While many truckers are accustomed to being on the road for days, weeks or even months at a time, a lot of them want to be home on holidays or other important days of the year. Others see holidays as a time to pick up some extra income or a chance for some stress-free driving while traffic is light.
Whatever your view of the holidays, it’s best not to leave your holiday schedule to chance. There are actions you can take to help ensure you’re right where you want to be at holiday time.
If you’re a company driver or an owner-operator who is leased to a carrier, it’s best to find out the company’s holiday policy before you sign on. Some carriers recognize only the major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Others recognize more holidays.
You might find a carrier that guarantees you’ll be home for Christmas or on certain other holidays of the year, but that’s a rare situation that can always change in the event of a breakdown or other unforeseen circumstance.
More common is a policy that the carrier will “do its best” to get you home, often accompanied by a statement that a certain percentage of its drivers get home each year.
The policy should include which holidays, if any, are paid holidays, as well as the amount of pay. Some carriers pay but attach provisions, such as you won’t be paid if the time off is used as a part of a 34-hour restart, or if you were also off the day before or after the holiday. These are questions to ask prior to starting, or at least far in advance of the holiday you want to take off.
Communication is critical to avoiding problems at holiday time. You should discuss your desire to be home with your dispatcher or fleet manager several weeks prior to the holiday. The good ones will ask you; but don’t leave it to chance.
Most carriers are more likely to work with you on getting the time off if you’re cooperative in helping them make it happen. Keep in mind that efficiency statistics like miles per truck are impacted when your truck is parked. If you’ve taken a lot of time off already in the month the holiday falls in, your carrier may be reluctant to give you more.
An example of this is Thanksgiving Day, always the fourth Thursday in November. If you take a three- or four-day break the weekend before the holiday, your fleet manager may be reluctant to grant another long weekend for the holiday. You might work with the carrier by taking a shorter weekend, or even working through the weekend prior to the holiday. Or, you might be home for Thanksgiving and the following day, leaving on Saturday for your next road week.
If you don’t celebrate a certain holiday, you might offer to work that holiday in exchange for another holiday that you do celebrate. For example, drivers who want to be home to celebrate Rosh Hashana (Jewish) or Eid-ul Fitr (Muslim) may choose to work on Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Dispatchers and managers should be clear about which days are important for you as a driver to be home.
Whatever holidays you choose to be home, you’ll want to get the big picture of how it fits into your schedule. You should have an idea of how many miles per day you normally drive. If you’re 1,500 miles from home the day before Thanksgiving, it’s obvious you won’t be home for the turkey and dressing. Generally, you should be close enough that you’ll deliver in time to be home as scheduled.
In the case of Thanksgiving, you’ll want loads that take you in the right direction. If the load you pick up Tuesday takes you 500 miles in the wrong direction, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your fleet manager before you make the pickup.
Keep freight flows in mind. Your dispatcher may know, for example, that it’s nearly impossible to get a load from the Atlanta area going towards your home. The solution might be to get a load to Chicago, where freight going your way is much easier to come by. You and your manager should have a plan in place days in advance.
If you book your own loads through a load board, the same principle applies. Before you book a load, check for loads coming out of the destination of that load. The best-paying load may not get you to a place where finding a load home is easy, or even possible.
Some families address the holiday issue by changing the days they celebrate. Some may choose to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday, or even on Saturday, if that’s when the driver usually gets home.
Drivers who choose to work through the holiday, may have an opportunity to earn some extra cash, but the dispatch is just as important as it is for those going home. It does you no good to accept a load that normally takes two days and then be stuck waiting over a four-day weekend for the receiver to open on Monday.
Make sure the load you take has enough miles to be productive over the time period. Call to make sure the receiver will be open when you plan to deliver. Every Thanksgiving, drivers accept loads that deliver on the Friday after the holiday, only to find out that the receiver is closed until Monday. Or they make the delivery but can’t find a shipper that’s open for the next load.
No one wants to spend a holiday sitting in a truck stop. Get the details and, hopefully, you’ll avoid this situation.
Decide ahead of time what your expectations are for the upcoming holidays and communicate them well in advance with the necessary people. Doing so offers the best chance of being just where you want to be on that special day.
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.