Thanks to the generosity of my best friend’s family, Justin and I were able to plan a long weekend getaway to the mountains of North Carolina. Since our January vacation plans fell through, the winter weather has gotten us both kind of down, and work has been a bit intense lately, we jumped at the opportunity for a mini break.
“But we’ll miss the cats.”
Yes, we’re those pathetic people who think of our furbabies as our children, who spoil them with grain-free food and toys they don’t need. Usually, they get to go stay at Grandma’s house whenever we go out of town, exploring all of the extra space and playing with their cousins (uncles?) Cheeto and Sumo. And we always miss them something fierce, making my parents send us countless photos of their adventures.
But my BFF often travels with her furmonsters, taking them to her family’s mountain home, so why not ours? Ours are well-behaved, have only ever gone outside of their litter box when it was unavailable or being cleaned*, and as long as they have scratching boxes or posts they won’t scratch furniture.
“Can we bring the cats?” we asked.
And so the five Schwannemas set off for a road trip and quiet weekend mini-vacation!
Day 1: Getting There
The boys did very well on the 5 hour drive to North Carolina. Dexter and Manny, both nervous Nellies in their own ways, took about an hour to relax. Dexter let out one of his deafening death howls right in my ear, and Manny hunkered down in the floo
rboard. Cosmo, the chillest of all three, has spent a lot of time in the car; he prefers to sit upright on the armrest, and occasionally rest a paw on the driver. The Bengal brothers only wandered periodically, and Justin kept an eye on their antics.
Upon arriving in NC, after unpacking and setting up their litter box, we left the boys so we could go get dinner and buy some groceries. When we came back, they seemed to have settled into their temporary home quite well.
And they all loved sharing a king sized bed – quite a treat for all of us to be able to spread out like that 🙂
Day 2: Caturday
We all needed a day to just VEG out. No “shoulds” or responsibilities to get in our way of relaxing and having fun. Like a day at sea, when we were on the cruise; we couldn’t go anywhere, and didn’t have any connectivity, so we just had to read and nap and play games and day drink and, well, lounge about like we were cats. I wanted another Day at Sea. And that’s exactly what we got! We made mimosas. I did crosswords and finished a book. Justin beat Super Mario World. The cats chased ladybugs and got to explore the outdoors a little bit. It was the perfect lazy day, and exactly what we all needed.
Day 3: Ashesville
The cats were mostly on their own while Mom and Dad ventured to Asheville, 90 minutes away. I’ve only been to this charming city for one day, the last time I came to my friend’s cabin, for a girls weekend, and I loved it. I couldn’t wait to come back with Justin.
The one sunny day of our adventure made sure we had a nice day for poking around. The spots we hit up:
- Battery Park Book Exchange: An eclectic used bookstore that reminds me of what the libraries in Hogwarts must be like, with a coffee bar and wine bar. We had coffee while I poked around looking at all of the books I don’t have time to actually sit down and read.
- Downtown: We wandered around looking at the various shops stopping in another bookstore (he likes cocktail bars, so I get bookstores) and enjoying the many statues. We stumble upon a lively outdoor sermon about gun safety and see a few of the downtown staples. Eventually, we make it to Lab (Lexington Avenue Brewery) for a quick bite (brussels sprouts and pork belly) and to make a plan.
- North Carolina Arboretum: This would probably be more enjoyable when the trees are green and the plants in bloom, but it was still nice to get fresh air and natural Vitamin D while we stretched our legs and walked a bit. We didn’t spend much time there and tried to drive part of the Blueridge Parkway before going back into town for food but it was all blocked off so we just walked a little bit before deciding we were too out of shape and too hungry to continue.
- Food and Drink: We tried four more establishments. Cocktails and amazing brussels sprouts (yes, again!) with peanuts, feta and a thai chili sauce at The Black Bird. At Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro, we tried drinks and enjoyed the perfectly cooked octopus (best food of the night). Based on that bartender’s recommendation, we had drinks at The Imperial Life which had a very inventive menu (Justin said it was refreshing, unusual, and his favorite of what we saw). Finally we had an underwhelming dinner at one of the highest rated restaurants in Asheville: Tupleo Honey. We waited a long time to get in, and the appetizers started out strong (namely the brussels sprouts, third time’s a charm, with the bacon and garlic ranch). But our dinners were both disappointing. They even served frozen french fries with our meals; you’re telling me a restaurant owned by a four-times James Beard Nominee doesn’t cut their own fries in-house and charges $18 for dry fried chicken? We should have gone to Cucina 24, which was recommended to us by two bartenders. Next time, we’ll listen.
We were tired after the 90-minute drive back to the cabin and driving up dark winding mountain roads. The cats were glad to see us and we all snuggled in front of the fire while watching a movie. A nice way to end a fun day 🙂
Day 4: Home Again, Home Again
We told the cats we had to go home but I’m not sure they understood. They were kind of freaked out as we packed and cleaned up, and weren’t thrilled when we threw them back in the car and wound our way back down the mountain. They did not settle down for the first hour, and Dexter was antsy, meowing for much of the trip. Manny and Cosmo both relaxed and slept for most of the trip.
We had a lot of fun traveling with the boys, and kept asking each other if we thought they were having a good time. Do they think we live here now? Did they like exploring the outside? What did they think of the king-sized bed? Did they know we would return home soon? And, despite some of their initial reservations, I DO think they had a good time. They had a whole new house to sniff and explore; they got to lounge in front of a fire and chase ladybugs; they got fed extra food and go lots of snuggles.
We would definitely do it again!
Tips for Traveling with Cats
- Take them in the car often. The more often you can show them that the car isn’t a scary place, the less they’ll fight you. Our cats associate the car with going to Grandma’s, and even if they’re initially nervous, they chill out pretty quickly. We weren’t as diligent with Dexter or Manny, as I was with Cosmo. Cosmo used to have weekly, or more often, car rides. I’d strap on his little harness, and off we’d go to run errands. (The Starbucks drive-thru people thought he was adorable.)
- Start them young if you can. We went so often and from such a young age that Cosmo doesn’t ever fear getting in the car. And I believe that Dexter and Manny don’t fear the car as much as they could since they’ve had exposure to it since we first brought them home to live with us, which was 7 weeks in both cases.
- Bring familiar smells. The NC cabin is covered in the smells of my friend’s family’s pets, so the cats had to sniff it for hours. But they don’t feel compelled to mark or pee, and aren’t as scared by the unfamiliar smells because we surround them with things that smell like home. We brought our own bedding, their stroller, two comfy cozy blankets for the living room, my Stitch pillow pet, their bed, a scratch box, and a boogie mat. Plenty of things that smelled like them, and things they could cozy up in or scratch if they needed a safe space. So they settled in quickly and looked totally at home the following morning.
- Offer the spaces that suit them. If your cats feel more comfortable in a carrier, then bring a carrier (we usually get him in the car with the carrier since he doesn’t like being carried and loves boxes). If they don’t like being confined, let them roam free (though I don’t recommend that if you’re by yourself). When Cosmo was a kitten, I always made him wear a harness whenever we went anywhere; I could strap it to the seatbelt if I’d wanted, but I usually let him sit freely in the front seat, and would grab his leash if he got too antsy. Now, he’s a very still independent car rider.
- For longer trips, make sure food and a litter box are available. My mom and I once took a cross-country road trip, spending 100+ hours in the car with two shitzus and a 12-year-old cat, Oreo. Oreo didn’t like using the litter box when the car was moving, so she always managed to take care of business when we’d stop for gas. We’d scoop it out and be on our way.
Do you ever travel with your pets? What’s the longest trip with furbabies have you taken? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?
*They’ve never been super particular about the cleanliness of their box, and are used to having their potty routine messed up with new litter, new boxes, using the ones at Grandma’s, and more recently adjusting to the self-cleaning CatGenie. As much as I love not having to scoop pee-soaked litter, the smallness of the CatGenie is proving to be a bit challenging for 3 cats, and its 15-minute clean cycle has led to someone peeing or pooping beside it more times than I care to count. But it’s still newish and we’re trying different cleaning schedules to improve the situation.