Dan Nguyen and his wife Olivia Nguyen run a popular Instagram account spongecake_thescottishfold which has over 314,000 followers as well as a TikTokspongecake_cats page which has 199,000 followers as of Friday.
They both document their three cats as they explore the world – Venice, Paris, Milan and more – from the comfort of Dan’s travel bag.
Olivia launched her social media accounts in November 2021 as the family took off on their first international trip to Paris. The second video, posted in November, showed Dan embracing a sponge cake with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The video has garnered more than 192,200 views and 16,900 likes.
Speaking to Insider, Dan said he and Olivia welcomed Sponge Cake and Mocha, two cats from Scottish Fold, and Donut, a British shorthair, in the summer of 2020. According to their owners, they are accustomed to the outside world.
Dan said Sponge Cake is a “very adventurous guy who loves to explore” and is “very attached” to him and Olivia, while Mocha is a “very nice and always calm boy” who enjoys walking down Fifth Avenue. Last but not least, there’s the donut, the last cat to join the family. Dan told Insider that Donut was initially reluctant to go outside but is now the biggest fan of the outdoors.
Olivia started social media accounts for her three cats when Dan began training them to travel by taking them to local destinations like Central Park. Over time, her travels became more adventurous and her online following grew.
According to Dan, who wrote Adventure Cats: How to Train Your Cat for Outdoor Adventures, a book published in July that describes his process of training indoor cats out of the house, the best way is to start with them more “gradually.” Of treats, gentle stroking and encouragement.
For those who want to emulate Dan and Olivia’s success, their advice is to make their cat trust you and feel safe with you.
Dan said her first out-of-state adventure was the 2021 tour in Orlando, San Francisco and Sacramento. Dan’s reason for bringing the cats was simple: “We wanted them to be with us.”
The trip gave them the confidence to travel abroad for the first time in November, to Paris, which Dan said the cats particularly enjoyed.
They have since discovered Venice and Milan, and Dan said they plan to visit Switzerland in the fall.
He said that taking Sponge Cake, Mocha, and Donut outside is not a walk in the park because most countries have different rules for traveling with cats.
Dan said it’s useful and much faster than the lengthy process of getting FDA certification to get vet certifications for certain airlines.
This means that he and Olivia can simply go to the vet to make sure their pets are safe to fly and have the correct vaccinations before they travel. If you plan to travel with your pet, you can search for your destination on the USDA website to find the latest requirements.
Dan and Olivia prefer not to put their cats in the cargo hold while flying, and prefer to take them into the cabin with them. For pets that weigh less than 10 kilograms, or about 22 pounds, Dan says you can take them in carry-on bags that are portable luggage and fit under the seat in front of you. He added that cats sleep in their carriers when they are tired on long trips.
Because Sponge Cake, Mocha, and Donut outnumber their parents, Dan and Olivia sometimes have to book an extra ticket, but not all airlines allow them. “Sometimes if you want to buy a third ticket and an empty passenger seat, that’s not allowed,” Dan told Insider, noting that they only allowed one pet per passenger and did not allow them to buy a ticket for an empty seat.
The couple also provides a full check-in bag for cats the day before the flight. “There are disposable litter boxes, a bit of trash, wet and dry food, and then all her toys and scratching posts,” Dan said, adding that he and Olivia are always trying to reconfigure their home environment at the destination.
“We have a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles and a lot of curiosity. A lot of people come to us and want to say hello, which is always fun,” Dan said, noting that these people often ask how he manages to make cats feel comfortable outside in crowded places.
Back home in New York City, Dan said the cats often enjoy spending time indoors in Central Park or Times Square, or dining outdoors with their parents. He added that he and Olivia are careful not to overwhelm their pets with the attention of passersby, but cat lovers will continue to see them and take pictures.
Olivia makes custom cat ties and also buys pastel knitted sweaters to wear.
“All the ties and ribbons you see are made to order by my wife,” Dan said, noting that Olivia wears them for “fun and taking pictures.”
He added that Olivia’s designs are fragile and need special handling when traveling. “She doesn’t actually put flies and stuff in the bag because it’s too precious to her and she’s so delicate, so she actually carries them in a box within reach,” Dan said with a laugh.
Some of the things Dan has learned about traveling with cats is how long it takes to get through safety, which can be especially difficult if they aren’t familiar with the process. He also said it’s important to research pet-friendly hotels in your destination and do extra planning to create a pet-friendly trail.
While Nguyens have never forgotten their cats, Dan said climbing trees can be a challenge. He said one of his top tips for people who bring their cats into urban settings is not to let them climb higher than you can reach.
“Sometimes one of them is too loud,” Dan said. “Then we have to wait for them carefully. I put my bag upside down and grabbed it, and at the end they jumped into the backpack.”
After boating on Lake Como and hopping outside the Louvre in Paris, it’s safe to say there is no limit to how far these cats will go.