Real Life RVing
Overnight Parking At Truck Stops — The Full-Timer's "Motel 6"
When you're on your way from somewhere to somewhere and just need to stop for the night, RVers definitely have the advantage over car travelers. You have your home with you, you don't have to worry about hotel reservations, you can sleep in your own bed and eat your own food for breakfast. But you can't just pull off the side of the road and you may not be able to find an affordable RV park in the middle of nowhere for just one night. What do you do?
Not Just For Truckers Anymore
One of the first lessons we learned when we hit the road was that a truck stop can be an RVer's best friend. When I say this to friends who don't travel for a living, they look at me with something resembling shock and disgust — why would you frequent someplace that caters to smelly rednecks who drive 18-wheelers? Well firstly, they aren't smelly rednecks (at least not all of them!) Secondly, truckers need the same services RVers do, and these all-in-one travel centers are happy to accommodate them. Let's pretend that you've just put in a long day driving, you're just outside of Holy-Crap-Where-Am-I, Montana — and you're tired. You're hungry, you need to fill up on gas, and you want to go to sleep. Off in the distance, you see a sign for a national chain truck stop — either a Pilot/Flying J or a Travel America center. You're a bit uncertain, but you pull off because it's the only thing for miles around. Suddenly you are greeted with every possible service a traveler could desire, all made available for a very reasonable fee:
- a dump station (usually free to use with a fill-up)
- both diesel and gasoline to suit any vehicle
- fax, copy, and other business services
- an ATM and check-cashing capabilities
- postal services beyond just stamps and a mail drop
- totally unexpected services like flower delivery, movie rentals, and trip routing
- a small grocery store with more selection than your typical gas station food
- a wide selection of truck and trailer maintenance products
- a service center that can perform routine maintenance and repairs
- tires sales and puncture repairs
- a truck and RV wash
- showers (which is nice when you don't want to use up all the water in your tanks)
- fast food options — and usually a pretty tasty sit-down restaurant, as well
- a propane tank refill station
- laundry facilities
- a TV lounge and game room
- some have higher-end motels attached if you want more amenities (bathtub, pool, etc.)
- large parking lots so you rarely have to worry about not finding a space
- parking spaces for FREE overnight boondocking
Over the years, as RVing has grown in popularity, these travel plazas have come to realize that they can increase their business by catering to recreational travelers as well as professional truckers — they are more than happy to have full-timers stay with them. They also recognize that RVers are often much freer with their disposable income than long-haulers — that these folks will buy a nice meal and a DVD and maybe a dorky souvenir for the grandkids when they stop for the night. So don't worry that you aren't welcome. And you'll probably find at least 3 or 4 other RVers (maybe even someone with an Airstream) joining you for the evening — you might even make a friend! All your needs are met in the most unlikely of places. Who could ask for anything more?
Safe, Affordable, And Convenient Lodging
Now you're saying, “Okay, I can see the value of a truck stop for all these ancillary services — I'm happy to buy gas, fill my LP tanks, dump, and even possibly eat there. But why would you want to sleep in a parking lot??” Matt and I asked the same question the first time we pulled into a Flying J for the night, on our way from D.C. to Alabama. We didn't have much choice because there were no RV parks anywhere near us, and we couldn't just keep driving all night. So we decided to give it a shot. We parked between two huge semis, put the cats in the trailer and gave them dinner, then went into the restaurant to get some food for us. We ate (I had a lovely grilled salmon with lemon broccoli — not what I expected from a supposed “greasy spoon”), washed up for the night, pulled out the bed, and conked out. It was a little noisy at first, with trucks pulling in and out — but by about midnight, everything had settled down and we got a good night's sleep. In the morning, we grabbed some coffee loaded up, and hit the road.
It was a perfectly acceptable way to spend the evening, and it didn't cost us a cent. When you think about the kind of utilitarian chain lodging that is most often used by weary travelers, there are three things that make a Motel 6 or Super 8 (the low-budget ones always have a number in their name) attractive — and these are the same features that work in favor of spending the night at a truck stop:
- inexpensive (no one wants to spend $100 a night just to crash between travel days — a $35 a night cheap motel is a bargain, a $20 a night RV space is even better, but a FREE truck stop parking space where I can sleep in my own bed is the best choice)
- convenient (you can find a cheap motel at just about any interstate exit, and there is usually a chain truck stop right next door — in many areas where there isn't a motel for a hundred miles in any direction, you can still find a truck stop — let's face it, truckers need services all over the US, even in non-touristy destinations)
- safe (the reason people pick a cheap chain motel over a cheap mom-and-pop place is a guaranteed basic level of security — you want to know that no one will be kicking your door in or stealing your car in the middle of the night — the same is true of chain truck stops, which focus heavily on safety, because they wouldn't have any business if they couldn't protect truckers and their cargo — these places are extremely well-lit, manned by a security guard 24 hours a day, and post cameras at even the farthest reaches of the parking lot — plus, all the activity deters attacks, theft, and vandalism, because there's too great a chance of getting caught and beaten to a pulp by a pissed off trucker)
You may notice that I've used the word “chain” a half-dozen times so far — we always stick with the big three I mentioned earlier, because that's the only way to guarantee a basic level of service. I know this completely violates my principles about patronizing local businesses — but in a lifestyle where you depend on a glorified gas station for your lodgings, you need to be sure. When you pull into “Bob's Truck Emporium” after a long day, do you really want to have to guess whether or not they are RV-friendly? To discover that they only have 3 overnight spaces, and every one is taken? To need help at 2 AM and find the security booth deserted? Not so much.
The other problem with local truck stops is their erratic schedule — they might be open, they might not. If you need accommodations the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or at 11 PM on a Sunday night, there is nothing more frustrating than getting off the interstate and finding that the only truck stop in town is shut down. You never have to worry about a chain being closed late at night or on a holiday, because these travel plazas are 24/7/365.
So I've convinced you that truck stops are the way to go — fabulous! However, there are a few small rules of etiquette to follow when overnighting at one of these fine establishments. Don't panic! I'm not about to suggest a pile of “Miss Manners” style regulations — no one is going to bust you for using the wrong fork at the “Country Cooking” restaurant! This is mostly just common sense. Boondocking (or dry camping or whatever you call it) at a truck stop is a lot like staying at a hotel or RV park — the most basic rule is be considerate of others. Just think for a second and ask yourself if what you're about to do would disturb anyone. Actually, the better question is whether someone else doing the same thing would annoy you. If not, you're fine. The one thing we don't want to have happen is for rude and obnoxious RVers to ruin it for the rest of us — we full-time RVers rely heavily on truck stops for resources as we travel. And as long as we're all well-behaved, we'll have access to free parking and quality services for years to come:
- just one night (this isn't an RV park, and your goal is not to set up camp for a week at a time just to save money — it's simply a stopover between destinations, and you're really overstaying your welcome if you park it for more than one night)
- don't unhitch (if you pull a trailer or fifth-wheel, don't even think about unhitching and leaving your rig in the lot so you can go see some of the sights or hit the local mall — using the truck stop for purposes other than an overnight stay is not kosher)
- no accessories (I shouldn't have to say this but no slideouts, no patio furniture, no awnings, no generators — don't even put down your stabilizing jacks if you can avoid it, because it might damage the asphalt — remember, all truckers do is pull in and set the parking brake — that should be all you do too)
- respect your neighbors (I know that your “neighbors” in this instance are 18-wheelers that make more noise than your little rig ever could, but just keep it down — contrary to stereotype, this isn't the place for drunken parties or cranking your stereo to full volume — it's especially important to keep it under contraol if you're traveling in a pack, because it's easy to get rowdy when you're having fun with your buds — we know!)
- pull out your wallet (the reason truck stops let you overnight for free is that they hope you will spend some money with them, so do! — fill up on gas and propane, buy some snacks or a meal, pick up some new wiper blades, whatever — I'm not suggesting that you buy a bunch of crap you don't need, just do something to patronize the establishment and show your thanks for their generosity)
See you at the next Flying J!
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
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