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?
One of the first lessons I learned when I 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:
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?
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??” I asked the same question the first time I pulled into a Flying J for the night, on my way from D.C. to Alabama. I didn’t have much choice because there were no RV parks anywhere near me, and I couldn’t just keep driving all night. So I decided to give it a shot. I parked between two huge semis, put the cats in the trailer and gave them dinner, then went into the restaurant to get some food. I ate 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 I got a good night’s sleep. In the morning, I grabbed some coffee loaded up, and hit the road.
It was a perfectly acceptable way to spend the evening, and it didn’t cost me 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:
You may notice that I’ve used the word “chain” a half-dozen times so far — I 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 I 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:
See you at the next Flying J!
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