If you’re building out (or purchasing) a camper van, you’ve probably pondered van life shower ideas.
How do you shower in a van? Do you even need a van shower? What are your bathing alternatives?
I’ll say it: You do not need a shower in your van. In fact, some of the best showers I’ve taken are in rivers or truck stop bathrooms!
Having a campervan shower can actually become something of a burden. It takes up valuable space in your floor plan, and you may find you use it less often than you thought you would.
I have van life friends whose showers have turned into their closets or pantries!
So let’s look at eight different van life shower ideas that are available if you don’t want a shower built into your campervan!
8 Ways to Shower in Van Life
There are many other options for getting clean on the road that don’t include an expensive modification to your camper.
These options are either cheap or free, and are available throughout the US!
1. Simple Portable Showers
A portable shower is a cheap alternative to a full-on shower install. Even if you do have a shower in your camper, I recommend carrying one of these with you as well. They’re also great to take along on outdoor excursions and hiking trips.
Solar Shower Bag
The easiest portable shower to use (and the only method that delivers hot water) is the solar shower. This is what I use as my portable shower and it’s so simple!
I use a five gallon water bag with a water tap for the showerhead. I love the water tap because it prevents me from wasting water; I simply turn it shut with the flick of my thumb when I don’t need water. Other shower heads use a twisting motion to cut the water line, but this requires both hands, which gets really tedious when you’re holding body wash or shampoo in one hand.
To use a solar shower bag, just fill it with water and set it in the sun. The water heats up surprisingly fast and stays hot for a surprising amount of time, usually a few hours.
It heats up to about 110 F in under 3 hours when exposed to direct sunlight. Be warned–I’ve almost burned myself when the water heats up too much!
Once the water is hot, the unit can be hung from an open van door or tree branch. The attached hose and showerhead make it easy to direct the water flow where you need it.
The only drawback, of course, is that it requires bright sun to get hot. If you live in a place that doesn’t get a lot of sunny days, you may want to opt for a different method if hot water is important to you.
Hand Pump Shower
If water pressure is more important to you than hot water, a hand pump shower might be more your speed. This unit holds up to 1.5 gallons of water and can be pressurized up to 45psi, meaning it delivers the same water pressure as a garden hose. It comes with an adjustable nozzle that has 5 different settings: jet, mist, shower, flat, and super pressure.
A hand pump shower can easily be carried in one hand, and the hose is 6ft long, so it not only makes a great shower; it can also be used to wash your van, rinse dishes, or bathe your dog.
Rechargeable Shower Head
A battery-powered shower head turns any bucket into a shower. Just drop the pump into a bucket of water and turn it on. The pump draws water from the bucket, through the hose, and pushes it out through the shower head.
The water pressure is lower than what you get from the handheld shower pump, but higher than the solar shower. It includes a built-in filter, so you don’t need to worry about showering in dirty or contaminated water. It recharges from a 12v outlet and delivers 1 hour of continuous use at full charge.
While I don’t recommend that you rely on a water spritzer as your only showering system, it is handy to keep one around for those occasions where you aren’t able to hang your solar shower or set up your rechargeable shower head.
Like the handheld pump shower, this unit also doubles well as a dishwasher and dog bath.
2. Rivers & Lakes
Don’t go chasing shower heads, just stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to (as long as they’re clean and legal to shower in!) There’s something so inherently satisfying about washing in a natural water source. It really helps you get in touch with your roots!
The easiest way I’ve found to locate lakes and rivers (and get a feel for their cleanliness and nearby amenities), is simply using Google Maps on my phone and typing in “lakes near me” (or “rivers).
If you’re spending days splashing around in rivers and lakes, you won’t need to “shower” perse. Rinsing in clean water (even salt water) will keep you surprisingly clean—plus, it’s better for your skin and hair in the long run!
If you do need that extra squeaky-clean feeling that comes from shampoos and soaps, make sure to use environmentally-friendly cleansers like Dr Bronner or Dr Meyers when you’re washing in rivers and lakes.
3. Truck Stops
This may not be your first van life shower idea, but truck stops can actually offer great showers (as long as you’re smart and take steps to ensure your safety.)
I recommend Pilot Flying J or Love’s truck stops for the cleanest and safest shower facilities. You can even use the Pilot Flying J App and the Love’s App to reserve and pay for a shower right from your phone.
Showers at these truck stops typically cost between $11-$15. The shower stalls are private rooms (with locked doors) with a full bathroom attached to each shower stall. There’s usually a little changing bench, changing mirror, and complimentary bath towel in each room.
You can also use Trucker App to find truck stops with showers and read reviews from other travelers.
4. Gym Chains
If you want to know where to shower in van life, look no further than your local gym. It’s a well-known fact that vanlifers love their gym memberships!
Planet Fitness and Crunch are two of the best gym memberships for van lifers, as they offer cheap rates, guaranteed showers, and access to pools, spas, workout equipment and other benefits.
AnyTime Fitness even boasts private shower stalls with attached changing rooms–that’s nearly unheard of in budget gym chains.
5. Campgrounds & RV Parks
Campgrounds and RV parks are obvious places to find hot showers! Some campgrounds will allow you a day pass to come in and use the facilities without paying for a full night, but why not kill two birds with one stone and book a spot to sleep as well?
But campground and RV park showers may be some of the most expensive options for van life shower ideas. Since most parks will require you to either buy a day pass or overnight camping pass, you could be looking at a $20+ shower.
Check out NPS.gov for a map of campgrounds across the US –click on a campground’s listing to view its amenities.
Personally, campground and RV park showers are one of my least favorite because showers are often outside (brr!), questionably clean, and more expensive than what I could get running over to my local Planet Fitness. But to each their own!
6. Public Pools
Not every public pool has a shower, but most do in the changing room areas. Pools are a nice option to keep in mind if you’re in the city where you can’t hang your portable shower or find a gym.
Especially if it’s a hot summer day, why not make it a #poolday and catch some rays while you’re at it?
Of course, you’ll have to buy a day pass to the pool, which will probably cost around $10-$20. Check out this list top pools in each US state!
7. Public Beaches
If you’re on the coast, pretty much all public US beaches have outdoor showers. And some of them are really cool!
Most of these showers are just for rinsing off saltwater, but there are no rules against going for a full scrub-down.
Beachside showers are probably free, but they’re also probably outdoors and open for public viewing. You’re going to want to keep your swimsuit on!
Check out the EPA’s list of all national beaches to find a quick spot to pullover and refresh yourself. I recommend this van life shower option as a backup in case your gym isn’t around or it’s too cold for a solar bag shower!
8. Friends' Houses & Tinder Dates
Finally, don’t forget that friends, family, and even kind strangers are often eager to lend a shower. In fact, I’ve even heard of people using Tinder and other dating apps to find showers (among, um, other things…) Once again, I have to stress that if you go the hookup-for-a-shower route, you must make safety your top priority.
Showering at a friend’s or family’s house is one of my favorite van shower options because 1) it’s free 2) it’s safe 3) I’m not rushed 4) I get to hang with my friend!
5 Van Life Shower Accessories
Here’s a list of some shower items that have made my van life shower experiences more pleasant:
1. Microfiber Towel
I love my microfiber towel because it does an incredible job at drying me off, dries quickly, packs up super small and is light as a feather. It’s the best towel for packing in my gym bag if I’m showering at a campground, public beach or gym.
And especially if you’re living van life with a cat, cat fur won’t stick to it the way it does to cotton towels! It also comes in a variety of sizes so you can choose which is best for certain *showering* occasions.
2. Mrs. Meyer's Eco-Friendly Body Wash
Mrs. Meyer’s body wash is one of the few eco-friendly, biodegradable washes that makes me feel extra clean. It smells great, rinses off cleanly, and I feel good knowing I’m not harming rivers, lakes, or any natural body of water I’m bathing in.
3. Bamboo Shower Mat
This bamboo shower mat is different than most because it can fold up and tucks away nicely. Most are hard-platform bases that need a special storage place in your van. But set this bamboo mat up at the back of your van, throw open the doors, and keep your feet mud-free while you rinse off on the mat.
The mat also dries quickly! However, it won’t raise you off the ground as high as some other high-platform shower mats, so you may still find grass or weeds poking up through the cracks.
4. Trader Joe's 3-1 Wash
I like Trader Joe’s 3-1 wash because it minimizes the amount of stuff I need to carry into a gym or whatever facility I’m showering at. I don’t love the pump design, however, because it can easily leak–but overall, it’s still my go-to for showering on the road.
5. Clear Toiletries Bag
I like this clear toiletry bag because I can quickly see what’s already packed up and ready to go. Since I’m constantly shifting toiletries between my to-go bag and my van’s drawers, the clear bag helps me save a little time.
The clear bag is also great for bringing into showers because I can see what I’m reaching for and the plastic won’t stay wet for hours. I can even just wipe it down with a towel post-shower.
Some other things you may have on hand for showering on the road are body-cleansing wipes and a shower toga. These aren’t necessities, but they can come in handy when you’re in a spot that doesn’t allow a ton of privacy.
Summing It Up
I recommend using a mix of these van life shower ideas to take care of your hygiene needs. Your personal hygiene will change when you start living on the road. But that’s just part of the van life journey. Sometimes you’ll need to get creative in order to get clean! Sometimes you’ll shower less, but you’ll also start to find that you need to shower less.
You’ll also learn that the simple pleasure of a hot shower when you really need it is truly one of life’s greatest joys. Showering is like so many other aspects of van life: you realize you need it less than you thought you did; and when you do have it, you’ll be even more grateful for it.