Initially, the ability to shower in the privacy of your own van, whenever you want, seems highly appealing. It certainly was for me which is why I built a shower in my van. The convenience of a campervan with shower comes with a price tag, though, and a few inconveniences that may tip the scale in favor of not having a van with a shower.
In this post I cover:
+ Benefits to having a shower in your van
+ Downsides to having a van shower
+ Cost and build considerations
+ Van life shower ideas for inspiration
TLDR: If you’d rather skip the fluff and get right to the verdict of the necessity of a van shower, scroll to the bottom of this article!
Benefits Of Having A Shower In A Van
Campervan with Shower Benefit #1 – Convenience
Let’s just state the obvious and get it over with – being able to shower in your own “home”, without having to wear shower shoes (because public showers can be YUCK) whenever you want is as convenient as it’s going to get.
Not having to constantly search for a local place to shower, drive to said location and pay a shower fee is a really nice perk to van life showers.
Transparently, I thought the process of finding locations to shower while living my van life dreams was going to be far more difficult than it ended up being in reality.
Once I finished my campervan conversion and hit the road I found that finding showers is very easy, and even though I had built a fixed shower in my van I rarely used it- opting instead for public showers with endless hot water.
Shower in Van Benefit #2 – Resale Value
The second benefit to having a campervan with shower is in resale value. Vans with some ability to shower, wash bikes and dogs appeal to more people. Basic supply and demand principles apply- the more people willing to buy your vehicle, the more you can sell your van for- and the faster you’ll be able to close the sale!
PS – If you’re looking for a place to buy or sell a camper van with shower check out Vanlife Trader.
The Downsides To Having A Shower In A Van
Van Shower Downside #1 – Space
The first obstacle to having a campervan with shower is the space it requires. Depending on which type of shower you go with (keep reading for more on van shower options) the space needed will vary.
When you’re living in 50 square feet every inch counts! Space dedicated to a van shower (and the plumbing system accompanying it) is space you can’t use for purposes- like storage, seating, or different utilities such as an oven or refrigerator.
The reality is that everything you decide to add to your van build is also a decision about what not to add due to space constraints.
Van Shower Downside #2 – Plumbing
I hinted at the plumbing requirements above, and the reality is that installing any type of shower means running additional plumbing lines, and probably adding a water heater.
The more plumbing you install, the more things you have that can break or leak. Plumbing fixtures and pipe fittings are also weirdly expensive.
Shower in a van Downside #3 – Fresh & Gray Water
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to truly benefiting from a campervan with shower is the limited amount of water you can carry in your van.
Rigs tend to top out at 40 gallons of fresh water. However, the majority of rigs only carry 20-30 gallons or less.
There are a few obstacles to carrying a lot of water. Water is heavy so load-balancing the weight safely is important and limits your carrying capacity. The more water you carry the worse your gas mileage. Additionally, a bigger holding tank means less storage space.
For perspective, a typical 10-minute shower consumes up to 60 gallons of water. Instead, most vanlifers take “military showers” – as in, water on, water off, water on, water off. You get it. This (very unsatisfying) way of showering consumes about 3 gallons of water. Assuming you’re carrying 30 gallons of water one shower equals ~10% of your total capacity.
Simple math– showering in your van means you’re blowing through your fresh water much faster than if you were to shower elsewhere.
Simultaneously, you’re filling your gray water tanks faster.
In short, a campervan with shower will have you find a fresh water fill and a dump more frequently.
Personally, the convenience of showering in my van doesn’t begin to outweigh the inconvenience of having to fill and dump (which is one of my least favorite things about van life).
Van Shower Downside #4 – Additional time and cost to build
While limited water will be a constant obstacle to having a campervan with shower, downside #4 only applies once- during your build.
If you’re on a tight budget or a time crunch adding a van shower will put pressure on those constraints.
In order to build a shower you’ll need:
-additional plumbing (tubes and connections/shutoff valves) (~$40)
-a shower head and mixing valve (~$75)
-a drain (~$20)
-a water heater (you might opt for this regardless, but I do not personally think the space required to have a water heater is justified if you’re only using it for washing hands and dishes- room temperature water is just fine for me if it means I get back precious storage space) (~$300)
-a larger fresh water tank (~$20)
-a larger gray water tank (~$20)
-a shower pan (~$200)
The total increase in build cost will greatly vary depending on how robust your shower set up is- whether it’s a fixed shower, modular shower, pop-up shower, etc.
In general, expect adding a shower to your rig to cost approximately $675+ before labor.
In addition to extra cost, a shower will also require additional time. Even the simplest shower set up will require running plumbing lines to a shower head as well as installing a drain system.
If you’re building a fixed, modular or pop-up van shower this will add several days of labor to your timeline, as these require more than just plumbing. There’s quite a bit of custom carpentry and engineering that will be required in order to fit these showers into your van build.
4 Best Van Life Shower Ideas
As someone who built a custom van shower into my first build I can definitely understand the appeal. Even I was surprised when, instead, I opted to find alternative showers on the road over using my own van shower.
My next build will not have a fixed shower, but I will always have some ability to rinse off or clean muddy paws.
If, like me, you absolutely need some ability to clean up and rinse off here are a few van life shower ideas:
#1 Van Life Shower Idea – Fixed
Having a dedicated van shower or wetroom is fairly common, especially for full-time and long term vanlifers. These are approximately a 3x2ft space that functions as an onboard van shower and a place for using the portable camper van toilet.
The benefits to a fixed van shower include no setup or teardown in order to shower.
It’s also nice to have a place to use the van toilet in privacy.
While not the best use of storage space, a fixed van shower can still function as storage. For example, my fixed van shower houses my dirty laundry bag, broom, and hanging clothes that I remove before showering.
#2 Van Life Shower Idea – Modular
A modular van shower is an option that falls between a fixed shower and a pop-up shower. These van showers are typically built into the base cabinets under a countertop, and can be set up to have a shower with relatively few steps.
Because the modular van shower isn’t a full shower it allows you to have more options and storage in your van build while still maintaining a dedicated van shower space.
Like the fixed van shower, this space can also double as space for your portable camper van toilet.
#3 Van Life Shower Idea – Pop-up
A pop-up van shower requires even less space than the full or modular shower. This option requires the least amount of build time, material costs or space while still maintaining the ability to shower inside of your campervan.
Pop-up van showers are exactly what they sound like (vanlifers are very creative with their names ?). This van life shower does not have a dedicated space. Instead, it is stored away when not in use. When showering, your pop-up shower can be set up anywhere inside of your van.
Some pop-up showers have a built in drain that leads to the gray tank. However, this isn’t a requirement. You can opt for an enclosed base to catch the shower water instead. (Tip: a large collapsible bucket works well for a base)
To build a pop-up shower you’ll need a shower “base” (with or without drain), a shower curtain and a shower head.
The shower head can be as simple as repurposing your sink faucet hose, or you can install a shower head that has a bit more pressure. Of course, adding an additional water fixture will come with additional time and cost for your build.
The largest downfall to this van life shower setup is having to wait for the shower curtain to dry before storing it so it doesn’t get moldy or stinky. If you’re ok hanging out with a plastic shower curtain for a bit after each shower this might be a great option for you!
#4 Van Life Shower Idea – Exterior
The final option for a campervan with shower is the exterior shower. Obviously, this shower is housed on the outside of your van build. These showers were originally developed for RVers, so you’re likely familiar with seeing the shower housing on the sidewall of RVs and trailers.
In my first van build I had a full shower inside, and I also installed an exterior shower. If you plan on traveling with pets then having the ability to wash sand and mud off of paws before they enter your van is a massive benefit.
These exterior van showers are relatively inexpensive and work fairly well.
Assuming you’re using biodegradable soap and following local laws you can usually shower outside without worrying about a gray water tank.
The general rule is that you must be 200 feet away from fresh water and campsites. Runoff water must be able to be absorbed quickly into the ground and not pool or puddle.
There’s very little setup required for these, so they’re easy to use. The downside is that you’ll be restricted to using them in places that aren’t too cold and have some privacy.
These aren’t a great option if you plan on spending a lot of time in cities and other populated areas- weirdly people don’t love having you shower publicly in their streets.
Verdict: A Shower In A Van is Not Necessary for Most Van Lifers
So, is a campervan with shower worth it?
A full van shower set up – probably not.
In most cases having a fixed van shower setup is not necessary. If an interior shower is a must for your van lifestyle then consider a modular or pop-up shower. These require a slight amount of setup but create a lot more storage space in your build overall.
An exterior shower – absolutely.
Regardless of how you choose to live vanlife you should always consider installing an exterior shower. These double as a dog wash, a bike wash, a post-beach sand rinse, etc. They’re relatively inexpensive and take up very little space.
Written by Claire Fleming
I’m a travel enthusiast who spends half the year in my self-built camper van with my dog, Oscar, and the other half at my home in Raleigh, North Carolina or on international adventures.