By Hailey Hirst
Part of me feels self-conscious when I’m on a trail (or a sidewalk, or at a truck stop) with a cat on a leash. But the better part of me can’t get enough of adventuring with my travel cat. I love going out into the world and savoring it differently with a soft, curious animal. And for the most part, she likes it too.
Since adopting my foster kitten, Josie, a year-and-a-half ago, she has accompanied me on thousands of miles of road trips. She’s slept in cabins, RVs, and motel rooms. She’s seen red rock deserts, mountain lakes, and feet of snow.
Even when it’s logistically more difficult, the experience of traveling with a cat offers more than the toll it can take on us. The effort is worth it for a lot of other people, too, it turns out.
Cats don’t have the long bred history of being outdoor-adventure companions or working animals like dogs do, but they can be leash trained. They’re naturally curious and relatively low-maintenance pets. With the right temperament and training, cats have the capability of becoming wonderful travelers (and even campers—although we haven’t tent camped yet).
Not all cat personalities are apt for adventure or travel. There are reportedly three main types of cat personality, two of which better suit outdoor/traveling lifestyles.
We chose a well-socialized kitten who was friendly, but somewhat cautious. She’s a tuxedo cat—not a distinct breed—but a bi-color marking pattern that’s said to denote a certain nature: lively, energetic, easygoing, social, intelligent. Tuxies are often compared to dogs in terms of personality. (She also plays fetch).
Once we got our “puppy cat” home, we built trust and learned her signals, and worked on training to see if she was up for becoming a leash-trained travel cat.
Both leash training and working up to a long trip (or even a normal-length walk or hike) take time.
Remember—and this might seem obvious—cats are not dogs. They’re just not. Be patient and forgiving and love them for who they are.
Think your cat is too old to train? Maybe not! We started leash training immediately with Josie at eight-weeks-old. But her mom (who was adopted by another wonderful human) also took well to leash training as an adult. It’s part innate personality, and part patient training.
This takes patience, too. You won’t go as far or as fast with a cat in tow. But that can be a good thing if you embrace it.
Try to notice what they get held up investigating, and your walk might be richer for it. Stuck sniffing a branch? Ask yourself: what could have recently walked by here and rubbed their own animal scent on it? Chattering at something? Think about or look up: what type of bird might that be?
If they are moving all together too slowly (or not at all) they might need carried for a while, either in arms or in/on a backpack. Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t have ALL day. Or maybe you do?
My travel cat has helped me slow down and be present. She lives in the here and now, enthralled by the scents, textures, plants, critters, and movement of places. With her, I notice more sounds and more birds. It’s a rich and dense way to be out in the world—wordless, aware, feeling.
Cats are more territorial than nomadic by nature. If stressed or scared, it’s great to have somewhere they can retreat to that they know is safe. Maybe that’s a cat carrier or a vehicle, or a backpack. Maybe it’s just your arms (although some cover helps) so they’re up higher than a perceived threat. Having the option of retreat is a stress reliever—especially if you encounter other animals/noise/etc.
Cats are sensitive creatures. If they are getting extra stressed while outside or in a vehicle, take a moment to check in with your own mood. They might be mirroring your anxiety level.
This conveniently also works in a positive way. You can calm them with a serene disposition. Breathe in. Soothe your cat with a gentle voice, soft pets, and whatever else you know they like.
Whether you’re walking in your neighbourhood or taking your cat to a park, follow posted rules about pets. Keep your cat on leash (even if dogs are off-leash—maybe especially if dogs are allowed off-leash where you are).
And no matter where you are, be courteous with your pet. Not everyone loves them like you do. Stay only in pet-friendly accommodation. While we’ve never had to deal with accidents, they can happen. Clean up after them and Leave No Trace.
Wondering about the travel litter box situation? We bring one from home. She knows the routine. She never goes outside of it (except once in very soft dirt in an Airbnb’s backyard). Travel boxes exist in addition to eco-options, and some cats can be trained to use a toilet. You do you.
Or at your mom’s house, or at your pet-friendly Airbnb after they’ve settled in for a day or two. It’s okay. Just don’t leave them in a hot (or very cold) vehicle while you’re hiking or having lunch. That’s not safe or kind.
All in all, adventuring with a travel cat is not the same as going without them. Some modes of travel and certain places won’t suit your cat (or straight up won’t allow them)—and that’s okay. They’ll still be asleep when you get back. Just kidding. But maybe.
For more information and practical information about training, traveling, and cat stories, AdventureCats.org is a great resource. They are not affiliated with this post in any way, but I utilized their resources when I started leash training.