Two of the biggest considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when living in a van are where to find fresh water and how to locate dump stations if you have a toilet. Showers are also an important van life amenity that you’ll need to seek out if you don’t have a shower in your van.
In this lesson, I cover how to find all of the above and give you tips and resources for locating these important van life amenities while on the road.
How To Find Fresh Water & Dump Stations
All Stays Camp and RV App
My favorite app for finding safe van life amenities like drinking water and dump stations is All Stays Camp and RV, which I mentioned in the lesson about finding free campsites. At $9.99 it’s one of the more expensive apps I recommend, but it’s kind of a one-stop-shop for most amenities you’ll need.
In this app, you can filter down to search for “water” and “dump stations” and it will show you nearby gas stations, campgrounds, and municipal facilities where you can fill up water and/or empty your portable toilet. It’s a very handy feature that often includes price, and it’s pretty much the only thing I use to find safe places to fill up my water.
Whenever we are at a paid campground with water, we always refill our tanks, even if we are half full. If we are paying for the site, we might as well use all of the amenities while we are there. Keep in mind that you’ll typically need your own hose and adapter, so those are two things you’ll want to carry with you in your van.
I also recommend if you don’t have a filter hooked up in your van, that you use an inline filter on your hose when you are filling your tanks, just as an extra safety precaution.
Grocery Stores, Gas Stations, or Public Parks
If you are using 5-gallon jugs vs a permanent tank in your van, you have some additional options. A lot of grocery stores have purified water vending machines where you can refill large bottles and 5-gallon jugs of water.
You can also fill up your water tanks at parks, gas stations, friends and family’s houses… basically anywhere you see a spigot. You do want to be careful and make sure the water is potable, though.
If you have a good backpacking water filter, you can also filter water for your tank or jugs from lakes and streams.
Where to Find Showers
In Module 2, you decided whether or not to have a shower in your van. If you opted against one, you need to know how to find showers on the road. Luckily showers are very common amenity and not hard to find, and they usually only cost a couple of bucks.
First, many campgrounds have showers. Once in a while, I will pay for a campsite if it means I can have a hot shower to boot. I use the app The Dyrt which makes finding campsites with showers easy. The PRO version allows you to find campsites and read reviews even when you’re offline or out of service, and it also has a trip planning tool that allows you to plan and save your route. Bearfoot Theory readers can currently get a FREE 30-day PRO membership to The Dyrt. If you’re signing up on mobile, use the code “Bearfoot”.
Recreation Centers & Public Spaces
The next place I look for showers are community recreation and aquatic centers. Almost every smallish town has one, and the good thing about these is your shower isn’t timed like they often are at campgrounds. You pay a flat fee and you can shower for as long as you want. You also usually get access to the entire facility, so you can sit in the hot tub or steam room while you’re there, which are bonus van life amenities!
At rec centers, I’ve found that the women’s facilities usually provide individual shower stalls, but sometimes the men’s facilities are one big shower room. If you prefer privacy, ask if they have any private shower rooms.
Other places you might find showers and bathing amenities are beaches, public parks, and truck stops.
Gyms and Memberships
If you will be spending a lot of time in cities, then you might consider a gym membership. Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, and 24 Hour Fitness are three nationwide gym chains that offer monthly memberships for a reasonable price.
For example, at Planet Fitness for $22 a month, you can have unlimited access to all of their gyms for you and a guest. This price makes it a very popular and economic choice for van lifers needing access to showers and amenities. Most of these gyms are also open 24 hours a day, so many van lifers report being able to park overnight at these gyms without being hassled.
Of course, most of the gyms are in cities, so if you don’t plan to be in cities, then this might not be worth it.
Another option that you might consider is Class Pass. It’s a little more expensive than the previously mentioned gyms, but you get access to a larger variety of individually owned yoga studios, gyms, CrossFit studios, cycling studios, and more and you can search by locations that have showers.
I don’t have personal experience with Class Pass, and online reviews are mixed, but they offer a free trial if you want to try it out.
Tips for Showering in Public Spaces
When using public showers, know that the cleanliness can vary. Below are a few tips for staying clean and healthy when showering in public spaces.
- Always, always, always wear sandals in public showers
- Strip down into the minimal amount of clothes and belongings before heading to the shower. Often the floor is soaked, so you want the clothes you’re going to put on to be as easy as possible.
- Carry your shampoo, conditioner, razor, and soap to the shower in a gallon ziplock bag. That way they’re all in one place and it won’t be a big deal if they get wet.
- Leave the rest of your toiletries, like face and body lotion, in the van and take care of those routines once you’re back in the privacy of your home.
- For coin-operated showers on a timer, have everything in place and be ready to go before inserting your coins. You may even want to consider starting a timer on your phone to keep track of how long you’ve been in there. Nothing is worse than soaping up your face followed by the water running out.
Do You Need To Shower Every Day?
Ok, so now you know everything you need to know about showering on the road if you don’t have a shower in your van. But what about those days in between?
When you live in a van, your habits change. For my partner and I, 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 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 maybe 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 fast. Now that I only shampoo my hair 1-2 times a week, my hair isn’t nearly as greasy in between washes as it used to be. I also find that my body doesn’t stink as much, as surprising as that may sound.
So, cutting back on how frequently you shower doesn’t mean that your personal hygiene has to suffer.
Tips for Staying Clean Without Showering Every Day
- For you women out there, my #1 tip is never, ever pee without wiping. Failing to wipe when you pee is your quickest ticket to needing a shower.
- Second, you can always use your sink or a bucket and a washcloth or body wipes to clean yourself. We like to keep a pack of all-natural body wipes under our sink, and I use one whenever I think I need a refresh. Body wipes will most likely become your favorite van life amenity.
- For your hair, brush it regularly and keep it pulled back or in a braid to avoid tangles. Use dry shampoo to for a refresh between washes. A hat also goes a long way and protects your face from the sun at the same time.
- All Stays Camp and RV App
- Planet Fitness
- 7 Reasons You Don’t Need an Indoor Shower in Your Van
If you want to jump around to other lessons in Module 4, here are other van life topics we cover (more coming soon!):
- Lesson 1: How to Find Free Campsites
- Lesson 2: Stealth Camping
- Lesson 3: Finding Things to Do on the Road
- Lesson 4: Finding Important Amenities on the Road (current lesson)
- Lesson 5: Van Life Internet Access & Staying Connected
- Lesson 6: Leave No Trace & Van Life
- Lesson 7: Managing Relationships on the Road
- Lesson 8: Finding Community & Solo Travel
- Lesson 9: Safety & Van Life
- Lesson 10: Pets & Van Life
- Lesson 11: Van Life in Winter
Do you have a favorite app or tip for finding van life amenities like water, dump stations, and showers on the road? Share your questions, tips, and experiences down in the comments and make sure to sign up for course updates here.