6 tips for showering and staying clean while on the road

Whether you’re living on the road full-time or just taking an extended trip, here are the best places to wash away the grime

Living on the road—or roadtripping for long periods—seems great, until you get a whiff of your clothes on day three. When it comes time to wash off the road trip funk, you have a few options for showering on the road, many of which are more luxurious than you might expect.

1. Grab a gym membership (or get in for free)

If you’re roadtripping from one city to another, you’ll definitely want to grab a monthly membership to a gym chain. Planet Fitness is one of the most cost-effective options, offering a “Black Card” membership with access to many of its locations nationwide for less than $30 a month. That’s much better than most gyms, where monthly fees are twice as high and memberships often come with $50 to $100 startup fees. And not only will you get access to clean showers, but you’ll have a built-in network of workout facilities so you can stay fit on your trip. There’s also WiFi, and some locations offer free haircuts. Take note, though, that while Planet Fitness locations are fine with you using the showers, they don’t offer towels, so be sure to bring your own.

If you really want to pinch pennies, you can sign up for a free introductory pass at a local gym, which will let you use the facilities for up to a week—usually after taking a tour. You’re generally limited to one free pass per 3- to 6-month period. However, you could hit up different gyms as you go—a Planet Fitness in one city, a 24 Hour Fitness in another city, a Gold’s Gym on your third stop, and so on, getting a free shower each time.

Some gyms may also offer day passes for a fee if you’ve exhausted your one free pass. We called a few gyms, and YMCAs were the cheapest options (each YMCA sets its own policies and prices). Day passes are less cost-effective in the long run, but if you’re only taking one or two showers, it may be just what you need.

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2. Pull into a truck stop

A Flying J gas station at sunset
Photo: jejim/Shutterstock

Many truck stops and travel centers have showers, so truck drivers have a place to clean up. Some are only open to truckers, but many of the big chains are more accommodating. “All guests at Pilot and Flying J Travel Centers are welcome to use our network of 5,200 showers across 750 locations in North America,” says Stephanie Myers, external communication supervisor at Pilot Flying J.

Just head to the counter, let them know you’d like a shower, and $12 to $15 later, you’ll have a code to enter one of the private showers. If there aren’t any Pilot Flying J centers on your route, TA/Petro is another large chain that offers similar facilities.

If you go in the morning there is often less demand—I didn’t have to wait in line when I visited my local Pilot here in San Diego, but they said the showers get very busy around nighttime. 

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I found the facilities to be very clean and well-maintained—they even had a private toilet and fresh towels. This can be a costlier option than a Planet Fitness membership after only two visits (and the showers are comparable in quality). Truck stops aren’t limited to major cities, though, so depending on your route, you may find that truck stops are more readily available. Check the list of locations before you go.

3. Find a free beach

Photo: Josfor/Shutterstock

If you’re traveling along the coast, public beaches will have ample showers available for free (but they may not be warm or private, and you’ll need a bathing suit). If you’re traveling inland, look for public beaches on lakes or rivers. Public swimming pools can do in a pinch, but you’ll usually have to pay a fee to enter.

4. Ask your friends (or make new ones)

Obviously, the best showers you’ll find are at home—even if it isn’t your home. Sites such as Couchsurfing.com are particularly helpful here, connecting you with locals willing to put you up in their house for the night. While couchsurfing is generally intended for finding a place to sleep, you could also use it to grab a hot shower. Warmshowers.org is a similar concept, and while it’s a bit less popular and geared toward cyclists, it has “warm shower” right in the name, so it’s definitely worth a shot.

5. State parks and campsites

If you’re camping in more rural areas and don’t have access to the above options, you may be able to find showering facilities in or near campsites. Campendium is a useful resource for finding free and paid campgrounds. Plus, you can view a list of amenities for each campground and search with a filter for showers. You can also pick up a state map from rest stops and visitor centers on the road, which often have a list of campgrounds and the amenities offered.

State and regional parks are also good bets, while national parks are a bit less likely to have showers. These tend to be more expensive since you might need a pass to enter the park, but if you already have an annual pass or plan on getting one for your state, it can turn out to be a somewhat cost-effective option.

Two public bathroom doors against a wood wall
Photo: richardjohnson/Shutterstock

The cost and quality of campsite showers can vary wildly. Some may be fresh and tidy, while other bathhouses may be less maintained. No matter what it looks like, it’s a good idea to bring flip-flops.

Call ahead to campsites as you plan your trip and ask about the shower situation. Even if a campground doesn’t have showers on the premises, there may be an independently owned, coin-operated shower nearby. If that’s the case, bring extra quarters, so you don’t run out of water halfway through soaping up.

6. When all else fails, fake it

If real showers aren’t an option (or you just need a quick fix), you can bring some basic gear to wipe off any smells. Baby wipes will do in a pinch, as will a simple washcloth and bucket—you can even bathe in those lakes and rivers mentioned earlier, as long as you use biodegradable soap.

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Alternatively, you can purchase a solar-powered portable shower for less than $40. Fill it up with a few gallons of water, let the sun warm it up, and give yourself a handheld shower when you set up camp.

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