Monday, December 19, 2022

Tips about Travelling with Cats

Q and I are blessed with the companionship of two wonderful cats since mid-2021. Many friends and neighbours with cats predicted that our lifestyle, especially pertaining to travelling, would change dramatically with their arrival. Note: we are both first-time cat owners. The predictions were quite right in some ways - the cats have changed us significantly, but not quite in the way people predicted: many thought that we could travel less to avoid prolonged time away from our cats, and spend more time home to keep them company. We didn't. We just brought them on our travel with us! 

Kimchi plotting taking over Sardinia.

Okay, it is definitely a learning journey (pun intended), and now we have several short and long trips under our belt (NL, Sweden, France/Spain/Andorra, UK and Italy), it makes sense to share our tips on making furry-friendly traveling. 

General tips:  

  • One cat per person is a good ratio. I cannot imagine going on the trip with two cats alone. I did that in the beginning when Kimchi and Eleven were kittens, and that was already a workout for my arms. 
  • Electric buses or cars are much better for transportation than benzine/hybrid vehicles. Both cats are more relaxed in more quiet space. Yes, the electric future is not only climate friendly, but also cats-friendly, go figure!
  • Train travelling
    • Find out where the disability/baby-changing toilet is. (Tip: it was close to the catering car during our last train ride. Makes sense!) During a recent trip, Kimchi meowed (they usually are very quiet and hardly make any noise!), and I took that as a signal and brought her to one of the toilets, and sure enough, she just jumped from the carrier to the portable litter box, did her business, and then jumped back in the carrier. We were done in regular toilet visit duration. 
    • We have mostly placed the carriers on the luggage rack overhead during day trips, or bought a coupe for night train - although I have a feeling that the cats find it too tiring and noisy to rest properly themselves. 
  • Less frequent moving. We made the mistake of travelling too much in one of the earlier trips, and the cats got so tired towards the end of the travelling. Since then we try to have on average 3 nights per location. 
Cats crashing out on the last night of a busy trip
  • GPS trackers for allowing them to go outside. We use Tractive GPS and are happy with them.  
  • Small steps to start off: We started by taking the cats (when they were still kittens!) out and about in the neighbourhood first, and later on for day trip and overnight trip with the cats, and even visit friends' places with them. I cannot measure their confidence level with some sort of scientific assessment, but it does seem that over time the cats become quite calm about new places and strange scents. 

Kitten training in a train!
What we bring with us:

  • Travel carriers: strong frame, sturdy bottom, and well padded with their favorite blankets, so cats feel safe and secure in them. And yes, one that you can strap down in a car. Further, the carriers serve also as sleeping/hide-out spots. Needless to say, soft-bottomed ones are a definite no-go. Oh, and we place the carriers in easily accessible places in our house when it is not in active use, so the cats are used to them, instead of getting scared of them and only associating the carriers with traumatic experiences like going to the vet's office. 
Night train from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland
  • Cat food: We don't bring so much when travelling. We just get it along the way. Plus, cats deserve trying different local taste too, no? I know, I know, they like their routines; but in my opinion, it is okay to cautiously expand their comfort zone too.
  • Flat, shallow and wide bowls for food and water: cats have sensitive whiskers, so it is something that we take extra care of. Google it if you are not sure. The shape of bowls is one of the biggest mistakes that cat owners make. That, and putting food and water bowls next to each other. Don't!
  • Small water container: I got a small plastic container with a lid from a thrift shop, which I can slide into the carrier through the opening so the cats can drink some water during long rides without letting them out. 
  • Portable litter box and scoop: I repurposed a second-hand portable baby bathtub as a cat litter box - it is waterproof, foldable and reasonably light, and we even added a custom shoulder strap, so yeah, we are happy and proud with the solution! We have experimented with wood-, sand- and silicone- based sand. The jury is still not quite out yet.
  • Roll-up tunnel: play/hide area. The cats love it, and it can be easily fold up! One of the best investments ever. Thanks, IKEA!
  • Scratch pad: IKEA had a good one - foldable! that we tied around legs of furnitures. We lost one during a recent travel so we just bought a replacement cardboard one and that worked well too, albeit more bulky.
  • Calming spray: we use FELIWAY Classic Spray. We don't always use them, but occasionally, and it is good to have than not! 
  • Snacks: reward system for good behaviour especially during travelling is always good.
  • Favorite (small) toys: Eleven's favorite are these little play mice (always bring extra since they go missing), and Kimchi's favorite is a foldable cat fishing rod. Luckily they are both small. 
  • Laser pointer: the cats looove chasing after it. 
  • Harness and leash: we hardly use them except recently during a ferry ride. It takes a while for the cats to get moving since they don't seem like to be leashed.  
Kimchi on board!
  • Finally and most importantly, patience. The cats don't always move on commands, so allocate extra time. And every cat is unique, so be patient, with the cats and yourself. 
That is it for now. Do you have any tips that you would like to share with us? Do tell! Or if you would like to see more cat photos in future postings? Do meow!

Three explorers chilling together. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

The fireworks that I hope my mother would see

I haven’t talked to my mom for over 13 years. And to be honest, I am terrified at the idea of it. Talking to my mom. 

Luckily talking to therapists is much easier in comparison - yes, I am aware and grateful of my privileges, and I don't take it for granted, that is why I seek help. And through those constructive conversations, I have realized the importance of continuing taking care of my connection with my mom, as hard and impossible as it feels. After all, it is also to connect with the part of myself that is full of tenderness, regret, sorrow and hope. Mothers have that effect on our hearts, right?

Last year this time I recorded a sound portrait of my mom: basically Q came up with a list of questions about her, and one evening after work, Q asked me to respond to them from my perspectives and memory, a bit of Q&A if you will. For example, one of the questions was "tell me about your favorite memory of you mom". Long story short, we recorded my responses to the questions, and that became my sound portrait of my mother through my eyes and expressed with my voice. Afterwards I shared a link of the Sound Portrait recording with my mom via email, to which she actually acknowledged to my surprise. A simple "thank you" was enough to bring me to tears, even now.

Anyway, the sound portrait was probably the first meaningful connection that I have sent to her in the past 13 years. It is such a frail sign of affection from a comfortable and safe distance - probably for both parties. And before you ask, no, I don’t have the means nor courage to face my mother. The reasons are not relevant at this point. All you need to know is that I feel that we, my mother and I, are on isolated islands separated by far waters, connected with faint heartbeats of waves. I honestly don’t know if we are drifting apart or closer. Only time will tell. 

In the meantime, I will continue sending out occasional fireworks from my side, whenever I find enough strength, hoping my mom will see them. And maybe the best way is to just continue sending sound portraits? I don't have any other better ideas. Do you?

So let me turn the table around. Those of you who have mothers or have had mothers. Tell me. 

  • What would you like to know about your mother? Or wish you had known?

  • What would you like to tell your mom? Or wish you had told your mom?

I hope to get more inspiration from your brilliance, and continue sending fireworks to my mom. After all, I may not be able to close the gaps between us, but maybe it will add some passing colors to just heavy darkness, and who knows, maybe my mom will also get a glimpse of the fireworks and for those brief moments, we can feel each other’s warm existence.

P.S. And why haven't you shared your own responses to these questions with your moms? Do that.