As an EV driver and public EV charging enthusiast, my reaction to the largely unflattering article published by the New York Times about the obstacles of all-electric destination travel oscillated between heartfelt agreement and vehement opposition. Were they spot-on about the challenges of relying solely on public fast-charging for long-distance road trips? Undeniably. Had they failed to identify some of the creative ways experienced EV drivers incorporate charging into our destination travels? Absolutely.
I am the proud owner of an all-electric Chevy Bolt, and have joyfully driven it thousands of miles in all directions from my home in Berkeley, California. In fact, after some destination charging trial-and-error, I have learned to relish new opportunities to push my Bolt past its 240-mile range limit. In this blog post, I’ll share details of my best and worst EV road trip experiences, from which I’ve learned how to quell my long-distance range anxiety.
Rookie moves – my first EV road trip
Just 2 days after picking up my new Bolt EV from the dealership, I loaded 3 of my closest friends into the car and embarked on a 450-mile round-trip drive to the town of my alma mater, San Luis Obispo. As we neared the midway point to the Central Coast, when both the car and its passengers needed our first pitstop, we pulled into what I soon learned to be my favorite mid-trip Level 3 fast-charging location: a grocery store. In the time it took to use the restroom, eat our deli-counter lunches, and stock up on all the goodies we needed for the weekend, our car was back to 80% state of charge, enough to finish our journey.
Time spent solely charging my EV: 0 minutes.
Once we arrived at our weekend destination in downtown San Luis Obispo, however, the blissful ease of our EV road trip came to a screeching halt. First, we tried plugging the car into a 110V outlet near the front porch. Yes, the trickle charge would have taken over 2 days to fill the car up, but we were on vacation in a very walkable town, so we had that kind of time. Unfortunately, we quickly learned that this circuit on the old house wasn’t grounded, so the charger wouldn’t turn on. Fail!
Next, we considered plugging in at one of the many public Level 2 (240V) chargers in downtown San Luis Obispo. That didn’t work either. Although the parking structures had available Level 2 chargers, overnight parking was prohibited. As a last resort, we hit up the local shopping center’s fast-charger on our way out of town.
Time spent solely charging my EV: 60 minutes.
This first EV charging road trip experience taught me the valuable lesson that making plans for convenient Level 2 destination charging is equally important to making plans for convenient mid-journey fast-charging. This was corroborated by the responses to EVmatch’s 2018 customer survey question: “At which locations are you most likely to use a reservable EVmatch charging station?”
78% of the respondents stated that they were most likely to use a reservable EVmatch charging station near a lodging destination on a road trip. Had there been EVmatch hosts in San Luis Obispo back when I took this trip (as there are today), they would have been the ideal no-time-wasted solution for our destination charging dilemma.
On the road again – a recent EV road trip
I am not one to quickly declare defeat, so I look back at that first road trip in my Bolt EV as a valuable learning experience—one that has taught me the importance of incorporating destination EV chargers into my vacation lodging strategy.
As an example, one of my recent and very successful road trips in the Bolt involved a 400-mile roundtrip drive to Yosemite. On the first evening of our trip, we arranged to stay at the Acorn Cottage Airbnb just outside of the park entrance—one of the few vacation rentals I’ve found that includes EV charging in its list of amenities (The Bray Hill House in Jefferson, New Hampshire is another). That night, our car conveniently soaked up electrons as we soaked in the hot tub under the starry winter sky. The next morning, we continued our journey into Yosemite Valley, our bodies fully-rested and our car fully-charged (pro tip: once in Yosemite Valley, hotel guests and non-guests alike may use the Level 2 charger at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. We left our keys with the valet, who graciously swapped-in our car when the previous charger occupant departed.)
On our way home from Yosemite, we gained over 40 miles of range as we dropped into the foothills (thank you regenerative braking!) and made it within 30 miles of home before the orange warning light on the dashboard prompted us to seek out a fast-charger. It only took the duration of our brief bathroom break at a shopping center in Livermore, CA to pull the car back into the green zone, so we could continue confidently on our way.
Time spent solely charging my EV: 0 minutes.
The key to road tripping in an EV – rely on both Level 3 AND Level 2 charging
In addition to this Yosemite road trip, I’ve successfully leveraged the strategy of combining mid-route fast-chargers and destination Level 2s on numerous weekend getaways, including: Santa Barbara (shout-out to EVmatch host Michael), Paso Robles (the Park & Ride Level 2s are close to many lodging options, not to mention some excellent wine tasting rooms), Huron (thanks to my friend Rey Leon for lending me a charge), and Tahoe (there are numerous fast-chargers along Highway 80, and ski resorts such as Northstar provide a few charge-while-you-ski options).
In summary, yes, given today’s EV charging ecosystem, relying on fast-charging alone to fuel an all-electric vehicle on destination road trips is certainly a hassle. However, by planning your trip to leverage a combination of mid-route public fast-chargers and destination Level 2s, I can attest that all-electric journeys have the potential to be incredibly convenient, too!
Back when my husband and I first leased our 2017 Bolt, we took a weekend trip to Yosemite. We do not have fast charging, only level 2. We ended up staying at Tenaya Lodge for the weekend because it was hard to guarantee EV charging at many other locations.
We left our home in the east bay, stopped at a level 2 charging station in Manteca while we ate lunch, and made it to the lodge with 40 miles remaining. An overnight charge on their level 2 charging station at Tenaya Lodge left us with enough to go down into the valley for the day (no charging at the Majestic, we barely found parking at all in the valley) and then another overnight charge brought us to full and we had more than enough to get home since so much of it was downhill.
I actually just made a similar trip up to Lake Wildwood — 80 miles left when I got there, charged overnight on a trickle charge from a standard outlet, had enough to get home with 30 miles left.
We’re much more limited without fast charging, but we don’t have many places we want to go that are out of the Bolt’s range. As long as we’re willing to stay for a weekend for the car to charge back up before we go home, it’s fine. Definitely planning to get fast charge on the next one though =D