A gym membership is one of the best investments you can make for yourself no matter where you live, but a gym membership for van life or nomads is a double-whammy good investment. Why, you ask? One word: showers. Let’s take a look at the best gyms for travelers and vanlifers.
Do You Need a Gym Membership for Van Life?
Let’s be real: your personal hygiene is going to change when you’re living in a van—and that’s not a bad thing! The biggest change you may see is that you’ll shower a lot less. Showering less frequently is fine—showering never…not so much!
There are some places where hanging up your solar shower or showering at a friend’s place aren’t going to be options.
So technically, no–you don’t need a gym membership for van life or traveling. But its convenience in terms of showers, toilets, drinking water, and even an overnight camp spot–is hard to beat for usually around $25 per month.
How to Choose a Gym Chain as a Traveler
Vanlifers and other travelers have specific requirements when it comes to choosing a gym membership. For us, the number of locations, guaranteed facilities, and what fits in your budget are the most important things to consider.
….it also doesn’t hurt if you opt for a gym chain that’s open 24/7, because it can make a great overnight parking spot if you’re in a pinch.
Oh, right, and access to gym equipment 😉 but I typically use my own travel workout gear outdoors to get workouts in.
Once you’ve got those covered, you can start thinking about what else you want from your gym. How about a morning yoga class to stretch those road-weary muscles? A group HIIT session to get in some cardio? Or perhaps you’re a weightlifter who needs access to a squat rack and a bench.
Top-Rated Gyms for Travelers in 2024
I’ve broken down the five best gyms for travelers and vanlifers in 2023. There are, of course, many other options out there, but these top my list in terms of price, availability and service.
Planet Fitness is my personal favorite vanlife gym membership. You can’t beat the price, especially if you travel with a partner. It also has one of the most gyms per state in the US (along with Anytime Fitness).
Planet Fitness has two membership tiers: Planet Fitness Classic and Planet Fitness Black. I like PF Black because it gives you access to any of the PF locations worldwide, and allows you to bring a guest every time you go (that’s basically two memberships for the price of one.)
The PF black membership is $24.99 per month, plus a $49 annual fee. But I’ve started, canceled, and started up my membership a dozen times over the years. I’ve learned that they are very capable of waiving startup fees or lowering annual fees if you play your cards right.
Planet Fitness often runs holiday discounts that can get you in permanently with lower annual rates. Or, if you visit a PF gym in-person and tell them you’re only there to look, they may try to incentivize you to sign up that day by waiving the startup fee (at least that happened to me once!)
Planet Fitness generally has well-maintained facilities with showers, free WiFi, lockers, massage chairs, tanning booths, and hydromassage, plus the usual things like cardio machines and free weights. But only the Black Card membership will get you access to the massage chairs, tanning booths and hydromassage. And buy your own lock for the lockers! (I use this basic lock).
I’ll be honest–not all showers are created equal at Planet Fitness gyms. Some showers feel like a spa, with rain-style showerheads, changing rooms attached to them, and enough room to literally walk around in the shower! But others sometimes lack hot water, are clogged, or so small you can barely spin around without rubbing against the shower wall.
My pro tip is to look for Planet Fitness gyms that are on the outskirts of big cities, as opposed to in the center of big cities. These gyms typically get less use, and since they are located in a more affordable area outside the city, can typically splurge more on quality facilities.
PF has nationwide gyms across the USA, as well as in Canada, Central America, and Australia.
As of 2018, Planet Fitness gyms are available in all 50 US states after opening a location in Hawaii!
All PF locations are open 24/7. Check out all locations here.
An Anytime Fitness membership is a good choice for travelers who need worldwide availability.
An average Anytime Fitness membership runs about $41 per month. There is also a one-time startup fee of about $85 per person, and Anytime Fitness requires a 6, 8, or 12-month contract.
But one regular Anytime Fitness membership gets you access to any of their locations worldwide. That shows up Planet Fitness, where you can only have access to all locations with the Black Card membership.
Not only does Anytime Fitness guarantee a shower at every location, but one of my van-dwelling friends tells me that each shower its in its own private room! No public locker rooms or shared shower spaces–that’s practically unheard of at the other gym chains.
The showers are reportedly clean and well-maintained. Some of the gym equipment can be a little rough around the edges, so if you plan to use your membership to work out a lot, Anytime may not be your best choice.
According to Anytime Fitness, their guest policy on bringing a friend varies between clubs. They recommend calling whichever club you plan on visiting to double-check.
The major bonus about Anytime Fitness is that it truly has a global network of locations (2,300 US locations alone!), whereas the other gyms on this list are mostly in the United States. That’s good news for any nomad traveling abroad. Check out all locations here.
LA Fitness is a solid choice for any nomad who spends most of their time on the east, west, or south coasts– or the Great Lakes region, since most of its locations fall within these areas.
I had a short-term LA Fitness membership when I lived in the southern California area for a bit–its vast array of workout options and amenities had me hanging out in that place for hours a day.
To get access to their gyms nationwide, you’ll want to opt for the Multi-State membership that’s currently running a one-time $75 initiation fee, with a $49 annual fee and a $39.99 monthly fee. It’s a little pricey with three different fees to get rolling, but its amenities far surpass those of Planet Fitness.
If you’re trying to get the best gym membership with a partner, you can add a “one guest per visit” feature to your membership for an additional $20 per month (or two guests for $25 per month). While this is limiting since they can only visit if they are with you, it’s still significantly cheaper than each of you signing up solo.
On top of the basic amenities such as showers, locker rooms, weight lifting and exercise equipment, most LA Fitness locations also feature a full indoor swimming pool (with complimentary towels), hot tub, locker room saunas, a basketball / volleyball court and multiple workout classrooms. Cycling and other workout classes are free for members. That gives you a LOT of options on how to stay active!
The LA Fitness gym I went to in California ran a weekly volleyball league, which was a great way to meet new people with similar interests. I also loved detoxing after a workout in the sauna–these amenities provide more of an experience than just a workout or quick shower.
That being said, the showers and locker rooms were nothing to write home about. Some LA Fitness clubs are newer and swankier than others, and the one I went to was a bit outdated with small shower stalls and separated changing rooms.
LA Fitness has 550 locations across the US, but as you can see in the map above, they are clustered together mainly along coastlines–with nothing for middle America! But since a lot of vanlifers spend most of their times along coastlines, this could work well. LA Fitness doesn’t have any international locations. Check out all locations here.
Crunch is the cheapest option on this list for solo vanlifers. However, if you travel with a partner, Planet Fitness will wind up costing you less.
You can get a Crunch Peak membership, which gives you access to all their locations, for $21.90 per month, plus an annual fee of $15. For that, you get access to all facilities including showers, weights, cardio machines, group classes and online workouts.
Crunch facilities are basic but clean. Some facilities have saunas and spas, which may be available as part of your membership or require an additional fee to use.
Crunch has 349 nationwide gyms. It does not have any other locations worldwide. The guest pass that comes with your membership is only good for your home location. Check out all locations here.
24 Hour Fitness
24 Hour Fitness is probably the best known of the 24 hour gym chains. It’s a little more expensive than Anytime Fitness, but still a solid choice for vanlifers and travelers.
A National Access pass, which gives you access to all clubs in the US is $56.99 per month. There is a $49 annual fee. However, if you sign up for one or two years up front, the cost drops: a two-year membership works out to be about $39 per month.
24 Hour Fitness is known for having better weightlifting equipment than some of the other gyms on this list. Many locations have pools and saunas. Some locations also offer free childcare.
The main issue with 24 Hour Fitness is that they are mostly in large metropolitan areas, so if you’re traveling in remote towns, you may not be able to find one. They also aren’t available in quite a few states–but the cities they are in, they are everywhere! Check out all locations here.
This one’s kind of out there, but if you’re looking to treat yo’self and can afford to spring for a high-quality membership at one of the most elite gyms in the world, Equinox is your place. Equinox is one of the best gyms for travelers with money to spare.
A basic Equinox membership can run anywhere from $180 – $250 per month. The cost will vary depending on whether you want unlimited access to all locations, or if you want access to elite locations in cities like New York.
Equinox is the most expensive gym membership in the world, but you really do get what you pay for. Everything about Equinox is world-class, from the pools, to group classes run by top trainers, to the luxurious shampoo in the showers (yes, really.)
What makes this a somewhat limiting gym choice (besides membership costs) is the locations are almost exclusively on the east coast. Besides locations in Texas and California, all others are in, or close to, the New York / Boston / Washington DC areas.
Overall, there are 300 locations throughout the US. Your access will depend on the level of membership you pay for. Check out all locations here.
Tips for Using Gym Facilities
- Avoid peak hours to maximize your chances of privacy. Peak hours are typically around 5-7am, 12pm-2pm and early evening (5pm-7pm).
- Bring shower sandals. Nothing is worse than stepping into a public shower and trying to clean yourself while stepping in someone else’s hair or leftover body wash!
- Buy a locker lock. I use this simple lock to keep my items secure when I’m showering or working out. Make sure you take a photo of the locker combination and memorize it!
- Refill your water bottle at a water fountain to help save some of your precious water supply in your van!
- Bring your own body wash / shampoo / conditioner / towel because only a select few gyms provide them in shower stalls.
Summing It Up
When it comes to finding the best gyms for travelers, price, location, and showers are the name of the game. My personal favorite is Planet Fitness for its ubiquity, low cost, and double-whammy guest pass deal.
Whichever gym you choose, make sure you read the fine print of your membership, and ask lots of questions to your salesperson. You may also be surprised to learn that you can negotiate a better price for your gym membership. It never hurts to ask!