Why Road Tripping in an EV Slows You Down—and Why That's a Good Thing

Rural Oregon Coast Curvy Road with Car in Curve Sunset
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Before we bought an electric car, my husband Alan hated road trips. The long hours with nothing to do but watch the highway through the windshield never appealed to him. But once we started road-tripping in our EV, Alan changed his road trip tune.

If your road trip routine includes hours of driving with only quick stops for coffee or gas, you may want to rethink that approach in an EV. Depending on your vehicle, you may need to recharge every 150 to 300 miles. And that means stopping anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.

But with some planning, these charging stops can make your road trip more fun. When Alan and I drove our EV between San Diego and Vancouver, we took an hour to walk along the beach in Crescent City, California, while our car was plugged in nearby. On other charging stops, we enjoyed a Peruvian lunch in Bellingham, Washington, toured the Tillamook Cheese factory, paused for crab sandwiches, and did a little outlet-mall shopping as we traveled the Oregon Coast. Our road trip was no longer about how far we could go but about what fun stops we could make along the way.

Planning Differently for an EV Road Trip

California resident Sharlene Earnshaw, editor-in-chief of the family travel website Trekaroo.com, owns both an EV and a gas-powered SUV and has road tripped frequently with her kids, now teenagers, since they were small.

"The main difference between taking a road trip in our gas-powered vehicle versus our electric vehicle," she said, "is that we are more mindful about the pitstops during the day. In a regular vehicle, you just go to the nearest gas station," but in an EV, you need to figure out the location of chargers along your route. "Maybe I'll think about it the night before, whereas, in a gas-powered car, I probably didn't think about that at all."

Jennie Flaming, a trip planner and writer based in Seattle, has structured her road trips even more carefully because her six-year-old EV has an extremely short range. For her, the chargers' locations matter more than what's nearby.

Sometimes, she said, "you're going to have lunch at PF Chang's because there's nothing else" in the vicinity of the chargers. It's a bonus when you can "have coffee, try the brewery, walk the dog, or go for a hike" while your car is plugged in.

Our road trip was no longer about how far we could go but about what fun stops we could make along the way

Sean O'Farrell, who has owned an EV for several years, started road-tripping regularly with his wife and dog after retiring from his technology job. "We try to stop overnight where there's an EV charger," O'Farrell, who regularly drives from his Florida home to visit family in the Midwest, said. Their long-range vehicle doesn't need frequent charging, so they prefer to stay at lodgings where they can plug in, particularly those offering free charging to guests.

Hotels with EV chargers are becoming easier to find. O'Farrell notes that some hotel apps, such as Marriott's, have a road trip planning feature where you can enter your starting and ending points and search for hotels with EV charging facilities along your route.

Not All Chargers Are Equal

My first extended EV road trip took me from Vancouver to eastern British Columbia, exploring several national parks in the Kootenay and Rocky Mountains. Along the main east-west Trans-Canada Highway, fast chargers were plentiful. Yet when I turned onto smaller roadways leading to even smaller communities, I needed to be more mindful about when and where to charge. I found chargers in most towns, but often they were extremely slow—meaning that I'd need to keep my car plugged in for several hours.

Rhode Island-based technology consultant and EV owner Glenn Gruber said drivers should understand the difference between charger types. Faster chargers reduce the difference between traveling in a gas or electric vehicle. But with the slowest chargers, "you might as well take a little treadmill and run on it to try and charge your car faster," he said with a laugh.

With a bit of planning, though, I could schedule my mountain adventures around extended charging stops. For example, in Fernie, British Columbia, I plugged my car into a free charging station outside the town hall, then walked to a café for my morning coffee. I checked out the local museum, hiked along the river, and returned to town for lunch. When I'd finished my omelet, my car was ready to drive to the next town.

Is EV Travel Always Slower?

Some EV owners, particularly those with long-range vehicles, say that their road trips haven't changed much since they've gone electric. While Earnshaw does seek out chargers at convenient places to eat or shop, she says, "nine times out of 10, we're just looking for a bathroom."

Yet other EVers have found unexpected benefits.

"We're not eating as much shitty food as we normally did," O'Farrell insisted. "Before you'd stop at a truck stop, you'd get gas and grab a McDonald's. Now, when you're stopping for half an hour to charge, maybe you'll go into a restaurant and have a healthier meal."

Another EV owner pulled up beside me when I plugged my car into the sole EV charger in Radium Hot Springs outside British Columbia's Kootenay National Park. I asked if she was in a hurry to charge, and we started a conversation. I left with a charged-up vehicle and several recommendations for nearby hiking trails.

Driving an EV, Earnshaw says, "makes you stop a little bit more, slow down a little bit. Maybe you'll see spots that you may have driven past." Or chat with another EV driver.

Our EV has wholly changed our road trip planning for Alan and me. Even when we don't have to stop for an extended charge, we now look for interesting places to take a break. Because, really, isn't a road trip about what you can see and do along the road?