Van Life and Finding Showers as a Vandweller in 2019, The Guide

If you’re living the van life or you’re in the planning stages of making the transition and looking for options to shower and keep clean while living in a van, car or truck, you’re in the right place! We’re covering all of the best options available.

Gym Memberships for Showering

The most popular option in the community for keeping clean on the road are by far gym memberships. There are both national chain options and local options to look at. If you’re traveling a lot you will want to consider gyms with numerous locations around the country. Here are the most popular options with the greatest number of locations.

Planet Fitness is by far the most popular and cheapest option in the van life community. A Planet Fitness membership can be had locally for around $10 per month.

This will allow you 24 hour access at your home gym where you signed up. A better option for travelers would be to upgrade to the black card for $21.99 per month to secure nationwide access. Planet Fitness has roughly 1,400 locations in 50 states which will prove an asset in your travels.

Keep in mind that while Planet Fitness is the cheapest option they do not offer towel service in most locations so you will have to bring your own. Also many locations may not provide dedicated private shower rooms, but instead a large shower room with single curtains. 

Anytime Fitness has the most locations of any fitness club in the United States, clocking in at over 2,000 strong. Pricing for this club is based on location as most are independently run, but you should expect to pay at least $30 a month in the cheapest markets.

The default membership will give you access to nationwide gyms, but some have reported waiting up to 30 days for this access to become available.

If you can afford it, membership with both of these will offer you the best coverage while traveling, with a combined total of over 3,400 locations. Whether you’re on the road chasing waves, mountain powder or 70 degrees, both of these gyms offer great coverage but be sure to check your destinations to confirm their presence. 

Other popular options are Snap Fitness (1000 locations), Gold’s Gym (600 locations) and LA Fitness (700 locations). If you’re staying in just one region, your best price and convenience might be with what your local market offers, so be sure to check around for those options as well.

Recreation Centers

Recreation Center, pool with ladder.

Most municipalities sport recreation centers. This option is not always reliable as not all localities will have a recreation center. Occasionally a recreational center will be present in a municipality but not offer one-time use shower options. Most do offer showers for a small fee but usually charge for towel service and other amenities. 

The quality of your experience will be highly variable depending on the staff present and cleaning procedures in place. A quick Google search for the name of the town or municipality along with the keyword “recreation center” will usually be enough to get you to the website.

On the site you should be able to check pricing and availability, or at the very least locate a phone number to call and ask.

Truck Stops for Van Life Hygiene

Long road in desert leading to truck stop for vandwelling showers

Popular chains such as Pilot, Flying J, TA and Loves all offer shower facilities. This method will be one of the most expensive so unless you are financially able and strongly prefer it, I would not recommend relying on this method.

The upside is that every shower is sanitized after every use by an attendant so you will almost always be able to count on quality. The showers at truck stops will always provide fresh towels to use and some even throw in bottles of soap and other items. There are also laundry machines on the premises as well.

You will pay for the convenience as a single truck stop shower typically costs around $10-15 depending on the location. For the price of two of these showers, you could have a months worth through a gym membership instead. It’s quite rare, but some locations may only allow truck drivers to obtain a shower, so call ahead.

Public Showers for Vandwellers

Public Showers, sunset on the beach

While the presence of these is not well documented you may also be able to find a quick private rinse at some beach locations depending on amenities available, just be sure to use biodegradable soap that is safe for wildlife. On occasion you may be able to find free shower facilities at public parks and other areas. 

Campgrounds for Bathing

Campgrounds, couple by a fire. Camps often have showers nearby.

Another popular option is to find a campground and offer to pay for a shower. This will usually yield positive results. If the host informs you this is not in their policy, an option is to simply stay a night and grab a shower. This can get expensive quickly however, so it is recommended that you not rely on this method for the majority of your time living and traveling in a van.

Boondocking Strategies

Boondocking, depicting vans living the van life by the water.

If you’re staying a long distance from civilization and just want to relax for a few weeks you don’t have to go without a shower. The most common method is to purchase a solar bag that can hang from a location in a privacy tent. This setup is relatively inexpensive with solar shower bags costing around $20 and privacy shower tents anywhere from $30-50 on average. 

A second method is often employed outside of the use of shower bags and that is the use of a small shower pump and a bucket of water. Usually these pumps will come equipped with a small spray head and line to pull the water up from the bucket and provide pressure to experience a shower. These consume water quite quickly, but a 5 gallon bucket is usually sufficient for a single shower. 

I’ve also encountered a number of people using efficient 12v hot water heaters such as the Camp Chef. These are generally powered by propane and require an inlet source for water, providing a nice steady pressurized water flow for warm showers while off the grid.

If you’re finding yourself in need of a shower, pressurized water bags such as the helios are also an option, but they are quite expensive and have a reputation for developing leaks. For this reason I will not recommend them. As always, when in nature, only use biodegradable soaps as to not do environmental harm. Leave no trace.

Final Thoughts about Showers

Final Thoughts, van at night parked by vandweller

Always be sure to always wear shower shoes when using public showers. Sandals may be an acceptable alternative in some situations but they still increase your risk of exposure to unpleasant fungal infections.

The last thing you want is the pain of removing a planters wart you picked up from a public shower facility, so pick up a good pair and wear them without fail when showering. Be sure to have on hand a quick drying backpacking towel and small travel washcloth.

AllStays Camp and R.V. is currently the best app for finding showers on the road. I have personally found it to be a great tool for finding campgrounds, gyms locations and truck stops with shower facilities.

Showering on the road while living the van life is easy and not a challenge with so many ways to get clean. I hope that this guide has helped lay out all of the options so you can either employ them all, a combination of them or just one.

The best part about living the van life is the freedom and adventure it offers, but you definitely don’t have to be dirty to live the good life.


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