Van Essential: Going potty

During my time living in a van I often get questions from others on what they may need to get started themselves. Most of us tend to overly complicate what is actually a very simple lifestyle, myself included in my first few years. In fact, it took three full years of van living to fully realize which few essentials were required, beyond your own personal clothing or hygiene options. It is one of these essentials that I want to discuss today; going potty.

The most frequently asked questions from anyone I talk too about living in a van is, “Where  do you go to the bathroom?” It is always a fun subject to talk about, especially if you are face to face with the person asking the question. Their facial expressions can be quite dramatic and chuckle-worthy. There are many options to rid ourselves of human waste. Some vans will have a built in toilet and tank (which requires regular emptying at dump stations, something I am not fond of) but others will have no such luxury. For these others, we still have a few options;

A Luggable Loo toilet seat that fits onto a 5-gallon bucket is one of the most simple methods. Add a sturdy trash bag and some sawdust and you have an easy – and inexpensive – way to dispose of solid waste at the next dumpster you come across. The downsides are the potential for odor as this is far from an air-tight system. Then there is the size of the bucket – 5 gallons is a lot space for the small amount of solid waste we produce each day. And lastly, you would still want to do your number-1’s in another container to avoid it becoming a soup, for lack of a better word.


Cassette toilets give you full sized functionality in a small size meant for portability. The usually consist of a standard looking toilet seat with a manual or battery powered flushing mechanism, and a tank below it that holds the human waste. The lower tank is air tight to avoid bad odors, and detachable for when you need to empty it which can be done in any toilet or port-a-potty you come across. The larger models can be about the same size as a 5-gallon bucket setup, but there are smaller models (1-3 gallons of capacity) that will more easily fit into a small space, and still hold a few days of waste before the need to empty. They can also easily handle both solids and fluid waste. The downsides are the need to empty the tank by hand. Although they are fully sealed to prevent spillage, the idea of carrying that much waste in their hands can be a problem for some. Lastly, this disposal is usually done at a public restroom, such as a rest area, which is not always private, so you need to get past that too.

If carrying a bucket or tank of poo around is not your thing, we can bring it all the way back to the very basics of using public restroom as much as possible. Public use toilets can be found at most campgrounds, rest areas, truck stops, parks, etc.  If camping well out in the woods, simply digging a small hole and burying the waste is acceptable (here is good etiquette). With a little planning, one never has to do a number-2 in their own van. A number-1 however, is just going to happen. For us men, it is as simple as keeping that milk or orange juice jug around to use in those times of need. For the women, there are tools for that very thing, so don’t feel left out. Simply toss the jug at your next dumpster or empty it into a toilet and use again.

Thanks to Kerri, we are taking a “greener” way to dispose of our number-2’s this time around. Normally, we poo into a bag that lines out cassette toilet then it gets thrown out with the trash. (Yes, we often have our own waste in our trash, get past it). The problem with this method is the plastic bag. It never biodegrades, so neither does the poo. Kerri recommended we start using bio-bags to solve one problem (we already use similar bags for the dog poos), then to top it off we sprinkle a little Poo-Powder to help start the breakdown process. Now our poo, and the bag that contains it, are naturally returned to the earth in a very respectable amount of time. Though each of our number-2’s now cost a few pennies, I admit that even this old man feels better about it all.

It all may sound gross, but it becomes second nature pretty quickly.

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