Author: Carey deVictoria-Michel
If you have ever lived the #vanlife or if you have ever considered it, I bet one of the first questions you come upon is, ‘how will I shower?’’ With the added challenges that come with Covid, showering can easily become an adventure on its own. It is a difficult thing to imagine losing some of the conveniences of your home while on the road. Our team at Freedom Vans has a crew of builders and designers who have built functional showers for many clients, and our team has many who have lived in vans themselves. We wanted to share our insight and help others feel like they can confidently go off grid and still get a fresh shower.
Covid’s Impact on the #VanLife Industry
It has been, more or less, a year of maneuvering the challenges of Covid. As a business in the van conversion industry, we have experienced a spike in interest in those wanting to live the #vanlife. Our wait list in the beginning of 2020 was around a year and a half wait, and today it is almost a three year wait for a full build with Freedom Vans. Needless to say, people want to hit the road in their Sprinters and Transits. Covid has also made it more challenging to find public places to get a shower. Many van dwellers have utilized gyms, public pools, campgrounds, etc. to get a shower. As many know, this is less doable with the situation around the pandemic. This will be kept in consideration as we go through these shower logistics.
Variety of Options
Let’s briefly review what options there are for getting clean on the road. Below, we will go more in depth into showering in public spaces, waterless cleaning methods in the van, the sink shower, simple hose and water pump, modular shower designs, and the full indoor shower. Ultimately, it is important to recognize that different people have different standards/needs when it comes to showering. Let’s be real, hygiene means different things to different people.
Many of the original ‘van lifers’ were living this lifestyle to enable their extreme outdoor lifestyles. Their priority was getting out to climb, ski, snowboard, or mountain bike, and at the end of the day, sometimes you just go to sleep sweaty and muddy. So, if you think this is your vibe then take a look below for some tips and tricks to stay less smelly with minimal effort.
That being said, no one will judge you for enjoying a hot shower in your sweet little van home. You won’t stand out so much when you go to the grocery store either. A shower really is one of the most important features for a lot of people, and we will look at some viable options and designs to make this happen.
Alternative Showering in Your Van
Let’s talk about the dirt baggin’ shower options. I personally can say that this was my route when I lived #vanlife in my Astrovan for two years. My ‘go tos’ during this time of my life were campgrounds, public pools, kind friends, and baby wipes. I’ll be honest, my friends still reminisce on how stinky I was during those years. I was focused on rock climbing during that time and everything else was pretty secondary.
About every week or so, I would find a real shower in a gym or public pool or depending on where I was parked, at a friends house. At first, it just took a bit more planning but it never bothered me. I did enjoy the simplicity of my van set-up and not having to deal with emptying grey water, or depleting my water supply.
I used Dr.Bronners often to do a simple wash for my hands and face at the end of the day. And, baby wipes are super useful to wipe down after an active day. I actually would buy nicer Burt’s Bees face wipes, because they were nicer on my skin. After a few months living on the road, I got used to my more simple lifestyle and having a bit more dirt around me than usual. I believe that this is a powerful impact of living in a van, is that you learn how adaptable we are as humans and you find ways to appreciate simple living.
- Keep baby wipes or body wipes in stock.
- Dr.Bronners is great eco-friendly, multi-use soap to have around.
- Have a supply of fabric wash clothes for scrubbing your face, or whipping mud off your knees.
- Keep a clean towel on hand. If you find a shower at a friends house, or a gym, it is nice to bring your own towel. Maybe flip flops, as well.
Hannah, our Sales & Marketing Manager at Freedom Vans, recently outfitted a Ford Econoline and hit the road this winter. Her game changing tips for low-key showering are to pack dry shampoo and a portable bidet.
It is going to be more challenging to find public places to shower during Covid. It will probably become more possible as gyms begin to open again. Truck stops, friends’ houses, campgrounds still could be viable options with Covid. Overall, it seems that some assume that because Covid is happening, it means that an indoor, enclosed shower during #vanlife is the only other option. Although, there are other options, such as outdoor showers, and modular indoor showers.
Simple #VanLife Outdoor Shower Appliances
There are great alternatives to a fully enclosed shower room in a van that will save space and the need for large water storage. You will be able to find lot of designs made for this exact #vanlife purpose.
Companies like NEMO and Geyser Systems have portable shower systems available at REI and online. The NEMO Helio pressure shower can be compressed and stored, and can be filled with 22 liters. There are many other similar options out there. Many can be stored in at least a 2 sq. ft space, and then utilized outside when it is shower time. The Geyser Systems shower can be filled with warm water, and the NEMO shower set-up can be warmed up by sitting in the sun for two hours. You can also find a simple shower bag that you can hang in a tree and uses gravity for water pressure, like this one for $18 made by Sortneer.
Tom, co-owner of Freedom Vans, is a fan of using an agricultural weed sprayer for an outdoor, portable shower system. It may sound strange, but it is a very practical choice. Agricultural weed sprayers are pressurized, and if you have ever seen one, they have a spray similar to a shower head. Freedom Vans has also installed outdoor shower systems that run off the van’s water system.
Freedom Vans Outdoor Showers
Freedom Vans has designed hose-down kits and outdoor shower kits in conversions that are often set up in the back garage of the van. It connects to a water supply tank, and can be connected to a water heater so that you can have a hot shower. Take a look at a few examples in the photo gallery below. The hose kits are fairly simple and are great for hosing down mountain bikes, surf gear, and cleaning in general. The outdoor shower kits have an attachable shower head that can be fixed to the back door. And, a shower curtain can be easily installed for coverage. They also do not take up too much floor space of the interior of your van.
Overall, the settings where these are ineffective are when you are camped out in below freezing temps, and showering outside is not an option. So, if you are going to be using your van mostly or partly in a very cold climate where you don’t have access to a public shower then that is a good scenario for planning on an interior shower space. Let’s look at modular, interior showers and interior wetroom/shower spaces.
Modular showers are designs that can be set-up and taken down to make more use of your space. It can be set-up in the hall or kitchen galley of your van so that you can utilize the space when you are not showering. Shower floors are pre-planned and installed in the sub-flooring of the van. There are many different ways to design these systems, and in a way that is comfortable and spacious. In one previous build by Freedom Vans, a modular shower was built into a bottom, slide-out drawer. The drawer held the shower pan, and a drainage system and could be covered by a curtain. You can see a few examples in the photos and the youtube tours below.
Interior Shower Room
It is totally understandable to want a legit bathroom in your van. It provides you with the comforts of home while on the road. Interior shower rooms or wet rooms usually include a shower and a toilet. This helps make the most of your space in your tiny van bathroom. There is quite a bit that goes into the design of a full interior bathroom build. You will want to consider plumbing, ventilation, cleanliness, etc. Going this route means you should plan out your full bathroom design before starting your build.
There are a few things to be aware of for this set-up. An interesting note I came across in an article found on a #VanLife blog called, Barefoot Theory on showers was that the average American uses 17 gallons of water. The typical van fresh water tank holds 30 gallons of water. So, this is an important aspect to think about for what it would be like to use a full shower set-up. You will have to be aware of your water storage and how much you will want to have for other uses like drinking water, cooking and washing dishes. Being minimal with your water usage in the shower will make your life easier.
If you decide to go this route, then take your time to explore what designs are out there. Actually, there is a surprising amount of options for layouts, appliances, tile, etc. This shower set-up will involve the most planning and logistics. If that is your priority though, it will be worth the effort.
Videos to check out
Below is a list of some of our youtube van tours with Kyleigh, co-owner/co-founder of Freedom Vans. And, the times listed mark where in the video are the shower tours. You can take a look at a few interior shower rooms and a few modular shower set-ups in previous conversions. The last link is a tour of the original Freedom Van, built by owners, Tom and Kyleigh. In this tour, Kyleigh shared some of her insight on the topic of shower logistics.
- 1: 44 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVXyuPt-4b
- 8:11 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhyI-D2KO0A
- 1:26 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c2pFwV1JRw&t=352s
- 31:19 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcKl7WujE0E&t=2s
Conclusion to Showering While Living the #VanLife
In conclusion, do not stress too much about your showering logistics. You’ll either be really clean, or not so clean. Simply take into account a few of these factors:
- How often you might shower.
- If you will spend most of your time in cold or warm climates.
- Would you be okay showering in an outdoor setting? Or, do you need an enclosed space?
- Will you be able to manage your water storage efficiently for whatever approach you go with?
- Are you willing to shower less often and accept a bit more grit on the road?
In sum, go with whatever you are most comfortable with after considering these for #VanLife. Then take the time to plan your design, resources, appliances, etc. Once you decide which route to take, then take time to research how other people have done it. Take notes on what you like and what you don’t like. Then, go forth and get your shower system set-up!