The Dirty Side of #vanlife: 4 Ways to Stay Fresh & Clean While Living on the Road
If your social media feeds are like mine, they are littered with #vanlifers that are sprawled out in their sprinter conversions, physically exquisite companion half naked lying next to them and they all have the same thing wrong with them: they are clean!
When we travel, we like to stay active. It helps to break up the long periods of driving or flying with as rigorous an activity as we can manage. With these rigorous activities, one develops a type of musk that tends to only be noticeable to everyone else but you. Some people have varying levels of stank when they are outdoors and others just go straight to “Level 4: Do not, under any circumstances lift your arms or open your legs” type of stank.
Fear not, we have a few solutions that we think might be helpful to you if you are approaching a dangerous level of outdoorsy musk. Most of these methods have been tested by the two of us at some point in our travels and we have first hand experience with them. Others, like the bear canister washing machine, we have not tried yet. But for the sake of science, we will probably give it a go when we have the chance.
Take a Shower- This one seems obvious, but some people really need this tip. Yes, your hippy dreads look much better when your hair hasn’t seen shampoo in weeks. But your B-O is still a problem and those of us trying to steal the same coffee shop WiFi as you, don’t want to smell you.
Our skoolie is equipped with a “bag” style solar shower much like this one:
We have used this shower all summer and it has worked really well. It’s as simple as filling the bag with water from the tap or the nearby stream and sitting the bag in the sun, black side up. That’s it! Now just wait for the water inside to reach an acceptable level of hot and voila! You have a warm shower!
BUSLIFE TIP: Shop around for a pop-up tent shelter. You can bathe in privacy, even in the middle of the Utah desert!
If you are parking in town or in an area where you can’t setup your shower, consider a gym or public pool. This summer, while passing through Omak, Washington, we stopped at their pool because an all-day pool admission with showers cost us $3/each. We got to beat the 100+ degree temps and take a proper shower!
Wash Your Clothes- This one should be a no-brainer too, but it must be said. If your clothes stink, you stink. We have utilized the small area at the foot of our bed as a his and hers laundry hamper. This way, after Rachael wears the same sports bra three days in a row, we don’t have to smell it as much as if it were just piled in the corner.
Laundromats are everywhere! Most campgrounds have laundry washing machines that are coin operated just like a laundromat. For Christmas this year, Rachael’s sister gave us a mason jar full of quarters for potential laundry stops. Rebecca, we are eternally grateful. On days that the temperature is unbearable or we need to catch up on blog posts or computer work, we will start some laundry and enjoy AC and WiFi.
Clean Your Rig- Each week there are areas that need to be cleaned and picked up just like living in a brick and mortar home. Tasks like keeping the food organized, sweeping, taking the garbage out, and keeping clothes where they belong. Similarly, every month there are other items like cleaning the solar panels, topping off batteries, and checking the fluids that are vital to staying efficient in our travels.
If your skoolie/van/truck camper/car smells, you will smell. What this means when building your vehicle is to make sure and vacuum, bleach, and wipe down every nook and cranny that you can. Traveling in a 1984 camper van? Make sure the shag carpet doesn’t smell like 1984.
Maintain Clean Gear
The last area that we notice the most stench is with our gear. The smells that are generated from two humans riding bicycles through gravel and mud for 50 miles are impressive. It is important to wash or clean your gear as soon as you can. Obviously if you just got out of The Grand Canyon on a 5-day backpacking trip (SPOILER: you will stink!) your gear is going to smell bad. However, use a rest day to recharge and wipe down your gear with either soap and water or a lot of Clorox wipes.
BUSLIFE TIP: Check with the manufacturer of your clothing or gear before using harsh cleaners or even some high-DEET bug sprays. Certain chemicals can stain or damage waterproofing on some gear.
We avoid a lot of smells by keeping our shoes in a separate “cubby” area, keeping our hydration packs and backpacks in the under-bed storage area and washing our clothes every 3 weeks or so ;).
How do you stay clean on the road? What glaring tips have we missed? We would love to hear about your tips and tricks for staying clean and fresh while living a nomadic lifestyle! E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.