How to Road Trip on a Budget: Part III — Stay Clean on the Road

How to Road Trip on a Budget: Part III — Stay Clean on the Road

I lived off of $420 a month while living for three years on the road. This covered my car insurance (~$80/month), food, gas, outdoor permits and fees, and splurges every now and again — like a ready-made hot meal.

In this series, I share how I squeezed every penny out of my dollar and ended up stepping foot in some spectacular places. I’ll go over travel and lodging, food planning, and staying clean (yes, solo travelers, you can even drive yourself crazy with lazy hygiene practices).

And no, you don’t have to buy a van. I did all of this from a 4-door, non-hatchback Mazda 3. But before we dig into hygiene, did you catch Part II of the series: Eating Healthy on the Road?

All caught up? Okay, let’s dive into staying clean on the road:

Harness the sun.

Road Trip Fitness & Hygiene - Shower

Got some privacy? Feeling itchy and ready to get cleaned up? Try a solar shower (aka “camp shower”). Most of these are designed to squish down flat when not in use (perfect for saving space in the car) and — especially if the bag is a dark color — heat up when filled with water and laid in the sun (try putting it on your car’s dash while you’re out mountain biking). For reference, a 5-gallon version holds enough for two quick, efficient showers (if you have a travel buddy) or one “leisurely” shower.

Remember: Before using soap, please remember your impact on the environment. Don’t wash with soap (including bio-degradable soap) in natural bodies of water and take your showers at least 200′ from streams, lakes, rivers, etc. Adhere to Leave No Trace principles!

No shower? No problem.

Action Wipes to the rescue. These are basically baths in a towel. They’re adult-sized (no babies here!) and work for the times you can’t find a hot bath (pretty often on the road). While traveling with my climbing partner on a six month climbing trip, he and I were both surprised how well they work. They’re thick enough to be used again if you need a wipe for bike grease, they’re all-natural, and they’re vegan-friendly if you’re into that. If you’re not the type that’s strict with ingredients and materials, baby wipes will work, too.

Get clean in a pinch.

road-trip-fitness-hygiene - clean up

No privacy? Ran out of Action Wipes? The last resort (which isn’t all that bad once you get a system down) is a gas station or fast food spot. If you find one that’s a single room with a lockable door — score! Lots of privacy. 

But that also means you’ve got to hurry, or an angry mob of folks who really have to go will be awaiting you on the other side of the door.


Pre-moisten and pre-soap paper towels if going into a single stall. Make sure you have a few to rinse soap off. If you do it right, you won’t need any to dry. Go light on soap & water!


Body: Wash your face, then extremities, then underarms using a couple of damp paper towels and soap. Keep one dedicated paper towel soap + water combo for sensitive areas.

Shave: Slap some water and soap on the area before shaving then wipe the residue off with a moistened paper towel. Or pick up a re-chargeable electric razor and you can shave dry, too.

Hair: use the sink and your shampoo (or hand soap, if needed) to do a quick touch up around the greasiest strands (usually near the face and ears).  

Still have time? Wash some underthings. That’s right — right there in the sink. Scrub some soap into them, squeeze out excess water and lay ’em across the back seat of the car where the sun will hit em.

* Note: please be kind and considerate:

  • Clean up after yourself; leaving hair in the sink can clog drains and no one likes water splashed all over a sink’s counter. Also, use the least amount of soap and paper towels possible (usually a small amount goes a long way, anyway!). If you’re not already buying lunch or gas, consider making a purchase for using extra supplies.
  • Public bathroom? Yes. Public exposure? Noooo: Lock the door of the bathroom if it’s a one-person room (the best kind) or lock yourself into a stall before stripping down to wash up. You may be comfortable with being a nudist, but being discovered naked in a public bathroom won’t go over well with law enforcement.

Ready for Part IV? Check out how to stay fit on the road!

Have more suggestions on staying clean on the road? Lemme hear ‘em on Twitter via @ginabegin.


About the Author


Gina Begin

Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Over the years, she has been consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.