When you’re on a road trip, you have tons of options for places to stop to find a bathroom and a candy bar. There are those little brick buildings offering little more than a restroom and a few vending machines; a string of cookie-cutter, state-operated plazas with a Sbarro and a 7-11; and ordinary gas stations surrounded by fast food places. And then there is a lesser-known option that blows all of those out of the water: the truck stop.
Why truck stops are the best
A truck stop is not unlike a gas station with an attached convenience store, but a truck stop offers more of everything. Food, for example: a small gas station will have chips and candy and maybe some prepackaged sandwiches. A good convenience store, like a Sheetz, will have hot dogs and made-to-order sandwiches. But a good truck stop will have all of this and a diner where you can sit down and eat a real meal.
The store area is even better: instead of a few shelves of absolute necessities (tampons, phone chargers) you’ll often be able to buy things like blankets, toys, books, clothes (souvenir T-shirts but also maybe a basic pack of underwear), and more. If there’s an item you need while you’re travelling but you don’t want to leave the highway to find it, you’ll probably be able to get it at a truck stop — maybe it will be a bit overpriced, but it’ll be there. And if you’re bored and just want to browse through truck supplies and silly souvenirs, you’ll find plenty of that stuff too.
Truck stops often have showers you can use for a fee, they are open 24/7, and their bathrooms tend to be a lot cleaner than the ones at the random gas station down the road. Amenities vary; some even have dog parks.
How to find a truck stop
Because I’ve heard this question before: No, you don’t have to be a trucker to stop at a truck stop. There may be separate entrances for trucks and cars, just like state-run rest stops, but all are welcome.
If your road trips have always been along the same few highways, you might not be aware of how many options you have. In Pennsylvania, for example, the turnpike (I-76) in the one with the plazas with the mini food courts, but I-80 is where you’ll find all of the truck stops. If you only drive one of these roads, you wouldn’t know about your options on the other.
The easiest way to find a truck stop is to become familiar with the chains most prevalent in the areas you’re driving through. Pilot, Flying J, and Love’s are the big ones. (Here’s a location map for Pilot and Flying J, which are now owned by the same company; here’s one for Love’s.) And for a more comprehensive search, the app Trucker Path includes these and other brands in their truck stop locator.