Everything You Need to Know About Road Tripping in an Electric Car This Summer

Your eco-friendly adventure awaits.

As someone who's driven a 2001 Isuzu Trooper most of her life, getting the keys to an electric car made me feel like I was trading in a Blackberry for an iPhone. With electric cars exploding in popularity, I traveled to sunny California last summer for a weeklong trip in Palm Springs where I rented an Audi E-Tron Sportback and took it all the way to Joshua Tree National Park.

Since this was my first time getting behind the wheel of an electric vehicle (EV), I wanted to make sure I was in an area filled with charging stations. To my surprise, I lasted the entire week without needing to use one. This was due to a combination of limiting myself to short drives and being able to charge up at my hotel — the Parker Palm Springs — but also because many of the latest EV models also have a median range of more than 250 miles.

All in all, there are many benefits to going green. Not only is opting for an EV great for the environment, but it even allows you to use the HOV lanes in certain states. Plus, you'll save on gas — basically a selling feature in itself these days with gas prices soaring to more than $4 per gallon on average nationally and even topping more than $6 per gallon in California — and don't get me started on how useful it is to have two separate trunks (thanks to no engine).Convinced and ready to hit the road? Here's everything you need to know to take the best EV road trip based on tips and tricks from my own time behind the wheel, guidance from experts, and even advice from my friends who drove a Tesla from Virginia all the way to Yellowstone National Park.

Tesla Model X driving on open road
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

You can travel across the country.

As a first-time EV driver, I decided not to push the limits by only going from Palm Springs to Joshua Tree. However, it is possible to get your electric car across the country. Electrify America, one of the largest networks of EV charging stations, is set up in many states and continues to expand.

Certain states also allow EV drivers to use the HOV lanes, a great way to get to where you're going faster and save power. A popular long-haul route is from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. via Interstates 15 and 70; another is from San Diego to Jacksonville, FL., through Interstates 10 and 8.

Newlyweds and Tesla owners Wes McLaughlin and Emily Martin took a road trip from Virginia to Yellowstone, and back again.

"For our honeymoon, we drove from Richmond through the Midwest to Colorado, where we stayed for a few days before continuing north to Yellowstone," McLaughlin said. "We stayed near west Yellowstone in Idaho, and there was a charger just outside the park. We drove through snowstorms and buffalo herds without issues or worry that we wouldn't be able to get to a charger."

A Tesla Model Y by a river with a stand up paddle board on the roof
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Choose hotels with charging stations.

When considering where to stay, opt for a hotel with a charging station. This way, you can park the car when you're done for the day and power it up overnight. PlugShare offers an easy-to-use map that shows accommodations with free charging stations alongside ones you have to pay for. Keep in mind, depending on the type of electric car you have, you may need an adapter to plug in (like plugging a Tesla into a non-Tesla charger, for example).

Fortunately, the Parker Palm Springs offered a charger, which fully juiced up the car battery overnight. For more options across the country, travelers can also search for electric charging as an amenity when looking for a place to stay on hotel search engines like Expedia.com.

RV parks are made for EVs.

One of the best ways to save during your trip is by stopping at RV parks along the way. In addition to giving you a place to camp and park as well as eliminating the need to pay for a hotel, RV parks allow you to charge your vehicle.

"Level 2 chargers are the same ones used by RVs for power," McLaughlin said. "If you rent a spot for an RV — typically $35 to $50 — you get a full charge and a good night's rest for a decent price. We spent several nights camping in the car when we just needed a place to sleep before continuing on the next day."

Aerial view of a Tesla Supercharger station
Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Know the different types of EV charging stations.

Not all EV chargers are the same. In fact, there are three different tiers. Level one is the slowest (think a standard 120-volt plug), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. If your battery is nearing empty, it could take up to 50 hours to power it all the way up.

Level two is the most common and delivers a full charge from empty in anywhere from four to 10 hours. As for cost, it varies, but is typically significantly cheaper than paying for gas — especially these days.

"Shopping centers are popular places for EV charging stations — some even offer preferred parking spots," said Jason Zehr, a Chase Auto product strategy director. "You can have a meal and/or run errands while the car is charging, and some stores offer free charging to shoppers."

Level three, also known as Direct Current Fast Chargers, is the quickest option and gets you back on the road with a near-full battery in as little as 20 minutes. Again, the cost can vary and some Tesla Supercharger locations, for example, even offer on-peak and off-peak rates.

Electric car charging socket and lead by the beach
Cavan Images/Getty Images

The warmer, the better.

Similar to your phone, EVs lose power quicker in cold weather, proving that summer road trips are the way to go. For those who end up hitting the open road in the winter, you're going to have to charge your car more often.

"If you're driving to a destination in cold weather, make sure to have an extra charge to get you there," Martin said. "We drove at 17 degrees Fahrenheit and lost battery fast."

Test the waters by renting an electric car.

If you don't own an EV — and aren't quite ready to commit — a road trip is the perfect way to try one out. Rental companies like Turo, Sixt, Hertz, and Enterprise all have their own electric car fleets, making it easy to set up a rental.

Understand the pros of buying an electric car.

There are incentives for investing in an electric vehicle of your own. Car owners can snag up to $7,500 in federal tax credits on plug-in EVs, according to the Internal Revenue Service, depending on the make of the car and how many vehicles have been sold. There are even more possible tax incentives at the state level.

Beyond not having to waste money on gas, you'll also save on maintenance. "I don't miss oil changes or replacing alternators and belts," McLaughlin said. "As someone who has never been a 'car guy,' it's nice to know that I can actually do all the maintenance on my car by myself, which is just adding windshield washer fluid."

When you're venturing out on long distances, it's also reassuring to drive something that has a lower chance of breaking down. Even when I was imagining a worst-case scenario of the EV running out of battery, I relaxed after remembering that Audi offers complimentary towing.

"Should a customer run out of battery unexpectedly, Audi roadside assistance will dispatch a tow truck and bring the customer and vehicle to the nearest charging location to ensure they can get back on the road as soon as possible," said Matt Mostafaei, an Audi E-Tron product manager.

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