The prospect of showering gave Chris and I a lot of anxiety before we hit the road. After a guy’s tale of using a spray bottle of sudsy water in a gas station bathroom and advice to bum shower tokens from truckers, it felt impossibly awkward.
But nearly a year later, we haven’t done either of those things. And it inspired us to create…
Essentials to Include in Your Shower Kit
With these five items, you’re prepared to shower anywhere:
- Towel: Use a microfiber camp towel; they’re small, absorbent and quick-drying
- Foot Protection: A cheap pair of flip-flops will do
- Travel-Sized Shampoo/Conditioner: Buy refillable bottles and keep the large bottles stored in the van
- Soap and Soap Container: The container keeps your stuff from getting soapy and prevents melting
- Quarters: Have a couple bucks worth for coin-operated showers
We find it’s best to have a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with all of our toiletries. That way, you just grab your bag and go. Here’s what we keep in ours:
Tamara’s bag: Hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, soap, deodorant, lip balm, tweezers, razor, cotton swabs, hair ties and head band, dry shampoo
Chris’ bag: Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, cotton swabs, comb, deodorant, floss, shampoo, nail clippers, beard trimmer
How to Find Showers
- Public and Private Campgrounds: If you’re parking at campgrounds — especially state parks and KOAs — there’s a good chance you’ll find a shower. (The AllStays app mentions whether a campground has showers.) Also, many state parks and private campgrounds allow non-campers to buy a shower for anywhere from $2-5/person. We stayed at a primitive U.S. Forest Service campground that told campers to drive 10 minutes to another Forest Service campground for a shower. Some campgrounds have a list of nearby services like groceries, laundry and…showers! This is our #1 option and works 99 percent of the time.
- Gyms and Community Pools/Aquatic Centers: We haven’t tried this because campground showers typically do the trick for us. Many gyms offer the ability to buy a day pass to use their facility, so you can get a workout plus a shower. The same goes for community pools with shower facilities.
- Google: You’d be surprised what you can find by searching “where to shower in [city/town].” Moab, Utah, for example, is known for adventures like hiking, mountain biking and more, so their local tourism site has a list of places to shower for outdoorsy folks with occasional indoorsy needs. Bike shops, rec centers, hostels and campgrounds were among the shower options listed.
We’ve read about other options like truck stops (e.g. Flying J or Pilot) or asking people who are checking out of their motel, but those never felt right to us. Truck stop showers are for truckers and not just anyone can waltz in. And we’d feel rude asking a stranger to use their recently vacated motel room.
A coin-operated public campground shower near Sedona, Arizona
What to Expect in a Public Shower
Most public showers we encounter have hot water, are well-maintained and are very clean. Even the worst ones we’ve ever been in — in a state park in Tennessee — are mostly guilty of being run down, not dirty. High-traffic public showers get a good scrubbing at least daily.
That being said, it’s no fun seeing a spider or someone else’s hair covering the drain. (Yet another reason why you always carry flip flops.) Honestly, you learn to live with it. If you’re really squeamish, you can cough up the money to stay at KOAs where, for all their flaws, the bathrooms are usually very clean.
Types of Showers You’ll Come Across
- Bath House: Several shower stalls in one large space
- Private Shower: Like a half-bathroom, but with a shower only
- Full Private Bath: Like a full bathroom, with a toilet, sink and shower
Limits You’ll Come Across
- No Limit: Turn on the faucet and water runs until you turn it off
- Timed: An electronic timer shuts off the water (e.g. 7-minute shower, followed by mandatory 3-minute break before it will start again), or a button you press that only lets so much water out until you press the button again
- Coin-Operated: Inserting quarters or paid tokens buys you a certain number of minutes
- Solar: Water tanks are heated by the sun, so maybe wait until later in the day to shower unless you’re looking for a refreshing burst of cold water
An average bath house; image credit: SkiAnything.com
Tips to Shower Like a Pro
- Shower in the afternoon or evening to avoid the morning rush. That’s also when showers are the cleanest, since cleaning usually happens mid-day.
- Bring a bag or backpack to carry your clothes and shower kit in case there’s only one hook and/or no bench or shelf.
- Wear your flip flops to and from the shower so you don’t have to carry an extra pair of shoes with you.
- Strip down as much as possible (remove layers, socks, glasses) first and leave those items in your van so you aren’t worried about space or losing things.
- Embrace the Navy shower: turn off the water while you lather.
- If you’re traveling with someone you don’t mind being naked in front of, consider splitting a shower. For example, we took turns in a shower that was $4 for 8 minutes because neither of us needs that long.
- If you’re worried about running out of time because there’s no visual countdown, set a timer on your cell phone.
When all else fails…
When You Can’t Find a Shower
The honest truth: sometimes, you won’t find a shower. And that’s OK.
Unless you decided to run a mud obstacle course, you’re probably not very dirty. Sometimes we’ll go for a sweaty 5- to 7-mile hike and not get to shower until the next day and nobody knows. You can and should still mind your hygiene, and here’s how.
- Baby Wipes: We always keep a canister of antibacterial Wet Ones in the van. Use as many as you need to freshen up. Heck, you could even wrap some in foil and heat them over your camp stove if you wanted.
- Dry Shampoo: I used to never go a day without washing my hair because it felt so oily, but that’s because I was washing it too much. It’ll take you a couple weeks, but eventually your scalp gets used to it. And let me tell you: your hair will be so much healthier. Get a good dry shampoo like Batiste or Not Your Mother’s (both less than $10/bottle) and you’ll be in business. If you have longer hair, make sure you spend a couple minutes brushing it before bed to distribute the natural oils throughout the length of your hair.
- Change Clothes: This tip needs little explanation and is best used in combination with the above two tips.
- Get Creative: Remember, the great thing about van living is how much time you get to spend outdoors. Once, Chris and I were in need of a shower in the middle of nowhere and decided to just jump in a lake in our bathing suits. Were we the cleanest we’d ever been? No, but it got the job done, we felt refreshed, and we had a blast.
We hope you found this guide helpful. Did we miss anything? Let us know if you have other tips or ideas in the comments. Happy showering!