As breathtaking as the landscape was, our hearts sank as we continued down the Trans-Canada Highway toward Alaska. Now in the middle of British Columbia, we were seemingly out of range of civilization as we knew it. The problem? We were camping in our Honda Civic (not ideal, but we were were fresh out of college) with no plan for where to get our next shower.
One of the hardest parts about any camping adventure is staying clean, especially when you’re trying to avoid expensive hotel stays on a long road trip. We’ve learned a lot since our first trip to Alaska, and we consider ourselves seasoned pros after living out of our Nissan NV200 camper van while visiting every US National Park.
There are three main options for getting a hot shower on the road, plus a few other choices that can be hit-or-miss.
Join Planet Fitness for Nationwide Access to Locker Room Showers
For our National Parks trip, we researched several gyms looking for one that would check all the boxes, and that turned out to be Planet Fitness.
Hands down, Planet Fitness has the most locations (nearly 1,800!) out of any chain gym, but more importantly, they’re actually pretty distributed throughout the US (in many no-name cities!), not just concentrated in metropolitan areas. On top of that, every location has free wifi, and many are 24 hours, so you can get a shower whenever you end up rolling through town.
The secret to Planet Fitness is understanding the Black Card membership. At $22/month with a $40 annual fee (as of 2019), it’s about twice as expensive as the standard membership, but it’s the only way to get access to all locations outside your hometown, so you’re pretty much forced to buy it if you travel.
But, the key to making the Black Card cheap is traveling in twos: A Black Card member can bring up to one guest into the gym on each visit, so a couple (like us) only needs to buy one membership! In addition to nationwide access for two, the Black Card gives you access to a few extra perks like hydromassages and tanning, too.
If you get stuck somewhere without a Planet Fitness, remember that plenty of gyms offer a free trial that will get you in the door if you just need a shower today. In a larger metropolitan area, you’ll have more national chain choices, and in smaller towns, you can look at the local gyms for a place to hit the weights and shower. It’s best to sign up for free trials at smaller gyms when possible because once you’ve done a free trial at a large gym chain, you may be ineligible to reuse that same brand’s trial at another location.
Stop in to Developed Campgrounds with All the Amenities
Camping is easiest at a designated campground rather than in the backcountry wilderness, but some campgrounds offer more amenities than others. We’ve found that most KOA brand sites have really nice grounds and features. Their website also has a location finder function that lists out the amenities for each.
Regardless of whether you decide to stay the night, it’s worth taking a quick look to see if you can pay a few bucks for a walk-up shower.
You can also search for campgrounds at nearby national or state parks, but keep in mind that they may charge an entrance fee. Other RV parks and campgrounds will have showers, but they may not be as easy to negotiate with for a single shower rather than a full night’s stay.
Fuel Up and Clean Off at Travel Center Trucker Showers
Along most major interstates in the US, you’ll come across the shining beacon that is the 24-hour travel center. We love travel centers because they typically have the cheapest gas prices and provide a lounge for drivers to unwind, a free place to car camp, and, you guessed it, showers.
The Pilot and Flying J brand is one of the best as it also offers free wifi and an additional 3 cents/gallon off the sticker price of your fuel with their rewards card. Love’s supposedly has free wifi if you join the rewards program, but we’ve never been able to get it to work. The TA and Petro brand has wifi you can buy, but it’s pretty expensive.
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Regardless of what brand of travel center you come across, they pretty much all have showers. We actually have never found it necessary to shower at a travel plaza ourselves yet, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.
Consider These Other Options for Where to Shower
If you plan your route ahead of time, you can look up what friends or family you have along the way. Not only is it a great way to catch up, but asking to take a shower is also a lot less of an imposition than asking to couch surf.
During our National Parks trip, we stopped to visit people quite a few times. And, if you give enough notice, your friends or family members can help show you their town too. When we visited my cousin, she was able to show us around Eugene, Oregon, and even took us to lunch (Note: your cousin may not be as awesome as mine :-P). In Spokane, Washington, our friend picked up some really good donuts from a local shop for us to have for breakfast, which was extremely rad.
We’ve also seen signs for showers at municipal pools, which are often open to the public, and at laundromats sometimes. Not sure why there is a correlation between laundromats and showers, but I guess it’s a place to clean your clothes and body…
Of course, you could always pick up a camp shower (affiliate link) if you’ve got the room in your rig (we didn’t), but we found it wasn’t a necessity anyway. I mean, worst case scenario, you can stop into a place with a one-stall bathroom, like Starbucks or a gas station, and use the sink to get clean. It’s not the best option, but it is better than stinking. We also recommend having baby wipes and dry shampoo on hand for a quick pick-me-up in between showers.
After the time we’ve spent on the road, we’ve learned that there’s just nothing like a good shower at the end of a long day of hiking or driving. Luckily, there are plenty of options for feeling fresh while you’re out there on an adventure.