The van life movement has exploded in popularity in recent years. Adventurous spirits tired of the nine-to-five grind are converting vans and buses into hip mobile homes to hit the open road.
But along with the freedom and flexibility of the nomadic lifestyle comes the practical challenge of meeting basic needs like bathing and using the toilet on the go.
In this post, we’ll explore the creative solutions van lifers have devised for keeping clean and minimizing their environmental impact.
Adapting to Limited Showers in a Van
For most new van dwellers, the transition from enjoying daily hot showers at home to having just an occasional shower on the road can be jarring.
When you live in a tiny van, water needs to be conserved, and making room for a permanent shower is difficult. Still, regular washing is important for hygiene and health. Here are some tips for adjusting to less frequent bathing:
- Lower expectations for daily showers. Showering every other day or a few times a week is sufficient to stay clean. Sponge baths or washing up at a sink can tide you over.
- Embrace alternative cleaning methods. Dry shampoo, cleansing wipes, and sponge baths allow quick clean-ups between showers.
- Install a small solar shower. A simple gravity-fed water reservoir with a nozzle allows occasional outdoor showers.
- Get comfortable at truck stops. Many offer private bathrooms with showers for a small fee.
- Treat yourself at a campground. Budget for the occasional night at a campsite with shower facilities.
- Use public pools and beaches. Rinsing off in the ocean or a lake is an efficient bathing method.
While daily showers may be a luxury of the past, you can still stay fresh on the road with some creativity and a flexible attitude.
Choosing Between Outdoor and Indoor Showers
The two main options for installing a shower in your van are outdoor and indoor models. Each has pros and cons to evaluate.
Benefits of Outdoor Showers
- More space efficient. No need to build out a separate bathroom pod inside.
- Better ventilation. The open-air design prevents moisture build-up.
- Energy efficient. Can use efficient solar heating instead of propane.
- Freedom and nature connection. Showering under the stars is unbeatable.
Limitations of Outdoor Showers
- Lack of privacy. You’ll need to find secluded spots away from people.
- Weather dependent. Cold or rainy conditions make outdoor bathing unpleasant.
- Not self-contained. Requires a water source and drainage area.
- Prohibited in some areas. Public parks and campsites restrict outdoor bathing.
Advantages of Indoor Showers
- Use anytime. Get clean rain or shine, hot or cold.
- More private. Bathroom pod adds a door and walls.
- Multi-purpose space. Shower doubles as extra sink/toilet room.
- Self-contained system. No need to connect hoses or drain externally.
- Versatile options. From simple stalls to luxurious tiled stand-ups.
Downsides of Indoor Showers
- Consumes interior space. Bathroom takes up valuable square footage.
- Ventilation important. Must have fan to control moisture.
- Higher cost. Plumbing and waterproofing add expenses.
- Requires powered water. Solar showers may not supply enough pressure.
There are excellent vans out there with both outdoor and indoor showers. Assess your climate, priorities for space, and budget to decide what will work best.
Alternative Washing Methods for Van Lifers
While installed showers are ideal for frequent use, they are not the only option. Here are some other techniques for bathing on the go:
- Urban bathrooms. Truck stops and public pools have showers for a few dollars. Planet Fitness offers free guest access.
- Natural water sources. Swimming in lakes and oceans can serve as a bath. Bring biodegradable soap.
- Solar camp showers. Inexpensive portable systems that you fill and hang in the sun.
- Sponge baths. Using a bucket of water and rag, wash off key areas.
- Baby wipes. Keep packs of cleaning wipes stocked for quick clean-ups.
- Dry shampoo. Absorbs oils so you can skip washing hair as often.
- Sinks and gyms. Wash hair and scrub up in any available sink when needed.
With some adaptability, you can stay fresh between real showers. Know your options based on where you are parked and the weather conditions.
Responsible Toilet and Waste Practices for Van Lifers
Along with bathing, toilet facilities are a top concern when moving into a van. While a toilet is not essential, you’ll need a plan for responsibly and legally managing waste. Here are a few guidelines:
- Know dump station locations. Use sanitation apps to locate places to drain waste tanks.
- Get a portable toilet. Composting or cassette toilets allow bathroompod-free vans.
- Use public restrooms. Map out stores, restaurants, campsites, and rest stops with facilities.
- Use biodegradable bags. Seal and dispose of waste properly when camping off grid.
- Research laws. Use free apps like Campendium to check if overnight camping is permitted.
- Learn “Leave No Trace.” Practice burying waste away from water and scattering after use.
- Avoid sensitive areas. Don’t free camp where waste can pollute nature or communities.
While a full bathroom is convenient, it can limit parking options at night. Weigh your needs, travel style and environmental ethics when deciding your van’s sanitation system.