Van Life: 7 Reasons You Don’t Need an Indoor Shower in your Van

Having a shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it's expensive and unnecessary. Here are 7 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted van.

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.
Where to shower when you live in a van

A van shower limits options for your floor plan

Having a shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it's expensive and unncessary. Here are 5 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted van.

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

Having a shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it's expensive and unncessary. Here are 5 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted van.

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

Having a shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it's expensive and unncessary. Here are 5 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted van.

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.
Having a shower in your camper van sounds nice, but it's expensive and unncessary. Here are 5 reasons you don't need a shower in your converted 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.

Got questions about showering and van life? Leave a comment below!

25 comments on “Van Life: 7 Reasons You Don’t Need an Indoor Shower in your Van

  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.

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