When it comes to boondocking in the city, I vote for truck stops!
Workers at truck stops (or travel stops or travel centers, as most of the chains now refer to themselves) are accustomed to seeing vehicles parked in their lots at all hours of the day or night. From big rigs to delivery vans to motorhomes to U-Hauls to sports cars, people park their vehicles at truck stops while they get some rest, often overnight. Delivery drivers ahead of schedule can pass some time at truck stops. Folks on cross-country moves or vacations road trips can stretch their legs at truck stops. Of course, the businesses cater to truckers who need to refuel and/or take mandatory rest breaks.
In my early days of van travel, I’d always call ahead to make sure my van would be welcome overnight at a particular truck stop. Over the course of multiple trips across the U.S.A., I was only turned down a handful of times. The attitude of the person I talked to on the phone was usually Why are you asking me this? Of course you can park here overnight!
If anyone at a truck stop figures out a person is sleeping in her van, it’s unlikely to seem strange.
Another great thing about truck stops is that they’re open 24/7. Increasingly, I find Wal-Mart stores (even the supercenters) are closed for a few hours each night. A closed store makes a nighttime bathroom emergency problematic. Also, a vehicle parked overnight might stand out if customers aren’t coming and going at all hours. No such problems at a chain truck stop, since they’re always open.
What I love about truck stops is that everything I could want or need is right there. Fuel? Check! Restrooms? Yes. Showers? You bet. Hot coffee and most other beverages? Yep. Pizza at 2am? You know it! Video games? Well, yes (if that’s your thing). A selection of gadgets to make trucker life (and maybe van life too) easier? Yes. Snacks, maps, and souvenirs? Of course.
Some TA travel centers even have motels if you want to splurge on a night out of your rig. I’ve also encountered a couple Pilot travel centers with free internet access.
Different truck stops have different amenities. I try to stick to truck stop chains. Flying J is my favorite, followed in descending order of like by Pilot (which merged with Flying J some years ago), Love’s and TA. I’ve been in some dismal truck stops that weren’t part of chains. I’ve seen filthy showers, barely stocked coolers, and one place that I’m pretty sure had no fuel to sell. My experience with chains has been a lot better, although not every location is great. And while not every location really has pizza at 2am, the bigger the truck stop, the more amenities offered around the clock.
I’ve done laundry in truck stops, and it’s been hit or miss. Not every travel center has washers and dryers, and most that do have them only have a couple (maybe three) of each. Usually the cost is a little high, and on at least one occasion at a Flying J, I’m convinced my clothes were dirtier when I pulled them out of the washer. However, if your clothes are dirty and you’re at a truck stop with laundry facilities anyway, it can be a great convenience to be about to wash, dry, and fold in the middle of the night.
In the past, truck stops have had a bad reputation as dangerous places. However, the corporations seemed to have tried to clean up their images in the last few years. I think that’s part of the reason for the shift from “truck stop” to “travel stop” and “travel center.” If Mom and Dad and Sis and Brother feel safe stopping at these businesses, the businesses can reap the benefit of making money off average travelers too.
I’ve never once been harassed, propositioned, or hassled in a truck stop or in a truck stop parking lot. No one’s ever tried to sell me drugs (or anything else) or buy sex on truck stop property. No one’s knocked on my van or tried the handles while I’ve been parked at a truck stop. I’m not saying such things couldn’t happen, but none of them have happened yet. (Knock wood.)
Of course, I keep my guard up wherever I’m spending the night. I’m polite (but bland) if someone speaks to me, but I don’t initiate conversations in truck stops. I don’t smile, wink, or bat my eyes at men. I don’t dress provocatively. (My typical style of long hippy skirts and loose shirts doesn’t tend to make men think I’m looking for sex–either for free or for a fee.) I walk with my head up, aware of my surroundings, but I’m not out and about in the parking lot at all hours of the night. When I’m inside the truck stop (waiting for a shower or for my laundry to wash and/or dry), I keep my nose in a book (or my notebook) or look busy on my phone so I don’t invite conversation.
I’d rather spend the night in a beautiful natural setting or with friends, but if I can’t get to either of those places, a truck stop will be my next choice.
My experience entirely. I’m a Flying J girl myself. Note: all bets are off at local gas stations! Love to all, Auntie M
I forgot, get the Flying J rv loyalty card. Not a credit card, no id check. Swipe it for everything. Significant $ off gas (at pump) and a little off coffee.
I am going to have to get one of those cards next time I’m in a Flying J. I suppose one doesn’t have to prove one has an RV to get the card? I think that’s why I never asked for one before.
That’s very interesting! I’ve stopped at truck stops for gas, food and restrooms, but never for the night. I haven’t looked thoroughly, but I don’t remember seeing any private vehicles at the places around here. I asked a guy if the truck stops charge for parking, and he said about $10 a night. The best restaurant meal I’ve ever had outside home was at a mom&pop truck stop restaurant. But Pilot moved in across the highway and they went out of business.
Auntie M: ” Significant $ off gas (at pump) and a little off coffee.”
That’s interesting, because gas stations make so little profit off gas, maybe a nickel a gallon profit. They make their real money off the goods in the stores and food chains.
I never park with the truckers. I always park in the parking lot with the regular vehicles.
Love’s truck stops always seem to signs saying “no loitering” and “one hour parking only,” but I’ve never been hassled at a Love’s for parking overnight.
I don’t think it’s common for a truck stop to charge to park. I’ve only once been at a truck stop that charged for parking; it was a locally owned truck stop in Massachusetts. Most truck stops make money off of the truckers (and others) who park their overnight, so they don’t charge folks to do so.
I do try to buy something (fuel, ice) at the truck stop if I need it, but I have stayed at plenty of truck stops overnight without buying a thing.
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