How much money you can make as a professional driver is directly related to how well you manage your time. Well-planned trips are not only more profitable, but can also reduce stress, both mentally and physically. This, in turn, can lead to greater driver comfort and less fatigue, allowing you to focus on safely navigating the roadways.
An effective trip plan means you have a strategy for every run, no matter how big or how small. There are many items to take into account when planning your trip: the load, load appointment, delivery appointment, fuel stops, trailer washouts, hours of service, traffic, weather, scales, tolls and many others. Obviously, you are unable to plan for roadblocks, such as unexpected road construction or traffic, but you need to at least acknowledge they exist. A run through Atlanta, GA, for example, will need more drive time calculated than a run through an area with less commuter traffic. Driving through mountains in Utah may take much longer than driving in the farmlands of Indiana. Knowing the areas you are traveling is the first step in creating an effective trip plan.
Before you leave out on your trip, make sure you have all of your tools ready. Get out your Motor Carriers Road Atlas, plug your destination into your GPS, pull up Google Earth or Google Maps, grab your company directions book and start searching for your pickup and delivery locations. Search the areas surrounding the locations you will be heading towards. Are you heading into a large city with high traffic volume and one way streets? Will you be going into areas that have restricted routes or low clearances? Is there somewhere safe to turn around if needed? Knowing the areas you are traveling helps with your stress levels when you get there.
Do not forget to check the weather. While you think you are only going to see sunshine and blue skies, Mother Nature may be thinking something different. Fog, rain and high winds can move in fast, so always make sure you are prepared for the unexpected. NOAA Weather, Weather Bug and MyRadar, are just a few of many cell phone apps that can give you current weather in the areas you are traveling. Also, check for winter road closures, especially when travelling to the northwest. Please do not hit the road blind when there are plenty of tools out there to prepare you for tough weather conditions.
Try to set daily goals for your trips. Have a destination in mind and try to stick with it. If the destination is the receiver, be prepared to know where you can park the truck after you are unloaded. If you are able, call the customer before you arrive, and see if you are able to park on their lot for your required HOS breaks. Many customers allow you to park on their facilities, while some do not. Locate truck stops or other resting areas located near your destinations, especially if you know you will need a safe place to park after delivery. Get a truck stop directory or exit guide to help you in locating a safe place to park after your shift. Also, try to stick to your planned route – this is the route you have established around your fuel stops, HOS breaks, traffic, etc. Sticking to the route keeps you pointed in the right direction and allows you to focus on the uncontrollable.
Do not be your own worst enemy. When your HOS break is up, get on the road and keep moving. Do not go back into the truck stop to get another cup of coffee and socialize. Not only is freight time sensitive, but so is staying ahead of an impending snowstorm and avoiding rush hour traffic. Conduct proper pretrips so you do not find yourself dealing with a maintenance issue shortly after starting your day. If you are empty, make sure your trailer is washed out. If it is not, make sure you are accommodating for a trailer washout in your trip plan. The more you are prepared and focused on the trip ahead of you, the higher your success on the load.
As you can see, there are many items to consider when creating your trip plan, and many of them should be considered before you get behind the wheel. Unfortunately, experience is the best teacher there is, but if you learn to take your time, think before you move and then move with caution, you will have success with your trip planning, which will lead to a successful career.