“Where do you shower?” and “Where do you poop?” are easily two of the most asked questions for any van dweller. And honestly, I’m a little tired of hearing it. So I’m going to write this in hopes that maybe, just maybe, somebody will read it instead of asking me. But I also want to provide information for those that are still just tossing around the idea of the hashtage vanlife. There is more to it than just what you see on Instagram.
Find a home base
The vast majority of poops I make (since I still live in the city for work) are at coffee shops. And yes, I have my favorites.
There are about 3-4 coffee shops that I regular, depending on where I can park, what I want to eat, or if I am writing or not. Even if I don’t want to buy food or coffee I will still go hang out at the coffee shop. That’s one of the perks of being a regular. You don’t have to buy things to be welcome. You can walk in, say “Hi” to the barista, and go straight to the bathroom.
So find a coffee shop you like and (If you live in the city) go there a lot. Make some friends. Give yourself a “home base” of sorts to frequent and release your bowels in. You may even make some friends or useful contacts. You’ll be amazed at the people you meet when you get out of your shell and just start talking to them.
If you’re full time on the road though, it’s even easier. You never have to see these people again. Just use the toilet and vamoose. That, or dig a hole and shit in it. Done and done. Well, not quite. If you are living the backcountry style, please know how to properly dig a cathole and dispose of your waste.
The ocean provides!
After using the coffee shop to relieve myself, whether I decided to eat or not, I usually go surfing. The best part about surfing? Afterward, there is a free shower waiting for you! If you use a little bit of soap too, it’s just as good as any shower you’ll get.
I understand that to many, using the outside rinse area at the beach after a thrash sesh doesn’t count as a shower, no matter what I think. Hell, I even think surfing is shower enough sometimes. You just have to imagine that the sea water’s saltiness is from a fancy bath bomb. I can be a bit more of a dirtbag than the normal person though.
Gyms are a vans best friend
Not everyone is coastal, and not everyone surfs. Which brings me to where the typical van dweller does their business. The gym.
Personally, I use a climbing gym. Not only do climbing gyms totally cater to the dirtbag lifestyle, but they encourage it! Mesa Rim (my local stomping grounds) has a full lounging office area with WiFi, clean showers, yoga classes, and obviously, climbing walls. What more could a van urchin need?
If you don’t climb, that’s fine. There are tons of gyms across the country! A membership to 24-hour fitness can be as low as $30 a month and they are EVERYWHERE. You can have access to showers across the country.
Again, when you’re on the road, life is even easier. Not only can you spend a couple days at a hot spring refreshing and relaxing, but you can also take a tumble in the local river (don’t use soap in water sources.) If passing through cities though, just act like you are interested in a gym and they will usually give you a free day pass. Get a workout if you want, shower up, and drive on. There are tons of ways to stay clean.
Being backcountry is also great for inovative self showers in the van. I use a basic solar shower bag but you can get fancy and do Road Shower too. But there are a ton of options! You can even build in an external shower quite easily. Dont be scared to get weird with it.
The contingency plan
Everyone has their own backup plan. When it comes to emergencies I like to keep it simple. Shit in a bucket… Simple is safe. I use a Go Anywhere bag, or some variation of it, in a 5-gallon bucket ($3.25) from Home Depot. I keep the bucket stored under a seat and out of the way.
Whether you have a Home Depot bucket or a fancy composting toilet, it’s important to ensure that you have a backup. When shit hits the fan (hopefully not literally) you don’t want to be (literally) caught with your pants down. Or you can be extra fancy and build a toilet in your van. Seems like a lot of work to me though.
Freedom has a price, but confinement is more expensive
If spending thousands of dollars for a safe and convenient stationary box to ensure that you always have somewhere comfortable to defecate and bathe sounds better to you, then by all means, do NOT live in a van. Living in a van is getting out of your comfort zone. I may have to shower in the gym and poop at a coffee shop, but yesterday I woke up in the mountains, today I woke up on the beach, and tomorrow I’ll be wherever I want to be. Me? Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.