Tips for Driving Across America With a Pet

Girl in a car with two cats.

I have had to drive across America with two cats in tow twice. It was no easy feat, yet probably more manageable than having two three-year-old kids in tow. The first time was by myself when I was finally leaving Florida to go to Oregon. The second time was with Daniel going the other way around. Oddly enough, the latter ended up being more stressful.

Since you want to make this road trip as smoothly as possible, it’s important to consider a few things. After all, you don’t want the animals to hate you by the end of the trip.

If you’re looking to keep costs low while traveling with a pet, plan your route based on . Now I realize that Motel 6 generally gets a bad rap, but I was pleasantly surprised with the rooms. Many seem to be getting refurbished with modern amenities.  

The motel chain is also pet friendly. Unless you’re staying in one of their Studio 6s, pets are free. Studio 6s charge a fee of $10 per day. 

Since you are carrying precious cargo, safety should be the number one priority. Make sure to keep your pets in a crate. It’s not only dangerous for them to be walking around in the car, but a hazard to you. One of my cats in particular, Chummy, was pretty vocal about how she felt being in the crate–not happy. Despite how badly I felt about keeping her in there, I knew it was for the best. She would eventually keep quiet after 15 minutes anyway. I did learn that placing a blanket over her crate, but still allowing her to see in front kept her silent. I did use some  in their crates, too. Whether or not it worked may be up for question.

Cat driving a car.

Selecting the right crate should also be a priority. Don’t just buy the cheapest option because you’re on a budget. Understand that they will have to be placed in there for many hours a day. I had originally two types: a hard-case crate and a soft-sided carrier, pictured below with Jack.

Unfortunately I wish I read reviews before purchasing it. Jack nearly destroyed the mesh part with his claws. Daniel and I were getting ready to take the highway when we noticed Jack had gotten out. Although a bit of a rough start to our road trip, we were glad it happened so early on and not when we were transporting him from the car to the motel room where he could have easily escaped.

If you’re on a tight schedule, give yourself extra time for getting them in their crate. By the end of our trip, the cats associated the crate as being a horrible place to be. Sometimes pushing us 15 to 30 minutes back ahead of our schedule. (Not because I was dilly dallying or anything!)

Cat sitting in a soft case pet carrier.

Make sure to take advantage of the rest stops you’ll see along the way. We would try to let the cats out every few hours for a stretch (and some love), even if that meant just inside the car. Daniel did buy a cat leash, but the cats didn’t really care for it. He thinks if I would have trained them on the leash prior to the trip, they may have been more keen on the idea.

One other thing to take in consideration is their diet during the trip. I thought it’d be a nice treat for the cats if I were to give them wet food after each day of the journey. One day, Jack had an upset stomach and an accident in his crate. I suppose it could have been due to the stress, but the wet food could have also contributed to it. To make matters worse, we took–what I considered–a lonely highway in the desert with hardly any rest stops. We ended up having to pull over on the side of the road every time we heard Jack crying to quickly get out the litter box for him.

Fortunately, after each trip both cats had long forgotten the 3,000 mile journey and didn’t hate me in the end.

Girl sitting in a car with a cat.

Have you ever traveled with your pets? What are your tips and tricks to keep your pet happy and safe while traveling? 


  1. says

    Cats are really adorable to be a companion for a travel. Unlike dogs they really need time to get some physical activity and that’s gonna make a lot of trouble if you are in to a long destination. Anyway thanks for sharing this!

    • Jamie says

      They were definitely nice companions to have on a road trip, but I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do it again! ha. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

  2. says

    How did you deal with the litter box? Did you just let them out in the car to use it? I don’t think my cat could travel cross-country. She always, always has an accident in her crate just going from my apartment to the vet, who is less than a mile away. I’m super impressed that you managed it with two cats twice!!

    • Anxious Travelers says

      We didn’t want to let them out in case they ran away so we setup the litter box up in the foot space of the passenger seat. They happily crawled down there to do their business. When one cat has diaerreha (can’t spell it) we had to stop the car whenever they started meowing and quickly setup the box for them. Unfortunately the box was under my seat so I (Dan) had to stand outside while the cats ran around inside the car having merry popples.

  3. says

    Jamie, what did you guys do with your cats when you moved to New Zealand? Shawn and I are always having the pets and travel discussion. These days I’m limited to goldfish with our constant movements!

    • Jamie says

      My mom has been taking care of my cats while I’m away. Not having them though has definitely been one of the downsides to traveling. We don’t even have a goldfish! The best I have is Dan, who humors me by acting like a big cat and sitting in boxes. (Okay, I kid.)


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