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How We Go To The Bathroom In Our Campervan

When we tell people that we live in a van full-time, they usually have many questions about our travels, lifestyle, and daily life. But sometimes it’s more mundane questions like how we go to the bathroom in our campervan.

And while it is a somewhat personal subject, it’s definitely a good question to ask.  Everyone who lives vanlife will have to figure out their answer to this question.

Jake sitting in the van on the bathroom toilet reading a magazine

It may even be a deal breaker for some people who are considering the lifestyle.

But for us, the solution is pretty easy. Here is how we go to the bathroom in our campervan.

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Avoid Doing It In The Van

Rule number 1 for going to the bathroom in your van is, do it as little as possible!  Because there aren’t any magical pipes to take it away like in a regular house. Anything you deposit in your van, you will have to remove somehow. So that reality is one of the guiding principles for how we go to the bathroom in our campervan.

Use Public Restrooms

So for starters, we try to use available bathrooms whenever possible.  It might be stores, gas stations, campgrounds, trailheads, restaurants, etc. We can usually find a bathroom in a reasonable amount of time.

But what if there are no bathrooms nearby?

Pee Outside

A arial drone photo of a campervan at a campsite

If we only need to pee and we are out in nature, we will just pee near our campsite.  Easy Pee-sy. A concept that we are pretty comfortable with because of all the camping we’ve done.

Dig a Hole

A girl holding a poop shovel and toilet paper in the forest

And if we need to poop when we are out at some remote campsite, then we dig a hole and enjoy a nice nature poop.  We love this little folding shovel because it doesn’t take up much room in our van.  Pooping in a hole may be totally foreign to some people, but as avid camper/backpackers it was another concept that wasn’t totally radical to us.

**When using this technique, please adhere to LNT principles!

So between those three options, that probably makes up about half of all our bathroom use.

Peeing in the Van

The other half of our bathroom use consists of peeing in the van. We designed our van conversion with a compartment to hold a cassette toilet.  We use it every night for going pee, and occasionally during the day if its the only option. 

A bathroom cassette toilet with the lid down

Cassette toilets are little self-contained plastic toilets, meaning there are no pipes coming in or out.  The toilet has a bowl, seat, and lid just like any other toilet. But it has two separate internal holding tanks. The bottom tank holds the “black” water and the top tank holds fresh water for flushing. The model we have is called the Passport 8L.

A bathroom cassette toilet with the lid up

While you can use cassette toilets for pee and poop, they become a lot more smelly and hard to empty when poop gets added into the mix. And toilet paper also makes it harder to empty. So an extra precaution we take is to discard our used TP in a separate “trash can”. Really it’s just an old pretzels container.

So at the recommendation of other vanlifers, we only use our cassette toilet for pee.  Though, in an emergency, we will break the rule if necessary. (It’s been years and we haven’t broken the rule yet). 

A bathroom cassette toilet split into two tanks

We also use a septic chemical called Porta-Pak to help control the smell. It works great! The only time we ever get smells from the toilet is when it’s pulled out and the lid is open.

The “black water” tank has a little indicator window to let us know when it’s getting close to full.  When it’s full, we can separate the “black” tank from the rest of the toilet and dump it into a regular toilet.  For this, we usually go to parks, trailheads, or campgrounds. It’s a little weird at first, and you kind of feel like you’re doing something wrong or that people will question you.  But it’s completely legal, and really, nobody cares.

Our bench bathroom area that discretely holds out toilet

The toilet stays under our bench normally, and then we just pull it out when we need to use it.  During the day, we always slide it back in so that it’s not in the way.  But at night we just leave it out so it’s easier to relieve ourselves in the middle of the night.

Having the cassette toilet for night time peeing is an absolute game-changer.  We are so glad that we don’t have to put on shoes and exit the van into the cold, dark night.

On the issue of privacy, we don’t have a separate room or even a divider for privacy.  We’ve just resorted to communicating our desire for privacy when we need it. Simply, “can I have some privacy?”  But all that really means is just look the other way for a moment while I do my business.

It may not be the same level of bathroom privacy people are used to, but for just peeing, it’s good enough for us.  It definitely starts out awkward and weird, but over time it just becomes the new normal.

Pooping at Night

So the major weakness of our setup is if we have to poop in the middle of the night.  We are generally at a campsite or street-parking, so having to poop at night would be tough.  Digging a hole outside at night isn’t the most pleasant activity. And if we are street parking then it’s obviously not even an option.

A South Park "ski instructor meme" that reads "If you have to dig a poop hole in bear country at night, you're gonna have a bad time"

Luckily, we’ve discovered that we rarely have the urge to go #2 at night.  After almost a year of full-time vanlife, there’s only been a handful of times that I’ve had the urge at night.  And each time I’ve been able to hold off until the next day.

What We Don’t Like About Our Bathroom Sitch

  • We have to empty out our cassette toilet every 2-5 days, it’s a mild inconvenience. We definitely wish the black tank could hold more.
  • The toilet is very low to the ground, so as a guy the standing pee just creates too much splatter (even with impeccable form). My solution is to take a knee. Yes, it does look funny. But it gets the job done.
  • Without a place to go #2 in our van, we occasionally have to hold it for a while.

What We Do Like About Our Bathroom Sitch

  • The cassette toilet is amazing to have! We are so thankful that we don’t have to go outside the van at night to pee.
  • We are glad that we never have to deal with poop smells or emptying it from our van.
  • We like that our toilet has a dedicated spot so it’s not in the way, and not an eyesore.

Conclusion For How We Go To The Bathroom in Our Campervan

Figuring out how to go the bathroom in Vanlife is one of the major challenges. There’s no avoiding it.

We are pretty content with our current situation. But we do have dreams of upgrading to a composting toilet one day. Though honestly, it might be easier to not even deal with any #2 in the van.

So for now, we’re happy with our system for how we go to the bathroom in our campervan.

Save These Pins For Later

Pinterest Pin with a man sitting on a small cassette toilet in a campervan
Pinterest Pin with a cassette toilet and the words "How do vanlifers survive without a bathroom"

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