We have been traveling in our van since August of 2018 now and still to this day one of the top questions we get asked about vanlife is “Where do you go to the bathroom?”. There are many ways to solve the bathroom issue on the road and so many people do it differently. If you are deciding what vanlife toilet option is right for you one of the main factors is going to be, comfort. If you are traveling solo, for instance, I would recommend making your toilet a priority. No one wants to worry about a bathroom emergency in the middle of the night by yourself. If space is a main priority you may not want to utilize the precious space you have for an unnecessary portable toilet. No matter what your priorities we have laid out all your vanlife toilet options so that you can make an educated decision!
Do You Need a Toilet in Your Campervan?
When deciding whether you want to have a toilet in your campervan you really need to layout why you want or need one. Depending on your needs and where you will be spending your time, a toilet may or may not make sense for you.
A big pro is convenience- there is nothing like having your own bathroom. You are more comfortable, it feels cleaner and you don’t have to stress when you really have to go. When you are in the wild you don’t have to go dig a hole and if you do go poop then you have a container to keep it in until you can dispose of it.
Another key thing to think about is safety. If you are solo you need to decide if you will feel comfortable when you have to go to the bathroom and it’s late at night. When you have your own toilet you can stay safe inside your van.
A big con is that you have to clean it and it’s possible to will stink. You’ve got to find somewhere to dump your toilet at some point and pay for that dump fee. If it’s compostable you have to keep up with putting kitty litter or chips in it, if not it might start smelling. Not to mention you are already in such a small space that you have to worry about where to put the toilet.
Where to put a toilet in your campervan?
A big reason we personally do not have a toilet in our campervan is that we simply didn’t have the space. No matter which toilet you decide is right for you, you’ve got to find a way to build it into the van. This is why I personally recommend deciding before you build your van whether you will want to incorporate a toilet into your van. Building a space into your van for your toilet will help disguise it and make your space feel cleaner and cozier.
Although space is limited I have seen some pretty creative ways of hiding your portable toilet in your campervan. You don’t have to have a toilet in plain sight if you decide to have one in your camper.
- Between the two front seats. When we were considering a toilet Shawn did the measurements and found that the Thetford toilet can fit between the Sprinter two front seats. You had just enough room to make a box that surrounded the toilet and made it seem like an extra seat instead of a toilet in your front cab.
- Inside your shower. If you are going to build a shower into your van then it only makes sense to have your toilet inside of that same room. It keeps it out of the way and everything in one space.
- Hidden in Bench Seating. So many vanlifers have their toilet inside of seating. Especially if you are building a compostable toilet then you will want to build it into the van. As seen in the pictures from Megan Cable below her toilet (non-compostable) is hidden inside of bench seating. It even has cushions on top of the seating so when the box lid is closed you would have no idea that a toilet was inside!
Images by © Megan Cable
Types of Vanlife Toilets for your campervan
The next decision you have to make is what kind of vanlife toilet you want to invest in. There are many options from devices as simple as a bucket and as complex as a $1000 compostable toilet. There are options for every budget and for every van build.
You don’t have to spend a bunch of money or have a fancy toilet in order to incorporate a toilet into your campervan. You can spend as little as $30 and have a Luggable Loo bucket. Another great option is to buy a Lowe’s a bucket for a few dollars and simply use it as your trash can AND your toilet in an emergency. You simply take out the trash put a new trash bag in and go poop when it’s an emergency.
If you want something a little bit nicer than a bucket then the Clean waste portable toilet is a great option that is comfortable but not too pricey.
With all of these options, I don’t recommend going pee in them. Only utilize them for going poop and always put a new bag in and tie it up when finished to avoid stinking up your van.
Best Compostable Vanlife Toilets
From the beginning, Shawn wanted a compostable campervan toilet. When he told me what a compostable toilet was, I was completely turned off. I assumed it stank, was dirty, and was something I wanted no part of. Not to mention to purchase one it can cost around $1000 bucks! However, there are alternatives and you can make one yourself for around $100 and they are actually quite amazing. Our friend BennyAriVanlife made one themselves and you would never know that it was even there nevertheless that it smelt. The genius behind their compostable toilet is that there is a fan that leads outside the van that makes sure that any smells stay outside the van. To learn how to build your own DIY toilet, check out Vanessa and Adam’s video on how to build your own compostable toilet.
Best Cassette Vanlife Toilets
A cassette toilet is a budget-friendly portable campervan toilet that many van lifers have inside of their van. It has two separate parts keeping the waste sealed so you do not have to smell it. You can either put chemicals in it to take care of your poop or you can use a bag and keep your waste in there until you can dispose of it properly. It is supposed to be easy to clean and is around 13.5” tall and 15 inches wide. A great way to hide it is to create a box that fits in between your two front seats and can be moved slide into the back when you need to use it!
Campervan and Vanlife Toilet Alternatives
If you were to ask a man if he has ever peed in a bottle, chances are the answer would be yes. If you were to ask if a woman has ever peed in a moving car, odds are no. It’s simply not possible without a toilet. But sometimes we really have to pee. For instance, late at night, I have to pee- like 2 times. Early morning, I REALLY have to pee. In the first few weeks of van life, I simply held it until we were able to find a bathroom. Not the most enjoyable experience or healthy for that matter. But I survived and it wasn’t so bad.
But what kind of life am I living if I can’t have a beer with Shawn at night because I’m afraid I’ll have to pee? Not one I’m willing to live. So until I can convince Shawn that I need a campervan toilet, I’ve “manned” up and bought an invention that frees women of having to squat: The She-Wee.
The She-Wee is a genius invention that simply gives me the same power as a man, I can pee standing up into a bottle. Gross, yes but sometimes necessary. There are a few models, one that is made of silicone and can be easily folded up and the other is made of hard plastic. The silicone one is nice because I can clean it and then hide that sucker in shame, but honestly, it’s terrifying. Every time I pee I am holding on to it for dear life in fear that I will feel pee running down my leg. Seriously men have no idea. Shawn once told me (pre-she wee) to “just aim”. Yeah ok Shawn, because it works that way. The plastic She-wee would probably give me more confidence that there wasn’t a leak and I could pee fear-free.
Nevertheless, I am happy with my silicone she-wee and will continue to use it in emergencies when a bathroom is simply not an option or until Shawn finally pities me enough to buy me a $99 toilet.
For more information on methods to stay hygienic in a van check out my post on Vanlife Hygiene Products.
Alternative Vanlife Toilet options
If you choose to opt-out of the above-vanlife toilet options then fear not there are so many options on the road for going to the bathroom. Just like any road trip, you simply have to figure it out. Basically you think about all the places that offer free bathrooms and utilize those! A great resource for finding bathrooms on the road is the app Flush which will pull up free restrooms in your area ranked by cleanliness and cost. To see the top vanlife apps check out my post Top vanlife apps for your road trip.
Using the restroom outside – If you are out in the wilderness for long periods of time then your best bet is to use the bathroom outside. Make sure you are in areas where the ground is capable of composting your poop and ALWAYS abide by LNT principles for using the bathroom.
Rules for using the bathroom outside:
- Find a space 200 feet from water sources, campsite, and trails.
- Try to find a site with deep organic soil.
- Dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter
- Cover with natural materials when finished.
- If you use toilet paper or wipes, bring them back with you and dispose of in the trash! Do NOT leave it behind!
These basic rules come from Leave No Trace, to learn more about going to the bathroom outside visit their website.
Free restrooms Ideas:
When it comes to going to the bathroom on the road there is not one answer but rather many! What vanlife toilet option do you use in your campervan? Anything I have not listed? Let me know in the comments!
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I appreciate the fact that you mentioned that there is nothing like having your own bathroom. My wife and I plan to camp out during the weekends and this would be a nice plan b for her. I like that you mentioned that the huge con is it will stink, we will need more tips for portable toilets from expert septic services.
I live in Newyork. After lockdown, I want to renovate my campervan shower room. Thank you for your informative article. I hope it will help me in the future.
That’s so exciting, definitely something to look forward to! Please let me know if you have any questions!
Surely it’s your money too? Go and buy a toilet.
Haha absolutely love you for saying this! Don’t worry we are building a new van this year and it will have a composting toilet in it!
My wife and I are going to abandon our old van from 1992 and will buy a new one this year. In our present van we have a cassette toilet (non-composting), but our experience is that we seldom use it. Along the road we are able to find lots of facilities, and when camping in urban areas we stay close to facilities (type gas stations etc). I found your very informative web site when searching for new solutions. After reading it we more or less have decided not to equip our new van with a toilet and rather save the space for other purposes. Our favorite activity is to camp in the wilderness during summer, often staying away from civilization for a week or two. Then the “outside restroom” as you call it has proven to be the right solution for us. No need for emptying a cassette, no smell. Quite hygienic if done the right way as you describe. Our children can’t understand how two seniors can be satisfied with such a solution. But we have got used to it, and my wife claims that she will continue practicing it as long as her hips and knees allow her to squat! Sometimes, but in fact not so often, there may be a privacy challenge, especially when several people are boondocking in the same area. I guess that most other persons walking back there in the bushes are there for the same reason. I also think that most campers apply as a basic rule of conduct that if observing someone else, they walk in another direction just as a gest of respect. But, well it happens, and then our experience is that an “excuse” and a smile make the situation less embarrassing for both.