50 to $125 USD one-way. You also need to take into account the health certificate cost and the visit to the vet. Road trips and other means of travel don’t require any special, reoccurring fees except the one-off purchase for the gear.
- How do you find apartments to rent that are pet-friendly?
Our approach for finding and renting apartments in other countries is fairly straightforward. We search on local Facebook groups and on Airbnb. Sometimes, we find ideal places we’d like to stay but that are flagged as “no pets allowed.” In these cases, we reach out and negotiate, explaining how Yoda is a well-trained indoor kitty. Offering to pay a security deposit can help, too.
If you have any questions about traveling with a cat, please drop them in the comments below!
Final Thoughts on a Life of Travel with a Cat
Ultimately, if you’ve learned or gained anything from this guide, I hope that it’s that traveling with a cat is doable, but it comes with a whole extra list of to-dos, challenges, and sacrifices.
We are extremely lucky that Yoda is well-adapted to travel. It’s not always easy. It can be stressful. But the reward of having him, our best friend, by our side is the greatest gift! I know we’ll never have another cat (or pet) that will travel with us as far and wide as Yoda has. He’s truly one of a kind. 🥲
That said, if your cat enjoys the outdoors and doesn’t mind a trip here and there, then I highly recommend encouraging that sense of curiosity. Enrichment through outdoor exploration for cats is amazing and there is an entire global community of #AdventureCats out there, including Yoda, here to support you!
And if you’re not already, follow Yoda’s adventures around the world on Instagram @bucketlistbri and @fluffyyoda. Don’t forget you can learn all about cat travel and more on our blog The Fluffy Kitty. Thank you for reading! 🤍