When you’re hitting America’s highways, life can get a little lonely. There are some resources you’ll want to take with you- no matter what your reason for travel- if you’re going to be traveling far and long.
The Rand McNally Deluxe Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas
The regular atlas or a AAA trip-tick is fine for the novice or the occasional traveler. But if you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll want the luxury of this laminated, spiral-bound monster. You can use it for years without ripping the pages, you can write on it without bleeding through and you can spill coffee on it without affecting it’s readability.
Inside its pages, you will find a wealth of information. The numbers for trucking associations for the US and Canada, for DOT and state police, for national hotel chains, and for state weather and construction information. The regulations for over the road carriers- legal weight limits, restricted routes (though not all-inclusive), low bridges (though not necessarily all-inclusive), inspection procedures, documentation requirements and logbook regulations. If you take the time to read all the information in the front of the Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas, you’ll come away with more knowledge than when you started.
Most locations of weigh stations are relatively accurate, though there are weigh stations in use that are not marked on the atlas. Most trucking regulations are up to date and accurate, though enforcement information is not available. CoopsAreOpen has the most current and complete weigh station scales and DOT rules.
You can buy the Deluxe Motor Carriers’ Atlas at most truck stops or online at the Rand McNally website. The cost will depend on what time of year you buy it. The later in the year, the cheaper the price (because the new editions come out toward the beginning of a new year). Prices range anywhere from $30-$65. It also comes in a large print edition.
The Truck Stop Guide
Any truck stop guide will do- so long as it has locations, phone numbers, and a list of services. A “pocket truck stop guide” is alright if you already know the places and faces. But for the rest of us, a more detailed guide is a good idea. You’ll be glad you spent the money if you need to know where the best places to stop are on the road in front of you.
Truck stops used to mean good food and friendly people. It’s not always true these days, but you have a better chance of finding these at a truck stop (or nearby) than you do if you just throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. Truck stop guides will tell you which truck stops have 24 hour service, repair shops and restaurants. You can usually gauge the size of the truck stop by the size of the lot listed in the guide.
If you need to do laundry, receive a fax, receive a delivery (FedEx, UPS or DHL type), get a shower, or just plain get off the road for a few hours- a truck stop is a safe bet. A truck stop guide will tell you what services the truck stops have and provide the phone number if you want to call ahead to get the fax number or address.
Just don’t be surprised to find that when you arrive, the Heavenly Haven you hoped for is a Roach Ranch instead- truck stop guides do not include quality ratings. And many truck stops will not allow you to use the shower facilities unless you are a trucker.
You can buy a variety of truck stop guides at most truck stops. Prices range from $13-$30.
Most rigs and other vehicles are not equipped with refrigerators so a cooler makes sense. The electric coolers (made by Igloo or Kool-a-tron) plug right into your lighter plug- no need to constantly drain water and refill with ice. They are great for beverages and, in the short term, for dairy items. They do not cool to refrigerator temperatures, so foods requiring refrigeration will go bad faster.
Meals at truck stop restaurants and other roadside eateries can get very expensive over time. Being able to keep some staples like milk, lunchmeat and mayonnaise can help keep costs down and make small meals more enjoyable.
The electric coolers double as food warmers, as well. So if you are traveling with prepared foods, you can keep them warm to your destination. Most truckers who don’t have a refrigerator travel with one large electric cooler and use it to keep groceries and beverages chilled.
You can buy an electric cooler at most truck stops or at many super-type stores. Prices range from about $70 to $120 for large electric coolers.
Global Positioning System – Satellite Navigation
Traveling with a map is great, but traveling with GPS can make navigating your course a lot easier. GPS indicates your exact position as it relates to the map and routing software will determine your course and give you turn by turn directions. Magellan, Pioneer, Alpine, Streets and Trips- they all have good maping software. There are plenty of other systems, as well. These are all designed with cars in mind, however, not eighteen-wheelers. So, you’ll want to keep that in mind if you’re driving anything bigger than an SUV.
There is a GPS maping system designed for commercial vehicles called CoPilot Truck. It is designed to follow truck routes and to avoid low bridges and routes that would be unsafe for a trucker to use. However, it is always the driver’s responsibility to know where you are or aren’t allowed and to use your own judgment on the routing you choose.
Never trust your GPS completely. GPS is a wonderful aid, but if you rely on it without using common sense and your own ability to navigate and follow directions you may find yourself in a bind from time to time. Road closures, map inaccuracies and wrong addresses are all concerns when it comes to using computer routing. Be sure you have a handle on where you are and where you are going at all times- just to be on the safe side.
You can buy a GPS system at most truck stops, electronics stores and super-type stores. It’s best to shop around. Most GPS navigation units require a laptop computer to run them- though there are in-dash and hand-held GPS systems. Prices for independent units range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
When cell phones first came out they were an expensive investment. Local plans were often 20 cents per minute and roaming or long distance calls could put you in the poor house quickly. These days, you can find a reasonably priced service plan that is tailored to meet your needs.
Cingular, Verizon, Sprint PCS, and Nextel all have good plans and coverage areas. You also have the option of pre-paid cellular- which can help if you operate on a budget (you never buy more than you can afford).
Cell phones are good to have in case of an emergency or break down. But they are also good for keeping in touch with loved ones. You will find it is worth the expense to talk on a cell phone rather than trying to have a private conversation on a payphone in a truck stop- even if it’s in a private phone booth.
You can buy a cell phone at most truck stops, grocery stores, super-type stores, electronic stores and individual cellular company stores. Cell phones range from free with a service contract to several hundred dollars. Plan prices vary largely depending on what your needs are.
Citizen’s Band Radio (c.b.)
The c.b. radio is the cornerstone of trucking. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a trucker who doesn’t have one, though there are truckers out there who choose to travel without the squak box, as it is sometimes called.
Many people get deep into the c.b. (and ham radio) lifestyle. You’ll see cars running around with huge radio antennas and dragging rods that keep the car grounded for good reception- not a good idea in a lightning storm. You’ll see truckers with big antennas with coils on them pointed forward at an angle. A lot of truckers pay big money to get big power in their radios.
Until you’re sure of what you want, you’ll want to start small. You can spend a lot of money and if you don’t know what you’re buying, you may find you spent your money needlessly. Starting out, a Cobra 25 or Cobra 29 will do just fine. You can take it to a radio shop at a truck stop that has a good reputation to get it “peaked and tuned” and “matched to your antenna” and you’ll get good use out of it.
The CB radio is very helpful in bad weather and traffic situations. You can talk to other drivers and find out what the roads are like ahead of you and hear warnings of dangerous situations you may encounter. You will also find that there are a lot of people who use the c.b. as their personal entertainment- talking non-stop and harassing other drivers. At times, it is hard to get the information you’re looking for because there is so much chatter on the air waves. Still, it is a good idea to have a c.b. radio so you can communicate verbally with the drivers around you when you need to.
If you are new to trucking or to c.b. radios, you will find that truckers have their own language. They’ll be able to pick you out as a newbie or a novice, so don’t bother trying to be a smooth talker at first. There are a few drivers who will pick on you until you can “blend in,” but most drivers are helpful and won’t mind talking to a fellow traveler.
You can buy a c.b. at most truck stops and electronics stores. Prices range from $20-$30 all the way up to hundreds of dollars.
The birth of satellite radio was a huge milestone for the trucking industry. Most truckers who subscribe to one of the two services (XM Radio or Sirius Radio) can’t imagine trucking without satellite radio- though they did it for years. For most truckers, satellite radio isn’t an option… it has become a necessity.
Hours and hours of driving can lead to boredom. It is frustrating to loose an am or fm radio station you’ve been listening to. Both XM and Sirius have hundreds of talk, comedy, sports and music stations that won’t fade out no matter how far you drive.
The satellites orbit the earth south of the U.S. so the further north you drive, the more likely you are to experience a blocked signal. If you are running through a valley between mountains or through a tunnel, your signal may cut out until you hit clear sky again.
If you are using the small “mouse” antenna that comes with most satellite systems, you will want to be sure it is properly mounted on the top of your vehicle. If you mount the antenna to one side you may find that if you travel east or west and the antenna is on the north side of the truck, your vehicle will block the antenna from getting a signal. If you are parked on the north side of a large warehouse, your antenna may be blocked from getting a signal.
The larger your vehicle, the more likely it is that you may want to switch to a trucker antenna for satellite radio. These are larger and mount more like a c.b. antenna. They will have a stronger signal in situations where the mouse antenna might loose the signal.
Some trucking companies provide satellite radio systems and/or service for their drivers, but for those who have to pay for their own, it’s worth the expense.
You can buy a satellite radio system at most truck stops, electronic stores, and car stereo stores. Prices range from less than $100 for a plug-and-play type of unit to several hundred for an in-dash radio. You’ll also need to purchase the service from the provider for about $15/month in order to experience satellite radio.