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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Van Life Essentials Packing List
Below are a few of my favorite pieces of van life gear and recommendations for the road: