Living in a campervan really isn’t all that difficult. There’s usually a bed, some kind of campervan stove option, room for your clothes and often some kind of toilet. The more difficult thing to figure out inside a van is how you are going to stay clean? You already live in 60 square feet, there can’t possibly be room for a van life shower?!
We have lived in three different vans now for over four years and have seen many different shower systems in campervans. From popup indoor showers, built-in permanent showers, to outdoor showers you have so many different options. Before you build your van and hit the road we want to give you the best options so you are comfortable.
Read on to decide if you even really need a shower or learn how to have a shower in your van while you travel the world!
Portable Outdoor Vanlife Shower Options
©Katie Larsen uses an attached solar shower as her Van life Shower of choice. To see more check out her Instagram!
One of the most common van life shower options is a portable shower. This means that your shower can be stored inside your van somewhere and you have the option to take it out when you are ready to use it. There are several different portable shower types from solar to electric pump showers.
The most popular van shower system I have personally seen in the vanlife community is the solar shower. It is easy to store, use, and makes the most sense as you don’t need a heater or electricity. However, you have to warm up your water with the sun which means in the winter, it can be more difficult to shower. Not to mention in the winter you probably don’t want to be showering outside anyways!
Regardless, portable showers are the most popular and the most cost-efficient. For the best options, I have listed them below.
Solar Vanlife Showers
A solar shower is made up of a shower bag that holds the water, a hook to hang the bag and a hose which through gravity will allow the water to flow out of it. Again this is one of the most popular van life shower options I have seen on the road. It’s budget-friendly, packs easily, and is a great option for those summertime road trips when you won’t be seeing a real shower for weeks at a time.
It was a true lifesaver during COVID-19 when Planet Fitness shut down and we were on BLM land for weeks at a time with no shower in sight.
12V Hand-Held Shower
During COVID-19 this shower is the shower that got us through. Gyms were closed and we were in the hot, hot desert. Luckily our friend Henry was there and was willing to share his shower with us! The basic idea is that you power the pump through your cigarette lighter in your van and place the other end in a bucket of water. Then either get a hook or hold the showerhead above you while you shower. For around $20 it is a pretty easy-to-use road shower system that we were super grateful to have!
I would say the downsides are that you would need to either use one of your water tanks or a bucket for water which might be hard to get warm compared to a shower bag.
Foot Pump Pressurized Portable Shower
A great option for taking an outdoor shower is a foot pump or hand pump portable shower. One of the top brands is the Nemo Helio Portable Pressure Shower. To use you simply set the bag full of water in the sun and then use the foot pump to pressurize the water. Users claim it takes about 10 pumps for a few minutes of water. A tip from users is not to overfill it with water so that it has air to pressurize properly and so your water pressure will be stronger.
Battery-Powered Handheld Portable Shower
Similar to the electric shower pump, you still utilize a bucket of water and it charges it via USB. This is a great option if you don’t have a ton of room and already have a bucket for your regular trash can.
Solar Roof Rack Shower
Another popular option for van lifers is to add a solar shower to your roof rack. The water is stored inside the tube that is connected to your roof rack. The water is heated and pressurized by the sun. It’s a great option for those with a roof rack. You can purchase one pre-made or there are DIY versions with PVC pipe that will cost you around $100! Don’t forget your tent that acts as an outdoor shower curtain!
Built-in Vanlife Showers
If you are someone who is outdoors a lot or want to have the privacy of your own full bathroom then consider putting a shower into your van build (or buying one with a shower). A build-in vanlife shower takes a lot of thought beforehand and you need to consider your space, not only for the shower itself but for the freshwater/ grey water tanks and a hot water heater that can run off of electricity or propane.
For a full understanding of what it looks like to put a tankless water heater to warm up your shower watch this video from van builders Vanessa and Adam.
Van life Public Shower Options
On the road, you will have a few different options when it comes to finding public showers you can use for free or for a fee. From gyms to beach showers, we have you covered!
Gym memberships are a great way to get your exercise and shower on the road. There are a few gyms that are nationwide and are under $40 a month which is pretty reasonable for unlimited showers and workouts.
The best gyms for Van Lifers:
- Planet Fitness seems to be a popular choice among van-lifers and it’s pretty easy to understand why. At only $20 a month with unlimited nationwide access, it’s really a no-brainer. They have 24-hour access and 1600 nationwide locations. When you sign up for the nationwide access you are also getting the VIP membership which gives you free usage of the hydromassage which is great for relaxing after a day of driving…I mean working out. If we were really on a budget then we could have only gotten one membership and used the guest pass. Planet Fitness allows you to bring a guest with you every time you visit the gym. We really value our alone time and decided it was worth our sanity to have our own passes.
- Gold’s Gym. Shawn really was pulling for Gold’s Gym for a bit. They have daily exercise classes, better lifting equipment, and are just a little bit nicer of a gym. However, it is around $40 a month and they simply don’t have as many locations as Planet Fitness (around 700 locations). If we had planned to stay in one part of the country it may have made sense to go with Gold’s but we have no real plans of where we want to be so we couldn’t make a decision to get a membership at a gym that we weren’t sure we would ever see on the road. One day we will get back to exercise classes but for now, we will have to make them up ourselves.
- 24 Hour Fitness. Another popular gym for vanlifers, 24-hour fitness is heavily located on the West Coast in California, Oregon, Washington plus other states mixed intermittently. If you are only planning on being on the west coast then this might be a great option for you. For Shawn and I, we knew we would be traveling all over so 24-hour fitness wasn’t a great membership for us to choose
Most large truck stops have showers. Pilot, Loves, TA, they all often have a shower that you can use if in desperate need. Now, this is not the most cost-effective method, showers on average run $12 and unless you have endless cash or only shower twice a month, this can really add up. Plus I don’t LOVE the idea of showering at a truck stop, I’m not above it but I’d definitely be stepping out of my comfort zone to shower while road trippers and truckers are grabbing their favorite snacks.
KOA and Camping Spots
If we had planned on staying at many camping spots, then we could have easily showered there. Most camping spots and KOAs have showers. They may not be the most glamorous but it’s a shower and it’s included in the price of your spot to stay for the night. Unfortunately, camping spots can really add up from $10-$45+ a night and that’s a LOT for a shower.
In most cities, they have a public recreation center. For $5-7, you can use their showers and often their indoor/outdoor pool. Although we don’t utilize recreation centers a ton it is a great option for when there isn’t a gym around.
If you are near a beach then you can almost bet there are outdoor or indoor showers available for free public use. Take notice of signs as often the shower leads straight to the ocean which means you can only rinse off and cannot use soap/shampoo.
What to do in-between Showers
If a shower simply isn’t available to hold yourself over you can use these products to “bathe” yourself without a true shower. My best advice is to use things such as wipes, dry shampoo, and utilizing what water you do have to help wash your body without fully washing it! Check out my latest post to read more about Vanlife Hygiene products so you can stay clean on the road!
If all of the above fail then don’t forget about all the lakes, rivers, and freshwater that you can find! Jumping into freshwater when you haven’t showered in a week or two will feel like heaven! It may not get you as clean as a regular shower but it will hold you over until your next opportunity!
If all of the above fail then don’t forget about all the lakes, rivers, and freshwater that you can find! Jumping into cold water when you haven’t showered in a week or two will feel like heaven! It may not get you as clean as a regular shower but it will hold you over until your next opportunity!
Do You Need a Vanlife Shower?
When building out your campervan you need to decide if you need a shower in your camper. Depending on the size of your van it is completely doable to add a small bathroom with a vanlife toilet and shower inside of your conversion van. You have the option of adding a shower inside of your van where it is built-in or you can have a portable shower that you utilize outside of your van.
When it comes to which shower you need it is up to you to decide what is important to you. You need to take a realistic look at what activities you will be doing on the road and if a shower is something you would use often. If you plan on doing a lot of outdoor activities such as surfing, hiking, snow sports, climbing, etc. then it might be worth your time to add an indoor or outdoor shower.