There are a lot of good reasons to get your CDL and hit the road. Trucking allows you to be your own boss. You’re the one driving, you’re the one making the decisions, and no one is looking over your shoulder all day. It’s a great chance to see the country, to experience places you might not be able to afford to travel to otherwise – and believe me, there are some sights out here that are worth seeing. And the money is good. At the time of this writing, solo drivers make around 30 cents a mile. It varies depending on experience, and most will probably start out at around 28 cents per mile. A good driver can run about 3,500 miles a week, which comes out to a $1,000 paycheck for a weeks work. But you work hard for that money, and it’s a far cry from a 9 to 5 job.
The Cons: Most long haul drivers are away from home for three to five weeks at a time, then home three to five days before hitting the road again. If you have a family, especially children, trucking might not be for you. There are a lot of drivers out here with families, but you will need to think hard about how it will affect them to have you gone for so much of the time. You will have to have the support of your spouse back home or it won’t work out. If there are no children, you might consider driving as a team with your significant other, if they are interested.
To be successful as a driver, you will need to be able to manage your time and money responsibly. Most trucking schools last for about three weeks, and even after you get hired on with a company it will probably be at least two weeks before your first check comes in. You will need to be able to pay the bills until then. Living on the road can be expensive. Truckstop food and merchandise is often overpriced, and its difficult to keep food on the truck, so most of your meals will be from restaurants. It adds up fast. Once you are on the road, time management becomes very important. The number of hours you can drive is regulated by federal law, and you will have to keep a logbook to keep a record of your driving time. You will have to be able to work within these rules to get your load delivered on time, and sometimes this means getting up and driving when you really don’t feel like it. You will have to plan your trips carefully to make sure you can get the rest you need, and still drive the distance. You will often have to spend 11 hours at a stretch behind the wheel. A bit of self-discipline is a must to succeed out here.
Unless you are driving as half of a team, loneliness will be a factor. You can chat on the CB, and hang out for a little while in the driver’s lounges of the truck stops, but that doesn’t make up for not having your friends and family around. Be sure you can handle long stretches with only the radio and your own thoughts for company. These days you can rent audiobooks at the major chain truckstops, and they help a lot on the long lonely stretches of highway. Another thing to worry about is safety. There are a lot of weird, and possibly dangerous people out here in the wide world, and if you are on your own you will have to always keep that in mind and pay attention to your surroundings and be careful about where you park for the night.
To be a successful driver, you will have to be able to multi-task. When you are on the road with hundreds of other people, all in a hurry to get wherever they are going, you have to be able to pay attention to many things at once. You have to keep track of the traffic around you, watch the road signs carefully, and always be aware of where your trailer is if you turn or change lanes. You will also have to know how to read a map, how to calculate the miles from one place to another, know a little bit about maintaining your truck, how to secure your cargo, fill out your logs and keep track of your time, and be ready for the unexpected. You will have to be flexible, able to react to changing conditions quickly, and without panicking. The weather and traffic conditions can change in a heartbeat.
Health – It’s hard to stay healthy on the road. If you are overweight, or struggling with your weight, trucking is likely to be hard on you. It’s difficult to stick to a diet when the truckstops are full of junkfood and fast food, and there often isn’t time for a healthier sit-down meal. Spending 11 hours a day behind the wheel makes for a very inactive lifestyle. You will have to have more of that self-discipline I mentioned earlier to keep up a healthy diet and exercise regime. It is possible to live healthy and drive a truck, but it’s all too easy to slip into bad habits and pack on the pounds.
Don’t get discouraged. All this sounds pretty rough, but I’m not trying to scare you away. Trucking will allow you to experience life from a new perspective. You will get to see the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Salt Lake, and New York City, and Miami, and LA. Sunrise in the desert is too gorgeous to miss out on. You’ll come away with a better appreciation for our country, a fatter wallet, and tons of great stories to tell your grandkids. It’s a hard job, but I think it’s worth it, and you might, too. But you have to go into it with open eyes, and I hope this article has helped with that.