Having a van with a built-in kitchen and water pump is heaven sent. For me it really is the difference between car camping and having a real home. We love a good wild camp so avoid paid campgrounds almost entirely. While this often affords us some solitude, it does mean that we have to be a bit more resourceful when it comes to filling up our water tank.
Our water gauge does not show an accurate reading so when we fill up our 50 litre tank, we also like to have two extra 7 litre water bottles as back up. We have found that it is worth the extra weight and that it carries us through until we have a chance to fill up. There's nothing quite like running out when your hair is half washed or you are trying to brush your teeth.
One thing I have truly learnt on this trip is just how precious water is. Having a tank makes it so easy to be held accountable for the amount of water you use. It's amazing how much you go through when you are having a quick rinse off under the tap or doing the dishes. Washing my hair has become a real luxury and I feel incredibly guilty looking back to my days of long, hot showers. I now prefer to fill up the sink and dunk my head in instead. Dry shampoo and swimming in lakes will also do you wonders.
While we are very conscious of our water usage, we find we generally go through a 50L tank in just over a week. That is with cooking almost all of our own meals and consuming large quantities of green tea, coffee and water. We now only hand wash our clothes with our Scrubba when there is a tap nearby.
The difficulty in obtaining free water will vary from country to country. In some places you may also find that they don't recommend drinking straight from the tap. As a general rule we always ask the locals if they would drink it and go from there. If necessary we will boil it first or use our water bottle filter. We only really had issues in Croatia where I found the water had a strong metallic taste. In that case I chose to drink bottled instead.
With this in mind..
Here Are Our Top 5 Places to Find Free Water for your Van:
1.) Gas stations
You can generally find a water tap located near the air pump. By far our most popular method, in some countries this can be a bit of a hit and miss and you may have to shop around. In Bosnia we found that some gas stations had large drinking water tanks and charged you to fill up. If we know that we are running low, we will keep an eye out as we drive past gas stations.
2.) Highway stops
Some countries make it so easy for you that they have clearly marked drinking water stations at stops along the highway. Keep an eye out for the tap symbol on signs while you are driving.
Most parks and playgrounds have drinking fountains. The only real issue you may face is the strength and size of the tap and the issue of transporting the water back to your van. We suggest investing in some large bottles and a watering can to make your life easier. Dan would take my bike and load up the carry basket when the distance was far.
While you are next making a stop to get your clothes washed, take the time to refill your tank. Most laundromats will have a large sink where you can also fill up your water. Again its best to have a watering can or large bottles with you so you can do missions back and forth to the van.
5.) Ask a local
We've asked a few small cafe owners if we could use their outside tap. Make sure that it doesn't interfere with their business but people will generally help you out if you are desperate. Friends and family homes are also the perfect place to stop to use the hose.