The Life of a Tramper
With the current profile of HGV drivers forefront in the news, we thought it would be a good time to ask one of our drivers, Reena Lee, for her experience of life on the road.
We started off by asking Reena for her overview of what it takes to be a long-distance HGV driver away from home much of the week in a truck designed with its own sleeping quarters; in the driving trade, this is known as being a tramper.
Life on the road can be a solitary and sometimes lonely one and because of this tramping isn’t something that everyone is cut out for. Spending each week away from home and only seeing family and, if you’re really lucky, friends at the weekend can be a grind for some. Tramping requires you to be a different kind of person. You need to be able to work alone for sometimes long hours and truck driving certainly isn’t your typical 9-5 job. Tramping for me at RML wasn’t my first rodeo, I’d done this kind of work before for two previous companies, neither of which I’d care to name or ever work for again. Making promises they can’t keep, with the most important promise of all, we’ll get you home early on a Friday. Yeah, like that ever happened.
And being a tramper at RML?:
Working for RML was different though. My working week in the truck is Monday to Friday, although it doesn’t start there. For me the week starts at the weekend when I do my shopping, planning for the week ahead in terms of the food I need to take with me to see me through the week, as well as anything else such as toiletries etc. Tramping can be pretty much home from home, you live, breathe, eat and sleep in the same environment all week so you need to make sure you’re all set up with everything you need. I usually take three bags with me into the truck each week and these consist of food (frozen plus fresh fruit), clothes, toiletries plus a rucksack that carries all of my electrical items such as laptop and charger plus the cameras that I use to record my vlogs with.
What does a Monday morning look like?:
My typical Monday starts at 4:30am when I get up and get myself ready to head off to work an hour later, it’s a 30-minute drive to our site in Wolverhampton so I pretty much start at 6am. When I get to work I park up alongside my truck as it’s easier when moving my things back in that I need for the week.
How do you store everything you need for the week?:
In my truck I’m well catered for; it’s been a work in progress that’s built up over time. I have two compartments under my bed (the bed is very comfortable by the way). One drawer I use to hold all of my clothes for the week, and I usually carry enough clothes to cover every eventuality. There have been a few times now where the weather has been so wet that I’ve been soaked through to the skin and it’s really nice to have a spare set of clothes to change right into as soon as I can. The other drawer is where my fridge is kept, being strategically placed right next to the driver’s seat it means I can reach down and open it whilst I’m driving and grab a cold bottle of water or an apple or two when I need to, thanks DAF. I have three compartments in front of me above my window too. One for all of my dry food, including the ever-important supply of tea bags, essential for any rest break. Another holds all of my toiletries such as toilet and kitchen roll as well as soap, shampoo etc. Then the important middle one that houses my microwave to ensure I always have a hot meal at the end of each day. I also have a kettle that sits on the floor too, well it’s pretty much like a small tea urn. I just fill it up in the morning and it stays hot throughout the day which is pretty handy for when you need that all important hot cup of tea.
What’s a typical day like?:
Most of my days are pretty joyous on the road, I get to visit many different destinations, through country lanes and many roads you wouldn’t always want to drive a 44t truck down, but that’s all part of the job and nearly every day is a new learning adventure.
Tramping too it usually means I never get to park up in the same spot, everything is always so fresh and new and waking up some mornings overlooking a farmer’s field as the sun is coming up is a sight to treasure.
We have the option to park up in truck stops, I tried that one, but I found the lure of the food was too much and ended up gaining weight along the way, literally. So now I just park up in a layby somewhere that looks safe, it also means I very rarely have to put up with the chance of someone parking next to me with a fridge trailer that keeps me awake all night.
Truck stops (and the lack of them) have also been in the news, what’s the reality, especially as a female driver?:
Some that I’ve been to are quite good although these are very few and far between – which has been an issue for generations of truckers. No real parking, especially if you’re not parked up by a certain time as spaces can fill up quite quickly. Some of the toilet and shower facilities leave a lot to be desired with some bordering on ok whilst some others you wouldn’t let a rat crawl around in.
The trouble with truck driving is that it’s still a very male dominated industry with little expectation of women driving trucks, but we do and it’s a number that grows all the time. Many truck stops are accommodating although I have heard a few horror stories from other lady truckers about how some places just don’t cater for our needs in the way they do for men – and I have some stories of my own I could tell you and as a result I carry a 10 litre water container on the back of the truck and whenever it suits me I put it onto the back of the trailer and with an adapted nozzle I use it to wash my hair with. A hair dryer, fresh towels and baby wipes are essential equipment.
The building sites I go to are pretty much the same too, the ladies loo is always locked and trying to find someone who has the key at a moment’s notice can be quite frustrating to say the least, especially if you’ve been driving for the last two, three or even four hours and you’re at the point of being desperate.
Do you feel safe?:
In terms of safety whilst parked up, I’ve never actually had an issue and I’ve been left alone. The worry these days with the recent fuel shortages is diesel theft whilst I’m sleeping at night, so for the short term I’ve had to revert to staying in truck stops until all of the nonsense is over with. There comes the temptation to eat the fatty and unhealthy truck stop food.
Are you happy in your work?:
Tramping isn’t for everyone, it’s a lifestyle you come accustomed to and grow with. You need to adapt to a different way of doing things to what you would normally be used to at home. You can’t just drag yourself away from it at a moment’s notice, you’re out all week. Our continental drivers can be away from home for many weeks at a time. You either love it or hate it. For me though it fits just fine, it’s fun and interesting with no two days ever being the same.
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