Finding Water on the Road While Living the Van Life
We’re covering all the best ways to find water while living the van life. When I jumped into living the van life I had a 5 gallon jug but didn’t really think out how I would fill it with water. What ended up happening is I would buy individually bottled water in bulk at department stores. This is no doubt expensive and terrible for the environment- I do not recommend this.
Eventually, I learned the best ways to go about finding water while living on the road, as outlined below.
Truck Stops & Gas Stations
Truck stops and gas stations occasionally have free water available but more often than not, charge a small service fee. You will need to approach an employee and ask or call ahead.
Every now and then they will only have water available for large recreational vehicles, with fittings that might make filling a small jug an unrealistic option. Be sure to mention what you’re filling otherwise they may assume you want to fill an R.V. tank with potable water.
Some have a spigot on site with potable city water which is what you’re looking for.
Vending Machines & Retail
This is my method of choice. The most popular water servicer is Primo, with locations all around the United States. Glacier is another big one but depending on your country there may be a similar servicer for these types of refill stations. You can either opt to exchange or refill, with refills being substantially less expensive.
This will typically cost you around 35 cents per gallon though in my experience this price varies quite a bit by location. You may bring your own jug. Keep an eye out for other water vending machine networks in your area and use their locator tools online.
If you’re not shy about it, another way is to simply walk into a convenience store or other retail space and ask to fill up one or two gallon jugs. Most places will oblige and not think twice about it. If you would rather avoid asking, pricing for water may also be as low as 45 cents per gallon at department stores such as WalMart.
Rest Stops & Public Parks
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Rest stops and parks will typically have a way to obtain water through an outlet on one of their buildings.
Parks usually situate these outlets near their bathrooms (on the exterior of the building) where running water is present. These occasionally require a four-way water key which can be obtained through most hardware stores.
On occasion you may find that some stores and businesses also have access to water on the side of their building with a water key. In the case of any private business you will want to ask before filling up with a water key.
If you’re lucky a park will have a way to fill up water without a water key though these are not as common as they once were. If you want an easy attachment for most locations I recommend also having a siphon hose with the included attachment on hand.
R.V. Parks, Campgrounds and Recreation Centers
R.V. Parks usually have potable water systems designed to pump into a standard recreational vehicle but you can check to see if they will let you fill a smaller container for a fee or even free. Most have a laundry room with a large sink capable of fitting a large five gallon jug.
Campgrounds with tent camping will almost always let you fill up for free or a small fee as well. A five gallon jug or smaller shouldn’t be problematic as they are typically used to servicing people with the same need.
Not only do recreation centers offer showers most of the time, but they also tend to be a good source for filling up on water. Most of these locations will let you top off your jugs for free if you politely ask. I have never been denied filling up water at a recreation center.
BLM Servicing/Dumping Stations
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) locations usually charge a small fee for water but occasionally offer water free of charge. Depending on their infrastructure they may only be set up to provide water for larger recreational vehicles so it may be wise to call ahead just to make sure.
If you live in another country or area research your local public land entities and see if they offer dumping stations for recreational vehicles.
Most laundromats will have no problem letting you use their sink to refill a gallon or two. I think these make a lot of sense because there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to be making laundromat visits part of your regular routine in the van life, not in sticks and bricks. When living the van life I made water refills at my local laundromat a regular habit.
Fresh Water Springs
If you happen to be near one these they can be a good source for water. Springs typically differ in their quality so filtration may be something you want to consider. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of springs at find a spring.
The EPA tests many natural springs and qualifies them for safe drinking, so be sure to do additional research once you locate a candidate spring to use for drinking.
Fresh Water Streams & Rivers
This option may not come to mind for most people unless you’re heavy into backpacking and getting way out into the back country.
Filtration for actively moving water sources does exist and it’s a very mature and safe technology. I use a Platypus GravityWorks 4 filter kit to filter moving water sources. These have easy assembly and can produce up to 4 liters in one go but they are a little expensive at around $100 at the time of this writing.
Assuming you’re crossing borders and going into more remote locations this is probably a must have. If you’re comfortable just filtering water on the go Sawyer makes great filtration solutions for backpackers and emergencies. I like to keep one on hand as part of my emergency kit which conveniently doubles for hiking.
Tips & Tricks
One method not mentioned above that will guarantee water access almost universally is to simply affix a small funnel to a food grade tube and direct water from any sink into an empty jug.
I’ve used this method on occasion but can see why some people might be apprehensive about collecting water from public bathroom sinks and the like.
You can usually find a five gallon jug at your local sporting goods store or big box store, they aren’t hard to come by. Be sure to grab up a few single gallon jugs as well for the occasion that you ask around in some of the locations mentioned above that may not have room for a larger jug.
I like my five gallon jugs to be able to fit in the step on the side swing/barn doors of the van so I go for ones with a thinner footprint for the bottom.
Try to keep the water out of the sun and low down in your vehicle, covered by some blankets or other insulation. This helps water retain a cooler temperature throughout the day and reduces condensation and sweating from their containers.
Remember liquid is fairly heavy and adds up fast in terms of weight so it’s good practice to keep your storage for these as low as possible to lower the center of gravity as well.
I hope this has helped you in staying hydrated while living the van life on the road. Honestly with all of these options I have never been lacking or found myself out of water. If you get out on the road I doubt you will have any trouble staying hydrated if you use all the options at your disposal.
Don’t take the lazy way out and buy bottled water bottled like I did for that month. Living in a small space while living the van life means you have to live in the same space as your trash until you can find a place to throw it away.
It’s better for both you and the environment to just avoid that mess all together. Good luck and safe travels!