You’ll see plenty of vanlifers Instagram about their meals—decadent things served in cast iron skillets with the steam still wafting from the top. Mugs of pour-over coffee. “This is van life,” they proclaim. And, sure, it is. You can eat great while camping. But what everyone really wants to know is what happens on the other side of the equation. What goes up, must come down. What goes in, must come out. So, if you dare, read on about how to take a shit whilst vanlifing.
There’s a lot of shit to know about shit and it’s a subject not for the faint of heart, which baffles me. There are so few common human experiences and we tend to trivialize them or make them taboo, with the exception of the aforementioned mealtime. Sex has long been taboo (and maybe there will be a post about van life sex in the future…). Talk of peeing and pooping is considered low brow or not discussion worthy. But, really, who amongst us has not taken a dump in the last two days? (If you haven’t, consult your physician.) It’s a part of life, a condition of being human.
Without further adieu for the number two: Our bus does not have a toilet. Yes, many nicer campers have a toilet. And they are all gross. I don’t care how much your monstrosity of a camper cost, if you have to hook a shit suctioning hose to it and go to the campground Zarlac pit to empty your refuse, it’s gross. It stinks and it’s icky. So it is not that big of a deal to me to not tote around an entire rupturable reservoir filled with yesterweek’s dinners. It does, however, making deucing a bit more strategic.
One thing to note is that I am a runner. Runners have incredibly efficient bowels. I wake up, have a cup of coffee and before I hit that last sip, I might very well have a quivering asshole. I process food like the Playdoh machine. I am more regular than Norm is to Cheers. So I need to have a place to go that is close by and sanitary.
The down and dirty:
Stay places with flush toilets. This one is a no-brainer. Miracle has become accustomed to asking our driveway stay hosts if they mind if we use their bathroom and most people are agreeable to that. If you’re camping, make sure there are facilities. As always, flush is preferable to pit as pit toilets turn people into absolute Hershey-squirting animals and the pit is pretty much like looking into an alternate timeline where Trump gets a second term.
Okay, so there’s pit toilets. Take your own TP. Half of these places don’t have anything to wipe your crack other than your non dominant hand slathered in the sweat and tears of existential humiliation. If they do have toilet paper, it is made of a sheer tissue substance so thinly made that you might as well wipe with a spider web.
Now, keep in mind the physics of dropping a couple of Sir Isaac Newton’s horse apples into a pit toilet.
[Most awful experience of my life: I was at a campground that was an off-season Boy Scout Camp. In an effort to save money, they did not have their pit toilets suctioned out at the end of the season. Which means that you have troop after troop dropping poop from the goop they served in the mess into this mess. These toilets were ridiculously full. Like I was afraid that my scrotum could brush a stranger’s turd too full. On the second day of camping I awoke with the regular runner’s need. Only this was a bit more urgent. I hastily made my way to the pit toilets, where I followed my usual procedure: laying several strips of toilet paper over the seat so as to have some sort of boundary between my thighs and the previous occupant’s bum germs. Normally I would have thrown a few lengths of paper into the toilet itself as a sort of crashpad—a place where my own soil would land softly and not really mix with or, worse yet, splash back.
Not adding that crashpad proved to be a fatal error. And I do mean, very nearly fatal. Because I crapped with such ferocious velocity, that there was indeed the dread pit toilet splash back. Fear ripped through my body—it quaked in my bones. I sweated through the steristrip toilet paper liner I threw down. My fear was not so much that I had now contracted every possible disease known to man, but that my spine had stiffened so quickly, so rigidly that I had in fact snapped my spinal cord and I was now paralyzed on this toilet with some Boy Scout trot splashed up my back. Regaining a sense of composure that Jim Lovell would have admired, I wiped. I might have cried, but I also wiped. I then hiked up my shorts.
These were running shorts. I prefer the slider style running shorts with the built-in underwear. They chaff less and they do a great job holding a man’s pieces in place while running. Normally, I am happy to wear these shorts. In this situation, however, I wanted nothing that I would ever wear again to touch my body. So I sagged my shorts.
Do you know how hard it is to sag slider running shorts? You don’t. And then to walk to the shower house at the opposite end of the camp and shower first with your clothes on and then taking your clothes off because they have been made permanently impure by the splash back? Do you know what it is like to then realize you have nothing to dry off with and no other clothes so you turn your slider shorts inside out so you look like a disheveled superhero who just lost a fight to Swamp Thing? No, you don’t.]
So, on second thought, if you have the option of skipping the pit, just go outside to shit.
Which means most of the time you will be laying a turd in a plastic bag. You will need to get used to this idea. Once, when we staying on a secluded piece of land, and we had not thought to ask the owner where we should go to the bathroom, I simply squatted down with a bag pulled low and tight to my hips and grunted one out. I tied it and threw it in the garbage can of a Sunoco on my way out of town. Plastic bags with handles strategically placed like pistols in a gunfighter’s holster, you will discover are perfectly made for exactly this function.
You can always dress things up with the luggable loo. We have one and it folds up to briefcase size so you always look like you’re about to do business. You’ll need a place for privacy (we have a tailgate tent for such situations). They sell kits for the loo. You open up the shit kit and there’s a mini roll of TP and a handiwipe. There’s a bag perfectly designed to fit into the mesh catcher and it has a tablespoon of poo powder in it so soak up the urine. Then, when it’s all said and done, you can seal it up in a bulletproof ziplock. Problem is that each kit is expensive which means it is like you’re shitting gold.
If you want to go totally primitive, dig a hole. This works well on BLM land. You simply wander out into the distance, find a spot, use a shovel to dig a shallow hole. Squat, plop, wipe, and cover. Make sure you use biodegradable TP.
I will mention that some folks have the biodegradable / composting toilet down. One HipCamp we stayed at had a rather posh tent shower with hot water and a bio toilet. No smell and more sanitary than a gas station bathroom. One of our favorite vineyards, Deep Creek Cellars, has a composting toilet that is a monument to cleanliness. But these places are unfortunately exceptions rather than the regular for the regularities.