We are going on holiday, my kitty and I. Or on a mission, you might say. A big ol’ schlep, that’s for sure.
I wasn’t certain whether or not to bring her. At first, I had a clear vision of the two of us exploring London in sunshine and rad-ness. But over the weeks, wary of actually throwing down my credit card and committing to an actual itinerary, I started wavering. I questioned my motives, her safety, the money. Would it all be for the best? Was I just making everyone’s life difficult? I agonized indecisively for so long that all of my travel options, with or without her, started to disappear, or rise in price beyond decency.
But she’s coming alright. I haven’t spent three summers in a row rewriting my damn cat-schlepping book to just crap out now. And depending on how the Brexit shit-show plays out over the next eight months, the PETS travel scheme that lets Aífe into the UK with an EU pet passport may no longer be an option. So we’re going while the going’s good. I think she’ll enjoy a lot of it. Not all of it, but neither will I. That’s not how adventure works. No uncertainty, no adventure.
Pets aren’t allowed onto flights into the UK, unless they are sent by outrageously expensive cargo services that aren’t reliably safe. I can’t carry Aífe onto a plane to London, as I would to Berlin or Portland. Islands, huh? So in a couple days, we’ll be riding the rails to Rotterdam, Netherlands; riding the waves to Harwich, UK, and then on another train journey into London. A couple days to explore my favorite metropolis, then up to Oxford for the animal ethics conference, then back to London for several days of exploring, then the long trek home to Berlin again. We’re not doing the 184 Thames River Walk I blogged about in spring, because a) that would be really expensive, b) I’ve got knee problems c) I’ve needed to focus on getting ready for Oxford, and d) just getting to the UK and back is quite a quest in itself. I’m tired just thinking about it – partly because I’ve been too excited to sleep.
So let’s talk packing. How do you pack for a two week, multipurpose schlep with a cat?
The most important thing is ID. Her pet passport and my human passport will be in my backpack, and I will neurotically check them about twenty times before we get to the ferry port. Because without ID, proving that I have a visa and she has a microchip, we’re not going to the UK. No way, no how.
The first thing to go into our suitcase was cat food. Some wet, some kibble. Aífe will rarely eat anything while we’re out and about, but any time we’re inside, she’s an absolute pain in the butt if she’s hungry. We’ll be moving around a lot on this trip, and I don’t want to be constantly trying to track down a decent pet store in each place. You never know what food brands will be available in a different country, too, and you never know if a cat will accept a new food – especially when they’re on unfamiliar turf. I’ve decided to just bring two weeks worth of cat food with me. I don’t particularly want to carry around eight pounds of tinned meats, but it does mean that by the time we come home I’ll have a lot more room in my case for nice things I find in England (books, tea, etc.).
What goes in must come out, so the next thing to pack is a litter box. I’m very lucky that Aífe is willing to pee in any patch of dirt, sand, or grass, thus making outdoor potty breaks no problem. But we need something for when she needs to go in the night, otherwise she might invent a spot to pee in our hosts’ homes, and that would be terrible. But we’ll be crashing in several different houses, and can’t be purchasing a new litterbox for each place, or hauling the same used one from here to there. As far as I can tell, no one has actually manufactured a legit travel litter box. There are collapsible canvass ones and disposable cardboard ones, but they are just open trays, with nothing to hold the litter in. No bueno. So I ‘invented’ my own travel litterbox when we moved to Ireland. It’s a big, rectangular plastic box with a locking lid. It’s thick and sturdy, just big enough for Aífe to squat in, and the lid on this thing snaps tight on all four sides. It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work in a few countries so far.
Next thing is kitty hygiene. Aífe hadn’t had a bath in forever, so she had one yesterday, and will be extra soft and fluffy for our trip. Her teeth will be brushed and claws trimmed right before we leave. But I’ll be bringing her claw trimmers with me. Her claws grow fast, and I don’t want to get scratched to hell if something scares her. And the longer her nails get, the more she wants to flex them on things, which doesn’t make for happy hosts. We’ve also got poop bags, for reasons I don’t think need elaborating. And our flea comb and tick remover, to make sure she doesn’t bring home any bugs from all the cool parks we’re going to be creeping through.
Also, I wouldn’t set out on a big trip without hand sanitizer and wet wipes. Cats are rad, but they’re gross sometimes. Bring wet wipes, for you and for them. I’ll never forget our move to Ireland. Aífe and I were waiting around for our delayed ferry from Wales to Dublin. I took her to a grassy area to walk around and pee. When it was time to get back in her carrier, I picked her up, and she placed one paw square on my jaw. The unmistakable smell of dog poop was suddenly right in my nose. Somewhere in the tall grasses, Aífe had walked through dog poop, and now it was on my face. After days of barely sleeping, emptying our old flat, and hauling my cat and baggage across most of Europe, dog poop to the face would have been my breaking point, if I hadn’t had some wet wipes with me.
I'm also packing her raincoat from RC Pet Products. It fits great, folds down small. I know England has been having a worryingly hot and sunny summer, but it's still England, so raincoats and umbrellas are coming.
Lastly, don’t forget about packing for some kitty fun. I’m going to try not to go anywhere on the trip without Aífe in tow, but there will be some times she’ll need to stay in without me. Mainly, the days I’m at the Oxford conference. I’m planning to bring Aífe’s collapsible cat tunnel. It’s super lightweight, and she loves diving in and out of it. And she likes hiding in it, so it has double functionality as fun and comforting, which she’ll need on the road. I’m also going to try to fit in her spinning ball thing. She will spin that ball for ages, and the scratcher in the middle gives her something to scratch besides our hosts’ furniture. So again, that’s a twofer. And of course, we wouldn’t go anywhere without a mouse or two in our pockets. Lightweight, tiny, and something for her to take her pouncing energy out on. Pouncing energy can’t be exercised/exorcised any other way.
That’s about it for her. Then I get to squash all the things I need for myself into whatever space is left. I have to bring more than I would like, because of the things I need for the conference. While I’ll be schlepping around in scruffy jeans, tanks, and trainers as usual the rest of the trip, I need nicer duds for the conference. I have to hold my own with a couple hundred lawyers and expert academics, and I’m hoping if I look moderately pulled together, I might actually feel like I can just about hold my own.
I'll be blogging about some other elements of cat travel that come up in our trip, and will be Instagramming the hell out of. If you’re looking to pack for any adventures with your own cat companions, and have any questions, or suggestions, please send them my way.