Traveling alone can be scary. You don’t know the area, and you don’t always speak the language. Plus, while seeing the sights of the world can keep you busy, it can get pretty lonely when you have no one to share your journey with…
So when an adventurous man grew tired of the same-old-same-old, he decided to travel through Europe with a buddy. But when he suddenly found himself going at it alone, he struggled to keep himself motivated — until he crossed paths with someone pretty special who changed his entire trip!
In a small town on the Scottish East coast lived Dean Nicholson, a man in his thirties who only ever wanted one thing: to see the world. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money for that. But he did have a plan…
You see, Dean was sick and tired of his normal life, as living the 9-to-5 grind didn’t suit him. He had no problem with the idea of giving it all up: his house, his job, and his hometown.
Since he didn’t have the means to buy a bunch of plane tickets or book fancy hotels, it wasn’t easy for him to travel to all his desired destinations. But there was another way. Dean was fit and owned a high-quality bicycle…
With a friend, he grabbed a globe and thought about where they wanted to go. They wanted to see France, Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia, and anywhere else in the European mainland where their bikes could take them.
In September of 2018, they headed out, biked through England and took the ferry to France where they immediately ran into trouble: the friends had to run from a pack of wild boars!
This was the breaking point for Dean’s friend, and he abandoned their plans and headed back home. But Dean refused to give up on his adventure and pushed on, now completely alone.
The following days were a bit lonely, but then that all changed. One day, he heard a heartbreaking meow coming from the side of the road. An animal lover, he stopped to pet the cat — and couldn’t believe what he saw.
A beautiful kitten was dumped in the middle of nowhere, and now it looked up at him with pleading eyes. She rubbed against him, showing him love, and he knew he couldn’t leave her behind.
After a quick shuffle with his biking and camping equipment, the cat could ride up front and enjoy the views as they continued the journey together. Dean named her Nala, after the character in his favorite movie, The Lion King.
What made Nala so special was that she was fearless and entirely trusting. She rode on the bike, slept in tents, jumped into canoes, greeted people on the way, and loved her new best friend more than anything in the world.
Everywhere they went, people stopped and pointed at Nala, asking to pet her or take her picture. After all, it’s not every day that a cat rides a bike. Dean even bought her a special bag with a window for when she gets tired of the attention.
Still, it would soon be time to cross the Montenegro border, and Dean was worried they wouldn’t let Nala through. So, he got her dewormed and vaccinated and smuggled her into the country successfully. The clever kitten didn’t even make a peep!
However, trouble came not long after, when Nala began to wheeze and cough. The rain and cold had given her a lung infection that needed immediate attention, so Dean found a vet as fast as he could. He couldn’t lose his new friend now!
Nala’s treatment meant the two had to stay in one place for a while, a place that was dry and warm. Staying still made Dean uneasy, but he booked a hostel where they stayed for a few weeks – anything for his feline friend.
Luckily, Nala completely recovered, and their trip continued. Things really started looking up, and they were making friends wherever they went – friends who even let them stay at their home for free!
Of course, Dean and Nala always shared that same kindness with other people and animals they met on the road. They even shared their food with a group of hungry stray cats on a rainy day; it was nice Nala could play with other cats.
But perhaps the greatest friend they made was a puppy who needed serious medical attention. Dean got him the treatment he needed and even found a wonderful family to adopt him.
While Dean couldn’t keep the puppy, he hoped Nala would always stay with him. He even invested in more equipment to keep her comfortable and safe, like a backpack to carry her and a life jacket to take her on canoes.
To document his love for the little cat, he even got a tattoo of her paw, so she’d be with him forever. Can you blame him? Nala was not only adorable but full of courage and wanderlust – a rare thing for a kitten.
Even though Dean never expected to become a cat-dad on the road, he was so happy that he took the journey and that they found each other in their loneliest moments. Now they could take on the world together, one mile at a time!
Of course, you don’t need to ride a bike or pick up a stray to have an amazing adventure with a cat buddy! While Dean met Nala for the first time, on the other side of the world, another young man was seeing the sights with a furry friend…
Rich East is a twenty-something-year-old, adventurous Australian with a go-getter attitude. In 2013, the young man felt unsatisfied with his typical suburban life in Hobart, Tasmania, an island state off the continent’s south coast.
“I used to have a career,” Rich said, “a house with a garden, lots of stuff, but what I didn’t have was happiness. I had felt over-stressed for a while, kind of stuck in a way, so I decided to make some changes.”
In 2013, sick of being trapped in the city, he began going on small off-roading and hiking trips around Tasmania in the company of a small stuffed lion — and another interesting companion.
He was in the company of his best friend Willow! While most cats wouldn’t make for the easiest travel companions, Willow loved to explore Australia with her human and didn’t mind the long drives at all.
“Willow is very curious and loves to explore,” Rich said. “She spends most of her days snoozing on top of the roof rack, under the van, or sleeping in her cat carrier. On cold days you will find her snuggled up in my blankets.”
“Willow and I have an unspoken agreement,” Rich continued. “She will always come back to the van, and I will always wait for her. She rarely wanders more than 100 meters from the van, but when she does, I can find her with her tracking collar.”
With his company sorted out, he started traveling a bit more on his days off from work; on those trips, he found a new passion: photographing all that Tasmania’s natural beauty had to offer.
“For the first time I felt free,” he said. “Free to design a new life for myself,” (and Willow!) In 2014, Rich quit his job, sold his house, and bought a van. “I threw away everything that didn’t bring me joy. The premise was simple: build a new home in which I could travel.”
Camera the ready, Rich documented the renovation of the van installing a ready-to-go bed in the back, a small kitchen in the middle, and a front seat that could turn around to make the most of his living space. Oh, and of course, a surfboard on the roof.
Once the van was completed a year later, Rich bought a map of Australia, on which he drew the route he planned to take. He would have to take a ferry from Tasmania to the mainland and follow the coast all around the country. With everything packed up and ready to go, it was time to hit the road.
“It was hard to think about all the things that I was leaving behind,” Rich said, “so instead I thought about all I was taking with me and all that I would gain. I left my town and everything I knew for a new life and the unknown.”
The first few weeks he saw as many places as he could, surfed at different beaches, explored a variety of landscapes, and of course, met a kangaroo or two. “People travel for lots of reasons,” he said. “For me it’s simple: go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
As the journey continued, Rich slowed things down, staying in places for longer periods to truly take the time to appreciate his surroundings. He and Willow bonded on the road — and this gave him an idea.
Rich invested in several cameras, tripods, and drones to film their adventures. He dabbled in photography and put together short videos. Perhaps it was his creative skills that earned the adventurers so much online attention.
On the journey, Rich grew as a photographer. Aside from filming everyday tasks like driving, cooking, and hanging out, he captured all the breathtaking scenes that he and Willow stumbled upon almost every single day.
And of course, Rich’s favorite subject to capture was Willow. Every once in a while, he could easily snap a photo of her lounging around, but other times it took a long and careful set-up — and a whole lot of patience.
Once Rich started to post these photos and videos on social media accounts under the name VanCatMeow, the two gained thousands of fans. The public loved the photos so much they wanted to buy prints. Thus VanCatMeow began sustaining itself financially.
Rich’s other hobbies include surfing, reading, and woodworking, the last of which was another way he made a little extra cash for gas and MeowMix.
By 2018, VanCatMeow’s Youtube Channel gained over 2,000 subscribers. People were absolutely in love with Willow and Rich. With his photography skills ever improving, VanCatMeow will surely continue to grow as long as the duo is up for more adventures.
At the end of 2018, after touring the whole coast of Australia, Rich and Willow were driving inland, even going off the grid for a month in the Outback. What the future holds is unclear: will Rich settle down again or continue his travels in other countries?