Millions of Americans will pile into their cars to visit loved ones this Thanksgiving. With so many travelers sharing the road, the journey can feel like it takes forever, but it doesn’t have to be painful.
“When I’m driving and I’m on the road, I say to myself a lot of times, ‘Today is going to be a good day, happy happy joy joy,’ ” Jenice Turner told USA TODAY.
With more than 15 years of trucking under her belt and several generations of truckers in her family, she knows what it’s like to be on the road all day and how to make the most of it.
Turner and fellow truckers Monte Wiederhold and Marco Padilla shared their best road trip tips with USA TODAY for the long weekend and holidays.
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Turner founded the Black Women Truck Drivers Facebook group, which has more than 10,000 members, and drives for Trans-United Inc. Wiederhold is president of B. L. Reever Transport, Inc. and a member of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. He’s been driving since 1978. And Padilla started driving trucks in the Marine Corps in 1976 and is an owner, operator and member of Western States Trucking Association.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What is the best time to leave to avoid traffic?
Padilla: That all depends on what time I’ll be hitting major cities because I don’t want to hit San Antonio or Houston or Kansas City at rush hour. There’s a lot of variables.
How do you deal with traffic?
Turner: Personally, I go with the flow. If I end up in traffic, I’m good as long as I’m getting down the road.
I don’t let the small things get to me. I know in my mind that this is just a short period of time. I’m going to be out of it in a blink of an eye.
How do I survive a 10-hour drive?
Turner: I always listen to audiobooks. That’s why I do. That will make the time go by fast. And it’s free now on Libby. It’s an app. As long as you have a library card, it’s free.
How often should you stop on a road trip?
Wiederhold: Every driver is different, but most of the time, I’d say guys probably stop every three, four hours.
You want to stretch your legs.
How can I save on gas for a road trip?
Wiederhold: A lot of times with gas, the closer (you are) to the interstate, you’re paying for the convenience as opposed to driving five miles into town. My dad probably spent more in gas to get to cheaper gas, but my dad was like, ‘That’s a principle thing.’
Padilla: Whenever I’m going to leave, I always check each state for the average price of the fuel. Like when I get to Arizona, I’ll (only) put in so much fuel knowing that fuel is cheaper in New Mexico.
I was in Texas last week. I paid $4.49 for a gallon of diesel fuel, and three days later, I crossed the state line into California, and it was $6.49 a gallon. With 220 gallons in the tank, that’s a $440 difference.
How do people drive around big trucks?
Padilla: Do not speed, and don’t pass trucks on the right.
When I’m driving my truck, on the passenger side by the front tire, these small cars, I can not see them. People don’t realize that, but I can not see them because they’re hidden. They’re so low.
We can’t stop (quickly). The load in the trailer will fall over. We have to brake real slow. A lot of times when I’m following other trucks, I always keep a big distance because it will take me a while to react, and some cars think I’m saving that space just for them. And they’ll cut right in the middle of me and another truck, and then I have to back off even further because I don’t want to hit anybody.
Wiederhold: Don’t hang out in blind spots. If you’re passing a truck, don’t linger beside the truck.
Drive like your life depends on it.
What items should you keep in the car?
Padilla: You have to take a flashlight with you. You have to take a blanket. It’s good to take a thermos and some coffee and water.
Turner: I have a GPS, and I have a roadmap book.
I have a portable toilet in the back that folds up because sometimes you’ll end up in a spot where you really, really have to go and there’s nowhere to go.
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How do you stay safe?
Turner: Stop at a truck stop, not a hole-in-the-wall truck stop. Stop at a big-name truck stop like the TA, the Petro, the Love’s, the Flying J, the Pilot. They have them everywhere. You’ve just got to find them, and they have apps for that. As long as you are at a truck stop, you are good. The big truck stops are always open, 24/7.
Sometimes you can’t stop at a truck stop. You have to stop at a rest area. Never ever stop and try to park on the side of an interstate or on an off-ramp.
Padilla: In the daytime, most rest areas have workers there cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash. There’s a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but at night you need to be careful.
Before rest stops, make sure they’re well-lighted. Be aware of your surroundings while you’re there. Park as close as you can to the actual bathroom area of the rest stop and just be very careful.
How do you find stops on a road trip?
Wiederhold: The nicest thing to be able to do is what I call a one-stop shop. When I stop, I’m looking for a place (where) I can get fuel and food, if not the same place, at least off the same exit. Eat a good sit-down meal if you can find it.
How can I eat a cheap road trip?
Padilla: My wife will go shopping and make me food for two weeks, and I put it in a refrigerator in the truck, and I freeze everything. And then I just microwave everything.
I’ll have biscuits and gravy. I’ll have homemade burritos, She makes me potato wedges and rice, whatever I want, and I just eat in my truck.
How do I find the best restaurants when traveling?
Wiederhold: Don’t always fall for ‘oh, I see a lot of trucks parks there, so the food must be good.’ That is not true. Look for places that have a lot of cars that are local because local people can eat anywhere, and they chose to come to this place.
How do you deal with bad drivers?
Turner: I’ve had plenty of people flip me off. You’ve gotta understand, you never know what that person is going through, (if) it’s road rage or they’re going through something. I try not to look their way. I just keep going forward. I always tell myself, happy happy joy joy.”