do you need a toilet for van life?
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The Best Van Toilet for Van Life

What is the best van toilet for your van life experience?  We will discuss what type of van toilet is best for your van conversion.

What is the best van toilet for Van Life Build?

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and having to use the bathroom.  You are parked somewhere you can not exit the van or just do not feel comfortable exiting the van.  Maybe you are stealth parking in a neighborhood.  Perhaps you are out somewhere in a National or State forest and you hear strange noises all around you.  (Think coyotes, bears, Bigfoot)

You really have to “go”, but you have no van toilet to go in.  There is very little time to make a decision on how to remedy your situation.  What do you do?  By the way, the Gatorade bottle is useless, because you have to go number two!

It really doesn’t matter where we are or what time of the day or night it is.  If one of us has to go, we just go. Having a van toilet on deck and ready for service is a big deal.

One of the most common questions we get from our friends and followers about van life is, “Do you have a van toilet?” and  “where do you use the bathroom?”

For the most part, our answer is, “in our van of course.”  A van toilet in our van conversion is not only a convenience for us, but it is an essential part of our van build.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Do I Need A Van Toilet?
  2. Types of  Van Toilets
  3. Where to put a Van toilet
  4. Alternatives to a Van Toilet
do you need a toilet for van life?
Photo by Simon Arthur on Unsplash

Why Do I Need A Van Toilet?

If you have ever been in a situation where you needed to go, I mean, you really needed to go, but there was nowhere nearby, then you know the discomfort, stress and I dare to say, panic, that you may experience.

No one wants to even think about peeing or pooping their pants.  You may think it is disgusting and vile or you may think it is a hilarious topic.  Either side of the spectrum makes for a disastrous experience for the person who needs to go.

Most, if not all of us, have at least once come close to, if not actually, doing it since we were in diapers.  During the first six months of living in our skoolie a couple of years ago, we did not have a functioning toilet in our bus.  We were camping at friend’s and campgrounds.  We would simply use the toilet at the campground or our friend’s guest bathroom.

I (Don) had a brief stint of van life back in 2009 while work-commuting 4 hours away from our home.  I would camp in the van a few nights a week while I was at my work location.  In the evenings, I would park at a nearby hotel and sleep in the van.  Going number 1 is much much easier than going number 2 when there is no dedicated van toilet in your van.

You quickly learn where to go in an emergency, whether it is a hotel lobby or a nearby 24-hour fitness center.

So, having a van toilet was a must-have and as essential as running water and independent electricity. The biggest decision we would have to make about a van toilet was simply, what kind of van toilet?  There are several options to choose from.

What Kind of Van Toilet is best for Van Life?

The best kind of van toilet to have in your van conversion is the one you have that works best for your lifestyle.

Some people prefer not to have a toilet in their van at all, while others, us included, can not imagine van life without one.

There are several different types of bathrooms you can design in your van. The key is to research and decide what is going to work best for you and your lifestyle. What is going to make life easier and more enjoyable? The fact of the matter is, we all have to go and on a daily basis, so where are you going to do it if not in your van?

Composting Van Toilet

We have done the composting toilet in our skoolie conversion. For the most part, we really liked it.  We decided to build one ourselves versus spending a thousand dollars on one.

When it came right down to the functionality and application, our composting toilet worked just as well as the SeaHead, Nature’s Head or any of the other expensive models.

As I said, we liked it alright and it was easy and convenient to maintain. Nat didn’t love it, so for our van toilet, we wanted to try something a little different.

Nature’s Head and Seahead composting toilets are both very popular composting toilets. Both function basically the same. Nature’s Head toilet has an agitator to “mix” the composting medium and poop to initiate the process quicker. One is slightly more expensive than the other where you will spend somewhere around $200-$300 more for Nature’s Head system.

natures head composting toilet for van life

Both of these toilets are very easy to dispose of the solids and both have an option to divert the liquids to either a self-contained plastic jug or directly into a grey tank should you have one on your van.

They both have a 12v fan that pulls the “smells” out of the toilet to the outside of your van. The fan also functions to keep the solids dry and therefore, no stinky smells.

Self Build composting toilet is what we did for our skoolie. It is essentially the same as Nature’s head and the Seahead but for hundreds of dollars less. A self-build van toilet can have all of the elements as a $1000 composting toilet given your ability to build it.

All three of these composting toilets leave no smell or trace of an indoor toilet. No chemicals or weird RV smells will ever creep into your or your guest’s noses.

Cassette Van Toilets (Porta Potti)

For our van toilet, we decided to try the Thetford Porta Potti 565E.  It is about the same size as a normal household toilet without the water tank on the back.  It holds 5 gallons of waste and is easy to empty with no mess and little to no smells.

Our plan for the Thetford is to use it for liquids only. For the solids, we will use the toilet but incorporate a disposable trash bag liner. This keeps the liquids and solids separated and therefore, cuts down greatly on any potential bad smells.

The liquids would then be disposed of in any available toilet or waste disposal center. Easy with little to no clean-up at all.

porta potty toilet for van life use

5 Gallon Bucket and Bag

If you really want to go simple and cheap, buy yourself a 5-gallon bucket and line it with some plastic trash bags for a very simple and easy toilet.

We only recommend this method for emergency-type situations. The smell can be pretty bad and there is nowhere to properly dispose of the plastic bag once you have used it unless there is a dumpster or trashcan nearby. In the meantime, you would need to store the bag somewhere you are sure it will not leak.van life toilet 5 gallon bucket option

Getting over the Awkwardness

Living in a van, RV, or a skoolie, but especially a van, there isn’t a whole lot of space and “me-time”. Pretty much everything you do is exposed to the other person. Even after 13 years of marriage, there is a certain degree of modesty for both of us. It is something that some people will have to adjust and become comfortable with. I mean, no one wants to watch their significant other pooping. (or maybe you do, not that there is anything wrong with that, but eww!)

There are ways of getting around the awkwardness and maintaining a comfortable degree of modesty.
“Room” or visible barrier between you and your van-mate is an easy, affordable, and practical way of obtaining some privacy.

Perhaps having your partner simply look the other way is another solution to giving yourself some privacy. This method though is not really practical because you know the other person is bound to peek or forget what you are doing. Besides, some people get “stage fright” while others are in the same room.

You may choose to put on some headphones or turn on some music while your significant other does the deed. This gives them the security of not being embarrassed by any sounds that may occur.

Despite the initial uncomfortableness of pooping or peeing in the same room or space as your best friend, spouse, or travel partner, the awkwardness is so much better than having to go through the process of pooping or peeing your pants in front of someone.

I can tell you this much, it gets easier over time.

Alternatives to a Van Toilet

Dig a hole and go into the woods or desert. For the guys, going number one is as easy as finding a spot downwind where no one else can see you. Even then, be sure to go at a minimum of 100 feet from your campsite.

There is something very primal and organic about popping in the woods. Unless you have ever tried it, definitely don’t knock it. I have to admit, going to the bathroom out in nature is like no other. Seriously, it may sound crazy to you while reading this if you have never done it, but sitting there looking up into the mountains, out into the ocean, or across the desert is really relaxing and enjoyable for what it is.

Of course, you have to be sure there are no other people around that could see you. That could lead to a whole other topic and legal issues.

Also, there are certain rules you should abide by while going #2 outside. These rules are for both the safety and consideration of you as well as other campers.

1. If you do “the do” outside, do so a minimum of 200 feet from your campsite. Going potty #2 in nature may attract other animals, especially predators, who may take your “scent” as a territorial marking and become territorial themselves.

Besides, there is a smell that is naturally associated with the ol’ number two, and you don’t want those smells floating back over to your campsite.

On that note, be sure to go “downwind” if you are able to tell which direction the wind is blowing. Again, be considerate of your van partner back at the van campsite.

2. Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep and at least 4 to six inches in diameter. Try to find soft and rich soil.

You want to dispose of your solids deep enough so that it will not attract animals and are not a nuisance to other campers in the area presently or in the future. 6 to 8 inches is an ideal depth so as not to contaminate the water table either.

3. Once you have completed the task at hand, be sure to cover it with soil and top it off with natural elements such as leaves, sticks, sand, rocks, or pine straw.

4. If you use toilet paper or wet wipes, (which, we hope you do) be sure to dispose of the paper and wipes in a sealed bag and keep them with you to dispose of in a garbage container at your first opportunity.

Even if you use composting or “RV” toilet paper, do not bury it or leave it behind.

Traveling Alternatives to Van Toilets

Other van toilet alternatives are places you will come by while traveling. Some of the cleanest and most palatable places we have used on our travels before having a dedicated “in-house” toilet have been the following:

Trucks Stop: Typically very clean despite all of the traffic of people that frequent these. Some of the best we have experienced are Buccees, Pilot, Loves, and Traveling J. It’s also convenient to refuel and get a quick snack on the go.

By the way, truck stops are a great place to grab a few hours of shut-eye while traveling when you find yourself getting too sleepy to drive. You can learn more about this idea here.

Rest Areas: Rest areas are convenient and very accessible because they are right there on the highway. They are built and designed for one reason only. To aid travelers who need to take a potty break and a brief rest from driving.

In our experiences, these are not always the cleanest and most sanitary options for going number one or number two while traveling. But, when you gotta go and this is the only option nearby, then you just do what you have to do.

Hotels: In many places along the highways there are hotels right off the exit ramp. In a “dire situation” this is one of my favorite places to do the “do”. Mind you, hotel restrooms are meant for paying guests and we certainly do not suggest you do something that may get yourself in trouble.

Hotel restrooms however are by far the nicest and cleanest of public restrooms to use. When I have used this source in the past, I simply walk in as if I was a guest and go straight to the bathrooms past the front desk. The front desk clerk is unlikely to know if you are a guest or not. I have never been asked if I were a guest or not.

Restaurants: This is an obvious choice to go use the toilet while traveling. Fast-food chain restaurants are not as nice and clean as some others. Cracker Barrel by far has the nicest and cleanest bathrooms on the road in our experience. The key here is to patronize the establishment if you are going to use their facilities.

The bottom line is this, we all have to go, so why not go where you are most comfortable. If that means the security and comfort of your own van, then by all means figure out where and what type of van life toilet you want to incorporate into your daily lives.

If you just can’t wrap your head around having a toilet in such a small enclosed space, consider some of the other options we have mentioned above.

Enjoy the moment and rest assured, no one really cares where you go, just as long as they don’t know about it.

If you would like to know more about essential items for your van life, check out our 53 Ultimate Van Life Essentials.

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