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Why We Decided Not to Build a Bathroom

american field trip bathtub

By Contributing Writer: Madi Bowman of The American Field Trip

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When we first started making plans to convert a shuttle bus for full-time living, we assumed we’d want to include a bathroom. But as we did more research into what a bathroom build would involve, we started to question whether it would really be the best use of space and resources. Ultimately we opted for an outdoor shower and a self-contained toilet, but in 18 months of living on the road, we’ve never used the toilet and only occasionally made use of the shower.

If you’re navigating bathroom build issues, consider this—

What if a bathroom is not as crucial as you thought!?

bedroom shuttle bus rain window

How big will your water tank be? A low-flow shower head will use about 0.5 to 1.5 gallons of water per minute. If you’re very efficient when showering and turn the water on and off as you need it, you’ll be able to get clean without using too much water. But if your water tank is small, even a short shower will run you low, in which case you’ll need to find a spot to fill up. Often, the most convenient spots to fill up water will be campgrounds, which generally have showers available.

buster bus desert adventure

Do you need hot water? If you want your shower warm, you’ll need a way to heat the water. Most water heaters need to be vented to the outside, so installation can be tricky. A solar shower, which can be made of black PVC pipe and mounted to your vehicle’s roof, is a good option, but if you want to shower inside the vehicle, you’ll need to pipe the water in from outside; this can work well, but your water supply will still be limited, and you’ll still need to fill up about as often as you’ll shower.

Where will you be staying? If you’ll be primarily in campgrounds, you'll usually have easy access to showers and bathrooms. If you’ll be in wilderness areas, you can go au natural (just be sure to use proper Leave No Trace potty protocol!). If you’ll be staying in Walmart parking lots, stealth camping, or otherwise remaining in town often, you’ll probably have access to a public restroom except in the middle of the night—in that case, it’s good to have some kind of alternative, in the form of a self-contained toilet or simply a jug.

not urinal jug

How many people will be using the bathroom in your rig? If you’re living solo, your water-filling and tank-emptying chores will come up less often. But small black tanks and self-contained toilets fill up quickly, especially if there’s more than one person using them, and require that you stay on top of cleaning them out. If your tank fills up and you’re in a jam, you’ll have to find another place to go anyway; and if the tank fills up mid-stream, you’re in for an unpleasant backup situation.

Would you rather deal with finding a place to go, or with regularly cleaning out a black tank? Cleaning out a black tank doesn’t have to be nightmarish, but it’s one road life chore you can easily eliminate. If you’re willing to deal daily with finding places to go, it becomes just another little piece of living on the road—and in our experience, it’s almost always a very simple one.

ranger bathroom national park

What you can do instead:

Shower in campgrounds—usually these showers take quarters, so even if you’re not staying at the campground, you can ask whoever’s in charge if they mind you using it; no one has ever turned us down when we asked.

Wash off in the nearest body of water—showering in lakes and streams can be an awesome back-to-nature experience, even if it’s a bit chilly at times. Just be sure to use biodegradable soaps and make sure you’re downstream from any water sources.

kids clean water road life

Plan on parking in spots where you can go when you need to go—if you’re in a remote area, get comfortable with going in the woods; if you’re staying in a more populated area, make sure you’re near a public restroom.

Keep a container on hand for emergencies—in a pinch, pee in a bottle or jug. Men have it easy in this situation; women, invest in one of these SheWee units.

SheWEE

 Final Thoughts:

It might seem odd at first, to have a home without a bathroom—and I certainly wouldn’t have thought 18 months ago that such a situation wouldn’t give me pause and maybe a shudder or two. All I can say is that, as with many aspects of road life, you get used to it!

If we had more space to work with, I’m sure we’d have enjoyed a bathroom of our own. But with 4 people in 80 sq. feet, we just didn’t want to sacrifice living space, or be in constant close proximity to each other’s intestinal output :)

bowman family american adventure bus

Make it a wonderful day!

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