Van Travel: Showers and Bathrooms (When You Don’t Have a Shower or a Bathroom)

Van Travel - Showers On The Road - Ford Transit Campervan


This topic is home to questions we get often– sometimes timidly and sometimes boldly– from strangers and friends alike. We’ll get this out of the way at the offset: talking about the bathroom and the shower feels personal and that might make some of you readers feel uncomfortable, but we’re here to give you potentially valuable information through our insights and experiences. So if you don’t need or want to know about our hygiene practices or those we know about, check out another article (here’s our most popular one to get you going). Otherwise, read on and you’ll leave this article well-informed!

Why wouldn’t you install a shower or bathroom in your van?

There are probably as many reasons to not install a bathroom (specifically, a toilet) and shower as there are to install them. For us, we did not want to manage odor, space, or black water. After doing the research it didn’t seem worth it, especially since we decided to purchase a standard length van, which is smaller than an extended length. A kitchen counter, working sink, and large bed were the priorities for us, but they might not be for everyone or you might have the extra room based on your vehicle’s size.

Van Travel Tips for Bathrooms

If you choose not to install a toilet in your campervan, there are plenty of options:

The great outdoors.
This is definitely the default option if you’re anywhere outdoors like Bureau of Land Management land, which is open and public space and often has free camping options. Remember to keep with proper backcountry bathroom etiquette.

Store, restaurant, and other public bathrooms.
An easy choice if you’re out to eat or at a grocery store, at a library, tire shop, or anywhere else that allows you to use their restroom. It’s important to be respectful of “no public restroom” signs.

Rest stops and gas stations.
Obviously more handy for when you’re in-between destinations, but gas stations in particular are great because they typically allow anyone to use them– which is a plus in the event you just need to go and there are no rest stops nearby.

Trail heads and campgrounds.
When you’re hiking, biking, or camping it’s great to have this as an option so you know where to go. Remember to check for well-stocked TP first!

A good ol’ jar or bottle.
If you need to go and don’t have any other options, it’s good to have a jar or a bottle handy. Some people use mason jars, but we use these. And ladies–
this resource might come in handy.


Van Travel Tips for Showers

Similar to the bathroom conversation, there are many options for showers:

The great outdoors.
Whether you have a water jug,
a solar shower bag, or something more fancy like a pressurized system, you can always find a place to clean off outdoors. Make sure you use earth-friendly soap like Wilderness Wash or Dr.Bronner’s and wash off 200 feet or more from natural water sources.

Van Travel - Showers On The Road - Ford Transit Campervan

Public outdoors showers.
We’ve found these more often at public spaces in beach towns, and when we do find them it’s pure gold! Don’t expect a hot (or even warm) shower, but it’s free and there’s no prep work on your part so you can’t complain, right?

Public pools and community centers.
Public pools and community centers always have locker rooms with showers, and are typically $3-7 for entrance. You can go in for just a shower if you want, or you can take advantage of
all the amazing amenities these places offer– go ahead and treat yourself!

Hostels and (some) sports shops.
Many times, you can pay for a shower instead of a full night’s stay at a hostel. And sometimes,  you can give the local bike shop a $5 bill to use their designated shower space. Ask locals where the paid showers are or ask at the town’s visitor center, if they have one.

Truck stops.
Reading the mention of truck stop showers might make some readers cringe, but we have heard more positive reviews out there from fellow travelers than negative ones, by far! Flying Js and TravelCenters of America have good reputations for large showers, nice towels, and a charge of about $6/person, but it really varies by specific location.
This forum thread is a good one to check if you want to look up a place before going in, or using Yelp to seek reviews.

Not all campgrounds have showers, but those that do can be a good option to get squeaky clean. Some campgrounds require tokens or quarters, so be sure to go in knowing what the situation is so you don’t have to make a towel-wrapped walk to your car or the Ranger Station.

What tips do you have for bathroom and shower alternatives? Leave your insights in the comments. And your questions, too!

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