6 foolproof tips for showering and staying clean while on the road

Road trips don't stink, so neither should you

By Whitson Gordon

Man under outdoors shower. | Photo: Bosko Markovic/Shutterstock

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 them more luxurious than you might expect.

Heavy dumbbells in the gym. | Photo: Vadym Plysiuk/Shutterstock

Grab a gym membership (or get in for free)

If you’re road tripping 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 their locations nationwide for $20 a month (and a $1 startup fee).

That’s much better than most gyms, whose monthly fees are twice as high with $50 or $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 “swole” on your trip. They also have Wi-Fi, and some locations even give 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, which will let you use the facilities for one day—usually after taking a tour. Though, when I visited my local Planet Fitness, they just let me in after scanning my pass. You’re generally limited to one free pass per three-to-six 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 around the country, and YMCAs were the cheapest options, ranging from $8 to $12 for a day (each YMCA sets their own policies and prices). That’s 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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Pull in to a truck stop

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 accomodating. “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 the popular Pilot/Flying J chains.

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 their private showers. If there aren’t any Pilot or Flying J centers on your route, TA/Petro is another large chain that offers similar facilities.

And, trust me, you don’t want to get dirty looks from a line of angry truckers as you walk to your private bathroom.

You’re best off going in the morning, when things are slow—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. And, trust me, you don’t want to get dirty looks from a line of angry truckers as you walk to your private bathroom.

I found the facilities to be very clean and well-maintained—they even had a private toilet and fresh towels. But at $12 a pop, they end up being costlier 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. You’ll just have to check the list of locations before you go.

Public showers on the beach. | Photo: Josfor/Shutterstock

Hit up a free beach

If you’re traveling along the coast, public beaches will have ample showers available for free. “They aren’t particularly warm, and they’re very public,” says Brent Rose, a journalist who currently lives on the road. “You’ll need a bathing suit and won’t be able to really scrub anything underneath them, but they’re generally free and convenient. There are a ton of them in southern California.”

It’s not just oceans, either. If you’re traveling inland, look for public beaches on lakes or rivers, and you may find free showers there as well. Public swimming pools can do in a pinch, but you’ll usually have to pay a few bucks to get in.

Ask your friends (or make some new ones)

Obviously, the best showers you’ll find are at home—even if it isn’t your home. “The best case scenario is using a friend’s shower,” says Rose. “If you’re traveling in an area where you don’t know anybody, use your social media to see if you have any friends of friends who might be willing to let you use their shower (and ideally, show you around town).”

Sites like Couchsurfing.org are particularly helpful here: It connects you with locals willing to put you up in their house for the night. You’ll generally contact them on the site, meet them for coffee (so they can ensure you aren’t a serial killer), after which they can acquaint you with the city. While Couchsurfing is generally intended to find you a place to sleep—and make actual friends you’d hang out with while you’re there—you could also use it to grab a hot shower. Warmshowers.org is a similar site, 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.

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Campsite bathrooms. | Photo: richardjohnson/Shutterstock

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 the campsites themselves. Freecampsites.net is a great resource for both free and paid campgrounds. Plus, you can filter your search to see which ones have showers. You can also pick up a state map from rest stops and visitor centers on the road, and they’ll often have a list of campgrounds and the amenities they offer.

State and regional parks are also good bets, while national parks are a bit less likely to have showers. These also tend to be more expensive since you need a pass to 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.

The cost and quality of campsite showers can vary wildly, however. Some may be fresh and tidy, while others can be so dumpy you’re better off staying sweaty. Though no matter what they look like, it’s probably a good idea to bring flip-flops—you don’t want your bare feet on a floor where god-knows-what has happened.

Your best bet is to 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 they can tell you about. Just be sure to bring lots of extra quarters, so you don’t run out of water halfway through soaping up.

And if you’re sticking to a really tight budget and you’re willing to be a little shady, you can park up the road and hike into the campsite to use the showers. We won’t judge.

When all else fails, fake it

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

Alternatively, you could grab a solar-powered portable shower for about $30. Fill it up with a few gallons of water, let the sun warm it up, and give yourself a little handheld shower when you set up camp. It isn’t glamorous, but when you’ve got five days of grime on you, it’ll feel pretty darn great.

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