Having travelled with my pets many times, I only recommend doing it whenever it is totally necessary. Cats are creatures of habit and like being in their own familiar surroundings. Some cats like travel more than others, but in general it takes them out of their comfort zone. Here are some ways to make the experience as least traumatic for kitty as possible, while keeping him safe at the same time.
Travelling by Car
Before leaving home, compile a few important supplies to make travelling successful for you and your cat. Make sure kitty has a collar with an ID tag on it, so if for any reason he is separated from you, he can be returned home later. My cats are microchipped by my vet, but I still put collars on them when I travel. Keep a leash with you, in case you need it while travelling, but don't attach it to your cat's collar until you get him out of the crate. Have a pet travel crate or carrier to keep kitty in while in the car. This is important because if you let your cat walk around the cabin of the car as you drive, not only will he be a distraction to you but he can get between your feet and possibly cause an accident. It's better to be safe than sorry.
I recommend a pet crate as big as you can fit into your car, with a pillow or oversized cat bed inside to give kitty something to feel like taking a nap in. Sprinkle the bed with catnip just to make it even more attractive to him, for good measure. If the trip is long, he will tire and finally get some sleep at some point. Have a crate fan (found on Ebay or pet stores) to keep him cool if you are travelling in a very warm climate. Even if you have air conditioning in the car, the cool air may not travel to the back of the car cabin, so a crate fan is a good idea when driving in heat, no matter what. If there is room in the crate, a cardboard box is a good idea, as well. Cats love boxes, having one will give kitty something to hide in when feeling uptight. Have travel feeders for food and water. If you don't buy them, have a small lidded food bowl and water dish to give your cat when stopping at a rest stop. During trips, at least supply water every hour or so, so your kitty doesn't get dehydrated. A smallish litter box is a must, too, for long trips. Cover the cage on all sides except the one facing you, with a blanket. This will keep your cat from becoming frightened or over-stimulated by all the passing cars and other unfamiliar sights outside the windows around him.
While travelling in the car, talk to your cat, to soothe him. Your voice will help him to feel more secure. If the trip is short, I put the cat carrier on the front seat next to me, so my cat can see me, and talk to him as I drive. Ok, the other drivers may think I've lost it and am talking to myself, oh well. I want my cat to feel less vulnerable and it works. One of my cats has learned to love riding in the car. He now enjoys seeing the cars go by and meows at the people he sees at the stoplights. Beau is the minority in the family, the other cats run for cover when I get the cat travel crate out.
Staying at a hotel is a breeze once your cat gets used to it. When I get to my room, I place the cat litter box in the bathroom, and the food dishes in the kitchen or dinette area. Then, I show my cats where everything is, leaving their pet crate open on the floor in the corner, in case one of them wants to go rest in there. They now head straight for the middle of the bed or on the pillows. They're no dummies, they know the most comfortable places to sleep at. I take a pillow or two of my own, and that way I can share the bed with the cats and there's enough pillows for everyone.
Travelling by Airplane
I have only flown by plane with one of my cats, and it was an experience. Our trip was to Mexico, where we stayed for two years. Before flying there, I had my vet check over Blackie to make sure he was healthy, and document it for airport officials. Each pet needs a certificate of health from the vet in order to enter and leave a foreign country. It is also proof that your pet was not acquired overseas, that it is yours and came with you from your home country. Without it, he is any cat off the street, in a foreign country, to authorities. Keep these documents in a safe place when travelling, because you will need them. Without proper documentation, customs officials can ask for quarantine, and you don't want that. Going and coming to the United States, customs officials thoroughly looked over the documents. I had to get a new certificate of health from a Mexican vet before coming to the US, since I'd been in the country for so long. Do not let officials keep those documents, let them look only. One airport checker tried to scare me by saying if I didn't pay him extra money, then he wouldn't allow my documents, and my cat couldn't go on the plane. The flight was about to leave soon, so he knew he had me at a disadvantage. I didn't pay and quickly contacted security, and we got through. Don't fall for bribes. His parting shot at me was, “You'll never get your pet into the US". I did, without a problem. He was only trying to scare me since I didn't fall for his little scam. Otherwise, officials acted properly, it may not happen to you when travelling in a foreign country, but it bears mentioning.
When flying, it is better to bring your cat in the airplane cabin with you than storing him in the underbelly of the plane with everyones’ luggage. Being with the luggage is cold and unpleasant, and there is a chance your beloved pet could be lost. Just ask those people whose prize Whippet dog was lost at the airport due to poor handling. When the pet crate leaves your hands, you dont’ know how they will handle your cat and his carrier. Keep the cat in a regulation sized carrier, under the seat in front of you on the plane. To me, this is the only option. Ask airline officials about details on taking your cat on their airline, they will tell you what they do and don't allow. Sometimes there is a fee for bringing the cat in the plane with you, sometimes not. Whatever the case, your cat's safety is what is most important so bring him with you, even if the crate is kind of small for his body. My cat barely fit his crate, but he was docile so I let him sit in my lap part-way through the trip, and nobody complained. People were happy that he was allowed to be with me, and sympathetic. He was scared and it showed on his face. Travelling by plane is not a pleasant experience for any pet, so try to avoid it unless you have no other options.
Once you and your pet get to your destination, make sure to make them feel at home and lots of love. They will associate travel with praise if you make their trip as painless as possible. Like people, cats need time to settle in their new surroundings and grow accustomed to them. They will appreciate being home once their adventure is over, and you most definitely will, too. Good luck and be safe.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats . Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.