A Review of Travel Centers & Truck Stops Across the U.S

If you’re planning a long trip by car or RV, then you undoubtedly know that there will be numerous stops along the way for food, fuel, and potty time. Thankfully, many of those corporate monkeys have set up oases’ along every major route through the U.S. in various cities and states. While many will suit your immediate needs, they each have their pros and cons. During my time as a professional Truck Driver over the road, I’ve had a chance to visit many of the locations in each of the major chains. Allow me to help educate you so you can better plan your route.

First things first. As soon as possible, you should pick up what’s known as the “Pocket Truck Stop Guide.” This small booklet lists every major expressway and highway in every state and lists all the known truck stops along those routes. Each truck stop shows the exit number where it’s located on its respective highway/expressway. This is a great way to keep track of bathroom breaks and, more importantly, how far you can travel before you have somewhere to fuel. The booklet also lists whether or not the truck stop/travel center has parking. Good information to know if you’re hauling a camper or driving an RV.

On to the important stuff.

Love’s Travel Stop

Love's Travel Stop

It sounds goofy, to say, but I love Loves. I list this one first because it’s one of the few chains that is well-managed. Loves has a very respectable staff that has almost always been friendly and helpful. They maintain a clean storefront that is well stocked, equally clean restaurants, and amazingly clean bathrooms. Of all the places I’ve traveled, I’ve rarely seen graffiti and smut written on the stalls of the bathrooms here. If you’re looking for them, watch for the big yellow sign with the red heart.

  • Food: Chester’s Fried Chicken or Subway are often the staples. They have excellent coffee and a standard grocery selection like pop, chips, candy, jerky, soups, breads, and dairy.
  • Showers: Clean! You get a towel and soap. Private rooms with toilets.

Pilot Travel Center

Pilot Flying J

Pilots are pretty nice. Definitely my second choice. I’ve hit some older ones that were small and didn’t have much in the way of anything. Especially cleanliness, but overall, they do pretty well. If I cant get Loves coffee, I got Pilot coffee. They have your run-of-the-mill grocery and general stuff. Like Loves and TA, Pilot has a pretty good selection of electronics and accessories for long road trips. Some Pilot stops have service centers for vehicle and tire maintenance. Just look for the red sign with “Pilot” in yellow letters. Some of the larger travel centers also have laundry facilities and arcade rooms.

  • Food: Subway, McDonald’s, Arby, Hardees
  • Showers: Great showers. Private stalls with toilets. Of all my stops, I only had one incident where my shower room smelled like a dead animal. When I complained, the manager blamed it on the grease trap of the McDonald’s that they shared the building with. He also refunded my shower purchase.

TravelCenters of America (TA)

TravelCenters of America

My third choice, as many of them tend to be well-kept and fairly clean. Unfortunately, TA has been around for a while, and there are a lot of older stores. I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with less-than-helpful staff and an equal number of stops that were kind of dirty. Overflowing garbage cans and bathrooms make you want to sanitize your entire body when you finish. Their coffee is all right. It’s a bit too strong for my liking, but I think anyone who enjoys Starbucks would take it to TA coffee. They can be picked out by the big blue and red “TA” signs. Some of the larger TA stops have service centers as well as laundry facilities and small movie theaters or arcades.

TA is also the home of Idle Aire, which is primarily a service for truck drivers. Through it, they can get heat/air conditioning pumped into their truck as well as satellite TV, games, and the Internet.

  • Food: Subway, a Burger King or Country Kitchen which is a fairly common sit down restaurant found in many of the larger TA truck stops. Foods alright, I’ve eaten in several of them and I’ve had better food in some Coney Islands. It won’t kill ya, but it’s not gourmet either. TA also has a small cooler with their own brand of ready-to-eat sandwiches and deli stuff. It’s over-priced and not worth it unless you’re in a rush and can’t wait.
  • Showers: They’re alright. About as clean as most people’s showers. Soap scum, mildew. They don’t put much effort into cleaning them. They also have private stalls with sinks and toilets. I’ve had a few stops with dirty shower rooms that weren’t cleaned at all. You can say it. “ew.”


To my knowledge, Petro and TA are merged. Though Petro stations have their own design you’ll find TA ads there, and vice versa. Every Petro station I’ve been in has pretty much been a disaster though. Poorly maintained and old. In my many stops there, most of the employees act like they hate it there. Several of the larger Petro stations do have service centers. They also have the Idle Aire-like TA.

  • Food: I never stopped at any that had a fast food outlet, but many of them have a sit-down restaurant similar to TA’s called the Iron Skillet. I smelled alright, but I was never brave enough to eat there.
  • Showers: If they even had any, they left a lot to be desired. Rarely clean.

Flying J

I have to admit I’ve only been to a handful of these, and my experiences were never good. Long waits to get anything done, rude staff, and the one time I ate at one of their fast food selections, I was sick for two days. It’s a pretty standard travel center with laundry, showers, and arcades. Personally, I think they got too big too fast and didn’t put enough stock into customer service. I’ve never enjoyed stopping at these locations and only did so if I had to use the bathroom. The cleanliness of these travel centers was sub-par. Thus, they are last on my list of places to stop.

  • Food: Off-brand fast food is the best way I can describe it for most of them.
  • Showers: Don’t bother!

For all of the travel centers, it’s common for a shower to cost $10, though you can get it for free if you purchase at least 50 gallons of fuel. If you’re on I-80 on the east side of Iowa, I strongly recommend hitting the Iowa80 truck stop. It’s advertised as the largest truck stop in America. If you plan on eating at the fast food joints, expect to pay a bit more for everything. Most places that have a “dollar menu” in your hometown don’t have them on the highway. Value meals cost about a buck more on average, and many states have a ‘tourism’ tax on the food that can be as much as 11 cents on the dollar, perhaps higher. The best bet is to buy a good cool, hit WalMart, and pack food for your trip. It’ll save you a lot of dough and stomach aches.

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About the author
After a few years of writing for small local newspapers and freelancing for numerous national publications, Shaun took his skills to the Internet. Shaun's work has appeared on various sites and he is ready to tackle new topics and learn new things in the world of journalism.