How to Find Public Showers When Van Dwelling

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED July 16, 2021

public showers
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One of the most important aspects of living on the road is ensuring that you’re taking care of your personal hygiene. Not showering for extended periods can lead to patchy or dry skin and even dirt buildup, leading to more serious issues like eczema.

Using a wet wipe for a dry shower might help you get some of the “dirt” off of your skin, but there is no replacement for the benefits of an actual shower.

If you’re wondering about the best place to grab a shower while you’re on the road, then we might be able to help you with that.

How Often Should You Shower

There are different skin types, and some people can get away with showering just twice a week while others need to shower every two days or so. However, people often find that they can’t manage to shower even once every two weeks while on the road, and that’s a problem.

Driving all day or spending most of your time in a van means that you’re going to be about as sweaty as a politician in church. While it might be true that showering every day can really dry out your skin over time, this doesn’t apply if you’re soaked in sweat.

Leaving your sweat to dry on you and not washing it off can lead to dirt sticking to your skin more easily and your pores getting clogged. This leads to acne, skin irritation, raches, and other much less pleasant skin conditions as well.

Van dwelling is sweaty work, so you might want to grab a shower at least every 2-3 days, but that number can vary depending on the factors that we went over just above.

No Shower Facilities

When you live in a van, you’re lucky to have a kitchen and a comfy bed, let alone something like a shower. There are exceptions, and if you travel in a fully decked-out RV or a mobile home, then you’re one of the lucky few that can actually shower where they live.

However, most van-lifers can’t afford vehicles like that, and they’re living in a custom-made van that just barely has enough space for them to move around in. If you’re one such van lifer, then you essentially have two options: install a shower on the outside of your van or use public showers. 

If you opt for the former, we’ll go over the basics on what to look for and the actual process of installing the shower in the first example. The rest of our article, though, is going to be focused on what sort of options you have when it comes to public showers and where you can find them.

DIY Showers

Natural soap on a towel

Building your own shower on the side of your van isn’t hard at all; the only two things that you’ll honestly need are a privacy tent and a portable water heater. The privacy tent will allow you to shower outside without having to worry about any potential onlookers, while the water heater will allow you to take a hot shower whenever you want.

A lot of people skip the water heater entirely and simply get a water container with a shower nozzle that they can attach to the top of the privacy tent. The decision is up to you, but in our opinion, a portable heater takes up very little space, is very easy to fill and power, and gives you the opportunity to experience some of the comforts of everyday life that you deemed unavailable.

The Tent

There really isn’t any sort of requirement when it comes to privacy tents since you can get any particular product that you like. However, if you’re not ordering online, then we’d recommend getting inside and seeing if you have enough room to turn and move about. 

You don’t need too much space to take a shower, but it would also be bad if the tent clung on to your body with every move you made inside, so a middle ground between those two points might be favorable.

Portable Water Heater

As for the portable water heater, you’ll need something that doesn’t take too much electricity to fully heat the water, and that can easily be filled and operated. We’d go for the Hike Crew Portable Propane Water Heater & Shower Pump because it can be placed anywhere on the ground next to your tent easily, while the showerhead can be on top of the tent.

You’re free to shop around and pick a water heater that suits your requirements more, but we’d recommend going for something that doesn’t need to be attached to the van physically or needs to draw power or water from it.

Ensuring that your hot water heater has its own power and water supply will go a long way regarding the general quality of life on the road, so make sure that the heater that you choose ticks the necessary boxes.

Limited Usage

The obvious restriction when it comes to DIY showers is that you won’t be able to do them in public. The safety net makes sure that you won’t be committing any potential felonies, but the police still aren’t going to be all too happy with you if you just break out a shower set up in the middle of a city parking lot.

These showers are a great option when you’re camping in the wilderness somewhere or if you’re staying in a national park camping spot that doesn’t have any public showers available.

Gym Showers

Public showers

One of the easiest ways that you can get a shower while on the road is to hit the gym. Any well-equipped gym will come with a locker facility where you can store your stuff and showers that any member can use.

One of the best gym memberships that you can get is probably Planet Fitness. This chain constantly has offers and sign-up perks (listed on their site FAQ), it has some of the best gym and shower facilities you can find, and it also has locations in every major city in the US—from Los Angeles to New York and almost everywhere in between.

The main reason why you’ll be joining this gym is to use the showers whenever you’re in a city, but you’d also be welcome to use the equipment as well. Driving and spending extended periods of time in a van isn’t all that good for the body, so working out before you hit the showers can really go a long way to maintaining both physical and mental health.

As we said, the workouts are just an afterthought, and the main reason you’ll want a gym membership is so you can use the public showers whenever you want to. However, it’s always nice to know that you have the option to do both.

Truck Stops

A lot of people seem to think that truck stops are essentially glorified gas stations with restrooms that have little to no concern for public health standards. This is actually far from the truth, and a lot of truck stops are actually equipped with everything from cafeterias to private showers.

Organizations like TravelCenters of America LLC (the largest full-service truck stop and travel center company in the US) have locations in almost every major city across the country. Most of these rest stops are also fully equipped and can provide you with everything from a gas fill-up and a mechanic shop to restaurants and markets.

All you need to do to get a free pass for the shower facilities is to get a ticket at any such location and simply park for the few hours that it’ll take you to finish your business. You also have the option to park and stay the night since most of these locations also come with free wifi as well.

Camping Spots

RV and trailer parks are great places where you can park to spend a few nights and use the facilities. Most of these locations have public restrooms and showers, and any campers are more than welcome to park there.

These locations are usually not that expensive, though prices may vary depending on the length of your stay and the state that you’re in. However, staying the night in a camping spot is usually cheaper than a one-night stay at a truck stop.

The only major flaw that a lot of camping sites have is that they’re a bit too out of the way. You likely won’t be close to a town, and while certain RV parks come with Wi-Fi, it’s more than likely that you’ll need to use your hotspot if you need to get any work done.

Additionally, you might want to check what kind of available facilities the spot has before you decide to spend the night. A lot of these parks are nothing more than camping spots, and while their prices are lower than the fully-equipped parks, you won’t be able to take that shower; that was the only reason you stopped there in the first place.

Swimming Pools

Swimming pool

Most swimming pools that you’ll come across are going to have showers that you can use. You’ll obviously need to buy a ticket for the pool, but you don’t actually need to go into the water or reserve a chair by the pool unless you want to.

Once you’re past the gate, you can just head straight for the showers and leave as soon as you’ve dried off. Stall showers that have a latch might provide you a bit more privacy, but you’re going to need to put on a bathing suit most of the time for obvious reasons.

In our opinion, since you’ve already bought a pool ticket, you might as well enjoy your stay, but the ultimate decision is up to you. The main point is that if you can’t find any other alternatives when it comes to showers, pools are always a good backup option.

Public Beaches

Speaking of backup options, similarly to the pool showers, the showers that you’ll find on public beaches shouldn’t be your first choice since you’re in a very public area.

Another similarity that both public beach and swimming pool showers share is the fact that you won’t exactly get access to piping hot water, so you’ll need to be in and out in a matter of minutes before you start forming ice cubes on your skin.

However, flawed as they are, these types of showers can still come through in a pinch. 

Conclusion

We’ve organized our article in terms of convenience, so the options that appeared nearer to the top are the better everyday options for showering, while the others are still viable but a bit more situational.

The bottom line would be that they’d all be good enough depending on where you are and the situation you’re in, and you never know where you might end up while living the van life. That’s its crux but also its beauty.

Vera Lawrence
Vera is a part-time van lifer after spending nearly four years in her 1990 Ford E350 (named Fred). She currently lives in Utah and takes extended weekend trips into the desert with her two dogs. She is an ice cream fanatic and avid runner.

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