It’s the time of year when many people think of spending some time at home. After all, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas will be here before you know it. Schools will be out for winter break, and the kids (or grandkids) will be home.
Besides, who couldn’t use a break from the stress of the highway?
As an over-the-road driver, it helps to remember that getting home for the holidays sometimes takes a little planning. If you work for a carrier, they are probably planning on a healthy percentage of trucks being shut down — but not all carriers do this. By working with fleet managers now, you can improve your chances of hassle-free time off over the holidays.
If you haven’t done so already, let your fleet manager know you’d like to be home and what specific days you’d like to be there. Don’t assume that you’ll head home once you make a delivery on Dec. 22 (or even Dec. 24). Some carriers plan trucks out two or three loads in advance. If you haven’t requested the time off, you can cause friction by doing so at the last minute.
At the same time, it’s helpful to work a solid schedule right up until you go home for Christmas. Taking off the second week of December and then demanding another week off through the holidays may not endear you to your carrier. Taking an extra load, or maybe even working an extra weekend prior to the holiday strengthens your case when you ask for time off.
Be sure you know your personal schedule before you request time off. Getting home on Christmas morning when your spouse had scheduled you for an important Christmas Eve event can be a disaster during what is supposed to be a happy time. Your carrier may attempt to get as many loads as possible for you before you go home, and they won’t be happy if you suddenly ask to get home a day sooner.
Many carriers will try to send you home under a load, so be sure you and your fleet manager are clear about which days you will be off. The last thing you’ll want is a phone call Christmas evening asking why you haven’t left yet for the delivery at 8:00 the next morning.
If you don’t personally celebrate Christmas, you might benefit from volunteering to run through the holidays. If you want time off for other religious holidays — or just some personal time — working through Christmas and New Year’s might help you build goodwill while you’re “banking” days off for when you need them.
As the holiday approaches, pay close attention to the loads you receive. If you’re dispatched on a load to California on Wednesday, for example, chances are slim you’ll be at your home on the East Coast by Saturday morning. Your fleet manager should be trying to position you for a load closer to home that delivers before your time off begins. If you are dispatched on a load that doesn’t seem to work, discuss it before you accept the load.
If you’re an owner-operator, you have more options, since you have the right to haul the loads you choose. If you’re leased to a carrier, you’ll still need to discuss your schedule to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Remember that spot rates often rise, sometimes considerably, around holidays. With so many trucks shut down for the festivities, shippers are often willing to pay premium rates to get their products moved. If your family situation permits, you may benefit from working through the holiday and celebrating on another day.
It’s a good idea to make sure delivery points will be open when you plan to be there. This year, for example, Christmas falls on a Monday. Some facilities may close on the Saturday before for Christmas Eve, giving employees a three-day weekend. If your delivery is scheduled for Saturday, or even on Sunday or Monday (Christmas), verify that they will be receiving. Otherwise, you may work through the holiday only to find yourself sitting somewhere, waiting for the receiver to open.
Also, consider your next load. The receiver may be open on Christmas for a delivery — but will you be able to find someone open to pick up your next load?
If you book loads through a load board or through a broker, it’s always a good idea to verify that the receiver will be open. A load board may have an incorrect delivery date, and a broker representative might be making assumptions instead of actually verifying.
If you do spend the holidays on the road, keep in mind that there will likely be a lot of holiday traffic, with some vehicles being driven by motorists who aren’t used to making long trips on potentially slippery roads. Allow extra following distance, and keep your eye scan moving to identify hazards before they become critical.
Some truck stops and other businesses offer free meals and other perks to drivers that are working on holidays. Look for signs where you get fuel, and announcements on trucking websites, like thetrucker.com.
The holidays are a time for cheer. If you can’t be at home, spread a little holiday happiness among the people you deal with at shippers, receivers, truck stops and so on.
Finally, may you and yours be blessed during this holiday season, whatever, and however, you celebrate.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.