Van Life: 6 Reasons You Don’t Need an Indoor Shower in your Van

Having an indoor shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it’s expensive and unnecessary. Here are reasons you don’t need a shower in your converted van.

Kristen standing at rear of converted Sprinter van holding shower hose

If you’re considering converting a camper van to live or travel in, you’re probably facing the question of whether or not you need a van shower. Back in 2016, when I was designing the floorplan in my first Sprinter Van, I was convinced I needed a shower. At the time, I viewed it as a basic necessity. I had a fully enclosed shower built inside my Sprinter and it was beautiful with black tile and a teak floor, just like I’d want in a house, but in miniature form.

After two years of traveling in that van, I had only used the shower a handful of times, mostly at campout weddings and special occasions. The shower had turned into an expensive, awkwardly placed closet that the entire floor plan was built around. Every time I wanted to shower, I would have to pull everything out, and in most cases, I found it easier and more pleasant to shower at campsites, at friends’ houses, or to skip the shower altogether.

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In this blog post, I share 6 reasons why you don’t need an indoor shower in your van.

Reasons Why You Can Forego the Indoor Van Shower

1. A van shower limits options for your floor plan

With ~100 square feet of living space, every inch matters when designing your van layout. If you want a shower, it means saying goodbye to something else – whether that be storage under your bed, a spacious kitchen that you’ll use every day to prepare meals, or a workstation if you work from the road.

In my first van, once I decided that I would have a bathroom/shower in the very back of the van on the passenger side, my options for a bed and galley were quite limited. I had to say goodbye to the idea of storing bikes or other bulky gear in the van.

View of converted Sprinter van from the back with rear doors open
Having an indoor shower in my first Sprinter meant having to forego storing outdoor gear like bikes and paddling equipment

2. A shower will complicate your plumbing

If you want a shower in your van, you or whoever is building out your van needs to know what they are doing when it comes to plumbing. All of a sudden, you go from simple plumbing for your sink to a shower with a hot water heater, a grey water tank, and water lines running in multiple directions.

If you are hiring someone to do your conversion, it’s imperative that they have experience installing showers. You do not want to be the guinea pig (learn from my mistakes).

Photo of tiled van shower
Showers require extra plumbing expertise for hot a water system and grey water tank

3. Indoor van showers are expensive

For the price that you paid for your indoor shower, you could stay at a paid campground once a week with unlimited hot showers and still have a lot of money left over.

Hell, you could even stay in a hotel and still probably come out ahead! Building a van shower is expensive due to all the plumbing and extra materials. Save yourself the money and forego the indoor shower.

4. You only have so much water

If you have a 2500 Sprinter Van, the maximum water you’ll probably have onboard is 30 gallons to make sure you don’t go over your vehicle’s payload. For comparison, the average American consumes 17 gallons of water when they shower at home. This means a van shower generally ends up being military style. Rinse, turn the water off, scrub, and turn the water back on to quickly rinse again.

It gets the job done, but it’s not all that enjoyable. Instead, you can enjoy unlimited (and often free) hot water at one of the facilities I mentioned above. If you’re only going to shower 1-2 times a week, why not make it an enjoyable experience?

5. You don’t need to shower as often as you do at home

When you live in a van, your habits tend to change. For us, we no longer go out to fancy dinners and we aren’t putting on work attire every day. Most of our daily interactions are with people who also enjoy spending time outside. If we can’t wear our hiking clothes, you probably won’t find us there.

Of course, we still like to feel clean, but a little dirt when you’re on the road isn’t the same as showing up smelly to work, happy hour, or the new hip bar in town.

Most people use a shower to wake up in the morning for work. When you’re on the road, you go to bed earlier and wake up more naturally with the sun, so a shower isn’t a necessity for your daily routine. Also, my bet is your body will adapt. For me, when I used to shower every day, my hair got greasy so fast. Now that I only shampoo my hair 1-2 times a week, my hair isn’t nearly as greasy in between showers as it used to be.

Van life couple at campground with van doors open, camp chairs set out, paddleboard leaning against van, and dog ready to play ball
Living and traveling in a van means you can skip the daily shower – your body will adjust, trust me

6. There are many other alternatives for staying clean

Cutting back on how frequently you shower doesn’t mean that your personal hygiene has to suffer. There are other alternatives to staying clean. First, check out our women’s backcountry hygiene guide. While it’s written for backpacking, many of the same tips apply. Our camping tips for women are helpful as well.

Here are alternative ways you can stay clean and fresh without an indoor van shower:

  • For quick wipe downs, I recommend keeping a pack or two of baby/body wipes in your van.
  • For a cheap, compact outdoor shower, consider the NEMO Helio shower which is pressurized via a foot pump. I took this when I went to Burning Man and it gets hot if you leave it out in the sun. It also has great pressure.
  • If a hot, reliable shower is a necessity, the Geyser Systems Portable Shower has a built-in heater and only uses one gallon of water for up to 15 minutes of usage. It can be plugged into any 12V outlet (i.e. cigarette outlet in your car or your power station) and has a control valve so you can monitor the water flow. Read our full review of the Geyser Shower here.
  • In my second van, Outside Van (my conversion company) permanently installed an outdoor shower that hooks up on the back of our water tank. While this is a more expensive option than body wipes or a portable van shower, it’s still cheaper than installing a fully enclosed indoor shower in your van and it does require less setup than some of the other methods above.
Kristen holding hose of van shower set up at rear of converted camper van
My second van had a permanently installed rear outdoor shower

Van Life Shower Ideas

So the question you might be asking is: If I don’t have an indoor shower, where can I shower while on the road?

Once you’re out living the van life, you’ll see that showers are readily available. My go-to places are:

  • Campgrounds – It’s common to find shower facilities in state park campgrounds and other established campgrounds.
  • RV Parks – We rarely stay in an RV park, but once in a while we do because we can clean out the van, do our laundry, fill up our water, and shower all in one place. Prices for RV Parks can be quite high, but take into consideration all the amenities they offer for a one-night stay.
  • Recreation centers – Many towns have recreation centers where you can pay a small fee to take a shower. With that also comes access to the pool, hot tub, and steam room/sauna if they have one. It usually costs less than $10 or $15 for full access, and many even rent towels for a buck.
  • Gyms – If you spend a lot of time in cities, consider a 24 Hour Fitness or Planet Fitness membership that comes with nationwide access.
  • Friend’s Houses – If you’re like us, you’ll end up visiting a lot of your friends and family during your travels. Trust me, you’ll get plenty of shower offers.

The app I use to find campgrounds with showers is All Stays Camp and RV. You can filter down your campground search by a number of factors, including showers. This app is also great for finding a number of other things like free campgrounds, travel centers, dump stations, and more.

Front porch of wooden building with sign that says "Laundry - Showers" with arrows pointing opposite directions
Showers are readily available at campgrounds, RV Parks, and other establishments

When An Indoor Shower is a Good Idea In Your Van

I think there is one major exception to my arguments above of having a van shower. If you plan to live full time in your van in snowy, winter climates or you want to take extended ski trips in your van, an indoor shower might make more sense.

With many campgrounds closed, there aren’t as many places to shower in the winter and an outdoor shower is obviously out of the question. Many small mountain towns do have recreation and aquatic centers with showers, but not all of them. And let’s be honest, nothing sounds better than a hot shower after a day of skiing.

Still, your capacity to carry water comes with the same limitations and it’s a little more difficult to find places to fill up in winter since many spigots are turned off in those months. Also, you’ll need to make sure your water system is fully winterized to prevent hoses from freezing.

What questions do you still have about van showers and staying clean while on the road? Did you opt for a shower in your van? Why or why not? Leave a comment below!

Wondering whether you need a van shower to stay clean on the road? Here are 6 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted van.

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39 Comments

  1. Perfect timing! My husband and I were just debating shower or no shower this week for some maybe-not-so-theoretical-hopefully-sooner-rather-than-later potential van build. I was leaning towards no shower for pretty much all these reasons, but that was all guesswork based on weekend adventures. I’m glad to get your perspective on it and confirm I don’t need a shower!

  2. We are members of our local YMCA and our membership is recognized everywhere! We took hot showers, swam in clean pools, sweated it out in Pilates classes and mellowed out with yoga classes throughout the US. No fees, no hassles and lots of welcomes. The best deal anywhere.

    1. Hi, Kristine!
      I’m Mary Kathryn, responding on Kristen’s behalf. In her current van, she uses a jar for liquids and public restrooms for solids. If that’s not available, she abides by the Leave No Trace principles and digs a cathole. She had a shower and toilet in her first van, but found that it wasn’t necessary for her so she opted out in her second van to save some space. Everyone has different needs and priorities, but as far as I understand, this system works for her. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed the article! But I’m wondering why the headline says, “7 reasons” when only 5 were discussed…

    1. Hi Christina! Glad you found this article helpful. There are 7 reasons discussed here, they’re just not numbered so I can see how that might be confusing 🙂

  4. There isn’t an open gym, rec center, campgrounds or rv park for a thousand miles in this pandemic. All you no shower van full time van dwellers must be regretting it or went back to your parent’s house.

    1. We’ve definitely been talking about how now is a better time than ever to have a shower and toilet in your van!

    2. They’re still showers available at campgrounds and truck stops. And I don’t have the option of going to a parent’s or friends house. (Especially with this pandemic, everyone’s quarantining and I don’t want to be in anybody’s bubble either and I’m super introverted). I’m not trying to live in an RV, I’m just trying to survive. My van is perfect though! I get really good gas mileage, sacrificing for space… but a smaller space is easier to heat with a candle heater, and/or just your regular heater if you can drive right before going to bed. A smaller van is also much easier to stealth park, between residents and businesses there’s usually a grassy knoll area where one can get away with parking for the night.
      Just make sure you don’t park on any county roads, because there’s a new law, at least in Washington state were a policeman/trooper etc can have your van home towed right at that moment just because they feel like it, with no other cause or reason except that they just don’t want you there. It’s a new law.
      Also, I went to home Depot and bought glass window tint and put it on myself for more privacy and a cheaper cost, also bought insulation to put underneath the bed and the camper van mattress which was only $25. Goodwill has lots of treats too, like I found a black bed skirt for a curtain as well, and lots of great pillows and blankets for really cheap. I hope this help somebody! And I could give you lots of reasons why you don’t need a cooler either! Have fun!

  5. Great article. I don’t need to shower often but I will need to wash my hair with shampoo from time to time. I have a rear outdoor shower in my Sprinter. However, with COVID I am finding public showers to be a little more complicated. My question is if I am dry camping, how are people capturing the soapy shower water? I thought about standing in a fold up dog pool with a hose emptying into a collapsable 5 gallon water jug, Or a hot water heater drain pan with hose attachment but it’s large to store. I see all these happy shower pics but no drain ideas.

    1. Hi Susannah – that’s a great question. And we completely agree about the added complications of finding shower facilities during COVID – it’s a better time than ever to have a shower in your van to be more be self-sufficient. As for water capture, we’ve seen people use a folding dog pool as well for an outside shower and that’s not a bad idea. You’d just want to make sure that you use biodegradable soap and shampoo and dispose of the water at least 200 feet from any water sources and pour over dirt if possible as that helps with filtration. Depending on where you’re van camping, for example if you’re camped far enough away from water sources and on a patch of dirt, you could also let the water drain directly into the dirt, again as long as you’re using biodegradable soaps.

  6. I prefer a much simpler solution. I used a solar shower. When I absolutely thought I needed a shower, and no facility was available, its a simple solution: Its a 2 1/2 gallon “solar water container” that you fill with water, set in the sun, and the water heats up enough to shower. You pull it up and over a tree limb and shower under it. It has been enough water for two, being frugal. If its not hot enough, boil a little hot water and pour it inside. I do use environmental friendly soap, though.

  7. Hi there! I came across Hamwells Loopz on instagram.. seems like a interesting solution? You need 6L of water which circulates and gets filtered. Does somebody have any experiences/thoughts?

    1. #fecalcoliforms

      The complexity of plumbing and filtration (UV etc) to keep yourself from showering in your own funk, truly and properly, is counter to the K.I.S.S. rule and I feel like it’s a lot of failure points for something that can have other work-arounds. Also, just putting a UV filter in your system that isnt engineered to have the proper contact time is not getting it done. There is a specified time and intensity that cooties need to be exposed to UV in order to walk through the pearly gates. Most of these systems don’t look to have that kind of contact time. The bacteria would just fly though there at speed and come out the other end with nothing but a sunburn. I looked into this pretty deeply, and have been a licensed water system operator in Oregon so I understand water treatement and plumbing. I ultimately decided that we are all so shower-centric in our plans because its a leftover mentality from having a house. Our brains think we need a regular shower to make it work. Another consideration is time.. Not such a factor after you leave the 9 to 5.. who cares if it takes a few minutes to set up your outdoor shower.. 🙂

  8. Wow this is amazing, thank you so much for your info. I’ll be looking into this box shower thing sounds cool and generates hot water incredible.

  9. It’s in the middle of Covid and winter is coming up. Me and my family are seriously considering VanLife. There’s 5 of us so we have no room for a shower. Couldn’t we have an outside shower, then just use baby wipes (degradable, of course) in the winter and fall?

    1. Your going to need a really big van for 5 maybe a box truck. Cant se it being lots of fun in a small space. you could always consider making it convertible so the base lives in a drawer and you use a curtain or build it as a wardobe. build one side hinged with the pole mounted on it and a wheel at the bottom then you can pull it out and the wall becomes the door. depends on your layout and how creative you can be. you would probably need a toilet anyway so build it all in one with the toilet removable when you shower. invest in a ppx3414 its 12v and with a speaker its great for a van

  10. I live in a PleasureWay for 18 months with a wetbath…. Just replaced it, and went with a very large closet instead of a wetbath. I need more storage. Have an outside shower. That will work in a pinch.

  11. In the southeast with temps in the 90s and high humidity, basin bathing only gets it for so long. I was just in the Great Smokey Mountains camping in the national park which didnt have showers (or water or electricity) and outdoor showers even with a water pan were forbidden. Unlike the western part of the country, you can’t shower outside in alot of places due to grey water restrictions. I use my shower for my toilet and store hanging items on the wall. No shower would certainly allow me more storage but I think the east coast just isn’t as friendly to dry camping. I did find a community center to take a shower where I was, but it would have been at least a 2 hour round trip. Just need to consider where you are located most of the time and what the restrictions are.

  12. I found this article somewhat biased and less that useful because it poses the shower question as all or nothing; i.e. full shower with plumbing vs. all the conveniences and benefits of showering away from the van. We have a Sprinter 170. We have a dual toilet/shower chamber that is the width of a Thetford C402C Cassette® Toilet (not a mm more) with sliding door. It is paneled with completely waterproof 1/4″ panel truck siding sealed with silicon. We installed a shower pan in the base under the toilet, a drain leading through a stop cock that drains out under the van, and the NEMO Helio shower backpacking pump shower discussed in this article. We heat to a boil one teakettle of hot water, mix it with two kettles of cold water and voila have plenty of water for an individual to take a shower including washing long hair. Showering outside the back of a van is a pain for all sorts of reasons (privacy, dirt, complexity, bugs, etc.) And if you are Overlanders like us, alternate showers may be few and far between. Showering indoors with a NEMO is super water efficient, does not require any additional plumbing, and we collect the used water in a bucket underneath the van for proper disposal. Installation was cheap.

    1. P.S. We RV year round. All of our water is carried in six five-gallon plastic jerrys (i.e. 30 gallons). Because our shower has no internal plumbing, there is no issue with freezing. If we want hot water we heat it in our 110v tea kettle or on our diesel stove. We practice KISS (Keep it Simple Smart) because of IICBIWB (If it Can Break it Will Break).

  13. Ok now you’ve got me seriously rethinking my van option. I am planning on selling everything and going nomad for as long as I can. My first thought was that I needed a shower but now you’ve got me rethinking that.
    Because I will be a solo female, many others recommend a toilet in the van so that you don’t have to leave the van to pee in the middle of the night. Especially when boondocking. It’s just safer. It makes sense to me so I automatically thought that if I need a toilet then I need a shower. Maybe not.
    Your post makes sense. I appreciate this so much.

    1. Hi Jackie, glad you found us! Having a shower/toilet is a totally personal decision, but I am so glad to have the extra space instead. I personally don’t have a permanent toilet either and instead use a Nalgene bottle or empty risotto jar to pee at night without having to go outside. I also carry a foldable toilet for going #2 when I can’t dig a hole and go outside. However, if you’re looking for more bathroom ideas, here’s a few other blog posts that you might find helpful for picking out a van toilet and bathroom layout ideas:

      https://bearfoottheory.com/best-campervan-toilet-options/
      https://bearfoottheory.com/camper-van-with-bathroom-layouts/

  14. Shower is a deal breaker. If the van doesn’t have a shower why not save a $150k and just use a tent. I have car camped in tent It’s do able and much cheaper.

    1. Hi Jerry, having a shower is definitely a personal preference, but I’d rather pay to shower at campgrounds, truck stops, or gyms and have my van set up for maximum storage and comfort. But we know many people who prefer to have a shower built in their van instead.

  15. Took your advice from your first van when I planned out my build and left the shower complications out. I found an “active and Fit” $28/mo. gym membership for 9600 locations nationwide (which includes Rec. centers you mentioned) to solve my shower worries. So easy to flash my membership at a local place in route to whereever I am going, shower, blowdry and put on makeup in their facility so as to keep my tiny space clean. The simplicity of not managing water, cleaning shower, having as hot as I can tolerate for as long as I wish is a luxury for me. My quality of van travel life has skyrocketed as a result. Tiz worth every penny of the $28/mo and simplicity of it all. Your advice was spot on!

  16. Kristen,

    How do you keep your van warm if you are not living 24/7 in it?

    Im wondering if there is a cheap way to keep some heat in mine when i go away for a few days, without running my diesel heater?

    1. If I’m leaving my van in below freezing temperatures for a few days, I just leave the heater running. Most diesel heaters are very efficient and can run for a week or two easy without running out of diesel. For longer time periods, I empty all of the water tanks and turn the heater off.

  17. For your amusement – being a part-timer who tends to follow the nice weather I have a slightly different take.
    When I’m about to meet a non-vanlifer I assemble my shower outside the van, right by the sliding door from a bunch things I can also use for other jobs. Pop-up privacy tent, collapsible bucket with heated water, and 12V pump. The pump is great as it gives you decent pressure from a bucket and a ‘shower’ head.

    Its great for those times when it saves you a drive. But there is always that moment when you realise you didn’t peg the tent down and the wind picks up. Not the most relaxing of showers and takes a while to setup. It works – mostly. Wish I could attach a photo.

  18. “Having an indoor shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it’s expensive and unnecessary.” – BT

    Most of the time I find Bearfoot Theory right on the mark. Sadly not with this repeat article which has not apparently been updated since it was originally issued over a year ago.* Unfortunately BT reduces the merits of having a shower in your van to a “black or white Shower good/bad” then simply asserts always bad. As a result BT ends up figuratively flushing the baby out with the showerwater because there are many ways to have a shower in your van that address all BT’s listed negatives WITHOUT resorting to BT’s “never” solution.

    EVERYONE who has actually done any serious vanning knows that every once and a while there comes a moment, when that toilet in the van made the difference between utter misery and “that wasn’t a big deal”. It’s the same with a shower. When vanning, few people take showers anywhere as regularly as they do at home where the water is always hot and endless. But again, from time to time, either there’s been a disaster that requires a shower, or one’s hair has just gotten too gnarly, or frankly the stink has gotten too bad. If you’re near a YMCA or are camped somewhere with a shower, fine. But if neither option is available, that van shower is a life saver. We know! Perhaps once or twice a month, way out in the wilds, we shower in our van, and thank goodness we can. It’s one of the little luxuries of vanning, and we made sure to be able to do it.

    Now lets go through BT’s list one by one, and debunk every one.

    1. A van shower limits options for your floor plan (NON-ARGUMENT)
    Well duh, if you have a shower you’ve got to use some space. Same for that large screen TV or that work desk you decided you just had to have in your van… We are veteran overlanders in a Sprinter 170. We have a full Queensize bed in the rear, a full galley on the copilot side of the van extending out into the large side door opening, and we have a very simple and extremely useful shower just forward of the rear bedroom bulkhead that also doubles as our in-van toilet. The size of the shower is determined by the width of the Thetford toilet (another ‘must have’ item as far as my 71 year old wife is concerned. Her days of squatting over a pee bottle or out in the dark are over.) Our cockpit chair rotate back, we have a huge Dometic refrigerator that doubles as a bench, and we have a fold out table that seats four comfortabley. Our van feels roomy shower & toilet included. So having to use some space frankly is a non-argument.

    2. A shower will complicate your plumbing (NOPE)
    Not necessarily. Other than five six-gallon Jerry Cans that hold fresh water (with one of them connected to the galley sink pump) and a single six-gallon Jerry under the sink for brown water we have no plumbing to break or freeze. As described in * below, we use a NEMO shower that we fill with one tea kettle of boiling water and two tea kettles of cold water to provide plenty of water for a shower.

    3. Indoor van showers are expensive (NOT OURS)
    Having decided the privacy of a small toilet cubicle was essential, the total additional cost of our shower was a NEMO shower, drain pan, and a couple feet of PEX, a stop-cock for the drain out under the van, and a bucket.

    4. You only have so much water (ANOTHER NON-ARGUMENT)
    Well sure, if you decide you just have to have that endless shower, well duh, you’ll use up all your water. But a perfectly satisfactory shower can be had with about a gallon and a half of water. We’ve NEVER run out of water even boondocking for a week with 30 gallons of fresh water. If we use 3 gallons of that so the two of us can take a single shower each that week, well… you do the math. In a week we use about the same amount of water, 3 gallons, to wash our dishes using an efficient spray bottle to rinse them clean.

    5. You don’t need to shower as often as you do at home (DUH….)
    But occasionally you DO need to shower unless you’re comfortable being completely anti-social…

    6. There are many other alternatives for staying clean (UH-HUH…)
    Which of those alternatives allow you to wash your hair? And which ones allow you to fully wash your genitals and bottom, or really wash under your arms comprehensively? Come on folks, there are times when all the other “alternatives” just can’t do the job a shower can.

    Lets get real. Showering outside the van is a non-starter most of the time. Either it’s too cold, too public, too dusty, too buggy or too damn inconvenient. That’s why just about everyone that says they installed an outside shower at the back of their van end up admitting they almost never use it. We use our in-van shower at least two or three times every major vanning expedition we take.

    But does that mean you have to have hot & cold RV plumbing, holding tanks, and all the amenities? In BT’s one-dimensional world yes, it’s all or nothing. But the shower can be delivered by a NEMO pressure bladder with water heated on the galley stove. The water can be drained through the floor pan and down into a bucket underneath the van for proper disposal. And if it is, as our’s is, the occasional time we must take a shower, we can do it anywhere we are, any time, no matter the season. And we don’t have expensive plumbing, unnecessary water tanks, so no danger of things freezing in the winter. As far as we’re concerned an overlanding van without a shower or a toilet, is a non-starter. We often end up in places too far from someone else’s shower facilities. We have our own and thank goodness we do!

    (* See my previous comment in the comments section issued on June 17, 2022 at 12:59 pm for details of our layout and shower equipment).

      1. Not having a hot built-in shower in a camper van grosses you out? Seriously? Best to stick with the hotel/motel model of travel.