The future is now: five electric-car road trips in North America and Europe for ethical tourists
- From chasing the northern lights in a Tesla X to cruising California’s Pacific coast, holidaymakers can experience the quiet pleasure of driving an electric car
- You’ll soon get ‘range confidence’ and stop worrying your battery will run down before you reach a charging station
Head out on a road trip in a far-flung destination, and after a few thousand miles you might start thinking: is it ethical to fly halfway around the world to pollute someone else’s air? Of course it is not, but there haven’t been many alternative options – until recently.
It may still be an emerging trend for now, but in not much more than 10 years’ time in some places, the electric-car road trip is destined to become the norm.
The first question likely to spring to mind before embarking on such a trip is whether you will have enough battery charge to get to the next charging point.
“That idea of ‘range anxiety’, of being too far from a charging point, is something you only worry about at the start,” says Tom Hall, travel editor at Lonely Planet, whose latest Best in Travel book identifies electric-car road trips as a top trend for 2019. “You can now get many hundreds of miles on one charge so you can be very ambitious, and it’s getting better all the time.”
Finding charging points can take you to places you wouldn't otherwise go, says Hall, who describes a recent tour in a Tesla electric car around the UK's national parks as an eye-opener to the wonders of e-road trips.
“There are remote Scottish hotels and restaurants that are a long way from anywhere that have gone to the trouble of installing charging points,” he says. “It really changes the way you plan the trip.”
However, most of the world has yet to install much infrastructure for electric-car users, so pioneers in this form of travel have limited options. “For now, the infrastructure is more common in places that get a lot of visitors, and mostly they are ‘first world’ destinations,” says Hall.
You'll pay a premium for the experience, though you do often also get a luxury experience. “Little can prepare you for the instantaneous power delivery, silent cruising ability, and leather-lined comfort these vehicles provide, their ease of use and the extra level of fun they inject into any trip,” Chris Hendrie, product and business development manager at McKinlay Kidd, a travel agent that organises electric-car self-drive trips, says.
Most people doing the tours are driving an electric vehicle for the first time, he says.
Hall thinks the demand for electric-car road trips will increase. “Most travellers want to have as minimal impact as they can, and while the car rental industry has been slow to respond, I think that will change quite quickly as the adoption of electric cars increases generally,” he says.
If you do want to get ahead of the pack and try out an electric car (usually a Tesla S or X, a BMW i3, or a Nissan Leaf), here are a few destinations that will give you “range confidence” on your first electric road trip.
1. West Coast Electric Highway, United States
The United States, a popular destination for road trips, has been one of the early adopters of electric-car infrastructure. One of its most famous road trips is along the 711km (442-mile) Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which has plenty of charging points. California is also part of a bigger project called the West Coast Electric Highway, which has seen fast-charging stations installed every 25 to 50 miles along Interstate 5, Highway 99, and other major roads in California, Oregon, Washington, and adjacent British Columbia in Canada.
Meanwhile, the state of Illinois – where Route 66 begins – is installing at least one fast-charging station in eight cities with help from carmakers BMW, Mitsubishi, and Nissan.
2. Lofoten Islands, Norway
How about going on an extraordinary hunt for the northern lights in a Tesla X? That is what's being offered as part of a luxury sailing tour around Norway's remote fjordland by Black Tomato (blacktomato.com). You get picked up by local guides in a Tesla X and head towards the mountains, often reaching the Finnish or Swedish borders, in a quest for the right conditions to witness the aurora borealis.
Not only can you watch the lights in seclusion, the guide can take (or help you take) professional-quality photographs of the phenomenon.
3. Scotland, UK
“The North Coast 500 in Scotland (www.northcoast500.com) is a cutting-edge road trip,” says Hall. “It has only been open for a few years and it’s a great way to get completely off the beaten track while never being far from a charging point.” This rural route winds its ways past castles, ruins and beaches, and includes the Bealach na Bà pass, a single track road through the mountains of the Applecross peninsula that is considered one of the UK’s most thrilling routes – and you can drive it all in a Tesla Model S.
A seven-day itinerary created by McKinlay Kidd (mckinlaykidd.com) departs from Inverness and includes John O’Groats – the northernmost settlement on the UK mainland – Ullapool, the Applecross peninsula and, crucially, plenty of car charging points. Meanwhile, Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.com) offers a five-day self-drive holiday, departing from Edinburgh, in a Tesla Model S through the Scottish Highlands and Argyll to the west coast via some of Scotland best hotels.
4. Northern Italy
The Dolomites mountains in northeastern Italy include a Unesco World Heritage Site spread over several national parks. For visitors wishing to reduce their environmental impact on this delicate and dramatic region, the Adler Spa Resort Dolomiti (www.adler-dolomiti.com) has one Volkswagen e-car for rent (€40 for a whole day) alongside 12 charging points for those who arrive in their own e-cars. There are several charging stations in the towns around the Dolomites. In the Alps of northwest Italy is the Gran Paradiso National Park, whose Eco Wellness Hotel Notre Maison (www.notremaison.it) runs a project with BMW and Turin-based biAuto that allows guests to rent a BMW i3 electric car from the town’s railway station, port or airport for the 90-minute drive north.
5. Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
Although electric cars can now go a long way on a full charge, small islands are ideal for electric-car tours if you lack range confidence. BMW has declared Mallorca its “electric mobility island”, and is installing over 100 charging points at 50 locations around the island close to hotels, restaurants and golf resorts.
Car rental companies on Mallorca regularly offer the BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf and, by 2030, their fleets must by law be all-electric. One boutique hotel near San Llorenç, Son Penya Petit Hotel & Spa (sonpenya.com), has a fleet of new electric BMW i3s to rent to guests, with charging points in its car park.