Steinbeck's narrative has been challenged as partly fictionalized. Bill Steigerwald, a former staff writer for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and an associate editor for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review , followed the route as it is laid out in the Travels with Charley, and wrote about it in a 2011 article titled "Sorry, Charley," published in Reason magazine.   He later self-published his analysis in a 2012 book,  titled Dogging Steinbeck .   Steigerwald concluded that Travels contains such a level of invention, and Steinbeck took such great liberty with the truth, that the work has limited claim to being non-fiction . 
By the time Steinbeck nears Virginia, he says that in his heart, his journey was over. His journey had ceased to be a journey and became something that he had to endure until he reached his home in New York again. After passing through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Steinbeck finds himself back in New York where, ironically, he realizes that he is lost and has to ask for directions home. As he spent a good deal of his journey lost, it becomes evident at the end of the story that being lost is a metaphor for how much America has changed in Steinbeck's eyes. America, it seems, is in a sense directionless and therefore endangered as it moves into an uncertain future marked by huge population shifts, technological and industrial change, and unprecedented environmental destruction.
Other works of “nonfiction” also “indulge” in stretchers: Henry David Thoreau, living by Walden Pond, entertained visitors more often than he reports in his account of that year, fails to mention the tasty pies he consumed. Does knowing those “facts” undercut the power of Walden? Does being told that Steinbeck spent nights in “deluxe hotels” or met his wife more often than he admits “break the faith of readers”, as a recent Times editorial asserts? Certainly classifying Travels with Charley as nonfiction brings readers into the current debate about the ethical boundaries of creative non-fiction, and that is a critical discussion to engage in. Perhaps the “actor” Steinbeck met—based loosely on John Gielgud—was simply a scene included to make a point. No doubt Steinbeck “indulged” in some fictive moments.