Hygiene on the Road
You've seen the movies. On road trips you've done it yourself. You pull over at the Shell station, find that the bathroom is not filthy, just ill appointed, a galvanized steel toilet and sink, cracked tiles, a scratched steel mirror, rusty pipes, a small pool of water somewhere near the middle of the room. You lock the door behind you, do a half strip, wash under your armpits with frigid water, shave, brush, someone knocks, hurry up in there, you finish, gas up and leave. That's a shower at the Lincoln Hotel, the Volkswagen Motorlodge. That's Zen and the Art of Homeless Living. Everyone knows it. Jewel describes her life in a van, prior to recording stardom, in just this way. If that's the way you want to bathe, be my guest, but day in, day out, you're going to get pretty stinky and pretty tired of it.
It's important to know some "roughing it" techniques. Below I will teach you to make an adult version of baby wipes in a bottle, for a scrub down in the car, and offer you a great alternative to a dry shave, but first, let's talk about available facilities, and last, let's talk about a real shower.
Of the three types of restroom baths available, for those days when a shower is out of the question, gas stations are the worst. Gas stations are just slightly more sanitary, on average, than a portapotty, and frequently the water doesn't work. Gas stations are for those moments of desperation, when your creativity has failed you. This is equally true for public park and bus station restrooms. I'd rather spray down with a garden hose, or with the wand at a do it yourself car wash stall. That's not terribly fun either, but if you have a bathing suit, you can make it work. That is for the bold, for you are bathing in full view. If that's your style, you might also consider the showers that are often on public beaches or at public swimming pools. They're cold, but free.
Fast food joints are somewhat better than gas stations for a quick wash. Many allow you to lock the door and scrub up privately. Many require quarters for entry, though, or are for customers only, and maybe it's me, but I don't like having to run a gauntlet of minimum wage hall monitors to get to the lavatory. Laundromat restrooms rank higher, but nearly always require quarters to enter.
That leaves supermarket restrooms. I always favor these. They are always free, and the employees will tell you where to find them without any resistance at all. Unfortunately, they often aren't very private. No locks. Happily, they are not heavily trafficked. When you simply need to use the restroom, this is the best type of business to approach. Other interesting places to find a restroom are the lobby of a hotel and any floor above the fourth in an office building. Why above the fourth? Because many office buildings lock restrooms on the lower levels, and don't bother to higher up. Just go in dressed decently and pretend you've gone to the wrong floor if you are confronted by a security desk when the elevator doors open.
Creativity at the Dashboard
Sometimes you'll have neither time nor the inclination to search out a restroom or a shower room. Take heart. You can stay clean another day with one or two preparations while you sit at the wheel of your car.
Don't like a dry shave? Nobody does. Buy yourself some generic sex lube. It's only a couple of bucks at Walmart or Target or, really, any drugstore. A little dab and a disposable razor and you can get a nice shave. Rub a thimbleful of water over your face and wipe off to finish. It may sound funny, and of course your razor is ruined unless you rinse it out right away, but this works very well. It's one of my favorite tricks.
A dab of sex gel will help you comb out your hair in the morning, too, and it disappears completely into the hair, as if it were never there.
For washing up, make my homemade, adult version of baby wipes in a bottle. First, find some hand and body lotion that has a scent you'd like to wear, buy some baby oil, and get some relatively scent free shower gel or shampoo. Pour a couple of teaspoons of each into a small water bottle, say half a liter. Maybe skimp a little on the baby oil and be a little generous with the shampoo. Fill the bottle halfway with warm water, cap it and shake to mix. Now take a napkin from your favorite fast food place, saturate it with the mixture, and give yourself a good wipe down. It takes the smell off, trust me. Add a bit of witch hazel to the mix if you like an astringent quality.
You can brush your teeth with two mouthfuls of water, one to rinse your mouth with, and one to rinse the brush with. It isn't that hard.
Shampoo? 16 ounces of water can get the job done on short to medium hair. Put a bowl on the ground to catch the water you use to get the hair wet and use it again to rinse with. Conservation takes on new meaning when you don't have endless running water at your fingertips. You can do things in creative ways.
I don't like to do this too many days in a row. I've always been a real fan of hot showers.
Showers. Beautiful hot showers are available at the locker room nearest you. You can find a locker room on campus, if you're a student, or if you pretend to be a student. Colleges often don't check student id to get into the shower room. No one seems to take advantage of this fact, which always sort of surprises me, because there are certainly a lot of homeless students, but the locker room on campus does not seem to have entered homeless culture. That's good for you. It's good for me. If a lot of people start using them, colleges may decide to restrict access.
The most reliable shower, though, is a membership at a gym. Watch out for contracts. You don't need to be signing one. You don't know where you will be in two years, and no one needs Bally's trashing his credit. Clubs, including the YMCA (which tends to be more expensive than the competition) will charge an initiation fee of a couple of hundred bucks, and then you pay monthly dues of 20 to 40 dollars, depending on the level of access you want. You want unrestricted access to the shower room and plenty of convenient locations. Other features matter only if you like to work out.
If you can't pay the initiation fee and you want to spoil yourself with a shower, get 10 or 12 bucks together and buy a day pass. It only gets you in for the day, but the water is nice and hot and there is plenty of it. If you feel like putting up with a sales pitch, it is often possible to get into the facility for nothing for the day. That trick only works once at most gyms.
If you're in it for the long term, a gym membership is the only way to go. I had one with 24 hour fitness for the five years I was out of doors, and I calculate that it cost me under 50 cents a shower. Well worth it for the good shave, bright lights, and hot water, and on top of it I learned yoga and stayed in shape. It was also a nice, warm place to go when it was cold or stormy out and I just needed to get out of the weather.