Van Life 101: How to Live on the Road with Your Pets
Humans aren’t the only ones joining the Instagram frenzy of #vanlifeadventures. Here are the stories of the pets along for the ride.
#Vanlife is a phrase shared over 12 million times on social media. From weekend warriors to full-time living, it seems to be a lifestyle we all can get behind. And pet parents, you, your dog, and even your cat aren’t excluded. If you’re wondering, “can I live in a van with my pet,” or you’re just curious how it’s done, read on!
We spoke to three pet parents who have joined the stream of motorists hitting the open road to wander among the trees, beaches, and wide-open spaces with their furry companions. Many of the converted vehicles are built for full-time living—for humans and their pets. Here’s your inside scoop on how to travel and live the trending nomadic life with your cats and your dogs.
Dani and Mike were once weekend warriors, piling into their truck and canopy build-out between busy weekday lives in the office. Like most, the pandemic changed their way of life in ways they hadn’t anticipated. “We upgraded our simple camping setup to our Scout truck camper and were able to stay on the road for longer and longer trips. After spending the last year on the road for half the time, we decided we wanted to give full-time a go.”
There was just one major hang-up: their dog Granger and cat Walker didn’t like car rides. When riding separately, they couldn’t settle down and, for a while, Dani and Mike gave up on the thought of travels with their anxiety-prone fur kids.
“The most drastic change was when we put Walker and Granger in the truck together to see how it would go. Crazily enough, it seemed to make them more comfortable to be together and we thought, ‘wow, maybe this could work,’” Dani says.
RELATED: Simple Tips to Ease Your Dog’s Car Anxiety
Adapting #Vanlife to your Pet
Lee and Sarah are proud pet parents to ginger kitties Tommy and Arthur and in 2020, they sold their home and hit the road. “From the very beginning, we made Tommy and Arthur the priority—building the van around them and their needs. Our thought process was that if they were happy then we had a chance of doing this and we could have a whole new way of life for ourselves.”
@leeandsarah.vanlife on Instagram
In some remote corner of England, you’ll find Ragnar—the couple’s jet black high-top van customized with an “all-you-can-eat kitty food station”, a cubby hideaway complete with plush cat beds, built-in scratching posts, and the most brilliantly hidden DIY litter box compartment.
“We built the van to keep safety in mind when traveling with them and also for living,” Sarah tells Figo Pet Insurance “We even did renovations to remove bulkhead so that we have a more open and airier feel to Ragnar, which also means the boys have space to run when zoomies strike.”
Preparing Your Pet for #Vanlife and Safety
“We started with just weekends away to ensure that Tommy and Arthur enjoyed it too,” says Sarah. “We agreed from the outset that if they didn’t completely love it then we would stop.”
Tommy and Arthur are leash and harness trained, making the transition to life on the road somewhat simpler. And, it seemed, house rules from typical housing to a van didn’t change all that much. “We’ve always trained Tommy and Arthur to stay when doors are opened to keep them safe and avoid dashing out. When we moved into the van it was no different,” Sarah says. And when driving, these good boys happily cozy up in their large travel crate.
Here are a few other tips to keep your pets happy, healthy, and safe.
Have vaccination and vet records with you
Keep microchips and tag information up to date
Have a plan—from pet-friendly destinations to a list of local vets to pet insurance for the unexpected
Consider a GPS tracking device
Stick to a feeding schedule
Keeping your pet safe while on the road is no easy feat and comes with 24/7 responsibility. “We never leave them alone on their own to go for long hikes just the two of us,” Sarah explains. “If we both ever have to leave it will only ever be for a short time and we set up our security camera with a live feed.”
RELATED: Why is Pet Insurance Important?
Is #Vanlife for Every Pet?
Déborah and Iratxe have been living out of their converted Peugeot Boxer 435 since 2020. Their wheels have taken them through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway. But their whirlwind of adventure hasn’t come without tough decisions.
“Our cat Mimo has always lived in a flat. He is not used to going out, and when he has gone out to go to the vet he has had a really hard time,” Ira explains of their cat who is happily at home with Déb’s mom. “Surely there are cats who can make an excellent transition from the flat to the van, but we decided not to put Mimo under that stress. We miss him very much.”
So, is it all worth it?
“It’s definitely a bit more work than traveling without pets, but we feel like it’s worth it,” Dani says. “They bring so much joy to even the most mundane of moments and wherever we go, they make us feel like we’re home.”
Traveling is one of the most freeing experiences, but it can quickly become complicated in the case of a sudden pet emergency. Don't get caught unprepared - with Figo, you can visit a licensed vet anywhere in the world. Plus, our popular Pet Cloud app gives users the 411 on all things pet-friendly, like restaurants and dog parks, for a perfectly planned trip—or for a home on the go. Get a quote today.
Janelle is a cat mum to two resident adventure kitties, Lyra and Atlas, and numerous cat and kitten fosters. Janelle and her furry family enjoy filling their days with hiking, kayaking, and seeking out the best cat-friendly destinations around the Pacific Northwest. You can follow Janelle, her adventure kitties, and adoptable fosters at @paws_pdx.