When we thought our hearts had finally healed after Lizzie (the best dog ever) died in the summer of 2020, we gave a hard look at traveling full time with our two surviving senior cats.
Teej and Ricco had already demonstrated that they were okay with travel. We’d hauled them, along with Lizzie, Zander and Emmy, the other three senior companion animals we had at the time, across the United States in our Subaru before taking them on the plane to Valencia. They even came along on a three week long road trip when we traveled with friends and their good old dog Stanley.
And so, we began rambling with two old cats
We’ve already written about transatlantic flights with pets and driving journeys through many eastern U.S. states during the summer of 2021 with Teej and Ricco here and here. We carry their pet beds, litter box, litter, a tiny whisk broom and dust pan set made for tents, a three month supply of medicine, fleece blankets, pet dishes, puppy pads, food, and a pet first aid kit.
Taking companion animals along in the car or by air is pretty standard stuff these days. Cats, of course are a bit fussier than most dogs and surprisingly, certain lodging establishments are willing to take dogs but refuse cats.
When we came back to the Europe in September 2021 we had a different plan. We would travel Europe by train with one suitcase and one cat per person. That would be an entirely different proposition.
Sadly, we never quite got to do that. Shortly after we returned to Europe, one year into our travels, our Ricco died the day before his 19th birthday. We’d traveled with both cats for six months in Andalusia, a four month trip to and around the States and our return flight to Valencia to prepare for our next phase. That’s when Ricco’s health abruptly deteriorated and kidney failure took him from us. Suddenly, we were three travelers.
What’s Different? What are the Challenges?
At first we worried that Teej wouldn’t travel as well by himself but the loss of his buddy hasn’t changed his behavior. So far he’s been pretty mellow with riding in his carrier on 11 train journeys and adjusting to 31 temporary homes.
Don’t get us wrong, bringing Teej along does present challenges. The truth is we are pretty sure extended train travel with two senior cats would have been too much for both us and them. It’s an important consideration for anyone else planning train travel with pets.
Keeping Teej comfortable is our biggest challenge. Even though he’s mostly cool with riding in his carrier, his accommodating nature pretty much wears off after about 3 hours and 27 minutes. Within seconds.
When he reaches his limit our gentle old boy turns into a fiercely determined would-be escapee. His soft-sided carrier starts rocking and rolling as he tries to punch, butt and claw his way free.
We’ve learned to limit our transfer days to about four hours maximum and to let Teej out on his leash whenever possible. Even if it’s only for a few minutes.
That means we can’t dash from one destination to the next like we would if it was just our discomfort. On the plus side, we’ve end up staying in some lovely places we might have passed by if it weren’t for Teej.
When we stop we finally figured out that it’s best to stay for at least three nights. To set up a litter box and dump it out the next day along with all the litter we just bought (except for one quart sized bag to carry forward) just seems like such effort and waste.
We learned to base our travels in one central place and take day trips. It works for all three of us.
Probably the biggest compromise we faced has been accommodations. We like to stay close to the train station for at least a week. Plus we prefer an apartment so we have a kitchen and a little space.
Search filters on the accommodation booking platforms do a pretty good job of getting us close to our requirements but none of then are great at it. AirBnb doesn’t help screen location very well and Bookings rarely includes enough information about pet fees.
The biggest headache of all is the disappointment as we watch the options disappear when we add the pet friendly filter. Choices can go from 30 options to 3 options. It’s always the attractive and desirable places that vanish.
On top of being dished up less desirable accommodations, there is often a pet fee. It’s a safe bet that there will be a surcharge at a hotel. In Europe that fee has averaged from a low of 5.00 euros a night to a high of 25.00 euros.
In Madrid we once paid 20.00 euros/night for each cat when Teej and Ricco were with us. Their share of the room was almost as expensive as ours. Fortunately, most of the bookings we’ve had are with private hosts and they don’t usually tack on a pet fee.
In the summer of 2021 we traveled quite a bit with our two cats in the U.S. The options for lodging with pets in the U.S. are even worse than in Europe. And the costs are higher. The average was $20.00 a night per pet. A few times I was successful in negotiating a payment of $20.00 for both cats but that still stings.
Because we’re traveling by train we carry just minimal food and litter from one city to the next. We keep a quart sized zip lock bag of litter (the lightweight, natural compostable type) for the next destination, one can of wet cat food and a small pouch of kibble.
Routinely, we check in, get Teej settled with water, a little smakeral of food and his litter box. Then it’s out to find a store to resupply. This results in a constantly changing diet for Teej which is not the best. So far it doesn’t seem to upset him at all. We’re also frequently limited to grocery store quality rather than the better brands available only at pet stores. Knowing that Europe has stricter pet food regulations than the U.S. (and Canada) and that only human grade meat is used makes me feel a little better about our compromise.
More About Train Travel
So far we’ve only booked on Spanish, French, and Austrian trains. There are no fees for pets on any of the Territorial trains. We paid a pet fee of 20.00 euros per cat on the Spanish AVE trains. The French TGV trains have not had a fee. We booked, but didn’t use (because of recent Covid lockdowns) an overnight Austrian OBB jet train with a pet fee of 28,00 euros.
When we make our jump from city to city we opt for first class seats. Not only is the carriage roomier and quieter, it generally offers enough leg room for one carrier on the floor centered between us. When we were traveling with both cats, Susan had to drape her legs over a carrier. That was another reason to keep our journeys short.
In addition, when changing destinations, the timing of the check-out time, train schedules, and check-in times can be tricky. We’ve paid for late check-out more than once and taken a more expensive train than needed, just to try to keep the three of us from sitting in a street cafe for hours waiting to check-in. If it was just humans, we could store our luggage at the train station and embark on our visit. You could even do that with a dog, but, you can’t do that with a cat. So, our travel logistics have to be carefully considered.
Will train travel work for you and your cat?
People have asked us, “How do I know my cat will travel well?”
We wish we had that answer but we’re only guessing. Teej and Ricco were house cats their whole lives which is a pretty secure environment. They weren’t exposed to many scary things. They were introduced to car travel when young and trained to a leash for walks in our yard and hanging out with us on the patio.
The fact that they manage traveling so well may be because they are old. They like to sleep a lot and don’t have the energy of young cats. They are extremely bonded to us and secure in our presence – so where we go is where they want to be.
The End of the Line
By the close of November 2021, swelling numbers of Covid cases and a new onslaught of travel restrictions meant we faced a flurry of cancellations. We reluctantly decided we couldn’t make even short term travel plans with any confidence so we have retreated back to Spain.
Even though traveling with an old cat has it’s challenges, it’s nothing compared to the financial and mental costs of trying to navigate Covid vaccine boosters.
And, to answer the question about how you’ll know if your pets like to travel, the best advice we can give is to plan a short trip and give it a try.
Jamie wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more. His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.
I love this. I wish I could send my 79 year old mother on a Nile cruise with her cat.
I wish you could too.
Dear Susan and Jamie,
Thanks for sharing your journey and tips for train travel with cats! I am currently debating between taking the train (10 hour journey) or fly (5 hour journey) between two EU countries. There are pros and cons for both. From your experience, which would you recommend is better for the cat?
As you observe, there are pros and cons when traveling with a companion animal regardless of the mode of transportation. Our primary concern when using public transportation has always been the safety and comfort of our companion animals. For our older cats, it was obvious that they we fine in their carriers for about 3.5 hours. We always tried to arrange our travel to include breaks between trains or planes. So I recommend that you try to minimize the amount of time your cat has to spend in the carrier.
I think you little friend will be much happier flying for five hours than being confined for ten hours on a train journey. This is especially true if you have a break in your journey and can let him/her out during the interval. Be sure to remember to carry a harness and leash on your travels too.
If you plan to carry your cat as “hand luggage” expect to pay an additional fee. Booking a particular flight might also be a problem because the airlines limit the number of companion animals that are allowed in the cabin. When we first brought our pets to Europe they traveled in the cargo hold and ended up spending nearly 20 hours in their kennels. Fortunately, we bought kennels with plenty of room for them… read more here. I hope this helps and good luck on your journey.