I took a shower today. That may not seem like a big deal. Or am I turning some of you off just by even broaching the subject? Believe me, I love showers. You could say I am the queen of showers; hot, long and preferably with some beautifully smelling soap. Not so much when we are traveling. Not because I don’t want to bathe in the daily luxury of steam and roses, but if your travel journey is on a tight budget, compromises have to be made.
I don’t know why, but didn’t occur to me earlier. The water heater in our RV has after all been working less than intermittently for four months. We have been washing up by the sink, and relied on a weekly swim at pools for washing hair. Last week this pool visit kept being postponed, which encouraged me to get creative. If we can boil water on the stove to wash up with by the sink, why not setting our kids in the tub and give them a proper sponge bath, rinsing off with warm water? They loved it and basked in the warmed up trailer bathroom while I helped them wash and rinse. I was skeptical about washing my long, thick hair like this, but the system worked surprisingly well. It was then that I realized that we showered like this for months at a time, when we bicycled through Africa. It worked perfectly fine then as well. How could I forget?
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Ten tips to shorten your learning curve of how to wash up when you are traveling:
1) Bucket Shower
If you have the luxury of a shower cabin but no hot water, get yourself a pan or bucket of hot water and a cup. Get wet, soap down and rinse. Continue until you run out of warm water. This system works in an RV without a working shower, but also when you travel in countries with less common luxuries like showers with (hot) water. Especially when traveling on a budget, you can expect a knock on your hotel door just a short while after checking in, finding a bucket of hot water in front of your door.
2) Outdoor Showers
Outdoor showers can be created when you fill a designated shower waterbag early in the day and you lay the bag in the sun to heat the water up. Make sure to take your camp shower in the middle of the day. When the sun starts getting low and the temperatures start dropping, your shower water will return to cold as well. Try to find a grassy spot in order to finish with clean-ish feet. We find it hard to hang these types of bags in an inside shower since there usually isn’t a designated hook that can handle the weight.
3) Less Fancy Outdoor Shower
Fancy an outdoor shower but no wish to carry a separate shower bag? Use whatever you carry drinking water in as long as your shower water is clean. When we biked across a few continents, we used to have ‘dirty’ water bags with unfiltered water and ‘clean’ bags with filtered drinking water. One of us would hold up an unfiltered bag for the other to shower, and we could pretty much wash away sweat and dirt of the day with half a bag.
Be picky as to what you carry along in terms of shower products. You will find that one bottle of shampoo goes a long way when it comes to washing hair, body and even clothes. Whether you travel with a backpack or an RV, less is more. Be aware of not only the space several bottles of soapy stuff take, but also how much everything weighs.
Traveling with a backpack on your back, or tour biking, you may find yourself jumping in a lake or river to get clean. Make sure to use biodegradable soap. Be aware of what kind of water you swim in though, it may not be as clean and safe as it seems. You don’t want to end up with a nasty parasite. Did I mention to bathe downstream from where you catch water to filter? Bug spray that you just washed off your body creates nasty drinking water.
6) Hammams and saunas
Adjust to the local way of bathing. Traveling in the Middle East or in countries like Morocco and Turkey will allow you to experience local hammams. You can choose to visit a luxury spa, or bathe where the locals go. Hammams can vary from some sort of tiled, heated room with benches and faucets, to large buildings with indoor cemented pools filled with water of various hot temperatures. On the contrary, you may be traveling in Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, and find that saunas are the common way to cleanse.
7) Shower Tent
If you are car camping you can decide to buy a shower tent to increase privacy. Or you can decide to bathe in your swimsuit if being nude in nature crosses a few too many boundaries for your comfort level.
Sometimes laundromats in the United States have showers. Not free or even inexpensive, but if you arrive in town after spending a good amount of time in the woods hiking, hunting or fishing, paying for a shower is probably worth the expense. In Europe you can find showers at gas stations, especially along major trucking routes.
With kids staying clean is a whole different ball game. Kids don’t seem to care as much about regular showers, but they need them all the more. Turn your cooler into a bath when you are car camping or use any old sink you come across and turn it into a bath. The latter is already pretty common in the United States anyways, but not so much in Europe. In addition, don’t underestimate the value of a wash cloth. You eliminate a lot of dirt by simply washing kids’ feet before bed.
10) Baby wipes
As a last resort, I highly recommend the baby wipe shower. No mater where in the world you are, you can buy wipes and no matter how you travel, you can carry a pack of baby wipes along. They come in handy whether you are traveling with kids or not.
What are your alternative ways to shower on the road? How do you stay clean when you are traveling?