When building your own camper van, one of the big decisions you will need to make that will affect your van layout is whether or not you want to include a toilet and shower in your build.
We often get asked by shocked people on Instagram, "Where is the bathroom in your camper van?!" We made the decision early on when planning our build to not include a toilet - as we are climbers who have spent most of our lives camping, we are very used to finding a quiet spot outside when we need to go!
However, we're very aware that there are some people out there who feel shock and horror at the idea of peeing outside, so we wanted to share the pros and cons of putting a toilet in your campervan, and a few different options for toilets if you do decide to put one in.
Pros of putting a toilet in your camper van
Convenience - so you don't have to go outside when it's pouring down with rain in the middle of the night, or drive around searching for a public toilet after drinking your morning coffee!
Privacy & hygiene - to some people, the idea of squatting down in the outdoors where someone may stumble upon you mid-wee is horrifying, and a van toilet avoids this
Cons of putting a toilet in your camper van
Space - depending on whether you opt for a Porta Potti style portable toilet in a storage box or a full on shower and toilet cubicle in your van, toilets take up a lot of valuable storage and living space
Smell - different toilet options will have differing levels of smell associated with them, however we would imagine it's hard to find one that doesn't smell at all!
Faff of emptying it - this is a biggy. If you're going to commit to a toilet in your van, you will need to regularly find a spot to empty it, which unless you have a composting toilet, will need to be in a designated spot due to the chemicals. Often the easiest place to do this is a campsite, which will have a toilet block, perhaps nullifying the need of having your own toilet in the first place
For us, the cons of installing a toilet in our van conversion far outweighed the pros. We plan to spend most of our time away from civilisation and off-grid, so it would have been near impossible for us to empty a standard Porta Potti chemical toilet. The alternative option of a composting toilet which takes up much more room, meaning it needs to be housed in a shower cubicle, and we just didn't think it was worth losing that much space inside our van when we're pretty used to just going outside already.
And so, the big question on everyone's minds...
Where do you go to toilet if you don't have a toilet in your van?
If you were out on a long hike and you needed to pee, what would you do? You'd find a nice spot hidden away in some trees...and have a pee. So that's what we usually do. We spent the first few years of our relationship climbing and camping in spots that didn't have public toilets nearby, so we've gotten pretty used to just going in nature.
Obviously if it's the middle of the night, and it's raining, you might not want to wander out of your cosy van to go and find a spot to pee, so that's where a pee bottle can come in handy. I'm sure some people are grossed out at the idea of this, but it's not really that different from using a toilet (and especially not that different from having a portable toilet in your van that you'll have to empty at some point!). We have a Nalgene with a wide mouth that we use as our emergency pee bottle, if we've got to go in the middle of the night. Charlie has a SheWee she uses with the bottle for the ultimate van peeing lady solution. It's super easy to use. In the morning, you can just empty the bottle and job done. We bought a red 'danger' Nalgene so that we never forget it's the pee bottle and not the water bottle!
For when your needs are slightly more solid, you have a couple of options. We've found that a lot of the time there will just be a public toilet nearby, or we'll drive past plenty of service stations and supermarkets/McDonalds etc that have a toilet on the way to where we're going to park up. We've never really struggled to find a public toilet if we really need one.
For when we're staying off grid for a few days, further away from civilisation, we just have a shovel that we use to dig a hole somewhere out of the way. You will need to make sure that your hole is at least 15cm deep, and at least 50m away from any water source. You will also need to 'pack out' your toilet paper, which means taking it away with you in a rubbish bag (a sandwich bag that can be sealed works well for this).
Grab your shovel, and find a secluded spot in the bracken...
How do you shower if you don't have a shower in your van?
So here's the thing...we actually do have a shower in our van. We opted to install an outdoor shower in our van so it wouldn't take up any extra space in the van, and because we plan on spending a lot of time in southern Europe which tends to be pretty warm, so an outdoor shower won't be a problem.
We've installed a Camplux tankless 5L hot water shower by our back doors which is fed from our water tank, and this has a shower head attached to it. We have a shower curtain pole which attaches to our back doors, and a shower curtain which pulls across to give us privacy and a little wooden decking to stand on. It makes for the perfect easy shower setup that doesn't take up any extra room in our van, but gives us the flexibility to shower every couple of days without having to hunt one out in a service station or gym.
Camper van toilet options
So if you've read all of this and you're still thinking "EWW!" then that's fine! The magic of converting your own van is that you can design your van build to be exactly what works for you. For some people, the idea of going to toilet outside just isn't their thing, and if that's the case there are a few different toilet options you can choose for your van build.
Porta Potti style portable toilet
Portable toilets are the classic option that most people who have a toilet in their camper van will have. You can easily fit one under a bench or in a big slide out drawer, so they don't take up too much room.
Portable toilets are made up of two components: the upper part forms the toilet bowl and also has a water container for the flush mechanism, and the lower part is a removable waste tank. Water is added to the upper water container so that when the pump flush is used it works like a standard toilet flush. Water is also added to the removable waste tank along with some chemicals to reduce the smell form the toilet.
A lot of these chemicals can be quite harmful to the environment, and need to be disposed of properly at a chemical toilet disposal point which can usually be found on campsites. If you choose to install a Porta Potti in your van, we'd suggest choosing a more environmentally friendly option such as the Dometic GreenCare toilet tablets.
The most common portable toilet available is the Thetford Porta Potti, and another very similar van toilet is the Dometic portable toilet which is available in a couple of different waste tank sizes. The cheapest models with the smallest tank sizes can be purchased for around £100.
A compostable toilet is bigger than a portable toilet, meaning you will probably need to a toilet cubicle to house it. However, the benefits of a compostable toilet are 1) it stores liquids and solids in two different tanks, which supposedly means it does not smell, and 2) they don't use any of the unpleasant chemicals that portable toilets use.
The basic premise of the compostable toilet is that pee is stored in a small tank, and the tank which collects solid waste contains peat moss or coconut coir, and each time you use it a handful of the material is added to cover the waste and minimise smell.
A lot of composting toilets also have a built in fan which vents any smells outside of your van, so this is definitely the best option in terms of minimising any unwanted odours.
The downside of the composting toilets, other than their large size, is that they're quite expensive. Most composting toilet start at around £300-500, with some of the more expensive models costing upwards of £1,000!
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions feel free to drop us a message on here or via Instagram!
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