My best friend emailed me the other day and asked me for tips about traveling with cats. She's about to move 10 hours away to a new state, and I think this will be the first long trip she's taken with her two cats.
I've taken my cats on a lot of trips, always from Atlanta to Orlando (about 8 hours). I bring my cats with me every time I go visit my family in Orlando which can be several times a year. My family loves my cats, my cats love the geckos and bugs found at my family's house, and I prefer not to leave them alone if I can help it! The first time they did the trip was when they were 7 or 8 months old, so I really don't remember what they were like the first time. (And actually, the very first time they made that trip, I wasn't even with them.)
Here's what I told my best friend.
The safest way to transport your cats in a car is to get a hard-sided airline cat cage, like this one. (I'm not endorsing that particular carrier - it's just an example.) This will protect the cat the most if you get into an accident while traveling. I don't know if these types of carriers can buckle in, but it's probably a good idea to wedge it somehow so it doesn't jostle as you're moving. I think you also need to have your animal's vet records with you if you're traveling out of state. It's probably a good idea to have anyways, just in case something happens.
If you have two cats, like my friend, you can make the decision about whether to keep the cats in the cage together, or get two separate cages. Some cats might do better having their own space, and some cats might do better drawing comfort from their brother/sister.
Now of course this is what you *should* do. I have to admit I've never done this. I don't own a hard-sided cat crate; I have this soft-sided cat carrier. (I WILL endorse that link! I love my Sherpa bag. :-)) Also, I only have one. My cats don't get along well enough to spend 8 hours together. And, it's not very aerated - I feel bad leaving them inside the whole time. So, I let my cats run loose around the car. I personally prefer them to be on my lap rather than crying from their carrier. But, I am taking safety risks when I do that so I couldn't actually tell other people to do the same. :-)
Regardless of whether your pet is caged or not, you need to make sure the animal is comfortable when you travel. Because it's usually hot when I am diving to Florida, I make sure that the air conditioner is at an appropriate temperature. You can also buy sunshades for the windows (often found in the baby section of stores) to help keep the sun off the animal - especially good if the animal is confined to a certain space! Being calm yourself in the car can help calm them as well - play piano music on your CD/tape player, or talk softly to them. When you stop, try to find a parking space in the shade and crack the windows a little bit. Be conscious of your animal and don't leave them in a hot car too long. I always keep a water dish pour some cool water for my cats when I am stopped. They are only sometimes interested in that. I always bring the litter box (with clean litter!) with me (for use at my destination), and keep it on the floor in the backseat. The cats usually like to sleep inside it - I guess it's cool and familiar. :-) In all the times I've traveled with them, they have only used the box once.
If your cats don't do well in the car, or you're uncomfortable with the thought of driving with them, then you can talk to your vet about sedatives. The first trip my cats made, my parents drove them up without me. They got some pills from the vet, and kept the cats (then about 7 or 8 months old) in a laundry basket. The cats just kinda stayed put and were calm the whole time. It might be a good option, especially if it's just a one-time move and not something you're planning to do a lot. I have no knowledge of the risks of sedating your cat, so that's definitely something you should look up on your own and talk to your vet about.
One word: if you DO let your cats loose in the car, be very VERY careful when you get in and out of the car. The last thing you want is for the cat to escape while you're along a highway! You could keep your cat in a carrier for the times that the door will be open, if that's comfortable for you. For me, I have found my cats don't try to jump out. However, I do locate both cats before I open the door, and am very conscious of where they are while the door is open. My husband also helps with this - when we're together, we'll get out of the car one at a time, so the other can help watch for the cats. We've never had trouble, but if your cat is likely to bolt it's something you should take into consideration.
Okay that's all I have to say on the topic. :-)