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Full Time Vanlife: Living in a Van Without a Bathroom

If you’ve been following our adventures for a while now, you know that we’re living in a van without a bathroom.  When people learn that we don’t have a bathroom in our van, they always ask: “So where do you poop?” 

We frequently talk about poop because it’s something people are genuinely curious about.  Everyone’s worst nightmare is having an emergency situation, and not having anywhere to go.  We’ve always been pretty open about bodily functions, so this is something we’re happy to talk about.  If you’re curious about actual stories of emergencies, check out the blog: Poop Emergency Escapades. Everybody Poops, right?

Living in a van without a Bathroom | Bathrooms are Easy to Find in the U.S.

The truth is, it’s really not that difficult to find public restrooms in the United States.  When we are camping off-grid, we are usually on public land and follow Leave No Trace principles for burying human waste.  If we are on public land, but near a trailhead or campground, we will make the short journey over to the toilet and use those facilities.  That’s where having the Yamaha TW200 with us really comes in handy!

In cities and towns, where you can’t just poo with a view, we find visitor’s centers, gas stations, and 24 hour grocery stores are the best places to use a public restroom.  Honestly, there are so many facilities available in the United States. We’ve been living in our van full time for over a year and a half and it hasn’t been an issue that we live in a van without a bathroom.  Some may say that’s a deal breaker for vanlife and they wouldn’t do it without a bathroom. At the same time, we didn’t want a toilet in our van for several reasons. Read all about that in our blog: 3 Reasons Why You Don’t Need a Bathroom in Your Van.

Public restrooms are sparse in other countries

Having traveled all over the world, we can tell you that we are very lucky in the United States to have the facilities and infrastructure that is available to us.  As travelers, we rely on this pretty heavily. There are gas stations, rest stops, parks, campgrounds, etc., all with bathrooms that are accessible to the public. 

Mexico is a whole different story.  Unless you are in a very touristy area, there are no public restrooms.  And even the ones available to tourists usually cost a few pesos in order to buy toilet paper.  While those towns are fun to visit for a few days, the reason why we travel in a van is so that we can enjoy a more adventurous experience.

When camping on isolated beaches, it is possible to dig a cat hole in some areas where there is vegetation further in from the sand. To accomplish this task, we use a foldable shovel like the Tri-Fold Entrenching Shovel.  If space is limited in your van, check out these cool, collapsible shovels that we use for backpacking trips: the Sea to Summit iPood Pocket Trowel.

Living in a Van without A bathroom: The Bucket

However, even the most isolated camps that we went to often had a few other rigs down the beach.  Similar to BLM land in Arizona, where you’re surrounded by little more than tumbleweeds, it’s not an ideal situation for going to the bathroom outside.  

The solution?  With little to no privacy, we use a pop-up bathroom.

Before we went to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) for the first time in 2019, we did some research on the bucket toilet idea.

If you’re not familiar with the phenomenon known as RTR, check out my blog about it here!

Let’s Go Bucket Shopping

There are several other methods people use for temporary bathrooms, including ammo cans for long river rafting trips.  We decided that a bucket would work well for us, given that it’s about the same height as a toilet. We bought a 5 gallon bucket at Home Depot, and a lid that seals completely.  In the event that we would have to transport waste in the bucket (not ideal), we wanted assurance that the lid wasn’t going to pop off at all.

You should’ve seen us in the aisle at Home Depot shopping for buckets!  It was pretty obvious what we were doing because we kept pulling out different ones and sitting down on them.  In the end, we went with the standard, bright orange, Home Depot bucket.

We also bought a toilet seat that is made to pop onto a 5 gallon bucket.  The seat is about the size of a regular toilet seat, and has a lid that you can close while not in use.  Greg says the seat is a little small for him, but I think it’s a good size.

Bathroom Logistics | Living in a Van without a bathroom

In addition to the bucket and lid, we have biodegradable liner bags.  Instead of going to the bathroom right into the bucket and having to clean and disinfect it (which is a tough job when you live in a van), we opted to use liner bags instead.  This is incredibly convenient. The only negative side of biodegradable bags is that they tend to decompose quickly when there is too much liquid in them for a few days. For this reason, we try to only use our bucket bathroom for Number Two, and pee outside or in a water bottle (more on the water bottle technique later!).

After doing our business, we pour a little cat litter on top to mask the smell and absorb any liquid that may have gone into the bucket.  This allows us to use the same liner bag for 2 or 3 days.  

A little privacy, Please?

Since we live in a van without a bathroom, we set all of this up outside.  While the bucket provides a place to go, we still need some privacy, right?  We have a HollaYella pop-up tent that we set-up over the bucket. This tent is also useful for quick showers when we’re using our portable hot water heater and need some privacy.  If you shop for one of these tents, be sure to consider how tall you are! Most of them are not that tall inside and you can’t stand up all the way. Greg found this one on Amazon here, and he can stand up all the way when he’s showering.  Although, we prefer to just shower out in the open if no one is around!

PRO TIP:  You’ll want to stake the tent down if you’re setting up for a couple of days.  You won’t have much privacy if it blows away!

In addition to the bucket, we pee in wide-mouth Nalgene water bottles at night, and when there is nowhere to go for privacy.  A good example of this was when we were at a surf beach in Mexico. There were several vans parked along the road leading to the beach, and a lot of tourists that stop there for the day.  There isn’t a great place to pee, especially for women. So we would pee in water bottles in the van and then dump them somewhere far away from where everyone was staying.

toilet in your van

To each their own

In the end, because we live in a van without a bathroom, our situation may sound complicated.  The key is that we don’t use it that often. Yes, when we are places where there are no facilities, it’s not as convenient as a toilet that’s already set up in the van.  However, once it’s set-up, it’s no different at all. In addition, we are only using it a handful of times every year, versus all of the time. This allows us to have more room in the van for gear and we spend less time managing our waste.  

How would you manage living in a van without a bathroom?  Let us know in the comments below!

Happy Travels friends!