Tips For A Family Road Trip With An Electric Vehicle

by | Jan 18, 2022 | Family Adventures, Travel Tips

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When considering whether to purchase an electric vehicle, many travelers have one basic question: can I use it for long road trips? Whether you’re concerned about your carbon footprint or love seeing the latest technology, EVs are appealing. And with careful planning and consideration, you can hit the open road sustainably. Here’s all you need to know to make your EV family road trip dreams come true.



Road Trip Tips for Electric Vehicles


The Pros of Road Tripping In An EV

One of my favorite things about electric vehicles is the quiet experience you get while on the road. I never thought about how much noise a car makes until suddenly, it doesn’t. EVs tend to be zippy cars with good acceleration that makes them a pleasure to drive. And not stopping at gas stations? It doesn’t get much better than that. (If you’re lucky, you’ll even find prime parking spots that are reserved for electric charging at tourist attractions and shopping centers along your route.)


An electric vehicle charger with a parking space that says Electric Vehicle Charging Only - Tips for Taking a Family Road Trip with an Electric Vehicle

Shopping centers often offer prime parking spots for EVs that need to charge. Photo by Paul Nicholson.


The Cons Of Road Tripping In An EV

The biggest downside to an electric vehicle vacation can be summed up easily: “range anxiety.” Range anxiety is the term that refers to how you feel when you aren’t sure you have enough charge to reach your destination. This means you’ll have to plan your destination and your next stops carefully.


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Types of EV Car

When you’re deciding whether you can make a road trip in an electric car, the first thing to look at is the car itself. What is its battery range? How long does it take to get a full charge? We have a first-generation Nissan Leaf that only can get 60-70 miles of range on a single charge. While that car is a perfect daily driver, it can barely do the 30-mile trip to see the grandparents. It would not work for a road trip.

Today’s EVs have much better ranges. The current Nissan Leaf boasts a range of over 150 miles, which is perfect for a day trip. Newer Tesla models have 300-400 miles of range, which means they’ll work well for driving a long way.

If you want the best of both worlds, it’s a good idea to consider a plug-in hybrid. These cars let you run on the electric battery until the charge is gone and then it switches over to the gas engine. It’s not as eco-friendly as a pure electric vehicle, but it’s a good option if you’re traveling somewhere that may not have chargers available, like off the beaten path in rural areas or a long trip to some of the more isolated national parks.


Author standing by their first-generation Nissan Leaf EV ready for date night - Tips for Taking a Family Road Trip with an Electric Vehicle

Our first-generation electric vehicle is great for a local date night, but the battery can’t handle a long-distance drive. Photo by Paul Nicholson.


But Can My Family Fit In An EV?

The early EVs were adorable, compact hatchbacks with sleek, modern designs. And while they often had a surprising amount of space, they wouldn’t work for families who had more than four people, families traveling with pets, or families that needed to bring tons of gear with them. These days, however, there are several options for plug-in SUVs for travelers who need plenty of space. Our family has a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid van, which gives us the space we need for our long-legged preteen boys. 

If your family loves to camp, you might want to investigate Rivian’s new electric truck, which seats five and has a full camping kitchen as an optional accessory. 


A back plug-in hybrid vehicle being charged - Tips for Taking a Family Road Trip with an Electric Vehicle

Our family ultimately picked a plug-in hybrid van for road trips. The jury is still out on it due to some repair issues, but the gas mileage can’t be beat. Photo by Paul Nicholson.


Charging Times Of EVs

The next thing to be aware of is how long it takes your particular car to charge. This will depend on the size of the battery as well as the type of chargers used. If we plug our Nissan Leaf into a standard outdoor outlet (which would be considered a Level 1 charger), it will need 12-14 hours to charge fully. However, if we plug it into a Level 2 wall charger, it only takes a few hours to charge.

If you are spending the night somewhere, you can plug your car into a regular outlet and have it charge enough for the next day’s trip. This works well when you are visiting friends or staying at a campsite with RV hookups.


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However, if you need to charge on the go, look for Level 2 or Level 3 fast chargers to top up your battery. The timing of these can vary. According to Forbes, Level 2 chargers can give you anywhere from 12 to 80 miles of driving range per hour, depending on the charger’s power output and your specific vehicle. Level 3 fast chargers are harder to find, but they can charge at between 3 and 30 miles per minute.  

Tesla has its own network of superchargers to charge their cars quickly, although they can use standard car chargers with a special adapter. My friend Wendy has taken family trips to Minnesota, New Mexico, and the Florida Keys with her Tesla, and she says they plan 15-minute stops to charge at Tesla superchargers after every 3 hours of driving. 


A level 2 EV charger. Tips for Taking a Family Road Trip with an Electric Vehicle

If you’re lucky, your AirBnb might have one of these Level 2 home car chargers. Photo by Christy Nicholson.


Finding EV Chargers

Since you’ll usually need to charge faster than overnight, don’t plan to rely on standard wall outlets for your trip (not to mention some hotels may not appreciate you plugging in from their parking lot if you don’t have permission). When planning your vacation, the best way to prepare is to map out where you can find public charging stations along your route. Some cars have this included in their navigation systems. You can attempt to search on Google Maps or to check all the various charger brands like Chargepoint and EVGo for their maps, but this tends to be time-consuming and unreliable. Instead, consider a phone app like Chargeway, which will show you all the chargers along your route and which cars can use them. It will even give you a warning if there are charging gaps that mean you can’t make it to your final destination in an EV.

One of our favorite times to charge is while we’re eating or shopping. Some stores and restaurants, like Cracker Barrel and IKEA, have added electric car chargers to their parking lots to lure EV-driving customers. We especially love when we find chargers at other locations, like zoos, skating rinks, parks, and libraries. The cost will vary according to location (and in California, depending on the time of day). Many chargers bill according to kilowatt-hour (kWh) rather than actual time. We usually can fully charge the battery of our Leaf for $5-10.


Pro-Tip: EV chargers once required drivers to have special charging apps, points systems, or membership cards in order to charge vehicles. These days you can pay for most car chargers with your debit or credit card.


An EV car charger at the Cincinnati Zoo - Tips for Taking a Family Road Trip with an Electric Vehicle

Our family was excited to find these EV chargers at the Cincinnati Zoo! Our car charged while we visited Kris the Cheetah. Photo by Christy Nicholson.


Plan for the Unexpected

One of the most difficult parts of EV driving is planning for unexpected problems. For example, if you encounter particularly cold weather during your trip, you’ll find you go through your range much faster than usual. Using climate control, whether the heater or the air conditioning, also drains the battery quickly. 

The most common problem we experience is when chargers we planned on using aren’t actually available. We’ve definitely had instances where we go from charger to charger in a lot, trying to find one that actually works. Sometimes the chargers are already in use by other EVs. And sometimes, SOMETIMES, they are blocked by regular gas cars whose drivers didn’t care whether someone needed to charge (EV owners call this getting ICEd in. ICE=Internal Combustion Engine. Get it?).  Always have backup plans when road tripping in your EV in case your charging plans go awry.

So can you ditch those fossil fuels and tackle long distances in your EV? The answer depends on how far you travel and your tolerance for stopping to charge. But are the joys of EV driving (and scoring a few points against climate change) worth it? Absolutely. 



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Christy Nicholson is a writer, editor, and recovering perfectionist from Nashville, Tennessee. When not traveling with family, she enjoys cozy days at home reading, gardening, making music, and wrangling two awesome kids. Christy writes at about travel and sustainable living.