Hygiene on the road

#vanlife El Camino del Diablo

We have been more or less living out of our 2018 144” WB, high roof, 4×4 Sprinter since November 2018. Of course we have had breaks from living inside the van here and there.  Staying with friends, AirBnBs, hotels, and house / pet sitting.

I have learned a few things during this time that I wanted to share.  Growing up in suburban NY, I had the privilege of accessing clean, hot water on a daily basis. The thought of life without clean, functioning bathrooms had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I started traveling internationally that I was exposed to different kinds of sanitary facilities or lack there of.

Let’s talk about hygiene on the road.


We do not have an indoor shower in the van.  In the past we have used a Road Shower   or Nemo Heilo shower, but wanted something different for the van. We purchased the Big Kahuna Shower that has a 110 V heating element and a 12V water pump.  We tested it prior to shipping to Iceland and it took roughly 20 minutes to heat the water to a perfect shower temperature and had amazing pressure.  We used our 2000W inverter to heat the water and then our 12V battery system for the water pump once the water was heated. Please keep in mind that we have 360 Ah of Li-ion batteries and 420 W of solar.  At the time it seemed like a perfect solution.  We could use a tarp out the back of the van for privacy and shower away using our wooden shower mat we have had for years from ExpeditionOps.  Well, since August, we have not used the device.  Maybe the desert of Morocco will be a good testing location. Time will tell…

We have found many different options for showers over the years.  These include:

  • Friends’ houses
  • Campgrounds
    • Whether you stay at the campgrounds or not, you can often pay for a shower.
  • Hotels
    • Some hotels will allow you to pay for a shower either in their gym / pool area or in a room that has not been cleaned yet. 
  • Truck stops in the US and Europe
    • The cleanliness of truck stop showers have surprised us.  Most of the showers we have used in rest areas have been clean, spacious and always with plenty of hot water.
  • Public pools
    • Be prepared at public pools for the possibility of a unisex showering room.  Basically a large open room with multiple shower heads. We encountered this in Iceland.  For those of you who know me, you know I’m a bit on the prude side, for those of you who don’t, now you know.  This was a bit traumatic for me, but I got over it and showered, exposed to female strangers of all ages.
    • Another note on public pools in other countries, there is a proper etiquette for these showers.  If you don’t speak or read the language, be observant to see what other people are doing while trying not to be creepy.

Some things to think about in regards to public showers:

  • Use flip-flops to avoid foot fungus.
  • Be prepared for unregulated temperatures and water pressures.
  • Have a solution for hanging your towel / clothing if a hook or shelf is not present.
    • I use a small bag with all my things in it and a carabiner to hang the bag on the door if needed.
  • Do not ingest water during your shower if you are in 2nd / 3rd world areas.

If you can’t find a shower, you can use baby wipes or a wash cloth to get the stinky parts.
You may ask what the stinky parts are.  Here is a picture of the “stinky parts” we found in Iceland.  It was posted to remind tourists to make sure they washed these parts prior to using the public hot springs.

stinky parts sign

In the past we have used the GO Anywhere portable toilet , public toilets, and nature.
Currently we have an “emergency” toilet, the Wrappon, and the occasional large mouth Nalgene bottle or TravelJohn. We try to avoid using the Wrappon and the TravelJohn, but sometimes it must be done. We have used the Wrappon a whopping 3 times.
wrappon and toilet suppliesWe have encountered all kinds of toilets.  Some are “western” flushing toilets, some are squat toilets. Of the “western” toilets, some have seats, some don’t.  Some have running water, some require you to add a bucket of water to flush the contents.  Some are clean, some you don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.  I have gotten really good at squatting / hovering.  And then there is always “nature”, which is nice as long as no one is around.  We have found that when you think no one is around for miles and miles, someone comes out of the woodwork, almost out of thin air. Please remember to do your business away from water sources. Make sure you dig a hole at least 6” deep, burn your TP or put it in the trash, and cover your you know what.

A lot of toilets do not have toilet paper (TP), so always remember to bring TP.
Some plumbing systems are not able to handle TP, so there are bins in each stall for used toilet paper.  This takes some reprogramming on our end since we are so used to putting used TP in the toilet.

I have also found that a lot of bathroom facilities do not have soap for washing your hands.  I have put a small soap container in with our TP so we have access to soap every time we use the bathroom.  Well, that is provided we remember the TP bag…


A lot of people have asked how we wash our clothes on the road.  In the US, it’s easy, we just go to a laundromat or use the facilities of our kind friends.

In other countries, we have found:

  • Laundromats
    • These can be interesting when trying to translate the instructions or understand the attendants.

laundromat in Prague

  • Lavanderias (in Mexico)
    • You can drop off your laundry and pick up your clean, folded laundry a few hours or a day later.
    • These services exist in other countries as well.  We have not used this service outside of Mexico, so can not comment on it.
  • Washing machines at campgrounds or hotels
    • You can often find a washing machine at a campground, but not always a dryer.
    • If there isn’t a dryer, you will need to hang your clothing to dry.
      • It’s always good to have a clothes line (paracord works well) and clothes pins.

drying laundry in Morocco

      • Some campground provide clotheslines.
      • We have noticed that Australians and Europeans often carry portable clothes drying racks with them. If you have the room, why not?
    • If a dryer is present, don’t assume that your clothing will actually dry.
    • I can recall a dryer in Switzerland taking 2 hours and a dryer in Iceland taking almost 3 hours to partially dry our clothes.
  • Scrubba
    • We used the Scrubba in Australia and carry it with us in the van.
  • 5 gallon bucket
    • A lot of Overlanders use this method. We do not have personal experience with this method, but it makes a lot of sense.
    • At the beginning of the day, load clothing, soap, and water in a 5 gallon bucket.
    • Seal the bucket and secure on or in the vehicle.
    • Drive to your next location.  The agitation of the water and contents while driving cleans the clothing.
    • Drain and rinse clothing.
    • Hang to dry.

Other things to think about:

    • Regardless if you take a shower with water or baby wipes, change your underwear and socks daily.
    • Make sure you hydrate
      • Don’t limit your liquid intake to limit the number of times you urinate in the day
    • When nature calls, answer it!
      • Don’t hold your urine too long.
      • You don’t want to create a situation that leads to a urinary tract infection or kidney stones.

Photo credit for feature image: Andrew Vukovich

3 Replies to “Hygiene on the road”

  1. Wow Leeway you guys covered a lot of ground!! I chuckled to myself when I realized similar camping scenario’s in our camping travels with our Sprinter!! Yes but yours are definitely more varied in more places outside the US.

    Keep traveling and enjoying the journey.
    Your both welcome anytime !!
    Here in upstate NY.

    • Really interesting accounts Leeway you seemed to take all in your stride when we met you on the Canning Stock route and that was a couple of years ago. Your vehicle now looks pretty amazing. How long do you expect to be living this lifestyle

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