Our Little Red Trailer has it all, almost. A cozy bed, a lovely functional kitchen with a fridge, a bookshelf of good reads, plug-in’s for electric toothbrushes and iPads and speaker recharging. There are fluffy towels and cute sheets and twinkly led string lights and sunscreen and Q-tips and paperclips aplenty.
But no bathroom.
That’s OK, we knew that before we left, and prepared. And I know – because you’ve inquired – that you’re curious. So, here’s a blog post on how it works. A note to readers: While I remain delicate in my explanations, I am also not Victorian about it. So, if TMI is not your thing, consider pausing at the way-marker halfway down and skipping to my next blog post instead. For the intrepid others, read on.
The Dopp Kit
On such a trip, many different spaces will serve as your boudoir. At times, you’ll brush your teeth into the embers of the evening’s fire, at times in a host’s well-appointed guest bathroom, and occasionally at the running-water sink of an amenities-included campsite.
The key is a two fold approach:
Of greatest importance is the well-considered dopp kit. We chose a pair of soft-sided plastic shower caddies (return-to-college season is the best time to get one). They can sit on any surface and remain both upright and sanitary. They hold all the needs and provide an upper-end to ensure packing discipline, while still being sizeable enough to hold all needs – after all, this isn’t a camping weekend when you can indulge in cutting corners in your regular toilette. Add a lovely washcloth and a spray bottle for brushing teeth/rinsing toothbrush with greatest water efficiency, and you’re all set.
Then, for quick stops at those aforementioned spots with the luxury of running water, it’s convenient to each have a second simple bag with the basics – toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and face wipes – to take into the restroom.
Combined with fastidiousness, flexibility, general courtesy and a certain blasé at brushing your teeth in public, this system works very well. Variety is the spice of life, so mix it up!
No regular shower? No problem.
The judicious and regular application of good quality baby wipes solves many things. Plus, a face wipe each day (my new favorite is the witch hazel version) provides a lovely refresher in the evening or morning. All should be used as needed, but carefully and sparingly to limit environmental impact.
Then, here’s an amazing trick: apply a dusting of baking soda over your favorite deodorant for a smell-free affect for days. In fact, consider giving up that aluminum-filled regular antiperspirant altogether; that works by blocking your pores so you can’t sweat at all, while baking soda allows you to sweat but is inhospitable to the bacteria that make you smell, and for pennies a year with no excess throw-away plastic… OK, soap box (Dave: if you’re reading, that pun’s for you) duly flat-packed and stored away again.
This should see you through nicely until you have access to a proper (read: running water) shower. RV parks or hotels that cater to the touring crowd often have showers and laundry as part of their overnight amenities, and of these, many will happily allow you to use them without the overnight stay for a small fee. In Escalante, UT, at the Outfitters, $5 gets you a shower in the cute-as-a-button warm cabin bath house. Arriving in the middle of the day, I had the whole place to myself for a truly revitalizing experience.
Buddy System Bathing
Keeping clean as noted above, a full bathing every 3-4 days can be quite often enough. We found it was all about timing:
- Water is scarce, so bathing at a time when you know you can refill your tanks is prudent.
- Seclusion is nice, though in its absence, a shower curtain setup might suffice.
- Consider temperature, but don’t sweat this too much; the warm water and the one-section-at-a-time model are more effective than you might think at both getting you clean and still staving off the chilliness factor. (For our first bathing, we experienced sunshine, wind, and hominy hale all in the short course of it!) Flip the furnace switch and heat the water (ahhh…). Chose a bathing outfit that will expose appropriate sections one by one, while keeping the other parts warm. I use a fleece robe. If the weather is warm, you can skip all of this extra ordeal; just do the whole thing au naturelle.
Prepare eco-sensitive shampoo/soap, a towel, a small stool, and a dry surface on which to step once you’re done (since your feet will be in the water and resulting mud). Wear flip-flops and have another dry pair of shoes at hand. Now, with your buddy at the water tap to hold the showerhead and turn off the water when not needed, start at the thighs and work upward. Catch the cleaner rinse water in a bucket to soak your feet later. Dry off. Now go from the knee down, sitting on the stool so you can do your feet. Stand with clean feet on the dry surface and dry thoroughly. Climb into your cozy warm trailer, and enjoy the feeling of being clean.
Go When You Can
I never met a vault toilet I didn’t love, or at least appreciate, particularly one that is enjoyed during early season camping in the high cool mountains when it is fresh. Campsites and day-use areas have them. Miss the flush? Rest stops (which, by the way, have come a long way; my experience was of clean restrooms with decorative tile and cute pictures on the wall) and visitor centers have you covered, a true luxury.
****** TMI-sensitive folks, consider stopping here! ******
Peeing in the Woods
Males, you’ve got this down; wash hand when done.
Females, there’s just a touch more to it, but not much. You likely get the basics (who hasn’t had to pee in the woods at some point?). For an extra burst of clean and less… remainder…, bring a spray bottle. A great hiking book offered this additional suggestion: use a designated rag to “blot” and then put the rag in the sun. Wash rag regularly, but in between, you’d be surprised how not-icky this is (especially when combined with the spray bottle).
For those who have not experienced the cat hole approach, this may seem both intimidating and awful. In practice, it is neither. Bring a small garden shovel, some toilet paper, and wipees. Find a place with a good view and soft ground where you are unlikely to hit roots, a place that is far from paths or water, and that seems least environmentally impactful. Dig a hole at least 8 inches deep and 3-4 inches wide, being sure to carefully preserve the top clods of dirt and vegitation. Squat and proceed. (Several well-considered Youtubes provide positions but I’d suggest doing what comes naturally). Cleanup is a snap and when done, wrap toilet paper in wipees so you end with a discreet, clean bundle that can be brought back and thrown in your camp garbage. A friend can help you with the soap pump and water while you wash hands, and provide small-talk. Remember that cat-holing, even done right, does leave an impact. Use this method as infrequently as possible, and follow regulations – in heavier use areas, it’s not allowed. For those moments, use the next option.
The Ensuite Option
Many seasoned campers, especially those with young children, recommended the bucket approach: a weight-bearing bucket, lined with a special bag, topped with a seat. The special bags are extra thick and contain a powder which is either chemical or enzymatic and can be disposed of in the trash. Other elements vary from a Home Depot bucket with a seat made from a swimming noodle, to purpose-bought versions such as Luggable Loo or several models by Reliance.
My friend Staci gets the prize on this. She bought the little Reliance barrel kind, painted it copper, and topped it with a purple doily to double as a side table. Her post-usage procedures involve detailed wipe-down with a Clorox wipe to ensure it is always extremely sanitary. She loves it.
When you’re going to the the outhouse, you’re Russian.
When you leave the outhouse, you’re Finnish.
What are you while you’re in the outhouse? … European.
Good job on every level!
Hi Jennifer, You are teaching us new things everyday:)
Thank you for the comment! It’s amazing what you learn when suddenly you are faced with the reality of the situation before you. I must say, the spray bottle and cloth are amongst my own favorite lessons from hygiene on the road. Very useful. 🙂