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Overnight Parking At Truck Stops — The Full-Timer's "Motel 6"

Posted on:  July 14th, 2009  by  Ramona |  39 Comments

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! Smile 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.

Boondocking Etiquette

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!

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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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39 Responses

  1. trinity says:

    i like this web site

  2. melvonnar says:

    Flyingj now charges to dump, not quite as friendly as befor

  3. Flatlander says:

    As an RV’er and a trucker please remember that at truck stops you are visiting the home of a trucker, not an RV park. I saw one inconsiderate RV’er get boxed in because they didn’t park like the truckers did to allow room to pull through. IF you think it is not fun to back your RV, try a truck and traqiler in a parking lot full of truckers. Please remember that we sleep at different times of the day. Just because itis 12 noon doesn’t mean it isn’t 3 AM for me. And one more thing. I spend over 250 days a year away from my family. The truck is my second home. Please respect my priviacy.

  4. Ramona says:

    All excellent points, Flatlander — you have to remember whose turf you’re on and try to respect those folks’ schedule and needs. We always try to park out of the way so we’re not causing any truckers any inconvenience, and I hope other RVers do the same :)

  5. snowbird says:

    In 2010 Pilot bought out all but a handful of flying J’s. Those were purchased by Love’s. changes have taken place. Many RV dump stations have been closed. Prices are a lot higher for fuel and the RV discount cards are being changed so you might not get your discount without getting a Pilot or Love’s card. The Flying J credit card for use at the big rig pumps(Transalliance Bank) closed out all Flying J accounts. I’m sure more changes are in the making and not to the benefit of the RVer. Our motor coach’s fuel tank holds 300+ gallons now with basically 4 providers, Pilot, Love’s, TA, & Petro they have all priced themselves within a penny or two of each other and the cost has sky rocketed. All these providers of diesel at truck stops (travel centers) are charging 20 cents or more per gallon more than diesel costs at a regular filling station. Big problem is regular gas stations aren’t physically set up to handle a big RV or 5th wheel. So many RVers are forced to pay these excessive prices along with the truckers. Higher diesel costs for trucks results in higher costs for every product shipped by truck.

  6. Ramona says:

    Thanks for the heads-up about the changes — perhaps not the friendliest option anymore, but still better than having to pay for a hotel!

  7. Don says:

    It’s actually a question. I don’t have an RV. I’m a student. I’m graduating this May, and I have to drive back from Massachusetts to Arizona in my car. Would I be welcome to park overnight at the truck stops too? Would it be safe for a young guy traveling alone with his stuff in his car? I need a place to sleep, and I can’t afford even the cheapest hotels.

  8. Ramona says:

    You should be welcome — there’s no rule that only big vehicles can park at those locations. My only concern would be the fact that you’re so much more exposed, just sleeping in your car. There could be a chance that someone might want to mess with you (and I have a hard time imagining that you would get a good night’s sleep with all those arc sodium lights in your face.) We can shut the curtains and lock the door and be safe in our “home” — not sure if you run any special risks just being in your car. You might want to think about tenting at a campsite, if you’re concerned (you’d pay maybe $8 a night.)

  9. Christina Kullberg says:

    We are driving a car and spending a night in it. Where should we park? Should I call ahead? Is it ok for a car to spend the night?

  10. Ramona says:

    I would definitely call ahead to make sure.

  11. Nancy says:

    Don, I have pulled over many times in a car in these places and felt quite safe, as there are always people around. I can sleep with the lights and sounds so that didn’t bother me, but as a solo female, I felt safe enough.

  12. Trucker Mike says:

    I see RVers in the truckstops and it kinda pisses me off. I’ve been tired as hell and pulled into a truckstop to get some rest only to find that many many spaces are taken up by RVrs. Same with overnight rest areas on the interstates. It’s getting harder and harder these days to find a decent place to park a rig and get our sleep. Sorry if this ruffles some tail feathers folks.

  13. Kris says:

    My husband is on oxygen and needs elec. to run the tank – do you know if there is elec. available to RVers for a one night stay?

  14. Ramona says:

    I don’t think so — I think that if you need electric, you’re going to have to go with a paid parking spot.

  15. Evelyn says:

    Trucker Mike…did you ever consider that some RVers work and live out of their RV? Or that some of these people have raised a family, worked many years, served their country, etc., and now live full time out of an RV, and can not always find another place to park and sleep? You don’t own the road or the truck stops…in fact many of these retired RVers that make you so angry have paid the taxes that built those roads over a lifetime of working. Something to think about.

    • Mike says:

      Let me correct you on your comment. First of all its a TRUCK STOP not a campground. Second it says TRUCK parking NOT RV parking. I have no issue when RV driver’s park in the rest area but DO NOT open your slide outs and take up 2 spots. Also Walmart has no problem with RVs. Keep in mind we are strictly regulated on driving time and your not. Also we deliver everything you use in your daily life. Have some respect or just stay out of our parking area. Have a nice day

    • Sam says:

      Actually, Mike, (in response to your reply) Wal-Mart isn’t nearly as RV friendly as it used to be. And if you are going to various work sites, whatever it is that you do, and you’re expected to be there on time, then you do have a strict driving time. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of RVing assholes, and yeah–I don’t care who you are, don’t take up two spots. No shit. But I think it’s best if you give people the benefit of the doubt rather than just getting pissed when you see RV’s. Everyone’s just doing the best they can.

  16. Rusell says:

    Would it be ok to run a honda generator that is much quiter then my diesl truck !

    • Mike says:

      Yes it wouldn’t bother anyone. Our trucks and APUs are louder than any small Honda generator. Just remember to keep it close to you and not near the sleeper of a truck

  17. Ramona says:

    I honestly don’t know if I would run a generator — we had a couple of hondas and they were still pretty noisy.

  18. fivekitten says:

    To the people asking about cars and sleeping – I travel from TN to NY in my 76 pickup and can’t make the drive in one day (old truck and old body). My daughter(s) and I have pulled over and slept in the truck many times at a chain truck stop (or local gas station in a rural area) and never had a problem or felt unsafe. Granted, I always prefer rural areas so I can’t speak for big city areas.

  19. Joe Licari says:

    Shorepower Technologies is in the process of installing electrification at several truck stops on major interstates throughout the nation. Most of the truck stops are RV friendly. A few are not and we recommend that RVers check with the site. Some may be RV friendly but have separate parking areas for RVs that do not have electrified spaces. Some may let you park and use an electrified space. Since Shorepower is just rolling out these sites it is a learning process for us also but we do have good relationships with the truck stop owners and we would like to learn more about this issue ourselves. If a truck stop is RV friendly they want your business. If our electrification system makes sense for RV users Shorepower would be happy to work with RV groups and with the truck stops owners.

    A question was raised about needing power for oxygen use. If a truck stop allows you to park in one of our stand-alone electrified spaces there is a service charge of $1.00 to initiate service and $1.00 per hour and usage can be purchased on an hourly basis through a 24/7 call center, over the Internet, through a card swipe payment kiosk or through the service desk. All it takes is an extension cord from our pedestal to the RV and it can be used to run the oxygen tank, a sleep apnea machine, heat, AC, TV, or any electrically driven appliance.

    But the suggestions made by Ramona and the subsequent comments should be heeded. After all, these are truck stops and truckers are mandated to park for 10 hours a day and for 34 hours to reset their work week. There is a significant lack of parking spaces for these truckers especially in metropolitan areas and especially in the Northeast. I have been in some trucks stops that can get pretty crazy in the evening with trucks looking for places to park. But as I mentioned, Shorepower would be happy to look into this issue and work with the RV drivers and the truck stop owners regarding use of Shorepower electrified spaces. Perhaps we can develop a database of information directed toward RVs on our website. I will be giving a presentation to a Good Sam Club Jamboree in New York. Perhaps that will be the beginning of my RV education. Perhaps Ramona will want to get involved in this issue if she sees good synergy with our electrification system.

    Joe Licari
    Shorepower Technologies

  20. Andy Ramirez says:

    I’m doing a road trip with my 2 border collies. i want this trip to be about my photograhy so we will see some cool sights. we do have a couple of places along the way to stay (san diego to seattle or bust) but i want to be flexible and not confined to dates time and such. i’ll be in a tundra with a shell…like a turtle! I’m kinda looking forward to roughing it and hitting a truck stop now and then for a night seems okay to me. you mentioned calling ahead. do i need to do that or just crash get up and keep the cruise going? thank you in advance for your advice as this will be the first time i decide not to have it easy!

  21. Ramona says:

    How fun! I don’t see that you’d need to call ahead — maybe only if you’re planning to use some of their other facilities (like showers, etc.) Enjoy!

  22. Kathe says:

    I happened onto your blog on traveling and staying overnight at truckstops. Thanks for the info. I have a question, not sure who to ask 1st. We are planning to drive our RV that is winterized from Michigan to Illinois in December to visit our daughter who is due to have our 2nd grandson on Xmas Eve. We want to stay in a motel, but don’t know what to do with our RV? No one down there seems to have room for us to park it on their property for a week or two? They all live in town on very small lots, with no driveways?? Is there any motels that will let you park your RV on it? We plan to drive to Florida after our stay. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  23. Ramona says:

    Some will, just call and ask to make sure. The other option is to think about renting a short term storage unit. We have done that and it worked out just fine. I have another blog about that at ramonacreel.com/BlogEntry.asp?Entry=1766. Good luck!

  24. Michael G says:

    I would like to point out that there are a number of smaller “chains” that are open 365/24/7. Ambest, Wilco (Hess)Sapp Brothers, and a myriad of other truck stops that are fairly decent and open most of the year.

    • Laura says:

      There is also a great Truck Stop Directory, available at most truck stops, that lists all kinds of truck stops, by state and city, and the amenities available at each. It is usually less than $20 and well worth every cent!

  25. Ann M says:

    We will be taking our first trip this year in an rv. I read the rules of spending a night at a truck stop. Can someone explain the not using slides thing. We can’t get to the bed without putting out one of the slides.

    • Ramona says:

      If you need your slides to function, a truck stop may not be the right place for you…generally frowned upon to do that much setting up or take up that much room at one for the night.

  26. jim says:

    Hi Ramona, like the student going from Massachusetts to wherever I’m looking into truck stops for overnighting rather than a motel on my way out west to see the national parks, I have a ford ranger ex cab with a Leer utility cap with windowless doors on the side on the bed that I planed on sleeping in so I’m not worried about light getting in or the noise. I’m going to assume that the truck stops will be ok with me crashing in the parking lot after using their shower, washing machine(when needed)and restaurant services for dinner and a quick breakfast before continuing on but should I ask first?

  27. S Tomlin says:

    When I sleep in my SUV at truck stop, I put up make-shift curtains to block out the light. One night I stopped unexpectedly and used clothes out of my suitcase for curtains. You can catch the top of a T-Shirt in the top of a “rolled up” window; and hang other clothes over the sun visors. It works great for good night’s sleep.
    For those doing this more often, make curtains and use velcro to fasten over your car/SUV/Truck windows.

  28. Kelland says:

    The important part to remember and concede was mentioned by Joe with Shorepower – in most places, there is not an adequate amount of truck parking in this country. While I respect the fact that many RVrs have paid their fair share of taxes, it doesn’t change the fact that most are typically in a vacation type setting, and are not required by law to stop and rest regardless of the convenience of the locations when they “die on the law.” With a proper trip plan, I would find it hard to believe that RVrs would not be able to find accommodation at a rv park – truck drivers do not have the luxury of pulling into a KOA because it’s more convenient. There is nothing more frustrating than pulling into a truck stop, tired from a long hard day at work and not being able to park due to an overfilled lot. Remember, as an RVer, you have parking options that we rarely do. On a side note, if you read the signs, at the vast majority of truck stops, including the major chains, certain amenities such as showers, lounges, certaing dining areas at restaurants and seperate restrooms are designated for professional drivers only. It would also irk me if I had to wait for an RVer to shower to get my working day started, especially when most have a perfectly good shower in their RV. For those asking about travelling in cars: truck stops would make a good, safe place to rest so long as you stay in the car parking lot – due to the small size of your vehicle, it’d be in appropriate and dangerous (because you’d be harder to see when surrounded with large trucks) in the truck parking area.

    • Ramona says:

      Good info to share, Kelly — but I will say that there have been some areas of the country where (“proper trip planning” be damned) there simply were no RV parks within a day’s travel from one location to another (had that happen in Utah and also in North Carolina). I personally don’t know too many vacationers who want to spend the night in a truck stop (and as a full-time RVer, they are truly a solution of last resort for me — I would much rather be somewhere less noisy with actual hook-ups). But should I need to stop at one, I feel not in the least bit bad about taking up a space as long as I am patronizing their business by buying gas and a meal or two.

    • Dawn says:

      Truck stops are businesses. If they wish to serve the RV community, then they have that right. If the government wants to make it mandatory for truck drivers to rest a certain number of hiurs, then they should build their own truck stops. The government benefits greatly from taxing the items that trucks carry, it should do its part to support that industry. Saying that a private business shouldn’t cater to anyone it wants to is wrong.

  29. Patrick says:

    I have NO complaints with any truck-stops whether they charge or not so Im the last one to complain. Driving is a privileged and Im happy there so many places you can stop at unlike years ago. Im 70 and as an RV’er I have seen it all.

  30. Melissa says:

    This was some really great info. I am travelling in a car by myself and wanted to know if it was “frowned upon” for me to do so. Good to know, it’s not taking up anyone’s space to stay in the car parking area! Thank you!

  31. Lou Axt says:

    Great article. As a full time Rver with a vintage Chevy and vintage Airstream, my wife and I have stayed overnight at truck stops many times. As you suggested in the article, we patronize the establishment while we are there (gas, food, etc.) We have noticed that a number of truck stops now have RV parking spaces on the auto side of the plazas. This eliminates any hard feelings with truckers. Although I have never had any discussion with long haul truck drivers, I am familiar with their need to have down time due to regulations, and have seen many truckers frustrated as they drive around waiting for a spot to pull their rig into.
    I would suggest looking up potential truck stops through their corporate website and try to use those with designated RV parking. These are usually the newer facilities anyway.

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