Clothes, check. Suncream, check. Toiletries, check. Oh, and don’t forget the 14 animals.Fortunately, Nicole, 32, didn’t need to hide them all in her suitcase. All nine dogs, five cats and her cousin Travis were planning to spend the next seven months in a Jeep Cherokee towing a four-berth caravan. The Travelling Menagerie, as Nicole calls them, set off on their trip earlier this month. They plan to take in about 20 countries in the months they are away.
This trip isn’t their first – last year they did 20 countries in eight months, and they are planning to return to some of their favourite places and see some new ones along the way.Nicole, who is originally from Norristown, Pennsylvania, adopted the first of her pets while she was in the U.S. military. She was stationed in Lakenheath, England in 2014 and her pets came with her across the Atlantic.When she left the military later that year, Nicole decided to stay in the UK, basing herself in Boughton, Norfolk, as she had fallen in love with the area.
And from there, she started to adopt other animals who needed homes, creating her own family of pets.When her marriage broke down shortly after, Nicole went home for the Christmas holidays and her cousin Travis Miles, 26, agreed to come over to help for a little while. He soon fell in love with the place and the work Nicole was doing caring for horses, so he decided to stay with her long term. The pair love living in England but without a residency visa, they are only able to stay there for 180 days a year, so last year they decided they would spend the rest of the year travelling Europe, moving from country to country, and every animal would come with them.
Just before setting off on their latest trip, Nicole told Metro.co.uk: ‘England is where we consider home. My horses are in England and before my residency visas ran out, I lived there for nearly five years so have a complete life there.
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‘Our travels are really just sort of our way of making the best of the time we have to be away from home and I’d say we do a decent job of making the best of that time.
‘It never occurred to me not to bring all of the dogs and cats along with us when we decided to travel; they’re family and once an animal has a home with me, it’s for life.’Lager the cat has been with Nicole the longest. She adopted him as a kitten from a shelter in California when she was serving in the airforce. Also from her time in the U.S. was Syn is a seven-year-old German Shepherd, who shares an incredible bond with Nicole. When Nicole suffered a mental breakdown and decided to end her life, Syn sat with her and comforted her. The next day they went out together and Nicole started to turn her life around. Then came Nefsi, who worked as Nicole’s assistance dog, helping her cope with living with complex PTSD following sexual abuse.These three were her first animals, who all came with her when she moved from Monterey, California to Valdosta, Georgia. From there, she adopted Mead, a mink Ragdoll cat and Moscato, a purebred Ragdoll. Nicole and all five animals moved to England when she was stationed there in 2014 and a year later, in October 2015, Moomkin came along. Moomkin was rescued from the meat trade in China.
Nibble was rescued from the same truck and was initially going to be rehomed elsewhere but when that failed, Nicole took her in too in early 2016.
In 2018, she adopted two more cats Jäger and Kamikaze from the horse yard where she was working. Sadly, in the days after Nicole spoke to Metro.co.uk, Jäger passed away, at the very start of their second trip. Wasili is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, the only dog who is not a rescue. He was imported from a breeder in Slovenia so he could replace Nefsi as Nicole’s assistance dog, as the older dog needed to retire. Finally, the menagerie includes four puppies – Dobre, Sladoled, Balkan, and Zimata. They were born in the caravan in Bulgaria after Nicole and Travis rescued their pregnant mum from the streets.
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Forty-five percent of pet owners say they occasionally (or frequently) buy presents for their animals.
During their travels, the pair also pick up injured or poorly animals but they try to rehome as many as possible as they go.
Nicole explained: ‘We often end up picking up animals and rehoming them along the way.
‘The animals have to be in critical condition (starving, injured, clearly unable to survive due to condition and/or weather).‘Last year we rescued ten dogs, rehoming seven successfully to new homes in Italy, Germany, Scotland, England and the United States (and we kept the four puppies, though one is going to go to a new home).
‘We also saved a hedgehog and countless kittens that were rehomed in Bulgaria, where we found them.’
Although it might seem impossible to get so many living creatures in a caravan, Nicole and the rest of the menagerie love their trips – but there are things that make it challenging.
She explained: ‘It’s definitely very cramped when we are all stuck inside. Thankfully all the cats and dogs get along well.
‘We avoid campsites and instead do a lot of wild camping, bouncing from truck stop to truck stop, or staying on the land of friends or friendly locals that don’t mind having a menagerie around.’
Although they’ve seen many countries together, travelling with animals does affect what they can do when they stop.
Nicole added: ‘We rarely enter major cities or visit the normal tourist hotspots. If we do go for something touristy, it’s normally something like a hike with views or a castle ruins off the beaten path so we can take at least some of the dogs along.
‘Very occasionally, usually when a friend or family is visiting and we have secure accommodation where the caravan can be safely left unattended and the weather is cool enough that the animals will stay comfortable, we may take a few hours away to see some tourist spots, but those are few and far between.
‘We’re both outdoor people that would usually rather spend time with animals than surrounded by too many people but it does mean that our expectation and focus for travel is very different.’
Beyond what they can see and do, the logistics of having so many animals travelling for so long also means they need to be flexible with their plans.
Nicole added: ‘Dogs shouldn’t be subjected to endless hours locked in cages in the car or caravan, so even when we are “on the move” we spend a lot of time stopping for potty breaks, walks, even just naptime where they can snuggle up in bed.
Always be consistent. Half-assed efforts will deliver half-assed results. Consistency is the key to success in all endeavors in life. Training a dog is no different. Learning about your dog is also a consistent effort. Quality time with your dog should be consistent and ongoing.
‘I can’t count how many times we were aiming to be somewhere by a certain date and time and we had to just adjust our plans.’
And of course with so many animals in a small space, it takes a lot of upkeep to make sure everyone is clean.
Nicole said: ‘With 14 animals in that small of a space, there is dirt and hair and mud, accidents and cat litter.
‘Because we travel in winter and often in cold climates, the mud is what gets to me the most. It’s everywhere all the time, and sometimes I just want to tear my hair out.
‘We clean, a lot, every day. Last year we made the mistake of having carpets in the caravan; we’ve rectified that issue with our new caravan this year – laminate, easy-clean floors all around.
‘There are no soft furnishings other than the bed, it just collects mess.
‘We have altered a lot of the caravan to accommodate the needs of the animals rather than ourselves. It’s amazing what you can live without – like a shower for instance. It’s so much easier to shower at a truck stop and use that valuable space in the caravan for something else.’
The dogs are all groomed by a professional before they set off but they are brushed every day on the road to minimise shedding and bathed as often as possible.
All of them are treated for fleas, ticks and worms monthly and the cats get a weekly brush.
Another problem is pet food as it’s hard to carry enough for all the animals for such a long time.
Nicole added: ‘Our animals eat better then we do but one of the challenges we face is not being able to carry enough of their regular diet to last our entire trip.
‘That means finding alternatives on the road, and that is hard when you’re moving around so much and each country often sells different brands that are differing quality.
‘We spend a lot of time trying to find consistent brands across countries, and aren’t always successful.’
Most of the time, they can travel through the Schengen area, where they can travel freely without border control but they do travel beyond that from time to time, which means dealing with borders and customs.
Nicole and Travis have become experts in administration, ensuring that not only their documents are in order but also keeping 14 pet passports, which require up to date vaccinations and mandatory health checks.
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Although it’s an unusual way of life, Nicole and Travis love the animals and the life they have with them.
‘It’s the adventure of a lifetime,’ says Nicole.You can follow the Travelling Menagerie on their latest trip on their blog, or Instagram page.