Should You Travel in a Camper Without a Bathroom?

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Most of us cannot imagine a world with scented, porcelain, flush n’ forget indoor plumbing.

We’ve evolved from farmhouses with outhouses 30 yards from the back door to McMansions with jacuzzi bathroom suites for 9-year-olds.

But is this bathroom obsession necessary?

What if you could live in an RV without a bathroom? (You’d never have to dump your sewage ever again!)

Here’s my argument: You don’t need a bathroom in your RV or van to travel comfortably.

Hear me out. It sounds a little crazy. But my wife and I did it for almost a year. We lived out of a converted Ford SUV and car-camped everywhere!

So long as you didn’t mind the complete lack of privacy, the frigid mornings and baking afternoons, the daily hunt for parking, the absence of electrical outlets, and the need for a public toilet – it was paradise.

But seriously, exploring the country is wonderful. But how did we do it without a bathroom? Sure, there were some “tense” moments. But in hindsight, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

DO ALL RVS AND VANS HAVE BATHROOMS?

No, not all RVs have bathrooms.

Class B panel vans, teardrop campers, micro travel trailers, Skoolies, slide-in truck bed campers, and DIY conversions often lack bathroom facilities. At best, some of these rigs have a simple porta-potty for emergencies (more on this later).

But many simply dispense with a bathroom altogether: No toilet, no shower, no sink. I know fulltime RVers who travel in campers without a bathroom! (Some without even a sink!)

I’m not anti-bathroom. But is one an absolute necessity while traveling on the road?

RV BATHROOM ALTERNATIVES

The classic RV bathroom has a small shower, standalone toilet and vanity sink. Waste is drained into either a gray water holding tank (sinks, showers) or black water holding tank (toilet only).

The RVer must dump the waste when the tanks are full by connecting a hose to the tank outlet and draining the waste into a dump station opening. Not much fun.

But there are alternatives to this classic design. For one, most smaller RVs come with wet baths, which combine the shower, toilet and (optional) sink into a single waterproof room!

There are several other alternative bathroom solutions, as well.

Cassette Toilet

With a cassette toilet, waste is emptied into a built-in portable tank rather than permanent holding tank. You remove this portable tank (usually through the wall of your van) and roll it to the dump station, then proceed as usual.

A cassette toilet enables you to camp in one area for longer, since you don’t have to move your RV to dispose of your waste.

However, the tanks are very small, between 5 and 10 gallons. And you still have to deal with the wonderful experience that is dumping your own waste.

Composting Toilet

Composting toilets leverage the magic of heat and enzymes to naturally decompose your waste! No dumping required. Fully composted waste can be deposited in any public trash can or even buried underground as a fertilizer for certain plants.

Composting toilets are rather expensive (around $1,000), but they’re perfect for occasional use inside a camper. You don’t need a whole bathroom – just install a composting toilet underneath a bench seat or inside a closet.

You can learn more about composting toilets here.

Portable Toilet

There are many, many options for portable toilets!

  • 5-gallon buckets with sawdust
  • Simple porta-potties
  • Chemical portable toilets
  • Toilet seats that mount on the back of your truck
  • Laveo Dry-Flush toilet

I’ve even seen camping chairs with a hole ripped in the middle of the canvas seat. Now that’s some redneck engineering!

The classic design is the Thetford Porta Potti, which is about 16.5” tall, 15” wide, and 17” deep. It can slide under your bed or in a storage compartment when not in use.

The Dry-Flush waterless toilet from Laveo piques my interest. It bags your poop for you, like an automatic doggie bag! And the bags can be deposited in almost any public trash can, just like a baby’s diaper.

Portable toilets are great for emergencies and occasional use, especially when boondocking somewhere where human waste can’t be legally buried.

PROS AND CONS OF NO RV BATHROOM!

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of dispensing with the RV bathroom?

PROS

Less Maintenance

Maintaining a conventional black tank is a LOT of work.

You have to continually deodorize and ensure adequate venting. You need to keep your tank clean and full of water. You need to break down toilet paper so it doesn’t clog your sensors. You need to maintain your toilet bowl seal so it doesn’t leak sewer odors (eww, gross).

No bathroom, no problems!

No Dumping

Just imagine never finagling with a Stinky Slinky ever again! No more dump station fees, no more cheap disposable gloves that always rip open, no more awkward curbside conversations, no more portable blue boys, no more it’s-not-my-turn-I-did-it-last-time arguments.

More Living Space

If you’re driving a mammoth Class A coach, you can ignore this section.

But for the rest of us traveling in conversion vans, teardrop campers and truck campers, a bathroom eats up a lot of valuable space! Space that could be used for wider beds, skis or bikes, office nook, or bigger kitchen.

No Smells!

Imagine, if you will, the potent odor of a plastic tank full of human waste baking above the asphalt for three days, and then imagine that scent accidentally escaping through your toilet bowl seal …

Actually, don’t. Because if you don’t have a bathroom, you’ll never have to worry about bathroom smells. Or noises, for that matter.

CONS

Lack of Convenience

When ya gotta go, ya gotta go. We’re used to toilet-on-demand, flush-and-forget sanitation systems. And many of us shower daily as a cleansing and relaxing ritual. Going without your typical morning or evening bathroom visit can confound your personal rituals.

Dubious Cleanliness

With a public restroom, you don’t know who went in the bathroom before you did.

Plus, it’s no secret most gas station bathrooms are more dangerous than a nuclear reactor. When you go without a bathroom, you’re at the mercy of the $8/hr gas station attendant. Best to bring some Lysol spray!

No Privacy

If you’re a woman, it’s not so easy to hide behind a tree when nature calls. And there’s no way to go No. 2 outside without feeling like America’s Most Wanted. If you don’t travel with a toilet, you’re bound to have a close call eventually!

SO … WHERE DO YOU GO??

So how does life work when you don’t schlep around your own waste?

Schedule Your Bowel Movements

You can kind of put your body on a schedule. You usually have to urinate when you wake up, right? By paying attention to your body’s schedule and watching what you eat and drink, you can (somewhat) control when nature calls.

If you prefer to use the facilities in the morning, eat lots of fiber at dinnertime the night before, and drink green tea or caffeinated coffee in the morning. By eating and exercising consistently, you can modulate your GI system. This helps you avoid those literal oh-sh*t moments.

Use Public Toilets

I’ve never had trouble finding a bathroom when traveling – with one exception.

Never had a problem finding a library in the middle of Montana or inland Florida. Never had a problem finding a pit toilet in a National Park. Could always find a truck stop along I-70, I-80 or I-40, no matter the mile marker.

No, the only place I ever struggled to find a bathroom was Manhattan, New York City, New York. There were “No Public Bathroom” signs posted everywhere!

Thankfully, public bathrooms are just about everywhere:

  • Gas stations and convenience stores
  • Restaurants, fast food chains, and coffee shops
  • Libraries and courthouses
  • Malls and shopping centers

Not all of these facilities are open 24/7. Hence the importance of the previous rule: Get on a schedule!

Shower Occasionally

Most of us don’t need to shower every day (although I know a few teenage boys who make a liar out of me). Most of us do just fine showering 2-3x a week!

You can find public showers at:

  • Truck stops
  • Gymnasiums and fitness centers
  • YMCAs
  • Motels
  • Beach and lake houses
  • Community swimming pools
  • State and National Parks
  • Campgrounds

Plus, a shower is only one method of cleaning yourself.

  • Many RVers swear by makeup wipes, baby wipes, and sponge baths. You’d be surprised what a simple sponge bath can do for your skin!
  • Take a sunbath. If you’re camping in primitive areas, get naked and let the sun work its magic. You’d be amazed how much better you smell after an hour in the sun.
  • In an emergency, dry shampoo works wonders on dirty, oily hair. Don’t use it everyday, though. It’s not very healthy for you (or the environment).
  • If you’re not sweating every day, then simply rinsing your hair with a gallon of hot water and eco-friendly baby shampoo in the kitchen sink is enough to make you feel fresh and clean!

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

Like all rules, this one breaks down under a microscope.

There are travelers who should probably travel with a bathroom. If you have incontinence issues or travel with young children, then a bathroom is worth its weight in gold. If you travel through the sweltering Southeast in summer, you probably need to shower daily. Hey, I get it!

So I’m not suggesting all nomads and campers should swear off modern plumbing. I’m merely suggesting that your own bathroom in your RV … might not be as essential as you think. And that might open up opportunities you didn’t have before!

Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.

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