If you’re considering converting a camper van to live or travel in, you’ll face the question about whether or not you need a shower in your van.
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. So I had a fully enclosed shower built inside my Sprinter. It was beautiful with black tile and a teak floor, just like I’d want in a house, but in miniature form.
Two years of traveling in that van later, 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 in campsites, at friend’s houses, or to skip the shower altogether.
In this blog post, I share 7 reasons why you don’t need a shower in your van.
Where to shower when you live in a van?
Once you’re out on the road, 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.
- 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.
- 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 $7 or less 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, where you filter down your campground search by a number of factors, including showers.
A van shower limits options for your floor plan
With ~100 square feet of living space, every inch matters. If you want a shower, it means saying goodbye to something else – whether that be a storage under your bed, a spacious galley that you’ll use everyday to prepare meals or a work station.
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.
It complicates 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. All of a sudden, you go from simple plumbing for your sink to a shower with hot water, 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.
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.
You only have so much water
If you have a 2500 Sprinter Van, the maximum water you’ll probably have onboard is 30 gallons. 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, and if you’re only going to shower 1-2 times a week, why not make it good.
You don’t need to shower as often as you do at home
When you live in a van, your habits change. For us, we no longer go out to fancy dinners, and we aren’t putting on work attire everyday. Most of our daily interactions are with people who are also like spending time outside, and 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 everyday, 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 as it used to be.
There are other alternatives
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 tips for staying fresh on the road are helpful as well.
Here are some indoor van shower alternatives:
- For quick wipe downs, I recommend keeping a pack of eco-friendly, all natural 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 and has great pressure.
- In my 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, it’s still cheaper than installing a fully enclosed indoor shower in your van.
When an Indoor Shower in a Good Idea in your Van
I think there is one major exception to my arguments above. 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.