So you want to live on the road but are concerned about staying clean? Don’t worry. There are plenty of options for showering while you travel in your home on wheels… some are free, some are paid, some can done in the comfort of your own home, and some can be done when you have some privacy outdoors. Below you will find ALL the different options available to you.
Campgrounds and RV Parks: Sure, the most common way to stay clean in this lifestyle is to stay at a campground or RV park but did you know there’s another option for these type of places? Day use! A lot of campgrounds will allow you use their shower facilities for a fraction of the cost of an overnight stay or sometimes even for free. We just drive up and ask.
Marinas: Marinas are equivalent to campgrounds for sailors and therefore have bathroom facilities. Some are open to the public and some you will need to ask the marina office for permission or a key. And for a bonus, lots will have laundry facilities and maybe even a swimming pool and hot tub.
Truck Stops: We avoided using truck stops for a long time during our travels. We had a preconceived notion that was quickly squashed once we stepped into one. They showers were individual bathrooms with locking doors, roomy, cleaned after each use, had laundered towels, and sometimes even a hotel size bars of soap. The awesome things about truck stops for families is that you pay by the shower, not by the number of individuals. We paid up to $12 for a shower room in the US and as low as $3 in Norway and free in Serbia.
Recreation Centers: Lots of communities have city-operated rec centers for the residents of their towns. They are great places to take advantage of the shower facilities, in addition to the gym and swimming facilities as well.
Community Pools: Just like recreation centers, lots of cities also have community pools which are usually very affordable. The downside is that they are usually closed during non-summer months.
Fitness Memberships: Joining a gym that has multiple locations is also an option. A decent amount of travelers in the van life community pay for a membership at Planet Fitness. They have a membership level that allows members to visit any location which is perfect for full-timers. We have personally not used gym memberships since we have always traveled with children and figuring out daycare seemed more trouble than a shower or workout was worth.
AirBnB: Not necessarily the case in the US, but we’ve found paying for a small AirBnB for the sole use of a shower (plus laundry and wifi) is an awesome option while traveling internationally. Because we are not planning to spend the night at the AirBnB, we don’t have to pay for the home or apartment that is marketed to larger groups. We choose a cheaper option meant for a traveler or two. We usually let the owner know ahead of time that we won’t be spending the night and show up with our own towels since they only provide a towel or two. Also because AirBnB owners have their own discretion on special offers, you can often ask for a discount on the nightly rate if you don’t plan to spend the night.
Fresh Bodies of Water: Taking a dip in a fresh body of water like a lake, river or hot spring is a great option when the opportunity arises. Not only are you one with nature but are getting clean as well. If you want to use soap, make sure you bring a bucket with you and environmentally safe soap. Soap is bad for the environment so it is important to soap up and rinse at least 200 feet away from alpine lakes and rivers. And when done, dig a hole 6 to 9 inches deep for disposing of soapy wash and rinse water. The soil acts as a filter and the bacteria in the soil helps biodegrade the environmentally safe soap.
Beach Showers: Another option for showering is the beach. If you can find a beach shower inside of a building, soap away! But if you can only find an outdoor one with a drain, think about pre-soaping up your armpits and private parts in your camper before rinsing off at the beach. We use lightweight and quick-drying turkish towels which are a game changer. You can also get them in robe form to make changing outdoors even easier.
Built-in Interior Showers: The majority of factory-built campers come with showers. If this is you, you might not need to use these other shower options unless you are looking into conserving your water. But if you are choosing to shower inside and want to save your water, consider taking navy showers (turn on water, turn off water, soap up, repeat) and also installing a low flow shower head that mixes air with water. We have often showered whiled parked next to a campground’s water fill and dump station so we can conveniently refill our fresh and empty our grey tanks immediately afterwards.
Built-in Exterior Showers: Many campers these days, especially ones marketed to the overlanding or glamping lifestyle, come with an outdoor shower compartment. This is a super useful feature to have with kids or when camping beachside, even for a quick rinse before heading inside your camper. Some even come with a hot water option. There are great inline portable hot water heaters that run off of propane if you don’t have an on-board water heater.
Solar Shower Bag: Buying a basic solar shower bag is always an option. We haven’t had the best luck with them as full-timers since we put way more wear and tear on items compared to a normal camping consumer. Nowadays, there are even fancier models that are pressurized which appear to be sturdier than earlier basic models.
Roof Top Tube Showers: Another exterior option for your rig is to install a roof top pressurized tube shower. This is something you can build yourself or you can purchase an already made version like the Road Shower. Just like having the exterior built-in shower, this is an awesome option to hose off sandy feet or to take a full shower. It uses the power of the sun to warm up the black metal or PVC tubing instead of wasting onboard propane for warm water as a built-in might use. Not ideal in cold weather or cloudy days but it also acts as storage for extra potable water which could come in handy in an emergency or prolonging your boondocking stay.
Water Bottle Showers: This is going to sound a little funny but we found water bottle showers refreshing. On warm nights, we use a couple 1-liter water bottles of cold water to wash ourselves. Other times, we warm up water on our stove and use a funnel to pour the warm water back into our bottles. And if you want to save fuel, you can even fill up hot water in a public restroom. It’s quick and easy and worked well for us when we city camped or wild camped with some privacy. Our go-to was to open the back doors of our van, clip a shower curtain to the doors (if needed) and take a quick soapy rinse. I can’t tell how many times we felt like a million bucks after a long day of driving or sightseeing. You can buy screw on bottle caps with shower heads to make this even more luxurious 🙂
Bucket Showers: Similar to a water bottle shower, sometimes we use a collapsible bucket and cup to rinse ourselves. This method is easier for the kids to manage. We add hot water from the stove to some cold water for a warm rinse. We also have a submersible water pump and hose that we can drop into a bucket or water jug when we have access to fresh water. Another popular and inexpensive way to get pressurized water from a bucket is using garden sprayers with a built-in hand pump.
Wet wipes: And last but not least, when things get desperate, you can do a wet wipe shower. It’s best to find a brand that doesn’t leave a residue. Nowadays, you can even purchase large towel sized wet wipes specially made to wipe yourself down after a dirty day camping.
WHICH IS RIGHT FOR YOU
For us, there is no right or wrong shower option. It completely depends on the situation. Sometimes, you want to take a “real” shower and opt to pay for one. Other times, you need a quick rinse while boondocking but don’t want to tap into your fresh water tank, so you shower with water bottles filled with extra water just for that purpose. Other times, your roof top shower has been warming up all day and a quick pressurized rinse is calling your name. A shower is a shower, no matter how you do it.