There’s a Navy recruiting slogan that’s often quoted with sarcasm: “Join the Navy and see the world.” After all, about 71% of the world is covered in water — and much of what isn’t is covered in ice or desert sand, or is in some other way inhospitable. What the sailor does see is often viewed from a distance, from the deck of a ship.
A parallel in trucking is the invitation to become a “paid tourist.” Those who buy in to the hype quickly learn that the pavement and lines on an interstate highway look about the same in any part of the continent. Although the job occasionally provides great scenery or a windshield view of a tourist attraction, it rarely allows the time to explore and enjoy.
Trucking does, however, occasionally provide time off for 34-hour restarts, delays for the next load, vehicle repairs and so on. Additionally, drivers can choose to take time off at locations other than their homes. Many carriers have passenger programs that allow drivers to bring along a spouse, other family member or friend at little to no cost.
Drivers often prefer to use their time off to rest and catch up on laundry, grocery shopping and other activities. Some, however, choose take advantage of the travel that goes along with the job and use that time off to explore the surrounding area. The fact that lodging, however sparse, is right behind the driver seat and doesn’t cost extra is an added attraction.
With a little planning — and some help from technology and the locals folks — drivers can often experience “mini-vacations” anywhere the job takes them. In some cases, they can even request loads that deliver near an area or attraction they’d like to see.
Personal transportation is easier to find and arrange than ever before. Car rental companies often offer discounted rates and may even bring the car to the driver. Purchasing fuel for a rental car is much cheaper than for the work truck, and there’s no maintenance involved. Many urban areas have buses and trains that are inexpensive, and companies like Uber and Lyft make it easy to schedule rides using your phone. Drivers aren’t stuck at the truck stop all weekend, as they were in the past.
Local newspapers and websites can help you find information about upcoming events in a specific area. You might be able to catch a movie, a concert or even a professional sporting event nearby. Numerous websites allow users to resell tickets they aren’t using, often at considerable discounts.
Some communities have orchestras or theater groups that provide live entertainment at a reasonable cost. Many have “community announcement” sections on web pages or digital editions of newspapers.
Want to get out of the truck to sleep and shower? Those options have grown as well. There are apps that help locate available rooms, provide information and even arrange payment. These days, however, there are other options, such as “bed and breakfast” offerings and rental of rooms or whole houses through services like Air BnB and Vrbo.
Campgrounds are another option. Some will allow drivers to use their truck as a camper; some provide cabins or lodges. Campgrounds can be part of state or national parks or privately owned. Most provide electricity and water, and many have bathhouses and laundry facilities. Some provide rental of boats, bicycles and other items to fill your recreational desires. “Glamping” businesses take camping further, providing tents, cabins, teepees or yurts for a unique lodging experience.
If you’re looking for a break from truck stop food (or perhaps your own cooking), there are apps that let you view the restaurants in the area, peruse the menu and even make reservations. Many also provide user reviews so you can consider the experiences of others before making your decision.
A common issue among drivers who want to explore an area simply not knowing what’s there. Luckily, technology can help. Simple internet searches can reveal area attractions, and mapping websites often note hotels, restaurants and attractions. Specialized apps for your phone can help, too. Look for tourism apps in the Apple or Google Play stores, and select some that meet your needs. One app, Roadtrippers, shows local attractions and can be used to plan a trip. Also, the Air BnB app offers more than lodging. Users can book local tours or even classes and workshops. An app called Viator lets the user create tours and itineraries. There are many apps that can help you decide what to see, provide information about hours and amenities, and allow you to reserve a space in tours or other activities.
Often, employees at local truck stops or restaurants can tell you what’s nearby and where they enjoy spending their own time away from work. Sometimes, just jumping into a rental car and driving around the area can be a relaxing way of discovering attractions on your own.
While it’s true that there are many locations you can’t get to in your truck, with a little planning and the help of technology you can make down time a relaxing and rewarding experience.
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.