I often get asked how I shower while living in a van. The best way to answer is to show you. Don’t worry, the video below is PG.

#VanLife Shower

Showering while living in a van isn’t really that difficult. Yes, it’s a little different than when I was living in a house, but the benefits definitely outweigh the costs.

First, it’s free. Well, I had to buy a 5 gallon solar shower from Amazon for $39, but since then my showers have been free. Ideally I fill the shower bag with water from a hose or spigot, but sometimes those are hard to find, or, they are in public places where I could potentially get into trouble for stealing water. I’ve found creative ways to fill my shower bag, using water from city parks, bathroom sinks, drinking fountains, behind gas stations, or in the restrooms of fast food joints. I can easily spot free water while driving through unfamiliar towns and I rarely pass up a good garden hose.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - VanLife Shower Glacier NP
Showering at my campsite in Glacier National Park.

Secondly, using a solar shower is efficient. It’s hard to take a 20 minute shower when you are limited to a few gallons of water. It also helps to be a little uneasy, wondering if that old lady down the street watching you through her picture window is calling the cops. More times than I’d like to admit I’ve squinted through soap suds stinging my eyes, watching for the blue lights while I quickly rinse off.

Of course, some days my showers are more efficient than others, especially in the Pacific Northwest. It may go without saying, but the “solar” part is not that effective on cloudy days where the result is often a cold shower. Standing on the side of a road in brisk 50 degree air shivering under cold water does not make you want to linger.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - VanLife Shower Parking Lot
Showering in the back of a Walmart parking lot.

Another benefit is that showering while living in a van is an adventure in and of itself. After securing free water the next step is scouting the perfect shower spot. I’d prefer to take my outdoor showers on the side of some mountain overlooking an incredible vista while cleaning up for my next adventure, but that’s not always the case. I’ve showered in the back of Walmart parking lots, city parks, empty lots of abandoned buildings, trail heads, and on the shoulders of random roads. Typically, my only goal is to find a place that will offer a little privacy, meaning I can turn my van so I’m at least not showering in view of passing traffic. I also try to set up where no one will be bothered by water puddles and soap suds.

On the note of soap, I try to ascribe to “Leave No Trace” principles, so I’m not lathering up with Axe shower gel on my loofa. Heck, I’m not even using a loofa. I picked up a large bottle of Campsuds from REI and use it as an all purpose container of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and dish soap. It’s biodegradable, so any suds that wash off me and onto the pavement won’t be hurting the environment.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - VanLife Shower
“Keeping Austin Weird” by showering in a public parking lot.

Finally, the biggest benefit of living in a van and showering outdoors is that I no longer have to clean a bathroom. I don’t scrub shower tiles, worry about a ring around the tub, or have to clear a clogged drain. Of course, while I’m more than happy to take outdoor showers while living in my van, I’m always excited when a friend or family member offers a warm indoor shower. There is definitely something to be said about standing under a hot stream of water with steam rolling off your skin. But in between hot showers I don’t mind bathing outdoors, because again, I can’t even remember the last time I had to clean a bathroom.

2 Comments

  1. Hey, Chris: Just checking. That shower video was in fast motion, right? ūüôā If you ever visit Memphis, I’ll buy you a beer–and you can use my shower, too!!!!

  2. If it’s use is mainly weekends while maintaining home base I wouldn’t get a fully loaded camper rig. I would keep it more simple and open. You can easily bring along enough water, cook with a Coleman propane grill and stove, use a solar shower and have a huge cooler that will keep your perishables fresh for a week. All of that could easily pack into your van.

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