Tag Archives: vanlife with a cat

Grateful Vandweller (An Interview with Devan Winters)

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I met Devan Winters of the XsyntrikNomad blog through Facebook, but for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly how that meeting came about. We’ve known each other for not quite two years, but now it’s difficult to remember a time when Devan wasn’t my friend.

What started as an internet friendship evolved into an in-person friendship when we found ourselves in the same metropolitan area. Over donuts we talked and laughed and comiserated. We camped together for a couple of nights right before Christmas 2017, and I was impressed by Devan’s kind and compassionate nature. It’s been a joy to see Devan spread her rubber tramp wings and fly into van life.

Devan’s a great writer too. I’ve been blessed with her contribution of two guest posts (“This Is the Story of a (Kind) Girl” and the comprehensive article “Traveling Van Cat?” about cats and van life) on this blog. Her writing ability shines through in this interview too, which was conducted via email. In it she shares her van dwelling experiences, including how she chose her rig, a recent accident that nearly resulted in her losing her van, and what it’s like to share her limited space with a cat companion.

How long have you been a full-time van dweller?

I moved into my van permanently on June 20, 2017. I ran some final errands for my adult child that morning and then drove 6 hours to southern California. I spent my first night as a Van Dweller in Del Mar, CA at a Denny’s.

How long did you want to be on the road before you got on the road?

The epiphany leading to this lifestyle happened very late in 2014. It took 2 ½ years to research, plan, and save.

What is the make and model of your rig?

I live in a 2013 Chevy Express 1500 Passenger van with a 5.3 Liter V8. (Her name is Zō)

Can you stand up in your van?

I cannot. It is one of the things I will probably change in the future if finances permit. It would be a delightful convenience, but it won’t be the end of the world if I can’t ever do it.

Why did you choose this rig out of all the available options?

So many reasons! First, I couldn’t afford a Class B. I am strangely put off by the cookie cutter uniformity of them anyway – the lines seem too perfect for my chaotic mind. 🙂 I like something with a bit of character, like the Airstream 190. However, I knew I wanted to finance and would need something newer to get a loan. I also hoped something newer would be more mechanically sound. I did a lot of research on engines, reliability, and repair trends. Once that was settled, I decided (for me) windows were a must. The end result was my Chevy Express Passenger Van!

What’s your favorite thing about living in a full-size van?

There are two sides to that question in my mind. As far as size, I can’t imagine anything smaller than full size working for me. This is the minimum space I need to be comfortable. My favorite thing though… is a feeling. When I crawl into bed at night, a sense of peace and contentment fills my soul. I feel strong, capable, and independent. And I love knowing I am not tied down to any location.

What’s most frustrating about living in a full-size van?

Right now it’s showering. I have a Planet Fitness membership so it usually isn’t a big issue. I decided to stay in Flagstaff, AZ to escape the heat this summer though and there is no Planet fitness here. The cheapest shower is $9 at the Aquaplex. My weed sprayer shower and wet wipes have become more important than ever!

Normally though, the biggest inconvenience for me is lack of power. Because I don’t have solar yet, I have to go to places like Starbucks to work (since my laptop holds a charge for 2 hours at best). I would also LOVE to be done buying ice for my cooler. Once I get solar, a 12-volt fridge isn’t far behind.

Do you travel with everything you own?

I do.  My entire life is in my van and I LOVE it.

I know you were recently in a bad accident and almost lost your van. What are the three most important things you learned from the experience?

#1 The value of emotional support in like-minded friends. I was on the scene of the accident for two hours. An officer suggested I contact someone to come pick me up. I sent a text to a long time friend I knew in the area. When he called me in response, I began sobbing about my “home.” He tried, but the conversation with him only made me feel worse. He couldn’t relate to my fears or provide the comfort I needed. In hindsight, I realize the incredible importance and value of my closest nomadic friends. No matter how much of a loner or introvert you may be, connections to others in the nomadic community are vital. When I talked to you Blaize, or my friends LaVonne and Patrick, it was completely different. I felt understood and supported in a way only a nomad or vandweller would be able to.

#2 Never underestimate the value of an emergency fund and a backup plan. I was not remotely prepared for what happened. You should begin creating an emergency fund now if you don’t have one. Calculate how much it would cost to re-establish your life if you lost everything. Keep in mind you may have to start over smaller, but make sure you save enough that you at least have a starting point in a worst case situation. Put a plan on paper with things like where you might stay, considerations for your pet, etc.

#3 Check your insurance coverage and Roadside Benefits. Look at medical, uninsured motorist, car rental, deductible, etc. My claims adjuster told me the state minimums in Arizona don’t always cover a serious accident, especially medical. Roadside assistance is also a must and you should check your plan for trip interruption benefits as well. I’ve just signed up with a new roadside assistance plan that includes reimbursement for out of pocket costs (in several situations, including an accident) for an interruption that happens at least 100 miles from ‘home’.

What should vandwellers know about insurance?

For auto/van insurance, what I mentioned above. Consult wih someone you trust to get honest answers on what the best coverage would be for you and your van. If you don’t know any insurance folks personally, check out the guy Bob Wells did a video with titled ‘Insurance For Nomads’. There is also someone who works with RVers and vandwellers on RVillage. Check the community forums there. As far as health insurance, your guess is as good as mine.  🙂 I’m hoping to find a remote job with health benefits. I know some working-age nomads use health sharing ministries and plans, but those aren’t for me.

A companion cat shares the van with you. How’s that working out?

It’s not without its challenges! It’s definitely more of a blessing than anything, but it does require special considerations. Like where I spend the summers!

Do you prefer to spend time in cities or on public land? Why?

Nature is healing for me, but I’m also a city girl. If I didn’t have to work and could do whatever I wanted, I would probably spend my time 50/50. This might sound strange, but when I vandwell in the city, I prefer to be alone.  When I spend time in nature, I often find it more enjoyable to camp with one or two other people.

What are three things you do to stay stealthy when you’re in cities?  

I keep my van very plain. No stickers or anything. The only thing identifiable on my van is the license plate. I even have 3 different styles and colors of windshield shades that I rotate to throw anyone off. I never stay 2 nights in the same place unless there is a situation out of my control. My windows are limo tinted, but when I press Reflectix into them you can kind of tell. I feel like that’s a pretty solid give away that I’m a vandweller, so don’t use it that way. If I’m on a street instead of a parking lot, I’ll roll Reflectix around the windows loosely and pin it at the top. I’d like to eventually make a curtain that goes around the van, using blackout material, with the option to roll it up or tie it to the side, when not in use. I’m not terribly crafty though so that idea will probably stay an idea.  lol

Is there anything else you would like to share?  

Just that living this lifestyle makes me happier than I can put into words. Probably why it was so devastating for me after the accident when it looked like I might have to start all over again. The idea of having to stay in one place for a couple of years to regroup was more depressing than anything else I can think of. This lifestyle suits me and I feel blessed to be able to live it!

All photos provided by Devan Winters.

Traveling Van Cat? ( A Guest Post about Cats and Van Life)

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Basil, the author’s feline companion-in-van life. Photo provided by the author.

Have a cat and want to travel? No problem! With time and patience, most adult cats (and almost any kitten) will adjust to vanlife.

It will be harder to travel with a cat than it is to travel alone, and you will need to make accommodations for the cat’s needs and safety. There will be annoyances, inconveniences, and it will almost always require patience and a good sense of humor.  🙂  If you’re like me, it’s worth every challenge when you love your furbaby.

Know Thy Feline

Hi! My name is Devan Winters from the XsyntrikNomad blog. I am a vandweller and I have two cats. Freddie is a gregarious, hyper, and curious escape artist. He is 7 years old and kind of a doofus. (I say that with love). Basil is 8 years old and a bit of a scaredy-cat. He hisses at people who get near the van (even though they can’t see him through the tint).

Traveling with Freddie was great the first two days. He seemed relaxed and curious. On day three, an internal switch flipped, and he began to freak out. He suddenly wouldn’t leave me alone when I was driving. It was not safe.

After confining Freddie while I was behind the wheel, I quickly learned he was capable of howling for hours…nonstop. After a little more than a week, I knew he was going to struggle to adapt. Nothing I tried would calm him or keep him from desperately trying to get out of the van.  Lucky for me, my adult child is the proud parent of Freddie’s sister and was generous enough to take him in. Otherwise, he would be a very unhappy van cat.

Basil, on the other hand, freaked for the first three days, then settled in. He’s become a really awesome van cat.

After living and traveling with Basil in my van for a while, I’ve learned a few things. I hope they’ll help anyone else considering a feline companion in their van life travels.

LitterBox

Location:  I’ve found the best location is by a door-it allows easy access for cleaning. Basil’s litter box is in the front passenger floorboard. If I ever have a regular human passenger though, the box will move to a location near the side or rear doors.

Tip:  Placing the litter box as far away from where your head rests when you sleep at night is more convenient than you might think, especially if your feline is on a regular late night or early morning pooping schedule.  🙂

The Box:  Through the years I have preferred to use a plastic storage container, about the same length and width of a litterbox. You can grab a cheap one at Big Lots or WalMart. This is a particularly handy option when trying to find a size that fits in the space you have.

If you’re putting the box in the back (or think you ever will) hold on to the lid. You can create an awesome enclosed box by cutting a large opening on one end of the lid. In my experience, this eliminates kicked litter (when your cat covers his business) while minimizing tracking a bit too.

TIP:  If you do this instead of spending more money on a ‘normal’ litterbox, it’s important to make sure your container is big enough for your cat to turn around in comfortably. Pay extra attention to the height of the box if you plan to use the lid. Measure your cat’s height from the top of his head to the floor. Then add an inch or two to that measurement to determine the best height for the container you purchase. 

Litter and Tracking:  I currently use clumping clay litter, but a pellet is a good option to lessen tracking. (Basil was not a fan, unfortunately.) If you’re not using a pellet type litter, you can assume you’re going to have litter tracking issues. I have a mat by the litterbox that catches some of the litter, but I keep a hand broom right under the seat to sweep what’s tracked. Depending on your cat, you’ll find yourself doing this at least once a day.

Bonus:  If you use a 5-gallon bucket for your business, you and your feline friend can share the litter. I’ve switched to Arm & Hammer Double Duty Litter recently. The brand comes in many varieties, but this variety, in this brand, seems to clump better than my previous brand. I store it in a plastic container with a lid under my bed.   

Hairballs

Hairballs and puke happen. There is nothing worse than waking up to a puke covered blanket. Unless you wake up and step in warm puke. *gag* I have experienced the joy of both, and worse. I have nearly eliminated hairballs using SynergyLabs Richard’s Organics Flavored Hairball Remedy. It works great for Basil.

Food is a major factor in feline digestion. If your cat is throwing up more than a couple times a week, and you’re sure it isn’t a health issue, try experimenting with food. It can be costly, but I have found the premium brands are worth it for Basil. He actually eats less and his poop doesn’t smell quite as bad. I tried a few foods but found Natural Balance ( which can be purchased at most pet food stores) works for us. There are plenty of good quality brands you can buy between the cheap and expensive too.

TIP:  I keep two heavy flat twin sheets (purchased cheaply at Goodwill) in the van at all times . I can’t always wash my primary blanket right away if there is a puke situation. So whether I’m sleeping or out for the day, one of those sheets is always covering and protecting my primary blanket. (In the summer months, I use the sheet alone)  

Food and Water

This should be easy, but it wasn’t for me. Basil likes to tip his water. He’s done it for years. Depending on where you put the food and water bowls, a spill can cause quite a mess. I spoke to a vet and these are some things I learned:

Water Bowl Tipping:  In rare cases, some cats will be sensitive to taste and may not like the water you’re giving them. Try spring or filtered water instead.

The biggest cause of water tipping is this though:  If your cat puts his head in a water bowl and his whiskers touch the sides, he will often tip the bowl in an attempt to drink without scraping his sensitive whiskers.

Ethical Pet Products (Spot) DSO6932 Stoneware 4-Square Dog Dish, 5-Inch, Blue
TIP:  Buy a wide stone bowl like the one pictured.The 4-inch square shape is hard to tip, gives your cat a wide opening corner to corner, and the stone keeps the water cool.

Placement of Food and Water:  Put it where your cat can reach it easily, but not where you might step on it in the dark or when you’re in a rush. My vet also recommends keeping food and water away from the littler box.  (Who wants to eat where they go to the bathroom, right?)

TIP:  Cats actually don’t like their food and water together. By placing the bowls in separate locations, it fosters your cat’s natural foraging/hunting behavior. When you’re in a small space like a van, little things help keep your cat happy and content.

Food Storage:  As I will also be mentioning in the section on behaviors, most cats like to chew through bags. It would save space to keep a bag of cat food crammed in a corner somewhere, but I highly recommend a plastic container with a well-sealed lid (for freshness too). Trust me, it will save you a lot of frustration. Even if your cat doesn’t have this behavior now, the small space and potential feline boredom could create a bag-chewing monster.

Temperature Control

Location:  This is my first consideration, always. During summer months I stay in places like Flagstaff, AZ or San Diego, CA. My summer plans require quite a lot of research on weather in the desired area. I would do this anyway since I don’t like heat either, but it becomes way more important with a cat in tow. I look for places with low humidity and temps that stay below 90 degrees.

TIP:  Elevations of 7,000 feet or higher, the Northern CA coast, and the Pacific Northwest are also (usually) temperate options. US Climate Data and Accuweather are my go-to for historical weather data. 

Regulating the Temperature without Solar:  I have a passenger van so I have windows all around. I love my windows but the first thing I did was limo tint them. On most summer days in the mid to low 80’s (or below), if I open the back and side windows for a nice breeze, and put a sun shield on the front window, the van stays comfortable inside.

On hotter days, I put two sun shields in the front window and hang Reflectix from the top of the windows all the way around the van. I do not fasten it at the bottom so air can still flow. It keeps the van pretty comfortable. In fact, at floor level (specifically under the bed in the cubby hole Basil likes to hide in), it is noticeably cooler.  (Yes. I got on the floor and crawled under to see/feel)

Tip:  Spend several days in your van with your cat in different weather conditions and temperatures. Leave the windows and shades as you would if you weren’t there for the day.  Get a feel for what your cat is going to experience and watch them for signs of heat-related stress.   

Regulating the Temperature with Solar:  I have not installed solar or a roof vent yet so I can only speak from the experiences shared with me by others. According to those who have it, a working roof vent is great at regulating the temperature inside your van. If you can install two, one in the back and one in front, one drawing air out and one pulling air in, even better.

YI Dome Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom Wireless IP Indoor Security Surveillance System 720p HD Night Vision, Motion Tracker, Auto-Cruise, Remote Monitor with iOS
Monitoring:  I installed a camera and the ThermoPro TP-50 Digital Temperature and Humidity Meter. Using wifi, the camera is accessible through an app installed on my phone. I can maneuver the camera in the van remotely, using the app, and keep an eye on the temperature (and Basil) inside the van. This is a new set-up and I LOVE it. I got the idea from this YouTube video if you want to check it out.

Behavior Issues & A Small Space

If your cat has issues in your current home, you might feel like they’re amplified in a van. In fact, you may discover issues you didn’t know your cat had. Practice patience with them while they adjust to their new normal.

Basil discovered he likes to chew bags. Doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, if it makes a cool crinkly sound, he’ll bite and chew on the corners. From wet wipes to potato chips, he is not particular. I accidentally discovered he will not do this to a baggie. So, as much as the tree hugger in me hates using them, I put everything I can in baggies of all sizes (and I re-use the heck out of them). Anything too big for a baggie goes in a Rubbermaid I use exclusively for this purpose.

Living in such a small space, I also find myself as a bouncing off (or on) point. To prevent lots of scratches, it’s more important than ever to keep those front claws trimmed. Otherwise, scratches happen a lot.

CLASSY KITTY Door Scratcher Hanging Carpet Post with Sisal (Colors may Vary)
It’s also a great idea to find a spot for a small scratching post or scratching board. Otherwise, your seats may fall prey to their natural desire to stretch those paws and dig in with those nails!

TIP:  I strongly recommend using a sisal rope scratcher. Your cat will enjoy the cardboard style scratchers, but they will make one heck of a mess in your van!

Modifying Behaviour:  If you’ve never had issues with your cat before or are new to feline parenthood, yelling at or smacking a cat is completely ineffective behavior control. You probably already know that, but it’s worth mentioning. Cats definitely require a unique approach to discipline.  Because, you know, cats.

TIP:  A Google search is a great place to get advice but make sure you’re taking advice from a reputable source such as a vet website, the ASPCA, an animal products website (like chewy.com), etc.  

Playtime

Don’t forget your cat still needs playtime to expend energy. This is necessary for both physical and mental health. In fact, in such a small confined space, they need it more than ever. Take time every day, multiple times a day if you can, to play with your cat. Throw a ball if they fetch, wiggle a string for them to stalk, roughhouse (if your cat enjoys it), treat them with catnip toys, etc.

Cat Fur and Dander

If you’ve lived with a cat in a regular house or apartment, you already know fur gets everywhere. It’s worse in a van. Keep sheets and blankets washed regularly and shake them out between washes when you can. Basil likes to lounge in the driver seat so hair tends to collect there. A good lint removal brush or roller is essential.

FRESHLAND Long Handle Lint Roller, 60-Sheet Roller Included. Great Tool for Lint Removal and Pet Hair Pickup
TIP:  I recommend the Freshland Lint Roller. It’s economical, comes with a charcoal air purifier/deodorizer, and works great. I keep mine within reach from the driver seat.  When I get out of the van to go in somewhere, I can quickly spiff myself up.  

Cat Leash Training

I keep threatening to leash train Basil, but I haven’t really tried yet. I understand it takes time and a lot of patience, but there are awesome rewards. It is best to start training them as young as possible, but most adult cats are trainable. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature, your cat will love the opportunity to explore outside with you-safely!

Tip:  Microchip! You can get microchipping done for around $45 and it’s worth every penny. Even if your cat is leash trained or not prone to escape, there are still risks, such as an accident. If a window breaks out and there is a lot of commotion, your cat just might bolt at the first opportunity. Mine would. 

Confinement When Mobile

For safety reasons, most people strongly suggest confining your cat to a carrier when you’re mobile. In an accident, your cat is secure, safe, and less likely to get hurt or run off. You’re also less prone to distraction or to have your driving affected by your cat.

In reality, most of us do not participate in this practice. For me, there is no place to fit a carrier when not in use. Even if I found an easily storable/collapsible carrier, Basil has hiding spots I can’t get to, and he doesn’t come when called. Getting him in the carrier before I go anywhere would be a challenge in itself. That said, I still consider it a best practice if you can do it.

Health Care

Finding affordable medical care for your cat while on the road is a huge challenge. It’s best to do any preventative care before you leave. Once you’re on the road, if you decide to use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores), you won’t have to keep records of everything with you. (You should always carry rabies vaccination paperwork.)

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Tip:  If you travel like me, often staying in one place for a couple months at a time, take time to research local vet options. Look at Yelp and Google reviews, call to inquire about general visit prices, etc. I always start my search with AAHA Accredited Vets. The standards and guidelines they have to meet for accreditation practically guarantee you’ll get a good vet.

Something I Forgot?

I’ve tried to think of everything I wanted to know when I started, while also including answers to questions I am often asked.  If I haven’t answered something you’d like to know about, or if you want more detail on anything, please reach out to me at xsyntriknomad.com.  I will be happy to help you find the answers you need.

**Please keep in mind these are my experiences and my opinions. I’m not always right, but I took extra care to make sure any information linked is true and accurate. I will always make an extra effort to steer you in the right direction when it comes to your animal companion.

Photos (other than the one of Basil) are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those photos, you’ll be magically taken to Amazon.com. Anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking one of those links will earn the Rubber Tramp Artist a small advertising fee at not cost to you.