Here at Curbed, one of my many jobs is to cover the camper beat. Sometimes I write about cute, affordable teardrops that—despite their diminutive size—can still sleep a family. Other times I cover the latest and greatest class B conversion van, like this Mercedes Sprinter van packed with all the latest bells and whistles. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.
But no matter which type of camper I’m covering, the same question comes up again and again: What about the bathroom? If all the comments, emails, and queries say anything, it’s that camper enthusiasts have an obsession with toilets.
I’m here to make a possibly unpopular argument: Forget the camper bathroom. Don’t buy a camper with a bathroom, and don’t put a separate bathroom in your van if you’re working on a DIY project. Forego the bathroom and drive off into the sunset.
I understand the pro-potty arguments. Convenience is top of the list, as is the fear of needing to go in the middle of the night. But sometimes I wonder how often people actually use the bathrooms—and especially the full-size showers—they protect so dearly. Is it worth all the hassle?
Hear me out on the major reasons to forego a toilet in your RV or camper.
You can save a lot of space
Fewer camper enthusiasts are buying gigantic, gas-guzzling Class As that have so much space it doesn’t matter how much room the toilet takes up. More and more, space-conscious campers are investing in affordable Class Bs and lightweight travel trailers. A bathroom is a game changer in these rigs. Add a separate bathroom and you’ve taken space that could be used for a gear garage or to sleep two more people.
In my converted 4x4 Sprinter, we went with the 170 EXT model—the longest van Mercedes makes. Yes, we could have added a bathroom, but where would we have put our bikes, ski gear, or kids? Ditch the bathroom and all of a sudden you have a van that can sleep four in the winter (six in the summer) with all the necessary equipment.
Tour any manufactured Class B van and see how much space a separate bathroom takes up. The Winnebago Revel feels downright tiny; you can thank the wet bath—and the short wheelbase—for that. I felt the same when I toured Airstream’s Interstate Nineteen, without a doubt a beautiful, luxury camper. But the full-height bathroom takes up a huge portion of space, and it makes working at the kitchen feel a bit cramped.
Cut down on maintenance and hassle
Peruse any camper or RV group and you’ll come away with a real concern about bathroom smells. Post after post details how a kindly camper owner has cleaned, flushed, and added holding tank deodorant—yet, much to their dismay, a noxious smell still permeates their home on wheels.
Is it a guarantee that your camper bathroom will smell? Of course not. But a camper without black water won’t have as many opportunities to stink. And unlike your plumbing at home, you can’t just flush and forget. In an RV, everything drains into holding tanks that must be manually emptied by the owner. You have to find a dump station, put on gloves, attach a sewer hose, open the black water tank, rinse and flush the tanks, and add more water to your black tank—all to get rid of your own waste.
There’s also something to be said for keeping things simple in your van. The more systems you have, the more opportunities there are for things to go wrong. RV bathrooms have to be kept clean and maintained throughout the life of the camper—that’s a lot of searching for dump stations—and this might be more hassle than it’s worth.
A call to explore
Some of you are shaking your heads right now, but stay with me. I think it’s a life skill to know how to pee and poop in the woods, and I’ve passed that down to my kids.
When we’re in the backcountry, we grab a shovel and head to gorgeous vistas and serene forests. We notice the small things; the animals scurrying by, the shape of the clouds, and how the leaves look under a midday sun. It’s another way our family gets outside and appreciates nature.
Even in the winter our quest for bathrooms has uncovered under-the-radar ski town bakeries, delicious coffee, and friendly locals. It might seem impossible to stay in a camper in the snow without a bathroom, but we do just fine, and we have the powder days to prove it.
I think the camping world’s obsession with bathrooms stems from the RV industry being driven by a generation of travelers who don’t always stray off the beaten path. For better or for worse, that’s changing.
There’s also some middle ground here. Instead of putting in a separate, full-height bathroom, consider a small compostable toilet and an outdoor shower. They can accomplish the same things and the toilet can be hidden underneath a bench or in a drawer. This is an especially good option for anyone wanting to live full-time in their van but is still looking to save space.
For many people, age, physical needs, or comfort levels make a full bathroom a necessity. If you are part of the ride-or-die bathroom crew, I’ll never convince you otherwise.
But for campers out there who are on the fence about whether they need a full bathroom in their RV, this story is for you. If you want to prioritize space for gear and kids over a toilet, do it. If you want to spend less time on maintenance and more time exploring, forego the bathroom. And if you view finding a toilet as just another part of the experience, then hey, don’t let the pro-bathroom camp persuade you otherwise.
We’re all just in it for the adventure.