Millions of Americans will be packing into their cars to visit loved ones this Thanksgiving. With so many travelers sharing the road, the journey can feel like an eternity, but it doesn’t have to be painful.
“When I’m driving and traveling, I tell myself many times, ‘Today is going to be a good day, happy joy joy joy,'” Jenice Turner told USA TODAY.
With more than 15 years of trucking under his belt and several generations of truckers in his family, he 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 top travel tips with USA TODAY for the long weekend and the 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 BL Reever Transport, Inc. and a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. He’s been driving since 1978. E Padilla started driving trucks in the Marine Corps in 1976 and is an owner-operator and a member of the Western States Trucking Association.
The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What is the best time to leave to avoid traffic?
Padilla: It all depends on what time I’ll be hitting major cities because I don’t want to get to San Antonio or Houston or Kansas City during rush hour. There are many variables.
How do you manage traffic?
Gymnast: Personally, I go with the flow. If I end up in traffic, I’m fine as long as I get out on the road.
I don’t let the little things get to me. I know in my mind that this is only a short time. I’ll be out of this in a heartbeat.
How do I survive 10 hours of driving?
Gymnast: I always listen to audio books. That’s why I do it. This will make the time pass quickly. 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 during a trip?
Wiederhold: Every driver is different, but most of the time, I’d say guys probably stop every three to four hours.
You want to stretch your legs.
How can I save on gas for a road trip?
Padilla: Every time I travel, I always check the average fuel price in each state. Like when I get to Arizona I will (just) do so much fuel knowing fuel is cheaper in New Mexico.
I was in Texas last week. I paid $4.49 for a gallon of diesel 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.
Wiederhold: Many times with gas, the closer (you are) to the freeway, you pay for the convenience instead of driving five miles into town. My dad probably spent more on gas to get to cheaper gas, but my dad said, “That’s a key thing.”
How do people drive big trucks?
Padilla: Do not accelerate or pass the trucks on the right.
When I drive my truck, on the passenger side near the front tire, these little cars, I can’t see them. People don’t realize it, but I can’t see it because it’s hidden. They are so low.
We can’t stop (quickly). The cargo in the trailer will fall off. We have to brake very slowly. Many times when following other trucks, I always keep a large distance because it will take me a while to react, and some cars think I am reserving that space just for them. And they’re going to cut right in the middle of me and another truck, and then I have to back even further because I don’t want to hit anyone.
Wiederhold: Do not frequent blind spots. If you pass a truck, don’t linger next to the truck.
Drive like your life depends on it.
What items should you keep in your car?
Padilla: You must bring a flashlight with you. You have to take a blanket. It is good to take a thermos and some coffee and water.
Gymnast: I have a GPS and I have a roadmap.
I have a portable toilet out back that folds up because sometimes you end up in a place you really, really have to go and there’s nowhere to go.
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How are you safe?
Gymnast: Stop at a truck stop, not a truck stop. Stop at a big name truck stop like TA, Petro, Love’s, Flying J, Pilot. They have them everywhere. You just have to find them and they have apps for that. As long as you’re at a truck stop, you’re good to go. Large truck stops are always open, 24/7.
Sometimes you can’t stop at a truck stop. You must stop at a rest area. Never stop or try to park on the side of a highway or on an off-ramp.
Padilla: During the day, most rest areas have workers who clean the toilets and pick up the trash. There is a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but you have to be careful at night.
Before stops, make sure they are well lit. Be aware of your surroundings while you are there. Park as close to the restroom area proper as possible and just be very careful.
How do you find stops during a trip?
Wiederhold: The coolest thing you can do is what I call a one stop shop. When I stop, I look for a place (where) I can refuel and eat, if not in the same place, then at least from the same exit. Eat a good sit down meal if you can find it.
How can I eat on a cheap trip?
Padilla: My wife will go grocery shopping and make me food for two weeks, put it in the fridge in the truck and freeze it all. And then I put it all in the microwave.
I’ll have biscuits and gravy. I’ll eat homemade burritos, she’ll make me potato wedges and rice, whatever I want, and I just eat in my van.
How do I find the best restaurants when I travel?
Wiederhold: Don’t always fall for “oh, I see a lot of truck stops there, so the food must be good.” It is not true. Look for places with lots of local cars as locals can eat anywhere and they chose to come to this place.
How do you deal with bad drivers?
Gymnast: I’ve had a lot of people make fun of me. You have to understand, you never know what that person is going through, (whether) it’s road rage or she’s going through something. I try not to look their way. I keep going. I always say to myself, happy happy joy joy.”