Where to find drinking water to fill your tanks is a common concern both for aspiring and full time vanlifers. There is safe water out there to fill up with and there are different filters you can use to take out sediment, bacteria and viruses from the water as well. We travel in the United States so we can only speak to the availability of clean drinking water here. After living on the road for over a year, we’ve found some places consistently supply safe water and we want to share the 6 different places we always check so you can easily find safe drinking water!
One key detail to get out of the way is
Potable vs Non-Potable water.
Non-Potable: Many areas in the western U.S. have two different water systems, one of which is Non-Potable. This water is typically un-treated and is used for irrigation or livestock. This water is NOT safe to drink or use for any kind of cooking.
Potable: This is the good stuff. It has been treated and purified so that it’s safe to drink without fear of getting sick.
Unfortunately, water sources/spigots are not always marked so you may have to ask someone to determine if the water is potable (gas station attendant, camp host etc). Regardless of the water source, we always use an RV water filter just in case. We also have a separate filtered water faucet installed in the van for drinking water. This might be overkill but it gives us peace of mind.
6 Places Where You can Find Water Fill Sites
The first answer to this would be to check a crowd sourced app for the area you are in. If nothing shows up on those apps, there are other places you can check around town that usually have some form of water - although it is not always the potable type!
We use a few different apps to search for free or paid water sources to fill our tanks. The ones we reach for the most are iOverlander and Sekr. These are both crowd sourced apps, so you are relying that someone has uploaded a water spot.
2. RV Dump Stations
Many towns have free or cheap dumps for RVs to drain their black water tanks. These are usually located near public works building, RV Retailers and even some gas stations. At alot of these places, the potable water is often free but there is typically a charge for the RV Dump. At a few Public Works buildings, the fresh water was dispensed by a coin operated spigot. It was really cheap though, costing less than a dollar to fill our tank.
3. Gas Stations
Most gas stations have water spigots somewhere outside the building or a red handled water faucet somewhere between the gas pumps. These spigots are rarely labeled potable or non-potable so make sure to ask the attendant before using them. We’ve had the best luck with this at larger gas stations that also have RV dumps or car washes.
At some gas stations the Air Pump also has water. This will cost you some money and it is a bit slow to fill from them.
4. Grocery Stores/Water Kiosk
Many grocery stores, drug stores, and corner stores have some kind of filtered water machine, either inside the store (near the bottled water) or just outside the building. The price per gallon ranges between $0.25 and $0.45. It can add up depending on the size of your tank (and several trips into the store) so we tend to use this as a last resort. If we do use this option, we usually only get a few gallons to get us to somewhere we can find free water.
If you don’t have water filtration built into your van’s plumbing system, this would be your safest option.
5. RV Parks/Campgrounds
All campsites and RV parks have fresh potable water available for their campers. Even if you are not staying at the campground they may let you fill up on freshwater if your tank is small enough. Be sure to check with the camp host before filling! It is likely that they may ask for a few bucks.
6. Highway Rest Areas
This is one of our favorite options, we just wish it was available in more states! Some highway rest areas have RV dumps and fresh water fill up areas. These are very easy and convenient to use since they are right off the highway and they were always free!!
We first ran into this in the state of Washington where they are all over the place. Since then we’ve ran into them sporadically, but nothing as consistent as Washington.
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