An Ode To Trucks Stops & an RV How-To For Staying At Them

I sort of love truck stops. I love how they’re self-contained cities that come together and apart every day. I love that you can buy nearly everything you ever dreamed you might need or never knew you always needed at them. And when driving around the country in an RV, I just love that they exist.

When navigating life in an RV, you encounter all kinds of things that don’t come with instructions. I want everything to have a sign, all the time, telling me how it all works. But life isn’t like that. RV-centric places aren’t like that. And truck stops certainly aren’t like that.

So if you’re an RVer intimidated by truck stops, read on for instructions. At least according to what I’ve been able to figure out so far. And you too, can enjoy a sunrise over a truck stop.

flying j

Tips for Choosing a Truck Stop

You’ll see throughout this post that my best tip is to choose a Flying J or Pilot as I have found to them to be by far the most RV friendly, but you can get a lot of great info from the AllStays app. Entries look like this and tell you not only how a location has been rated (mostly by commercial drivers) but what amenities it has (probably don’t go to that second one):

allstays truck stop review truck stop review

Tips on Staying Overnight

truck stopYou can totally stay overnight. Especially if you stay at a Flying J or Pilot (which is now one company called Pilot Flying J, but their locations are still separately branded). They are totally friendly to RVers. The web site very explicitly confirms it:

“Had enough driving for one day? Pull in to one of our RV reserved parking spots or any other open parking space. Grab some dinner, stock up on supplies, and spend the night to get ready for that long drive ahead of you tomorrow.”

I love staying someplace I am explicitly welcomed.

I have found that other truck stops have signs stating parking limits of 4 hours or less. I pulled into a Love’s that had signage restricting parking to one hour. I called and the manager said I had to come in and get special approval to stay overnight. (She followed that by explaining she had to make sure I wasn’t going to block her handicapped parking in front on the store, although I’m not sure why I, or anyone else, would be in danger of doing that.) Which didn’t sound welcoming at all.

truck stopIf the truck stop you plan to stay at is not a Flying J or Pilot, you should probably call ahead or ask a desk clerk, just to be sure, unless you see signage or an online notation that RVs can park overnight.

I’ve stayed at lots other truck stops (including lots of Love’s and many independent places), and most of the time when I asked, they seemed confused I even asked first, but then there are those places that said I needed special permission, so you just never know.

It’s much easier for me to sleep if I’m not worried someone is going to bang on my door at any second yelling at me, and it only takes a minute to ask. (I tend to call vs. go in as you’ll see later in this post.)

truck stopDon’t park where a truck would park or block where trucks might need to drive through or in any way get in the way of the trucks. They get grumpy.

This isn’t really an issue for an RV like mine that can fit in any parking spot, but I often see larger RVs that can only park in the truck areas. If you ask inside, they’ll often steer you towards parking lengthwise in normal parking spots on the edges of the parking lot if it’s big enough, but this isn’t always an option, so depending on your length, you might not have a choice.

The AllStays app generally notes the number of (truck) parking spaces each truck stop. If you have a long rig, you might want to avoid truck stops with less than 50 spaces and the ones noted not to have much space. AllStays is used by commercial drivers as well as RVers so the truck stop comments have a lot of information about the lots that are stress-inducing. (To see this in action, just check out YouTube, where drivers love to post videos of crazy lot situations.)

truck stopIt might be noisy. As you’ll see from the next tip, I drive around a little and try to find a quiet spot, but I honestly have never been bothered by the truck noise. Mostly I have my fan or furnace on and the white noise totally blocks out the trucks. But even without that, the trucks are mostly white noise themselves.

Once, I stayed at a truck stop that played music on the outside speakers all night. I couldn’t make it through the entire night. (I even went inside to ask about it, and they said the music was just on all the time and there was nothing at all they could do about it.)

truck stopDrive around and scout the place out before settling on a space. I often have found quiet spots out of the way, on the edge between the car section and the trucks section. I try to back into a spot with a wall or hedge behind it so that people and cars aren’t coming and going right next to my bed while I’m sleeping.

Here’s an example of where I’ve parked just on the other side of the truckers. (Although this isn’t ideal; I should have backed in. But this was one of my earlier truck stops.)

truck stop parking

This is a much better parking place:

truck stop parking

And this spot is just about perfect:

truck stop parking

Look at how peaceful my view is:

truck stop parking

 Tips on Truck Stop Showers

As I have written about here before, I love truck stop showers. They are by far the cleanest, most luxurious showers I have found anywhere on the road, fancy RV parks included.

Truck stop showers, unlike a lot of RV park and campground showers, never have bugs or cold chills or only cold water or open pipes instead of shower heads or a rope that you have to hold down to keep the water on. Yes, that last thing only happened once, but still. I’m still bitter about it.

You get a huge, private bathroom with great water pressure and shower heads and plenty of hot water, and most even come with a towel! (Here’s a YouTube video someone made of a Flying J that begins with the shower.)

truck stopTruck stop showers are $12. Everywhere. $12. I happened upon a $6 shower at an independent truck stop once and I was completely in shock. Because no matter where you go, you’ll always pay $12. (Unless you buy more than $500 a month in gas at a Flying J/Pilot, which gives you free showers for a month, but as much gas as you might go through in an RV, that much gas is probably unlikely.) If you react to the price with “$12! That’s crazy! I’ll just go someplace else!”, the clerk will be highly entertained.

Bonus updated tip: During a discussion in the Roadtrek Facebook group, we started talking about whether a couple can take a shower together ($12 total) or not ($24 total). And generally, couples can shower together! (Which doesn’t mean they have to be in the actual shower together. They can just go into the room together.) You can ask for extra towels in that case and some truck stops have “team showers” (for instance a married commercial driving team), which are larger.

truck stopWear flip flops. This isn’t really a dis on truck stops. I recommend flip flops for showers at campgrounds and RV parks too. Always pack flip flops in your shower bag.

truck stopSpeaking of, have a shower bag! Again, this isn’t really truck stop-specific. I have a little travel toiletry bag (with duplicate items from my RV shower) so that I can just grab it and go and don’t have to pack and unpack anything every day just to take a shower. I keep it out of the way on my bathroom floor.

truck stopYou don’t need to bring in a towel, but you may as well, just in case. I’ve never encountered a truck stop shower that didn’t provide at least a bath towel (and sometimes a whole set of towels), but I always have a back up with me.

Most of the time, you can just leave the towels in the room when you leave, but one independent truck stop I stopped at had a towel drop near the front counter.truck stop shower

truck stop shower

truck stopYou probably need your own toiletries. Most truck stop showers provide soap, either as one of those little wrapped travel soaps you might get a hotel off the highway or in a bulk pump in the shower, but not always. I’ve gotten a little bottle of shampoo once (I still used my fancy shampoo instead) and I’ve never gotten conditioner.

truck stopThe private bathroom is really secure. Flying J/Pilot generally has a 4 digit code printed on your receipt that you use to unlock the door (you sometimes have to wait for your name to be called/displayed on a monitor that tells you which room number is yours), but other places just give you a key.

 Tips on Coffee

I dunno. I’m just not a coffee snob, especially in the morning. Sure, I can tell the difference between bad and good coffee, and one time, I stopped to get coffee at McDonald’s and they accidentally gave me someone else’s with 4 sugars in it (so said the side of the cup, I realized way too late) and I had to throw that right away (obviously, blech), but mostly I just need drinkable caffeine.

truck stopTruck stops always have tons of coffee choices, with names like “morning thunder” and “extra extra bold buzz this coffee will really keep you awake and bouncing around and can you tell we are drinking this coffee right now as we brainstorm coffee names”.

truck stopIf you use a travel mug (which I do anyway to keep my coffee hot and to keep the bugs out when I’m wandering around a campground in the morning), you get the refill price, which tends to vary in price (based on who is ringing you up and how large she decides your cup is) from $2 to 50 cents.

truck stopMany truck stop chains have loyalty cards (and Flying J/Pilots take Good Sam cards in lieu of theirs), which either give you a discount on each cup or build up to a free one.

truck stopMostly, you’re going to find powered creamer and maybe some weird pump-driven non-dairy creamer liquid. I try to keep milk in my refrigerator to add once I get back to my RV.

Tips On Getting Gas

I realize I’m sounding like a Flying J/Pilot commercial about now, but I promise I don’t know them and they are not paying me for this post. (Although, if anyone from their company is reading this, feel free to randomly send me money!) But you can use your Good Sam card at their pumps for a gas discount. Other chains give gas discounts with their loyalty cards, probably. But I’m loyal to them, so I wouldn’t know (ha!).

Presumably truck stops have lower gas prices because they buy in some serious bulk to cater to all those trucks. I don’t know if that’s true, but at the very least, they tend to be a lot easier to get in and out of since they’re a lot bigger than regular gas stations.

Propane and Dump Stations

Many truck stops have these! I use the AllStays app to find out. Again, some chains have loyalty cards that give you discounts on the dump station. I’ve paid as little as $5.

Wifi

I have a monthly plan with Flying J/Pilot, which typically works great (and often five or more different wifi points are available to accommodate the traffic). Many trucks stops have fast food restaurants (like McDonald’s or Denny’s) attached to them with free wifi. Of course, I sometimes just use the hotspot on my phone.

Laundry

I’ve never done my laundry at a truck stop (I generally do that once a week or so at a campground or RV park) but most trucks stops have laundry facilities.

Business Services

Many trucks stops have printing/scanning/faxing and mail services, along with services like Western Union and ATMs.

Gyms/Game Rooms/Haircuts/Lounges/Etc.

Yeah, some have massage services that I’m not too clear on. And I’m too vain to get a haircut at a truck stop. I saw a post about one truck stop with a dentist! But mostly, I’d suggest asking the staff about use of things like the gym. At times I’ve seen notations on AllStays for particular locations that certain facilities are for commercial drivers only.

Shopping

This is the best. I love wandering around and checking out all the random stuff for sale. It’s like walking around Amazon.com.

truck stop shoppping

truck stop shopping

Tips On Being A Woman Alone At a Truck Stop

Not long ago, a guy said to me that surely all the commercial drivers who saw me at truck stops just assumed I was a prostitute. Um, thanks? But seriously, I have never gotten that vibe at all. (Although I see a few YouTube videos show some places that do have that vibe.)

I mean, be careful, sure, just as you would anywhere.

I will often pull into a place late at night and not get out of my RV at all. That way, I know for sure there’s no random serial killer or axe murderer hanging out who has seen that I’m a woman alone and has followed me back to my RV, waiting for me to fall asleep. I wait until morning to get gas and stock up on groceries.

But I feel safer staying at a truck stop than I feel staying most places. It’s open 24 hours a day. It’s well lit and well staffed. I don’t park in the middle of the trucks — I park on the non-commercial side — so I’m never alone and hidden away. Mostly the showers are right off the main store area, but even the few times I’ve had to walk through the TV lounge area to get to them, no one has paid any attention to me. Everyone is watching the game, or getting food, or doing whatever in the little time they have before they have to get back on the road.

There’s no reason commercial drivers would be more dangerous than anyone else we might encounter in the world. My grandpa was a truck driver and he was just about the awesomest.

Bonus Tip!

Bobtails are trucks without trailers. So you can totally park where you see these signs.

bob tail parking

 

36 thoughts on “An Ode To Trucks Stops & an RV How-To For Staying At Them

  1. We slept over with our 1994 RT 190 at a Flying J’s in Ellensburg, WA this summer (for the first time). I agree with you… it seems quite safe. More than the running engines of the trucks, the highway right next to it was more annoying.
    What is the monthly wifi plan with them worth? I remember we tried to go on their wifi, and it was something like $5 for 1 hour or some other outrageous number.

    • That first pic of the sunrise is from the Flying J in Ellensburg!!

      For me, the monthly subscription is worth it because I stay at them often enough (sometimes I even pull in for a few hours during the day if I can’t find another place to work) vs. paying the crazy price for a single session. Access is generally pretty good so it’s worth it (especially since I’ll often watch a streamed movie before I go to sleep). I think it’s like $30 for a month?

  2. This is a great post! You answered any questions I had about truck stops and made it both informative and entertaining! I love that you even added pix. Thanks!

  3. A huge thank you for this article! I have been reallllly leary of overnight at a truck stop. No more!! Once i head home (western mass) in mid-december being able to stay at truck stop vs finding a campsite will free up hours. And oh how i missed a good shower while driving to albuquerque. Will give it a go! Thank you again!

    • Glad it’s useful! One thing I didn’t mention in the post is that exactly what you’ve said — it frees up so much time not to have to hunt down a campground when all you need is a place to sleep (and take a great shower!).

  4. Thank you so much for this very good blog!! I love our sense of humor and am so glad to get the lowdown on truck stops. Much needed info for the solo traveler. I want one of those ninja swords!

  5. I was absolutely intimidated by truck stops. I would even avoid stopping at Pilot for gas. Knowing that they allow RVs to overnight will make my life so much easier when I’m traveling. I travel solo in a RT170. Thank you so much for this informative article.

  6. Vanessa, excellent post! I always wondered what a bobtail was and now we know! We like truck stops as well as they do offer so many amenities of home. I was surprised, though, not to see a dog mentioned in your posts. I sort of assumed you would have a traveling companion/protector along with you. Ours is an eleven pound Terrier Shih-tzu mix who acts as an intruder alarm, and provides a great chipmunk defense perimeter. Happy trails!

  7. I pull a 32′ fifth wheel and like you I use Alistair to plan my gas stove. First choice us Flying J because they almost swats have easy access RV islands with propane and dump stations so are by far the easiest in and out with a 50′ rig. They are also the cleanest I’ve stopped at consistently. Pilots are second but I usually have to use the commercial big rig pumps which aren’t as convenient as the RV islands for me. Never sent the night but not keep that in mind for future trips.

  8. You have some good information here. I agree you can enjoy yourself out on the road but but quietly and discreetly you always have to be streetwise. All of our RV friends are very envious of our travels but scoff at the idea of using Showers in Campgrounds and the such. I explain how simple and easy it is and yes some are better than others but in all our travels I never found one that we walked away from and didn’t use.I laugh and say its part of the Adventure ! I changed in the RV and put on ‘easy to get dressed clothes’ so I don’t have to even carry clothes, wear my flip flops and carry my shower bag. We bought 2 of the new grocery bags to use because they hang open while one strap is on a hook. We’ve traveled nearly 35,000 miles since 2012 in our Pleasure Way and love it. I came across you or about you somewhere in the RV World and just today decided to look at your FB page.

  9. I am very excited to find your blog! Excellent post. On allstays.com, I see RVs Welcome. Does this have a particular meaning…like separate RV parking…or is it just a generic comment.

    • If you see the comment “rvs welcome” specifically related to a truck stop, generally that doesn’t necessarily mean they have special RV parking (although they might), but that they are OK with RVs staying in the parking lot overnight (some truck stops only want truckers staying overnight).

  10. Loved your article on truck stops. I used to drive in a two seat car 4 1/2 hours home after getting off five 12 hour shifts. I knew I was tired and would pull into a 24 hour McDonalds and sleep sitting up. My body won’t let me do that now. But I do plan to make a cross country trip soon where I will have a place to stretch out and sleep, I never thought about the benefits of a truck stop. will definitely keep this in mind.

  11. Spent about a year and a half as an over-the-road truck driver. Solo women drivers are a huge minority of drivers, but we are/were out there. Generally, the farther west you are in the country, the more welcoming truck stops are for women alone. (a truck stop manager in Connecticut once grabbed my arm trying to usher me out of the showers even though I had my fuel receipt. Had to shove my Commercial Driver License in his face and welcome him to, “call the cops on my whoring ass,” before he backed off.) Contrast this with a small, indy truck stop in Canada where a male driver stood guard at the hallway with the showers even though the doors locked from inside because,”Don’t want anyone to even think of messing with you, ma’m.”

    Mostly, it was as you describe. Some chains, like Pilot/Flying J, are very accomodating. It’s just a good idea to ask if you’re not sure and you will most often be very surprised.

    The best showers/bathrooms I ever found were in Little America truck stops. Marble, with full-length tubs. In any case, truck stop showers are far and away better than those found in state, national, local, or RV parks. But, everything you say about having your own shower kit and toiletries is very true. I found Dr. Bronner’s to be a good, all-around soap and shampoo, but conditioner’s a must if you use it as the latter. I routinely saw team driver couples using the same shower/bathroom. Nobody really cares, but I did see a group of 8 young folk (think they might have been a band traveling in a van) trying to get one shower for them all; the clerk offered one shower for the two women and two showers for the 6 men. I was finished with my business and have no idea how this worked out.

    You make great points of getting and using various loyalty cards. Points add up and discounts lower your costs.

    A woman traveling alone doesn’t need a dog for protection. But, huge doses of, “street awareness,” and common sense are certainly in order. Be aware of who’s around you. Avoid strolling to and from your RV, car, whatever to the truck stop in the middle of the night. This is where having your own toilet in your rig comes in real handy. Don’t open your door unless it’s law enforcement or actual truck stop management. Don’t casually invite strangers into your home (if you’re full-timing it, it’s your house, treat it that way). It’s okay to send a panicky-looking person pounding on your door at 3 a.m. to the truck stop. If they’re really being chased by an angry ex-husband, boyfriend, etc., they’re safer inside the brightly-lit building with security cameras everywhere than your discretely-parked RV.

    Great article. Keep up the good work.

  12. Great post. WiFi is $20 for 31 days at Pilot/Flying J and it usually works pretty well (I don’t know about streaming video).

  13. So do you need an RV to stay or could you stay if you were pulling a little camper? Like a tear drop?

    • At the truck stops where I stayed, you would definitely be welcome pulling a camper! (Just ask them where they’d like you to park.)

    • Typically, just one night, although you could check with the management to arrange for a longer stay if needed. They’re much more stops along the way as you’re driving from one place to another than a place to stop for a few days in my experience.

    • It depends on the truck stop, but I often have seen people even sleeping in their cars overnight at truck stops. Some truck stops I would ask about staying overnight and they would say yes and not ask anything about what I was driving. At others (I think I mentioned Loves in the post), they wanted to look at the vehicle before saying yes (although I got the impression this was more to make sure the vehicle wasn’t too large and that you didn’t park someplace that would block traffic).

      I noticed that people (who were clearly traveling) would sleep overnight in their cars sometimes at Walmart too, and I would think that they should totally stay at a truck stop parking lot instead, since they’d have access to 24 hour services.

  14. I will be driving my car (a Honda CRV) from Northern California to Manitoba in Canada in a couple of weeks. I am driving alone and only want to stop somewhere a couple of times for 6 hour sleeps. Everything I have read says to stay away from sleeping at rest stops. Do you feel it is safe for a woman driving alone to grab some zzzz’s at a truck stop? Where would you recommend I park?
    I will travelling on 80 for a lot of the trip through Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Then through South Dakota and up through Minnesota.

    • I just got back from a trip along much of that same route! It was beautiful. There are lots of Flying J’s along that route too. 🙂

      Rest stops should be completely safe, but you might feel safer (and therefore sleep better) at a truck stop since it’s bright and busy 24 hours a day. I’ve seen people use sheets or towels as curtains over their car windows in those situations to get a little privacy and doing something like that might help you feel safer too (so that you don’t worry that anyone notices you’re a woman alone).

      Each truck stop parking lot is a little different, but you’ll definitely want the car side of the parking lot (not the truck area). You’ll have to see what feels better for you — closer to the main road or tucked back in a corner someplace.

      Of course, if you’re finding that you don’t feel safe and have trouble sleeping (sometimes I have just not felt safe even though I was totally and completely safe and no one was around for miles and miles!), hotels are cheap along that route (and there’s always availability – you can use an app like Hotels Tonight to find an even better deal too). Getting enough sleep to drive safely is the most important thing.

  15. WOW! Great post. We are still putting our toe in the water to see if we want to hit the road. We stopped at a Flying J yesterday on the way home on a car trip and saw dozens of RV’s and noticed the showers and other amenities at the truck stop. We both had the thought, this could take care of a lot of nights on the road and save tons of money. Your post gave us a lot of great information. Thanks so much.

  16. As regular road-trip-loving auto travelers forever, my husband & I have often stopped in truck stops for food, fuel, & bathroom breaks for as long as we can remember. We much prefer them over regular gas stations for ease of getting on & off the highway, as well as what they have to offer, & the wide open & abundant parking spaces (which is much appreciated, since we’ve traveled in larger pick-up trucks for 20 years now).
    And I agree, as a female, I’ve never felt unsafe @ a truck stop, traveling with or without my husband – nor have I ever felt I’ve been been “looked @” (or approached!) as being a “lot lizard” (urban slang for truck stop prostitute). For that matter, I think maybe ONCE in 30-some-odd years had I even seen in the parking lot of a truck stop a female wandering around that gave me that vibe – & that was 30 years ago @ a slimy truck stop in the Refinery Row area of north Jersey, which is NOT a place I’d ever stop overnight, even if I was a trucker! LOL… And I can also say in the last 20 years I think all truck stops everywhere have stepped up their game to provide better, cleaner service – & therefore have worked to deter such activity….
    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for this website & blog, as even though we have long traveled via pick-up truck with often boats & horse trailers in tow, we are now retired from military service & are looking toward the purchase of our first camper sometime soon, so that we may start our next adventures in life of hopefully visiting every national park & many state parks that this great country has to offer! Regardless, since we will be RVers on a budget, we are trying to find every available resources for inexpensive overnight stays when just passing from one destination to another – to avoid $35+ camping fees every day – as well as having to drive out of our way to find them. I’ve always wondered about this question, & have seen RVs @ truck stops plenty of times, but we generally have never been @ a truck stop between the hours of 11pm to 6am to have ever noticed any RVing over-nighters…. So this is VERY helpful.
    But just wondering: Another big truck stop often encountered is TA – have you experienced many of them to be RV-overnight-friendly? All their website says is: “Cars and RVs…
    Whether you’re on a family vacation or a business trip, with a car full of kids or all by yourself, TA and Petro are your perfect pit stops. From good food, snacks, and gasoline to supplies and gifts, we have it all.”. But no reference to parking overnight…
    Thanks again.

    • I generally used an app (like AllStays or OvernightRVParking) to see descriptions and reviews of specific truck stops. Often the app would say if that particular location let RVs stay overnight or not. I would sometimes call ahead too. I think TA/Petro varies by location.

    • Anytime you stay at a campground (RV park, etc.) with hookups, you can fill up your fresh water tank at your site (some of these places let you fill your water for a small fee if you’re not staying there). Many dump stations also have fresh water available.

      For instance, this site lists dump stations and whether they also have fresh water:
      http://www.sanidumps.com/

      The Allstays app also has a filter option for water so you can see where nearby has water fill up available (some truck stops, rest areas, county parks, etc.) may have dump stations/fresh water hookups).

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