Hi again. It’s Marlene from Mali Mish. Thanks for signing up for our monthly newsletter. We are excited to start sharing more of our family’s adventures, thoughts, and updates in this new format.
In our last newsletter, questions I received on Instagram in regards to full-time family travel and our self-built home on wheels, a 2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 170 crew van, were answered. This month I will dive a bit deeper into how Croatia is handling the pandemic and some potential travel plans. We also took a week-long trip to the island of Korčula to see what it’s like to travel with two active kittens in our van, in hopes to help answer the question: adopt or not?
As most of you know, we have been in Croatia for a year now, ever since April of 2020. In March of 2020, we found ourselves locked down in Morocco, Africa, and unable to cross back into Europe because the ferries completely stopped running. It took a little time and a lot of stress but we made it out of Africa and back into Europe. Dan vlogged all about awesome adventures in Morocco and our time stuck there in an isolation camp as well here.
Why did we go back to Croatia instead of the US? Well, when we decided to travel to Europe, we moved our residency here. This is our “home” country for the time being and we are super grateful for having this as our residence because if were solely traveling as Americans, we would have had more issues getting out of Morocco. Other North Americans had to fly home on expensive repatriation flights and leave their campers behind. We had the option to take an expensive ferry with our rolling home on it.
So did we think we’d be here in Croatia this long? No. Am I grateful that we have my dad’s childhood home in a quiet village to hang out while we wait for the world to open back up? Yes! But truthfully I am also super antsy. And so is Dan. The kids are a little less so. Online friends, limitless internet, and a couple of kittens have helped them cope with the situation. Being that they have only known this lifestyle makes them super flexible. They go with the flow. That’s their normal. I’m really thankful for that.
How is it going in Croatia in regards to the pandemic?
Well, it could be better. The vaccine situation is not going smoothly in Croatia. In regards to vaccinating its citizens and having access to vaccines, we are the third-worst country in the EU. Ouch. On top of that, the country made a mistake and mostly ordered the AstraZeneca vaccine. As some of you might know, there’s a link between AstraZeneca and thrombosis that affects some people under 60, especially women. We are also in the middle of the third wave with not many restrictions in place. A huge chunk of Croatia’s economy is tourism and they just made border crossings easier for all.
What are we waiting for?
We are waiting for our vaccinations. Once Dan and I are vaccinated, we will feel a lot more comfortable leaving Croatia. But I won’t be completely happy until the kids get vaccinated as well. When will the adult vaccines happen? Who knows. Dan is a lot more optimistic than me on the timeline. One issue is that we will most likely not be vaccinated at the same time. Dan and I are on two different vaccine waiting lists. Dan has mandatory national insurance and is working with his general practitioner for his appointment. I am signed up with Public Health and am more in the dark than he is.
Where are we hoping to go?
If things go smoothly and we are fully vaccinated by summer, we plan to continue where we left off. We want to visit Portugal, the west coast of Spain and France, the UK and Ireland. Unfortunately, we have decided to not finish up the coast of Morocco. I don’t think we will have time to do it justice and don’t want to deal with canceled and expensive ferries.
In our next newsletter, I might share our plans beyond that. We are in the very early stages of what is to come for 2022 and we are super excited about it!
How did the trial road trip go with the kittens?
It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows with Twin and Toby… but it wasn’t a complete disaster neither. We went out with them in the van for 7 days, three of those days were long driving days. On a side note, this isn’t our first time traveling with a cat. We traveled with our old cat Yoda for ten years while in North America, mostly in our 25-foot Airstream trailer. She was an older cat and preferred to stay indoors. These two kittens are different, real different. They prefer to be outside and free all day long and indoors at night.
Preparing the kittens for the road
Before taking the cats with us on the road, we did some prep work that I think helped. First, we made sure that they associated our van as their home. They ate all their meals in the van. They had a litter box area in there as well. We hung out near the van during the day so they can come and go as they wish. And at night, we all slept inside.
Another thing that helped was clicker training. They associate the clicker with special treats and dinner time. It works *most* of the time. If we were in a new place, clicking right away does not work. Their need to explore supersedes their desire to eat. The clicker works after they have figured out their new surroundings.
For fun around the village, I take little walks with the cats in the afternoons. It’s not something I was conscious about for training purposes but it came in handy. They started following me down little walkways and we eventually worked up to walking small loops together. When we decided to take a little family walk at one of our boondocking spots, they didn’t hang out around the van as we thought they would but ended up following us on our hike. Our hike was 1/3 of a mile. They took some liberty to duck into bushes and see where other paths would lead but for the most part, they followed us the whole way without the need for rest time.
The long driving days sucked for us and them. They have a hard time settling down on the drive which I think is normal. The first time in the van, they were scared of the windows, people walking by, cars, everything. As the days went on, they got less and less scared. They eventually got comfortable enough to sit on our laps or relax under the kids’ bench seat or on our beds. There are two reasons why driving days sucked.
First, they can’t completely relax. They climb on me, then the kids, then the counter, then onto the window over and over again. I need to make sure they stay away from Dan, not rip all of the seats apart, and are safe. Being on cat watch is not relaxing for me. I can’t enjoy the views out the window but I know this is a temporary issue that will approve over time. I’ve tried cat carriers but am hoping they settle down on their own without having to restrict their freedom even more than van life already does.
Second, after a long driving day, we usually arrive at our camp spot late in the day. This gives the cats a smaller window of outside time. Less time outdoors equates to a more restless night because they want to keep exploring instead of sleeping through the night as they usually do. The cats never stay out by themselves during the night when we are in the village. They beg us to go into the van before we are ready to go. Ha. So on our first day of driving to our first camp spot, it was too late to let them out especially for their first time in a new place so we kept them indoors all day. That first time was a doozy. They woke us up every couple of hours by either meowing or clawing our nighttime privacy window shades down. It wasn’t the best night for any of us. Luckily, this only happened the first night. The other nights were much improved.
One thing that had to change is where and how we camp. With the amount of activity they need at this age, we have to camp at isolated boondocking locations. Camping in the city is not an option at the moment. During this trial trip, we chose all of our camp spots with the cats in mind which ended up being boondocking (wild camping) spots with little or no other people or traffic and places for them to hide and escape predators (bushes, trees, etc). If we had them leash trained, cities may start to be an option but we are not close for that to start happening. We also wanted to test out camping with them at campgrounds but we could not find an open campground in our area, which is pretty normal during the off-season in Croatia.
Why was the test trip only a week-long?
Well, Toby ended up figuring out where his favorite treats were in the van and ate them all up. That gave him a stomach ache and he ended up pooping on our bed. Not fun. Our boondocking spot didn’t have access to water for washing laundry. I guess I could have used seawater but I don’t think I could have cleaned it well enough, especially since he wiped poop on Dan’s pillow. So we chose to head back to the village to use the washing machine.
What we need to work on
To make vanlife with cats easier, I need to work on leash training. Getting them comfortable with harnesses wasn’t a big deal but the leash part is proving to be difficult. Since they spent most of their lives feral in the village, their instinct is to run when scared or uncomfortable. I need to figure out how to make them stop running and start hiding in a cat carrier or at our feet or arms instead. Any suggestions would be welcome. The thought of changing their survival instincts seems impossible to me right now.
The good and the bad
Having cats is a trade-off just like anything in this lifestyle.
The pros for us?
- They bring us so much happiness. It’s nice to have furry friends around again.
- They force us to slow down a bit and focus on finding more spots near nature.
The cons for us?
- They limit the places we can go. No more cities or busy areas at the moment. That could change somewhat with leash training and being less active as they grow out of their kitten phase.
- They add stress to driving days, which I can see getting easier over time.
- They give one of our kids allergies. It’s tolerable with daily medication but what are the long-term implications of those meds on her body?
- They will make border crossing more difficult and expensive.
- They will make future air travel stays complicated or not feasible at all.
- They will make adopting a dog impossible. All the pros and cons ring true for dogs too. Some of us were hoping to adopt a dog so the cats take that off of the table.
- And they will make dealing with stray dogs and cats around our van complicated.
The pros for the cats?
- They have people that love them, will take care of them, and keep them safe.
- They will have new places to explore all the time.
The cons for the cats?
- They will have less freedom to explore daily, especially on driving days.
- They will have less space for running and jumping which might affect their health.
For that last con, we feel like, in Yoda’s old age, she might have benefited more from living in a house rather than our small camper or van. It’s a trade-off, right? Lose familiar love and gain more space -or- keep the familiar love and give up on space to stretch out. But she was 16 when she passed away and lived a good life. Did having less space give her muscle atrophy? Would moving out of the van given her a longer life? We will never know. The stress of a new family or new place could have had a bad effect on her as well.
So… are we keeping Twin and Toby?
The best thing for the cats is for us to all keep living in the village… but that is not an option. Another option is to give them a home that is similar to life in the village… but that is tough to do in Croatia. With so many stray cats already here and with so many who don’t consider a cat as much as a pet as a dog, the chances to adopt them out with the level of freedom and care they have now is nearly impossible.
We had a family meeting. It was a tough one. We laid out all the pros and cons as I did above for you all. We are all so attached to Twin and Toby and want the best thing for them. So, at the moment, we are the best thing for them. What does that really mean? It means that we are going to try this cat thing in the van long term. But it also comes with an asterisk. If a situation appears that will allow them to be loved and live in a stationary place with the freedom they desire, we will adopt them out. If the cats seem unhappy in the van long term, or if someone has unmanageable allergies, we will have to adopt them out the best we can. Guess I better start working on getting them a tracking device and some collars. Oh and probably an Instagram page too. Lol.
That’s all for now.
Thanks again for reading and following along on our adventures over the years. And a special shout out to our Patreon members. We appreciate your extra support in helping us keep sharing our family’s travels.
Talk to you all next month,