The solitude you'll endure as a truck driver is one of the toughest challenges that new drivers face early on in their career. Everyone expects the obvious challenges a truck driver must learn to conquer - things like difficult backing situations, heavy traffic, terrible weather, tight schedules, and erratic sleep patterns. And those first solo months on the road are filled with plenty of hard lessons learned.
But people don't walk away from trucking because they can't get enough sleep or they can't figure out how to back into tight places. One of the most common reasons people walk away from trucking is the relentless solitude; the isolation from their home, their family, and their friends. And if that isn't bad enough, the most heartbreaking part may be that it doesn't necessarily end when you get home. Sometimes the isolation you experience after returning home from the road is the part you'll find to be the most unbearable of all.
Truck drivers pretty much live in their own little world. It's this mini universe of truck stops, warehouses, rest areas, and Walmart parking lots. A world where all of the conversations are with strangers, and the only people that seem to exist are other drivers, waitresses, dock workers, and mechanics. And believe it or not, you'll normally spend at least 20 out of every 24 hours completely alone in your truck. It's just you with your hands on the steering wheel or your head on the pillow.
When I used to get home it would seem almost surreal to get a chance to head over to the mall to see a movie or stop by a friend's house for a visit. It was like a return to the "real world" where everyday people do everyday things. And suddenly, for a few fleeting days, I would be part of it all again. You finally get to forget about low bridges and weigh stations and tight schedules for one precious weekend and relax with your family and friends. I was always so incredibly excited! I couldn't wait to tell everyone all of the great stories about my incredible adventures.
Early in my career I realized that my return wasn't going to be the homecoming parade I had expected. The "Return Of The King!" The celebration of the hero who conquered the nation's highways and brought goods to his fellow man! Instead it became one of the loneliest and most difficult times of all. I realized right away that being an over the road truck driver didn't just mean a whole new life of beautiful scenery and fascinating adventures. It also meant leaving behind the life I once knew.
We all live in our own little world to some extent. We have our jobs, our homes, our everyday conversations. And most importantly, we have those people we count on every day for their love, friendship, and support. Unfortunately, that everyday world doesn't normally extend to people we only see a few days a month. As an over the road truck driver, you become an outsider in the world you once knew. Your family and friends are now busy doing everyday things that don't involve you anymore. Your kids have baseball games, play rehearsals, and high school dances you won't be there to see. Your spouse has chores to finish, children to look after, and bills to pay that you won't be there to help out with. Your old friends now have new jobs, new hobbies, and new friends that you won't be there to share.
After returning home you realize that the parade going on isn't in honor of your arrival. It's your former life continuing on without you.
When you decide to become an over the road truck driver, you're not just taking on a new job, a new career, and a whole new set of challenges in your life. You're also leaving behind the life you once knew. Oh sure, your wife and kids will still be there when you return and they'll be super excited to see you. Your friends will probably want to go out for a few beers to catch up a bit. But you soon realize there is now a wall between you and them. In fact, it feels more like The Great Divide.
The people back home don't understand what you endure out on the road. They never took an 80,000 pound building on wheels down the Rocky Mountains in a January snowstorm. They never tried backing up to a 150 year old building in New Jersey that requires you to block traffic on a busy street while 75 people watch impatiently as you try to get out of their way. They never faced the snarl of Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon in a terrible thunderstorm. So they can't relate. Sure, they enjoy the stories a bit. But as quickly as the stores end, your family and friends have turned their attention back to their everyday lives, just as you've turned your attention back to yours.
Before deciding to become an over the road truck driver, make sure you understand the implications. Life will never be quite the same. If you're single and you don't have children, it might be one of the best decisions you'll ever make. That was me. I loved my years on the road. I loved the solitude. The challenges and the adventures were simply priceless to me.
But if you have a lot of friends you're close with, or more importantly you have a spouse and children you love dearly, please understand that your old life will not continue down the same path even though you're not around as much as you were. It will take a whole new path, and in many ways it will continue on without you.
Now don't lose hope! There are a ton of local, regional, and dedicated truck driving jobs that can get you home every night, or at least every weekend. There are even companies like Roehl Transport who have their own company-sponsored training programs with home time options like 7 on/7 off, 7 on/3 off, and 14 on/7 off. There are also trucking companies that hire inexperienced drivers like TMC Transportation who will get you home every weekend.
If you have a great home life you cherish and you want to remain close with your family and friends, you have options in the trucking world that will allow you to have a great career and still keep your home life strong and healthy. But do not kid yourself into thinking that you can show up a few days a month and life will go on as it had in the past. Whether you're around or not, the parade marches on. If you want to remain a part of it, you'll have to make careful career choices.